Buyers are an enigmatic bunch. I’m sure that’s not news to you. For some Buyers it’s our nature to be secretive, aloof and demanding. For others it’s a trait learned over time through corporate culture, departmental requirements and management expectations. We prefer to have control. We don’t like to show our hand. We favor having the most leverage. That keeps the suppliers never knowing where they really stand. At least that’s what we think it does. In reality it can make your life as a Sales Professional a living hell! Of course these statements are somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But whether a Buyer’s peculiarity is an in-born trait or absorbed through osmosis, Buyers do prefer to keep certain processes, philosophy and objectives a secret.
Of course, some information Buyers utilize certainly needs to remain confidential. This includes anything that would jeopardize the legal and financial protection of their company. But for purposes of ego, politics and negotiating, there are some things we just prefer you just didn’t know. So if you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll fill you in on a few things that Buyers would prefer to keep to themselves; some Insight from the Buyer’s Desk that will help you improve your business opportunities.
1. SWITCHING SUPPLIERS. So many Sales Reps have said to me, “I can save your company money. Why do you continue buying from my competitor?” Some Buyers and purchasing departments won’t switch to a new supplier if it means only a minimal amount of savings. Depending on the time, effort and money spent to add a new supplier, it simply may not be worth it. Most companies are attempting to downsize their supply base, not add to it. In fact, a good portion of procurement organizations have a yearly goal to reduce the supply base because it’s been shown to save money. Think about that: the Buyer has a goal to get rid of people like you, though they may not admit it! So if the savings you’re providing are marginal at best, the Buyer may not bother to take the time to switch to you. Some client companies require suppliers to be visited, verified and scrutinized before being accepted. That means any given number of departments are involved, i.e. engineering, accounts payable, quality, finance and, of course, purchasing. That tends to be expensive. So if the savings aren’t significant to justify the time and expense of adding a new supplier, it simply won’t happen. What you’ll have to prove to the Buyer is that YOUR savings ARE significant, not just through the initial buy, but through Total Cost of Ownership. (We’ve talked about this before and I promise to dedicate an entire Blog to TOC.)
2. ACCEPTABLE QUOTES. Some Buyer’s won’t tell you if your quote is technically and/or commercially acceptable or not. Some don’t want to take the time to call suppliers to let them know there’s an issue with the quote. They would prefer to mislead and let you think everything is fine. To me, I know the time and energy spend putting quotes together isn’t cheap. And I’d prefer Buyers let Sales Reps know when their quotes are inadequate. Unfortunately, some Buyers simply don’t want to be bothered and discuss what the issue is. So when the Sales Rep ask, “How is everything? Do you have any questions about my quote?”, the Buyer will reply, “No questions. Everything is fine”. Then you wonder why you didn’t get the order. Finding out if your quote is acceptable by the Buyer isn’t a matter of simply asking questions, but knowing what questions to ask. If you’re trying to get information out of the Buyer, don’t ask a question that will give a “yes” or “no” answer. Ask a question that compels the Buyer to reply with detailed information. WHAT NOT TO ASK: “Do you have any questions about my quote?” “Is everything okay?” “Do you see anything wrong with the quote?” “Do I have a good chance of receiving the order?” INSTEAD, ASK THIS: “If there was something that was included or missed that may prevent a supplier from receiving the order, would time allow you to contact them or would you be compelled to disqualify them?” “What items in our quote would prevent us from receiving the order?” “What specifically stands out in our order that you like or that we could improve on?” “If we were the low-bid supplier for this job, what would technically prevent us from receiving it?”
3. RISKY SUPPLIERS. Most Buyers who prefer not to switch to a new supplier are concerned that the new supplier is untried and therefore creates a risk in sourcing to them. Some companies have problem suppliers but continue to souse to them only because they’re aware of the problems and prefer to live with them rather than risk unknown issues with unknown suppliers. In your career as a Sales Professional I’m sure you’ve seen your competitors continue to get the business even through their track record is somewhat poor. At times, procurement management compels the Buyer to keep the deficient supplier on board. Buyer’s won’t admit it to you. But most of the time it comes down to willing to deal with a known problem vs. dealing with an unfamiliar one. In that instance, you need to make the Buyer feel “warm and fuzzy” about placing orders to you. Let them know who your current clients are. Are they one of their own competitors? Let them know about the projects you’re working on that have made industry news. Provide a presentation that shows not only your products but your manufacturing systems making those products. If possible, have them visit your facility in person and let them see for themselves your benchmark operations. Show them products you offer that are above and beyond what they need. Blow them away! I’ll never forget visiting a supplier’s facility that had the landing gear of a major commercial aircraft in the lobby; a product they offered to the aerospace industry. And what I needed from them wasn’t even CLOSE to the complexity of this mechanism. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, if they can build THIS, they should have no problem with the part I need!”
4. SOURCING DECISIONS. At times, you can’t even imagine why your competitor got the job and not you. There are a number of reasons why a Buyer may place an order to your competitor when it was clear you should have received the order. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, sometimes Buyers place orders to poor performance suppliers when they’re compelled to do so by Management. If the Buyer was forced to place the order to someone else and that influence came from Management, the Buyer may be too embarrassed to tell you the truth. Sometimes ego and politics stand in the way. The End-Users of products and services may also coerce the Buyer into placing the order to their favorite supplier. And Buyers know that if your product gets jammed down the throat of an End-User who clearly does not want you, the odds are your product will not meet its expectations in the field. The End-User will look for ANY reason why they shouldn’t use you again. If you end up losing an order you know you should have received, don’t complain. Instead, be proactive about it. Find out why you didn’t get the order and how you can do a better job next time. Maybe it wasn’t anything you did or failed to do. Maybe it was a mistake that you didn’t receive the order. Maybe it was due to ignorance or stupidity. It never hurts to ask for feedback: “I believe my company would be a great asset to your firm. Can you offer any constructive feedback as to what we could do better with our next opportunity?”
5. BACKGROUND. Though they may not want to admit it, a good portion of Buyers do not have formal technical training in the products they procure. Most Buyers come from an administrative or financial background. That doesn’t mean they know nothing about the product, but odds are you know a hell of a lot more then they do. (For your sake as a Sales Professional, I hope you do anyway!) Some Buyers don’t have the time to completely understand what it is they’re technically buying. Other just don’t care. And the more complex the product, the less they may know. The other reason why Buyers may not be as technically savvy about the products they buy is because Buyers tend to move around in the department every couple years. They finally get to know the ins and outs of a product line, then they’re moved to different commodity in order to “broaden their experience”. If that’s the case, offer some insight into your product in layman’s terms and without being condescending. Act like YOU know they understand what you’re talking about, but don’t assume that they do! A sociable lesson in how the product is made, how it works and what it can do may be greatly appreciated by the Buyer and improve your opportunity to sell to them.
6. CALCULATION ERRORS. I know this one will totally shock you so I saved it for last. Ready? Here goes: Buyer’s are not perfect! There, I said it. Left a bad taste in my mouth, but I said it. In fact, Buyers make mistakes more often than you think. We deal with numbers all day long. Odds are we’re going to screw up at some point. Odds are we’ll add up costs incorrectly and mistakenly make you the low bid supplier . . . or the highest priced! If quotes are too confusing (as they often are), if itemized costs don’t make sense, if priced options aren’t clearly marked, the Buyer will eventually make a mathematical error, whether we’re talking a few dollars or a few million! It’s simply embarrasing and Buyer’s don’t want you to know it. Or maybe the total cost was simply fat fingered on the spreadsheet or on the calculator. That’s why it’s always best to request time with the Buyer to go over every price to ensure what they’ve added up is what your total cost truly is.