Buyer’s are the “dark side” of the sales process. At least, that’s the perception of most Sales Professionals. After all, Buyers are grouchy, rude, obnoxious individuals who are difficult to contact, who demand unreasonable requests and who make the lives of the sales force miserable. It’s understandable how those statements could be perceived and in some instances I admit it can be true. What causes them to behave in this manner (and how to avoid it) is reserved for a future Blog.
The point I’m attempting to make here is that a portion of Sales Professionals are fearful of asking the Buyer anything that could potentially upset the business relationship. Again, that’s understandable. But there are a few questions you could “prudently” ask the Buyer that few, if any Sales Professionals do . . . questions that the Buyer should be willing and able to answer without making waves. They are as follows:
1. Ask the Buyer if there are any new projects on the horizon that you could quote on, or at least provide a “budgetary” quote. This should be Sales 101, but it’s amazing how many Sales Reps fail to do this. Most Sales Reps only ask that question during the initial sales meeting and assume the Buyer will contact them if anything does come up. But it’s not the responsibility of the Buyer to let you know every time an opportunity to quote occurs. So when you hear nothing from the Buyer you assume nothing is coming down the road. Too bad. Asking the question periodically without sounding like a broken record is the key. So go ahead and ask. If the Buyer knows of an opportunity and is willing to share that information at that moment they will. If they tell you they’re not aware of anything to quote on they’re either telling the truth, or they’re withholding confidential information that they can’t disclose now, or they have some hidden agenda that they prefer not to include you company.
2. Ask the Buyer what the roles, responsibilities and yearly goals of purchasing are. Be careful not to ask the Buyer what their specific ones are, but ask the question in a general sense, “I can only imagine how difficult your job must be. So what are the roles and responsibilities of a typical Buyer? What yearly goals do they generally have that companies like mine can assist in?” Brown-nose a little. In asking about purchasing in a general sense, they’ll most likely respond in a more personal sense. Finding out this information will help in developing your sales strategies.
3. Ask the Buyer to clarify their supplier selection process. That way you’ll know who is involved in deciding what suppliers get to quote and who you should be contacting that you may not already be in front of. “Are you able to discuss the supplier selection process on a general sense? I can imagine there must be several departments involved.”
4. Ask the Buyer what internal or external forces could influence the supplier selection process. Understand what and who you’re up against in securing the order. “Other than competition, what internal or external forces could determine who is selected to receive a purchase order?”
5. Ask the Buyer for their “own” definition of a “preferred-supplier”. It may be totally different from the Buyer sitting next to him. “I’m sure dealing with suppliers all day long can be demanding. With your experience in purchasing, what preferences do you have regarding the supply base? What do you specifically expect from them?”
6. Ask the Buyer what direction the think the industry is taking in regards to technology, quality and cost savings. Again, ask in a general sense about the industry and the Buyer will respond in a more personal sense. This way you’ll find out what’s important to the client and what the Buyer needs so you can help provide a solution.
7. Ask the Buyer about their corporate-mandated programs that suppliers should be involved in. They could be cost-savings, minority-sourcing, or some other client-mandated expectation. Show the Buyer, with both actions and words, that you intend to comply with those programs.
8. Ask the Buyer for a copy of their corporate supplier ethics code. Asking for a copy will show the Buyer you’re interested in complying with their corporate principles. I would personally be impressed if a Sales Professional asked me for a copy, but no one ever has!! Circulate a copy of their ethics code within your organization and live by them.
9. Ask the Buyer when they prefer you call them back for future opportunities. There is a fine line between calling the Buyer too much and not enough. It’s obviously important to maintain contact. The question is, when and how often? From the Buyers’ point of view, there is a fine line between keeping in touch and being a pest. This presents a definite dilemma for the Sales Professional: excessive follow up and upset the Buyer or not enough follow up and lose a potential sale. Buyers would prefer to control the continuous in-coming calls from the Sales Rep. That’s why it’s best for you to simply say, “ I know you’re busy and I know there’s probably a fine line between keeping in touch and being a pest. So I’d like to ask, when would you recommend I call back?” Ask the Buyer when he would prefer you call back. Let the Buyer set the parameters. That way when you do call again, you can remind the Buyer that you’re calling per their suggestion. Remember, every Buyer has different preferences when it comes to their time. And don’t forget to ask if they prefer e-mails, telephone calls, or a mix of both.
10. Ask the Buyer what he suggests you do if you’re having difficulty getting a response from the End-User, the Engineer, or anyone else in their company. Maybe there’s some important information you need but no one is responding and it will affect your project. Hopefully the Buyer will recommend you call them. But if not at least they can provide some feedback and point you in the right direction.