In my previous Blog called “10 Questions to Ask the Buyer”, I mentioned the fact that 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. Of course, we don’t see ourselves in this light. We think we’re just doing our job with the time that we have. But sitting on YOUR side of the desk, it’s understandable how we Buyers can be perceived as the DARK SIDE of the sales process. But before we get into the reasons why Buyer’s seem to act in a less then positive way, let’s first lay the foundation of their actions by examining another truth about Buyer’s.
If there is one truth about Buyers, one bit of information you need to incorporate into your sales strategies, it is this: BUYERS ARE BUSY PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE TIME TO WASTE! Well big deal! Who isn’t busy, right? Sales professionals, retail specialists, engineers, managers, accountants; there aren’t many people in today’s business environment sitting around with nothing to do! In the last few years deficient economic conditions have led to corporate downsizing. Which means that those workers left must make up for those losses and somehow maintain, if not increase, sales and productivity. And no matter how good your time management skills are, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything. So I understand why YOU are busy. But the question begs, why are BUYER’S so busy?
The best way to explain why we Buyers are busy is to have you picture the Buyer as the hub of a wheel. In order for the wheel to turn, the spokes of that wheel are connected to, and are relying on, that hub to do its job. So if the Buyer is the hub of the wheel, who are the spokes? Well to start, how about all of the Sales Professionals the Buyer deals with. Other spokes on the wheel are your accounts receivable department, your management, and my internal groups such as finance, quality, design, engineering, logistics, planners and accounts payable. If the Buyer has ‘cradle-to-grave’ responsibilities in any given project, then the Buyer will seem to be responsible for everything simply because they have contact with everyone. Because of their financial and legal responsibilities in the company, everyone wants and needs time from the Buyer. (This isn’t a pity party, it’s simply the facts.) And including the hundreds of suppliers they deal with any given project, the Buyer’s time is very limited. So how you conduct business in the limited time you have with the Buyer will ultimately affect your business relationship.
Now there’s an old saying in purchasing that goes, “If you want a P.O., don’t P.O. the Buyer!” (Get it?) As stated earlier, the perception of Sales Professionals is that Buyers are crabby, obnoxious people who like nothing better to do than yell at suppliers and make their lives miserable. But what you need to know is what most Buyers get upset with: Buyers get upset most when they are prevented from completing their core responsibilities. That’s the key.
So as a Buyer, what are my core responsibilities? Although industries and procurement departments can vary, Buyers are usually responsible for the following:
- Placing purchase orders. This is obviously my number one core responsibility.
- Requesting quotes and completing comparisons of supplier quote packages.
- Negotiating price, delivery, and terms and conditions.
- Completing management-mandated assignments, some of which have nothing to do with any specific project and may have nothing to do with suppliers.
- Completing yearly mandated corporate goals and objectives such as cost savings, supplier reduction, database arrangements, training and other tasks that financially and legally protect the company.
So understanding a Buyer’s “core” responsibilities, what types of things might sales professionals do that would prevent Buyers from completing them, thereby annoying them? How about:
- Long, non-value-added meetings with suppliers.
- Constant interruptions; a lack of respect for the Buyer’s time.
- Lack of sufficient communication skills.
- Incomplete or incorrect quotations that need to be sent back for correction.
- Supplier issues regarding late delivery, product failure, and inadequate service.
So what can you do to assist Buyers in completing their responsibilities and stand out from your competition:
- Short, constructive meetings. Sometimes there’s no need to set up a 30 or 60 minute meeting. (Watch for a future Blog regarding sales meetings.)
- Minimal interruptions. Showing respect for the Buyer’s time. Making sure you have all the information necessary to share with the Buyer without having to call back with missing data.
- Professional communication skills.
- Complete “client-mandated” quotes. Make sure your quote covers everything the Buyer asked for. (Another future Blog.)
- Responsible, attentive and proactive behavior.
And when you think of it, these actions are a direct result of common sense and common courtesy. One thing most Sales Professionals fail to understand is that like most Buyers, I deal with more than one type of product and not just what you sell. I’m working on more than more than one specific project and not just the one you’re on. I deal with more than just one supplier and not just you; in fact hundreds of suppliers at any given time. So for every telephone call, e-mail, voicemail and meeting that you make with me, there are at least a dozen more Sales Reps calling, e-mailing and expecting my time. At the same time, I’m handling requests from the engineering, finance, accounts payable and the end-user of your products and services. (Remember the hub of the wheel.) This obviously limits the amount of time I have to complete my own responsibilities as well as time spent with any given Sales Rep on a daily or weekly basis.
So the next time you call a Buyer, imagine there are a dozen more Sales Reps waiting to call that same Buyer after you hang up. That should motivate you to conduct business quickly but thoroughly. It should also make you understand that if you send an e-mail or leave a voicemail you may never get a response back. The next time you have a meeting with a Buyer, imagine there are a dozen more Sales Reps standing behind you waiting to talk to that same Buyer. That should motivate you to ensure your meeting is short but constructive. Because if you ever have dealt with a Buyer who was rude, stressed out or short-tempered, you need to understand that it may not have been YOUR specific phone call, e-mail, interruption or problem that upset him. It’s the constant multitude of phone calls, e-mails, interruptions and problems that upset Buyers. Yours may have simply been the straw that broke the camel’s back. What upset the Buyer could also have been a lingering emotion from the last issue he dealt with, whether it was your issue or not. So don’t take it personally, we’re only human!
The reality that “Buyers are busy people who don’t have time to waste” is probably the most important thing every Sales Professional should take under consideration. Because if you can understand that reality, incorporate it into your sales strategies and consider it every time you conduct business with the Buyer, you will be already be ahead of 80% of your competition! Because 80% of the supply base DOES NOT conduct business with that thought in mind. Eighty percent of the supply base conducts business as if THEY are the ONLY supplier, as if theirs is the ONLY product for sale, as if they are the ONLY ones who require time with the Buyer. Eighty percent of Sales Peps fail to consider all of the Buyer’s responsibilities. They fail to respect the Buyer’s time and thereby annoy the Buyer.