In regards to some of the companies you would like to conduct business with, the Buyers are somewhat if not totally off limits. You can’t call them, you can’t meet with them and you can’t get them to respond to you. What you need to understand is that even though you may not have direct access with Buyers, they still deal with you in a very direct way. (1) They still receive, review and compare your quote packages, (2) they are still involved in the supplier selection process, and (3) they still hear about how your products and services are working in the field. So even though you may not have direct access to a Buyer, they are still directly influenced by you as a supplier as to how you conduct business in those areas. In this case, out of sight is not out of mind.
So what do you do if you can’t get a Buyer to respond to you? The first answer from The Buyer’s Desk is a simple one: Find and work with someone they will respond to! Most likely that person will be a potential End-User of your products and services. The End-Users, depending on what type of industry you sell to, could include engineering, manufacturing, management, retail specialists, quality and production personnel. In other words, the eventual “end-users” of your products and services. From this point on in this Blog, these groups will simply be referred to as the End-User and will encompass all of the groups, other than Purchasing, who are affected by how your products and services perform, and who can influence your future business opportunities.
Remember that End-Users usually hold the budgetary purse strings from which a Buyer places purchase orders. In most companies, Buyers do not have project money of their own to spend. They spend other departments money from project budgets and cost centers. Think about that! And since it’s usually the budget of an End-User, the End-User should have the right to share in the decision-making process as to who should be allowed to quote and who should eventually receive the order. The majority of Sales Professionals I’ve met and eventually conducted business with was through an introduction by an End-User. For the Sales Professional, the End-User can become the “Trojan Horse” in getting access to Purchasing.
The key with this technique is to first get the End-User interested in your products and services based on what it will do for them. The End-User then needs to convince the Buyer to allow you to meet with them, and to allow you to quote to see what it is you can do for them both commercially and technically. It’s up to you as a Sales Professional to supply the End-User with the ammunition they’ll need in order to convince the Buyer to meet with you. So sit down right now and make a list of potential End-Users you have access to and who could get you access to the Buyer. There’s your hot list!
Now there are other people besides the End-Users who could get you access to the Buyer. For instance, other Buyers in the same department that you’re currently working with. It could also be your own business associates who already have access to the Buyer. These business associates may work for your company or they may work for one of your own sub-suppliers. That’s for you to find out. It could be even be someone who works for one of your own clients. Buyer’s appreciate supplier references from associates working for other companies in the industry. So add to your list the names of the people who fall under those categories.
Another key to gaining access to a Buyer is networking! Networking is both underrated and underused! Networking is a combination of social skills, business skills and sales skills. And if it’s done correctly and consistently it will eliminate the need to cold call Buyers. Let me repeat that: Networking can eliminate the need to cold-call Buyers! Every Sales Professional should constantly keep their ears and eyes open for any opportunity to network.
Ask yourself this question: how many real business colleagues do you make cold-calling companies? Zero. And how many real colleagues can you make networking? Dozens. And all things being equal, people want to conduct business with theior colleagues, whether they’ve known them for a long time or if they belong to the same group or organization. In fact, all things not being so equal, people STILL want to conduct business with their colleagues. Think about every job you’ve had and think about how many of them were achieved based on networking vs. a cold-call. Personally I’ve worked for eight different companies in my career and in everyone one of them I’ve known someone who was able to help get me an interview or help in securing the position.
From The Buyer’s Desk I can share with you another good technique to meet Buyers. On one or more occasions a year a typical Buyer will attend a trade show or industry event. Sometimes it’s mandated by the Buyer’s department that they attend. Sometimes the Buyer’s request on their own the chance to go. And when people attend trade shows remember that their name, company and occupation is usually right there on their name tag. I actually had a Sales Professional spot the words “Senior Buyer” on my name tag from nearly across the hallway and he was immediately drawn to me like a moth to a flame! Funny.
You also need to think about what types of events Buyers might attend other than trade shows. For instance, if the company has minority-sourcing goals the Buyer’s will most likely be requested to attend a minority trade show or event of some sort. When I was a Senior Buyer at DaimlerChrysler Corporation, minority sourcing was a major goal of the Procurement Department. Part of my review depended on how well I was able to source to minority companies and how well I got my Tier 1 suppliers to use minority-based products and services. So every year our group attended the Michigan Minority Business Development Council (MMBDC) Awards Dinner. Attending that event were hundreds of Buyers from GM, Ford, Chrysler and other major automotive companies. Anyone could attend as long as they bought a ticket. Yet I rarely ever saw a Sales Professional there. And here were Buyers walking around mingling with people, wearing name tags with their information on it . . . and not one Sales Rep taking advantage of it! I never could figure that out.
So my challenge to you From the Buyer’s Desk is to try this: Between today and a month from now attend at least three networking functions. It could be an industry, cultural or charity event, a club or a trade show . . . someplace where either Buyer’s will be in attendance or someone who has access to Buyers. Conducting event research on the Internet, especially on LinkedIn.com, could provide you with the names and locations of events to attend. Good luck!