Peer to peer pressure
Gary Naphtali at P1 Training & Development explains why you're not getting business that you thought was in the bag!
Hello everyone. Regular readers of my bit here will know that, for the next few articles, I am aiming to talk about areas that present regular or current challenges to the current market and commercial/economic environment.
A couple of articles ago I referred to what seems to be a common occurrence nowadays of NOT winning new business that you, as a sales person or a manager, considered 'in the bag'. I talked about the need for selling without reference to price/costs using the PEPSI-Co framework. PEPSI-Co stands for:
The premise being that all the benefits you can offer in these areas should be addressed and presented before the subject of price and costs is presented. This article is available as a free download on our website if you need it.
What seems to be occurring a LOT (according to feedback we are getting right now) is that people and businesses just don't seem to have the appetite for change unless they are presented with an absolute 'no brainer' OR they have current supply/financial issues their current supplier(s) just aren't able to address.
It doesn't matter that you have a proposal that delivers improvements in all, or most,
PEPSI-Co areas, they just go back to their current supplier who 'matches' the deal (normally just the price bit) and they stay put. It's soooooo frustrating; all that effort and excitement/expectation for nothing.
Another problem occurs when, if you are like me, certainly when I was younger, you have already spent the commission you have banked on the promise of that deal!
This is compounded by the fact that the ability to create true differentiation in your
market proposition is very hard - the ability for your competitors to match your deal aside from price is prevalent; certainly true if you are an office supplies dealer working closely with your chosen wholesale partner and utilising the ever-growing service options available. Next day delivery? Check. Same day? Check? National delivery? Check. On line ordering? Consolidated invoicing? Management Information? Brand and alternate brand options? Desk top delivery? Environmental accreditations? Check, check, check, check. You get where I'm coming from here no? So what can you do about it?
Now more than ever the need for qualifying your opportunities is crucial. Asking the right questions is imperative. Matching your proposition to the likelihood of success (Proposition Matching, again an earlier article) ever more important.
Having DEOS (Demonstrable Evidence of Success) in markets and clients of the prospects type/profile and being able to demonstrate it is massively important. Dealing with the right person or people - gotta get that right.
Hang on. That's a good one; dealing with the right people. Gotta make sure you are dealing with the right person eh?
But who IS the right person? Well that's easy isn't it? The decision maker. That'll be the MD then, or CEO? COO? Finance Director? Facilities Director? Facilities Manager? Purchasing Manager? Office Manager? Financial Controller? Receptionist? Post room manager? IT manager/director? PA to the MD/CEO/FD?
Mmmmmmm. Not so straight forward is it? For simplicity I like to train people to spot just five 'types' of decision maker:
The initiator is the one who is starting the process of engagement. Quite often this could be the gatekeeper as they are known; the ones who are there to stop you getting to the decision maker!!
The user could be anybody involved in the 'using' of your products or services. A head of department for example, or an individual with departmental budget responsibilities or responsibilities to ensure the provision of products/services reaches the staff.
The buyer is most likely the person who actually, er, buys the products; places the orders if you like. Liaises with the supplier on behalf of the company. Maybe they appoint the suppliers as well?
The decider? Ah, now we are getting somewhere. He or she makes the decision on who to use and who not to use. That's who we want isn't it? The decider. We like the decider.
No need for the ultimate then? Surely if we have the decider identified why would we need anybody else?
First off let's think about where we start. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that we have contacted a prospect and asked for the person 'responsible' for buying office supplies. Who are you likely to get? The buyer? The initiator? Do they actually make the decisions? Mmmm, maybe that isn't the best question to ask.
OK, let's find out who has responsibility for deciding who the company buys from. Ahhh, that sounds better already. You should already be in a better position and, dare I say it, a little further up the decision making ladder perhaps. Possibly not but a variation on the same question should help. Let's start there.
So now you have engaged with the person responsible for deciding. What else do you need to know about them? Do they make the decision alone? Do they have to refer it on to anybody for final approval? Do they take the views of their users/buyers into consideration? Effective questioning is so important here especially if you are about to invest some of your precious time in trying to land this account.
I like to use my tried and tested formula of:
SEQHIM - Status, Equipment, Quantity, History, Improvement, Motivation (again, an earlier article on the website).
The start of SEQHIM is Status. This is you finding out if the person you are now dealing
with really is The Man (or The Woman of course). What do you ask them?
"As the Facilities Manager are you the person responsible for making the decision?"
"Yes I am!"
Great. That's settled it then. Er, not quite,
"Is there anybody else you would need to refer my proposal to?"
Brilliant. Definitely settles it then.
No, not for me it doesn't.
What are you looking to do for this company? Reduce costs? Improve service? Improve their environmental impact? Reduce administration/ processes? Those four areas alone will have a
positive impact on maybe many different people in that business.
The FD I imagine would be very interested in saving money. The person handling the company's CSR policy might like what you can do on the environment side. Head of accounts would love the fact you can reduce the number of invoices they have to manage/process.
Don't worry though, your new contact, the one that's been dealing with the same supplier for nine years, he's the man who decides, so you are definitely 'in' eh?
I am painting a rather bleak picture here I know but I am afraid that is reality. More likely so in larger clients.
So what can you do about it?
Well, first off you HAVE to qualify the contact point - who they are, who they report to, what their areas of responsibility are, what THEIR requirements are, what pressures they are under, what direction they have been/are being given on behalf of their business.
You have to understand who else (Inter-personal) will be effected (positively and maybe negatively) within that business by what you have to propose. You have to understand not what you can do for them but what pressure they will be under from others to deliver on behalf of their business.
Then, if you can, you should try and engage with as many influencers as possible. The users, the 'buyers', the department heads, office manager, post room. The finance people.
How do you do that? Why not ask if it is ok? The chances are you will meet with resistance. You will certainly get met with resistance if the prospect is not genuinely interested and only using you to beat up his/her current supplier. It's a great leading question/approach to flush out genuine interest.
Another option I like to use is people; your people, their people. Consider 'peer-to-peer' contact; getting your people to talk to their people. Engage with them on a peer-to-peer level. Not always possible but think about it. Everybody is more comfortable dealing with people on their level. Perhaps their head of accounts would be more relaxed talking to your head of accounts? Don't dismiss it.
"Hello Mr X, this is Flossy/Freddy Smith from ABC Ltd, I am the financial controller here. One of our sales people is in the process of putting together a proposal for your company via Mr Maker. Part of the proposal looks at the processing side and he's asked me to ask you, one financial controller to another, if there is anything you'd like to see happen by way of invoice/process improvements? As somebody with a better understanding of your side of the business and without the sales man's spin on it of course!!"
Some of you will be feeling horrified at the thought but don't dismiss it. It doesn't have to be accounts. Think about the CSR side. Think about the service side. The users. Think about how confident your sales people would feel if they could include genuine 'client research' in their proposal. I think, in the right circumstances, this is very powerful.
One of the main reasons people decide to stay with their current supplier is the sheer pain of change. It just isn't worth it. The decision maker can match your deal without the aggravation of having to deal with all the relevant departments. The communication issues, potential hiccups. This approach might just make them feel comfortable enough to edge towards change to you. And keep the kind of cosy relationship they currently enjoy with their supplier.
If your proposition is financially motivated then there is definitely a temptation to go straight to the FD or maybe MD as your first point of call. Whilst that is proven to be an effective route you cannot then rule out the negative response you may then get from the other people/levels of the business, especially if you have by-passed one or two levels of 'decision maker' in the process.
I have seen it many, many times. If you do go in 'top down' you should still consider this peer-to-peer approach with your contacts subordinates. You may be helping them with the resulting communication challenges that follow.
However, there is another angle to 'peer-to-peer'. It's what we call escalation. This is when you have not managed to get a positive decision from the nominated contact point so you go above their heads. Veeeeeery risky eh?
What if that senior person then overrides your contact's decision and sides with you?
Then you have to deal with the person you have upset by doing so. Not such an issue in
one-off high value capital goods sales, but in a relationship/ repeat business environment you may well be watching your back from day one and the contact is just itching for you to slip up.
So don't do it. Don't go over their heads. Well not you personally. Get your boss to do it. Ask your manager/director to talk to their manager/ director. There's a good chance the client's boss didn't even know you existed or were working on a proposal. There's a good chance they don't know that you can reduce costs by 20 per cent and all those other things. They might be interested eh? This peer-to-peer approach also gives you a get out of jail card with your contact too if it is needed.
"Hello Mrs Z, my name is Mr Q I am the MD of ABC Ltd. One of my sales people has just been informed that we were unsuccessful in our proposal for supplying your office products even though we managed to reduce your costs by £15,000 a year and significantly improve processes etc etc. I am interested to learn if there is anything else we have missed as it was a significant improvement on your current situation and I was very keen to get to the bottom of it. Maybe it was a personal thing between our chap and yours. I didn't want to lose the opportunity without speaking with you first just to make sure."
It's worth a thought eh? It's even worth considering doing this at the start of the process.
"Hello Mrs Z... I am really pleased we have been given the chance by [your chap] to look at how we can reduce costs and improve processes for your company. I'd welcome your views as to what it is you'd like to achieve in this area for [company name] so that we can provide a positive and meaningful proposal"
It gets you on their map and noted by the 'ultimate' decision maker and also gives you/your boss an excuse to re-engage at the senior level if you get blocked or don't get the deal.
I'm sorry but I'll say it again, as I've said many times before: there is no magic pixie dust when it comes to selling. Everything needs to be taken into consideration.
This is just a part of what we call 'peer-to-peer selling'. Hope it's got you thinking.
P1 T&D is an established and recognised provider of first class training and development programs for people in performance related roles. Gary Napthali has been in the industry for over 20 years.
Established in 2002 it has successfully developed and grown as a result of combining traditional and accepted training principals with innovative programs and content. As the business grows so does the P1 proposition and today it offers a comprehensive range of people development programs, with industry experienced specialists and dedicated content for the Office Products market.