Today I am finally talking about the process in which I subject myself to every day. I'm talking about that good ol' sales process. I have been doing what I'm doing as a career for almost six years now and my best customers have been those who I've not needed to 'sell'. These were more negotiations, some even quite stressful. Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind a bit of a squeeze to keep me on my toes as an account manager. This 'dance' that I am about to talk about is more than painful. In fact, I'd go as far as to match it to some forms of psychological torture.
It seems in this fledgling economy, potential customers find it necessary to wage virtual war with their vendors. What makes it worse is that I don't really understand why. You see, what starts out as a potential give-and-take, turns quickly into a game of ignored phone calls, unrealistic requests, and a decision to either attempt to execute the proposed solution themselves, or to choose the least expensive due to budget constraints they failed to inform the vendor of in the beginning.
The fatal flaw in this whole journey is that the customer enters into it without the understanding of three important facts: They are the ones in need of something and the salesman is the one who has it, the salesman and the customer are equals, and the salesman is the expert when it comes to the proposed solution.
When a customer engages a salesman, he needs something. This puts him in a vulnerable place. The salesman can either choose to respect that and meet the exact needs or to take advantage of his need, lack of understanding, and potential budgetary fears. The latter is what the average customer expects and sadly in a way, desires. They enter into the process expecting to be taken advantage of. This immediately builds a wall that may be impossible to break down as they both continue through the process. These preconceived notions are what will eventually hurt the sale from happening and keep the customer from benefitting in any way. Rule #1 Mr. Customer, take down your guard. Open up to a potential relationship that will benefit you and your business greatly. Don't be afraid to give the salesman the keys. Be smart, but not skeptical. Be open and communicate with your potential vendor. When you inform them of possible alternative solutions you're looking at, it starts an invaluable dialogue that will likely help educate you on your needs. A salesman knows you are entertaining other options, he's not a child. Don't lie to him, don't tell him you can't tell him the competition, or even what the price will look like. You are not a secret agent, why act as if you are sworn to secrecy?
Second, if you feel you are in a position of higher authority than your vendor, you're playing a losing game and you'll draw the short straw every time. It is imperative you understand that you are equals in this process. If you play games with your vendor, it will cause you to close yourself off to valuable information, create a frantic situation of your salesman worrying more about your loyalty and less about your well-being, and even if you choose that vendor in the end, will create a strained relationship between the two of you from then on. Entering into the sales process thinking that you hold all the cards is a ridiculous way to do business. Neither party enjoys this and nothing positive can come from this.
Last, and most important in my opinion, is don't try to reverse-engineer, break down pricing, or attempt to gather as much information so that you can build the proposed solution for a lesser up-front cost. How many times have you walked into a restaurant an asked the chef where he got all his ingredients and to write down the recipe? If your business is to consult, don't try to be a phone company. If you are in IT, don't try to build a network from scratch on a shoe-string budget to support the services you desperately need but aren't willing to pay for, just because you know a thing or two about IT! Let me spell it out to those who still choose ignorance; the vendor likely has a countless amount of experience in his field with an entire company of resources behind him who have sent decades making their proposed solution work. Your on-the-job training, tiny budget, and frustration with your meager salary will do nothing to deliver even close to the solution you're desperate for. This may even require you to pick yourself out of that chair, walk to your boss' office, and demand a better way of doing things.
Well I hope someone who is in the role of the customer stumbles upon this and has a bit of a breakthrough. The simplest thing to take from this is that acting like the typical 'customer' will only end up hurting you. The vendor has plenty more prospects on his list, many of whom are doing business differently and benefitting greatly in the end.