Ray Collis

Buyer-Seller Relationships: We Ask Dr. Phil for Advice

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The straight talking TV psychologist Dr Phil Mc Graw would probably have a lot of say about the typical buyer-seller relationship. He might even go as far as calling some of them dysfunctional. After all, many buyer seller interactions are missing the following key ingredients:

· Open communication

· High levels of trust

· High levels of respect

Dysfunctional Buyer-Seller Relationships:

Using this 3 point score, what is the health of your relationships with those buyers in your pipeline? That is how do they rate in terms of:

1. Openness: Do you really have the full picture, or are buyers sometimes reluctant to share information with you regarding their true needs, or motivations? Are you sometimes economical with information, even the truth, when you feel wrong answer would lose the sale?

2. Trust: Do your buyers ever use the words trust and salesperson in the one sentence? Does the buyer see you as a trusted advisor, rather than a salesperson? Would you genuinely recommend a competitor’s solution to a customer if it was in that customers best interest?

3. Respect: Do you call up and launch into a sales pitch without asking if it is a good time for the buyer to speak? Have you noticed that many buyers view attack as the best form of defense against unwanted sales calls?

So, how was your score? Let us look at the buyer side first.

Toxic Relationships – Bad Experiences.

Most buyers say they have had bad experienced or at least unfulfilled promises when it comes to their past dealings with salespeople. This unfortunate reality does a great disservice to the growing cadre of professional salespeople who stand head and shoulder above their pushy cold calling colleagues.

However, there are two sides to the buyer-seller relationship equation. The reality is that sellers don’t necessarily bring out the best in buyers, nor visa versa. The buyer who fobs off a salesperson with a request for a proposal, instead of an honest ‘no’ is as guilty as the seller who promises what cannot be delivered.

The Hand off Approach to Buying is on the Rise.

Buyers are risk adverse and sales skeptical. Increasingly, they want to buy, but not to be sold to. This is manifest in a more hand off approach, such as:

· More buyers are delaying seeing a salesperson until buying criteria has been set. With unparalleled access to information, buyers are no longer reliant on salespeople to educate and inform them. They can get the information they need when they need it from sources such as the web and analysts – sources which they see as more objective sources and less pressurizing sources.
Sellers are asked to deliver a sales presentation, rather than a two way discussion, or worse still to deliver a proposal before interaction has taken place. More and more conversations are taking place when the salesperson has left the room.
Formal processes, such as RFIs, key the salesperson at arms length with strict rules regarding access to decision makers, or even information. These processes successfully keep buyer – seller interaction to a minimum.

It is a lose-lose situation for buyers and sellers.

But are buyers any better off as a result? Are better buying decisions necessarily going to result? The answer is in many cases no. In fact, this approach, which I believe, underestimates the extent to which the B2B sales profession has evolved, only compounds the issue of trust, respect and communication.

Buyers who are withdrawing from their interactions with salespeople, require that sellers who have less information to hand make more guesses regarding buyer needs. It also means that the seller does not have the opportunity to share the learning of their other customers, or to uncover needs or implications of which the buyer may not have been aware. They are forced to describe their solution and its implementation in a standardized 30 page document, without being able to fully elaborate on all aspects of their solutions, or reflect the precise needs of the customers. The fact that most RFPs are a cut and paste exercise for sellers has to have implications for the extent to which buyers are getting the best solutions for their needs.

Dr. Phil’s Relationship Counseling Advice

Rather than treating all salespeople as lepers, buyers need to be able to between sales people who can impact positively on their buying process and the rest. For their part, sellers have to focus more on helping buyers to buy, as opposed to selling their solutions and must seek to earn the coveted position of trust advisers. And if you are in a toxic relationship then ‘get real’ either work on it, or get out fast. Dr. Phil could not have put it better.

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