Ray Collis

There May Be Flexibility In Even The Most Rigid Buying Process

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Buying Process Flexibility

There are grey areas in even the most black and white buying process.  Take for example the purchase of a CRM / Sales System by a large insurance company.  The buying process began with the use of an external consultant and domain expert in order to:

  • Act as a gatekeeper, to control access and keep vendors at arms length.  For example an outline business case and independent analysis of vendors (based on expensive analyst reports, as well as an internal review of leading market solutions) was undertaken many months in advance of talking to vendors.  When vendors were finally approached contact in the initial months was routed through the consultant.
  • Maintain the integrity of the competitive bidding process, ensuring that vendors must compete to demonstrate the best fit and the best value.  The management was keen to avoid any vendor trying to get ‘too friendly’ before a decision was made.
  • Coach the management team through the process of arriving at a consensus regarding needs and requirements (both at the level of the business case, the user and the system technology).
  • Agree the process by which a decision would be made and in particular to ensure that the purchase decision involved all the stakeholders.  The management was keen to ensure that the decision (which would previously have been driven by technical people and issues), would this time be driven by the business case, business drivers, so on.

Some vendors clearly found these measures troublesome.  For example, one vendor was disqualified because of its reluctance to follow the steps of the buying process.  The vendor in question, a market leader and forerunner in the eyes of the consultant, wanted to undertake a webinar, rather than visiting the buying organisation in order to undertake a presentation.

The buying process stubbornly resisted pressure from another vendor for a decision in advance of that company’s year end.  The CEO and Chairman of the vendor in question called the CTO and CEO of the buying organisation in a vain attempt to advance a decision.

Yet, the process was not entirely rigid.  For example, one vendor invited members of the buying team to dinner the night before the day of vendor pitches and presentations.  Although this did not appear in any description of the buying process it did serve a valuable function – enabling the buyers to learn more about one of the vendors and the people on its team.

Incidentally, none of the other short-listed vendors sought or had an opportunity to meet any of the buying team in advance of making their pitch.

The lesson is that there may be flexibility even in the most rigid buying process and this can help, rather than hinder the buyer in arriving at a decision.  However, as salespeople it is easy to assume that buyers have become more machine-like in their approach to buying and that means they overlook opportunities to engage with buyers to the full extent possible.

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