John O' Gorman

Sellers Beware: Buyers Know What You Are Thinking!

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Buyers these days are increasingly well-prepared for their interactions with sellers. Indeed, some are even going so far as enrolling in courses specifically aimed at learning how to deal with salespeople! This is yet another reason why sellers must beware of reusing the same old clumsy sales techniques that buyers can quickly see through.

Buyers Know What You Are Thinking

The New ‘Anthropology of Sellers’

Managing sellers has long been on the curriculum for buyers, but the levels of sophistication involved have now reached new heights. The new ‘anthropology of sellers’ has taken on greater importance for buyers, with their objective now being to better understand, predict and ultimately control the behavior of salespeople.

Professional courses enable buyers to see inside the minds of sellers, giving them valuable insights into:

  • What motivates salespeople
  • How salespeople think
  • The behavior of salespeople

These courses have the primary aim of strengthening the buyer’s hand in his/her dealings with the salesperson. A quick look at the course outlines gives a clear idea of some of the main objectives involved, such as:

  1. Try to understand the strategies and techniques sellers will look to use on you – from the “I was just in the neighborhood…” tactic to the various classic closing techniques (e.g. ‘The Half Nelson’, ‘Closing-Room Only’). In particular, you must learn how to defeat seller ploys.
  2. Take power away from sellers, outmaneuvering them in order to drive a harder bargain and extract greater value.
  3. Don’t waste your time with sellers who won’t make the cut. Separate those you can trust from those you cannot, and leverage the knowledge and skills of the chosen few in order to best achieve your objectives.
  4. Try to maintain the integrity of the competitive tendering process, e.g. by breaking up cosy seller relationships and renegotiating supplier terms.
  5. Develop the role of selected suppliers in furthering your strategic purchasing goals, including supplier concentration, supplier development and the spirit of partnership/innovation.

What Is Motivating Buyers to Study Sellers?

Buyers study sellersIn times gone by, sellers had the upper hand; they had the skills, techniques and strategies to woo (and perhaps even manipulate) the buyer. However, the tide has now well and truly turned. Today’s buyers have more power – and they are fully intent on using it.

“Know your enemy and yourself, and in a thousand battles you will not fail.” This age-old advice – taken from Sun Tsu’s The Art of War – applies to business (as well as military) strategists; indeed, in many ways this principle lies at the heart of what motivates buyers to better understand sellers. The frontline between buyer and seller is the bottom line, with targets for cost-reduction driving the buyer to aggressively eat into seller margins.

“Just as buyers need to better comprehend the behavior of sellers, salespeople must also look to gain a clearer understanding of buyers…”

Is it possible to achieve a win/win in buyer-seller interactions, or must one side always lose in order for another to win? Just as buyers need to better comprehend the behavior of sellers, salespeople must also look to gain a clearer understanding of buyers. A better understanding on both sides can only serve to benefit both buyer and seller, enabling both parties to better understand their relative roles, motivations, strengths and weaknesses.

Growing interest in courses on how to understand sellers would seem to suggest that the fear of being manipulated by salespeople is today at an all-time high among buyers. However, when selling is laid bare, many buyers are sure to realize that the arsenal of buyer-defeating techniques and strategies at the disposal of salespeople is considerably smaller than they might have previously imagined.

The Three Dimensions to Understanding Sellers:

So, how can buyers gain a better understanding of sellers? Well, primarily along each of the following three axes:

1. Buyers Must Understand The Sales Process

Sellers have been told to adopt a more consistent, repeatable and streamlined approach towards securing the sale. This means they will want to move you as quickly as possible along the conveyor belt from lead to sale. As a buyer, this is something you will want to resist, however – the steps involved in your buying process must dictate both the pace and outcome of your decision. We will examine how a robust competitive buying process is an essential means of managing sellers.

2. Buyers Must Understand The Sales Proposition

Sellers and their marketing departments have honed their propositions to have maximum effect on the buyer. They are using an arsenal of carefully-selected messages, images and sounds in a bid to try and win you over. But can you really believe what vendor brochures, sales pitches and salespeople have to say?  Buyers must be willing to scratch beneath the veneer of the seller’s carefully-chosen messages: your decision – and, in particular, your business case – must not be swayed by sophisticated vendor propaganda. An objective methodology for validating vendor promises/statements is therefore vital.

3. Buyers Must Understand The Salesperson

The traditional model that sellers are accustomed to is that of the relationship sale. Their objective is to establish a rapport, and thereby exert influence over the manager-buyer. This is why the notion of ‘a purchasing executive at every manager’s elbow’ is a worthy one.  It prevents any cosy relationships with sellers from undermining the competitive process.

“Setting clear rules of engagement that determine levels of seller access is key…”

Ensuring that the autonomy of individual managers over important purchases is curtailed in favour of cross-functional buying teams and senior-level sign-off is essential to protecting executives from the undue influence of sellers. Setting clear rules of engagement that determine levels of seller access to information, people and power is also key.

“There are plenty of good salespeople out there” is a reassuring statement of the obvious that buyers increasingly need to hear. The challenge lies in separating the good from the bad, and then quickly determining those who both are worthy of trust and have something of value to offer during the buying process. It also puts supplier development on the agenda, with the spirit of partnership with a cadre of important supplier partners playing a key role in the achievement of strategic sourcing, as well as business-performance objectives.

What Are The Implications for Sellers?

Sellers Rules

So, what are the implications for sellers of being studied more closely by buyers? Given the new state of play outlined above, here are some rules of thumb that sellers must bear in mind:

  1. Stop thinking and acting like the stereotypical salesperson. In particular, stop using those clumsy closing techniques that buyers have come to dread.
  2. Surprise the buyer – don’t act like a salesperson at all! If you hear yourself sounding like a salesperson, then stop immediately. The only solid path for sellers is that of the trusted advisor or expert.
  3. Ensure you know as much about buying as buyers will want to know about selling. How buyers think, what steps they follow and – most importantly of all – how they do and do not wish to be sold to should all become familiar knowledge to you. Step into the buyer’s shoes in order to better understand what it is he/she is setting out to achieve.
  4. Explain to the buyer what it is you are doing at each stage, and why. Put his/her buying process, business case and buying team at the centre of your sales approach. Put them in control, allowing the buyer to concentrate on navigating his/her own internal process, rather than having to worry about the steps of your buying process.

Remember: Most of the sales techniques that are seen as being manipulative by buyers fall into the category of ‘closing’. The upshot of this is that sellers must exercise great care in their attempts to close the sale. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same rule applies in the realm of negotiation.

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