John O' Gorman

Are You ‘Easy Prey’ For Aggressive Buyers?

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With more sellers chasing fewer customers, do buyers now have the upper hand? Well, according to buyers, the answers is ‘yes’. But, it’s also apparent that some sellers are leaving themselves vulnerable to manipulation from increasingly aggressive buyers.  This article shows how to avoid becoming an ‘easy prey’.

sellers are easy prey

A Shift in The Balance of Power

“Salespeople are easy prey at the moment…”, revealed a global procurement manager working for a major pharmaceutical company. The same manager went on to remark that “sometimes it can be a bit like taking candy from a child.”

In a chest-thumping manner, he also boasted of dominating unwitting salespeople, pitting sellers against each other and relentlessly pursuing the best possible deal. His message was clear: “Buyers now have the upper hand!”

Echoing the general sentiments of others we have talked to, the experienced procurement manager made it clear that the balance of power has now shifted, and that today’s sellers are no match for the new breed of highly-empowered professional buyers.

Buyers Have The Upper Hand

But do buyers really have the upper hand in today’s tough market conditions? Clearly, more and more buyers believe that they do and offer the following factors by way of explanation:

  • Sellers are caught off-guard by the appearance of procurement during negotiations.
  • Sellers are collapsing in the face of pressure on price and terms.
  • Sellers are perturbed by long-standing supply contracts going out to tender.
  • Sellers exhibit clear signs of frustration at having to surrender to a particular buying process.
  • Sellers attempting to rely on past relationships to ensure future survival, as well as making feeble attempts to go around, or over, to gain access.

Buyers believe that sellers are struggling to get to grips with the new realities of professional buying – and they are happy to take full advantage of this fact. They are intent on making the most of their new-found power to achieve further cost savings.

Buyers Flex Their Muscles

With all the timidity of salespeople bragging about deals made during the boom years, procurement managers and directors have been taking to the stand to boast of their accomplishments, such as:

  • Cutting supplier costs in respect of management consulting services by 25-35%
  • Cutting marketing costs by upwards of 35%
  • Reducing capital spend from 7.5% to 3.5% of turnover for a multi-billion dollar organization

Over the course of just one afternoon, we heard of savings totaling in the region of $4-5 billion being achieved in supplier costs by just a handful of global buyers. These savings – the equivalent of the entire national output of several African economies combined – were the manifest result of buyers gaining the upper hand. With each dollar, pound or euro that is saved, the power and influence of procurement is further strengthened.

“It is either their profit margin or yours… Any money you leave on the table is the supplier’s profit.”

Buyers have grown increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of savings from suppliers. Many managers talk of the savings they manage to achieve as if they are a divine right, or even an obligation. As one manager puts it: “It is either their profit margin or yours… any money you leave on the table is the supplier’s profit.” Clearly, increased power for the buyer means lower profit for the seller – it quickly becomes a win/lose situation.

How Can Sellers Redress The Balance?

Buyers may indeed now have the upper hand, but for how long is this likely to last? And more importantly: how can sellers avoid become easy prey for the aggressive buyer? Well, we asked several sales managers for their views, making note of their suggestions for redressing the buyer/seller power balance:

  • Step into the buyer’s shoes. Seek to better understand how he/she thinks, what is driving him/her and how the decision is likely to be made. Salespeople ought to be capable – if they put their minds to it – of anticipating much of what buyers will do.
  • Be more prepared for all interactions with buyers – and especially for dealings with procurement
  • Revise all aspects of your sales approach – from pre-qualification to closing – to reflect the new realities of buying
  • Better manage opportunities in the pipeline. As a seller, you need to start thinking two steps ahead; you must be on the lookout for early warning signs, and should always be looking around the next bend. That way you won’t be caught off-guard so easily or often.
  • Get involved earlier, always with a view towards influencing the specification or shaping the purchase (as opposed to simply waiting on the call to a competitive tender)
  • Adapt how you sell to fit the new realities of how your customers buy, including the requirements of the buying process, the business case and the buying team
  • Focus on more effective negotiation, with a particular emphasis on pre-negotiation preparation
  • Stop relying on past relationships or past glory. Strive to become more proactive in guarding existing accounts, while always planning ahead for the possibility that they will go out to tender.
  • Adopt an account development mindset, as opposed to one simply focused on account management. In other words, look to emphasize innovation and partnership.
  • Stop acting like a salesperson, and start behaving like an expert or trusted advisor upon whom the buyer can depend
  • You must be prepared to walk away, especially if you are either unwilling to be bullied by a buyer or determined to protect your margin. At the end of the day if the buyer doesn’t value your value, you have to walk.

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