Ray Collis

Fortress Buying – Why Won’t Buyers Let You In?

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More and more professional buyers are adopting a ‘fortress mindset’ in their approach to dealing with sellers. In short, they have erected defenses that are designed to keep sellers at bay. In this article, we examine how you can encourage buyers to lower their defenses.

Buyers adopt a fortress mindset

Buyers have grown increasingly protective of how buying decisions are made. As a result, they may go to great lengths to guard information and access. They are also resolute in their defence of the competitive bid and steadfast in their resistance to seller ploys.


Buyers Raise Their Defences

Many large organizations have adopted a fortress mindset in their approach to buying, and in particular in their dealings with sellers. They have erected thick walls – in the form of complex buying processes, rules and procedures – in a bid to:

  • Safeguard scarce organizational resources and tightening budgets
  • Protect manager-buyers from the undue influence of salespeople
  • Ensure that only the most competitive suppliers get through
  • Defend against the unwanted advances of sellers/seller ploys
  • Guard access to information, as well as to those who hold it
  • Rein in managers and restrict their freedom to spend

In short, the walls around buying have been designed to ensure greater control over those on the inside (i.e. managers and buyers), as well as those on the outside (i.e. sellers). As many salespeople suspect, the buyer’s increasingly rigid and inflexible competitive tendering processes are designed to keep sellers at bay.

The Wall Between Buyer & Seller

Modern competitive tendering processes, with their added formality, complexity and bureaucracy, are the equivalent of Fortress Buying. Each step in the buying process is another brick in the thick wall that protects buyers from predatory sellers.

The rise of the competitive tender in particular means sellers are now submitting RFP/RFQ responses where they used to send salespeople. The interaction between sellers and buyers is increasingly governed by rules and procedures that generally result in the seller having:

  • Less access
  • Less information
  • Less visibility
  • Less influence
  • Less power

The fortress mindset encourages the use, not just of competitive buying processes, but also of cross-functional buying teams and complex business case requirements to keep sellers at bay. All this has made selling a lot more difficult in recent years.

“Getting to sell to senior managers nowadays is a privilege granted to only a few sellers…”

The walls are also designed to limit access to the buying team – that is, to all those who will have a hand in shaping or making the decision. As today’s salespeople know only too well, getting to sell to senior managers is a privilege granted to only a few sellers.

How to get inside the buyer’s fortress? How to get the buyer to lower the drawbridge and let you in? Well, firstly by means of a compelling business case.

The Seller’s Trojan Horse

How to get past the buyer’s defences and to regain access and influence over the purchase decision? Should you simply ‘lay siege’ to the buyer, attempting, for instance, to scale the walls? Well, let’s take an example from the Greeks.

The Greeks famously used subterfuge to break the stalemate in a long war with the Trojans. They built a large wooden horse, which concealed a number of Greek soldiers, and left it behind as a ‘gift’. The Trojans wheeled the horse inside the walled city of Troy, thereby unwittingly granting the enemy access. The Greeks now had the upper hand, and defeat for the Trojans swiftly followed.

Superior buyer knowledge is the seller’s equivalent of the Trojan horse. This can be seen as a three-legged construct, which balances on the following:

The only way to gain entry to the buyer’s camp is to be wheeled inside, and that means:

  • Your sales process taking on the form of the buying process
  • Your sales proposal taking on the appearance of the business case
  • Your sales team taking on the shape of the buying team

The Business Case Wins Access

Most important of all, however, is the notion of the business case as a means of entering the buying fortress. To continue with our fortress analogy, the business case should be viewed as the drawbridge – the only sure way of accessing the buyer.

“…The business case represents the drawbridge – the only sure way of accessing the buyer.”

When sellers appeal directly to the business case – the economic buying logic – of the buyer, they immediately prove their worthiness. In effect, they are saying to the buyer: “Let us in! We’d like to talk to you about the results you want to achieve, and at the same time share with you the results we’ve helped others to achieve.” For most buyers that is a pretty tempting message, and one that generally gets the drawbridge lifted.

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