John O' Gorman

Sellers: Don’t Get Caught Offside!

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Offside rules in soccer limit the field of play resulting in penalties for those who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something similar is happening in selling – where a more strategic approach to buying means sellers are increasingly being caught offside.

Sellers Caught Offside

The New Offside Rules

Buying has changed. One of the most noticable changes is that important buying decisions involve more information gathering, analysis and planning. This is taking place up front and quite often in advance of a salesperson, or potential supplier being called.

‘Sellers are increasingly finding themselves offside…’

Buyers have redrawn the pitch to reflect the new more strategic basis for buying decisions, with the result that how, where and when sellers compete is restricted. By the time the sellers get a touch of the ball, the game may be almost over.


Offside Rules in Selling


Excluded From The Field Of Play

In respect of many decisions sellers may be excluded from an increasing part of the play. For example, if a salesperson only gets involed several months into the buying process that means it is close to half time before the salesperson gets onto the pitch.

‘The offside rules have changed and so too has the field of play…’

The seller has been sitting on the bench while many aspects of the decisions are made, for example; ‘should-cost’ estimates and budgets set, requirements defined and buying criterion set. For the seller who doesn’t get to influence these key elements, what is left only to compete on price?


Selling becomes a ‘no-contact’ sport

For sellers gaining access to the decision maker is a growing challenge. That is because for large parts of the buying process the seller cannot get close to the buyer without the offside whistle being blown.

In the interaction between buyer and seller there are new rules of engagement. To preserve the integrity of the competitive process, as well as to protect buyers from undue influence, many buying organizations are limiting their exposure to salespeople.

Because many RFx’s curtail seller interaction selling is becoming a ‘no-contact sport’. Buyers will only engage with the seller who can provide useful insights, or valuable information.


Blowing the whistle on sellers

The play between buyers and sellers is being more carefully scrutinized by referees, in the form of procurement teams. For sellers who try to get too close to the action, procurement is quick to blow the whistle. The result is that sellers are being forced to take long shots from way down the pitch.


Have you been caught offside?

Want to see if you are falling foul of the offside rule? Well, for the last 3 opportunities in your pipeline ask yourself:

  • How long have your customers been thinking about it before they called you?
  • Did the customer gather information on requirements and solution alternatives before you were contacted?
  • Did the customer access external sources of information (such as product reviews, analyst reports, or consultants)?
  • Did the customer have a broader strategy at play – one that you were told little about?
  • Did you get to input to the decision making process, in particular the criteria to be used in making the decision?
  • Did you get to see, or shape the customer’s buying process?
  • Did you have quality interactions with the key decision makers before submitting a proposal/tender?

If the answer to two or more of the above is yes, then you have fallen foul of the buyer’s new offside rules.


Getting Back Onside?

The part of the pitch where sellers are not getting to play is the strategy box. That is the vitally imporant area where information gathering, analysis and planning takes place. It accounts for a growing proportion of the buying decision and encompasses two levels:

  • Business strategy – that is what the purchase means for the department, project, or team.
  • Procurement strategy – the goals of the professional buyer in respect of the purchase.

This dichotomy reflects the fact that behind every important buying decision (and many less important ones too) is a business decision. However, both aspects of the strategy behind the purchase are areas where the seller can struggle. So it is that the more strategic buying becomes the more sellers are likely to find themselves offside.

Sellers are most offside when it comes to the buyer’s strategy…

However, sellers can find themselves offside in the solutions box too. That is the aspect of the decision that relates to finding the optimal solution. For buyer the seller’s vested interests in selling their own solution disqualifies it. The seller is handicapped from considering the total solution set (including the decision to do it in-house or do nothing at all), recognizing trade-offs, or complexities regarding requirements, and envisaging the total solution.

If sellers are excluded from the strategy and the solutions parts of the pitch, then they are left to compete on the basis of competitive advantages and unique selling points and most limiting of all on the basis of price. That is the equivalent of taking long shorts from way down the pitch – where the chances of scoring are greatly reduced.

Buying decisions are a lot less about suppliers and a lot more about strategies and solutions. As one procurement manager put it ‘its not about the supplier, why would it be – there are lots of them to chose from!’ That means sellers who are competing on suppliers credentials, unique selling points and features or benefits are the ones that are really off side.

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