Even experienced sales people skilled in the selling process may not recognise common obstacles and hidden customer hurdles that often arise in sales negotiations.
Great sales people instinctively recognise the value of knowing their company’s products and services. They are always seeking and targetting the active decision makers necessary for a succesful sale. They focus on achieving a speedy and efficient resolution without getting distracted and deterred by the buyers’ gatekeepers or spending time negotiating with parties who have no influence in closing a sale.
Great sales people know that selling starts even before the sale process begins.
Firstly there’s the product awareness for both the sales person and the customer. This may be achieved with help from the marketing team if the company has those resources.
Secondly there’s a sales strategy, which involves seeking out all decision makers involved in the customer’s buying process. This may be one individual wearing many hats, or a team consisting of business managers, operations, accounting, and purchasing officers all with their opinions and levels of influence in the buying decision.
The scale of urgency, investment, running costs, labour requirements and projected profit and loss factors can all influence the sales and decision making processes.
Commonly, the larger the ticket price of the potential purchase, the bigger the team of decision makers and the longer the time frame in closing the deal.
Each step of the process requires careful planning and negotiation by the sales person to avoid simple errors that might otherwise jeopardise the deal. So it is critical to quickly identify all those decision makers involved in the buying process.
Your role as a sales person can turn into that of an arbitrator within your prospect’s organisation as you assist each department leader sell your product to their colleagues, their finance officer, operations manager, purchasing officer or whoever else may have influence in the outcome of your sales negotiations:
The End User
This is an individual or group of people who will use the product or service, often an employee with experience in that particular department. Maybe someone who understands the daily running or operation, and is conversant with competitor’s products or services. They know what functions will benefit or detract from their performance.
The Team Leader or Manager:
This individual carries the P/L (profit loss) responsibility and has a strategy for the overall department’s objectives and plans. He looks for methods to benefit his department, but may not have a clear picture of the consequences to the company as a whole.
If he believes the product or service will increase the performance of his department, he’ll encourage other decision makers to complete the investment. You identify him as the person signing the acquisition order for processing by the purchasing officer and finance department.
It is good to get to know these people when negotiating a sale as they don’t always understand the value of a service or a product. Remember, if they are responsible for the process of buying the product or service, spending the money and reporting to the financial controller, they could squash the deal.
They have responsibility of cost management, so they can push back if a cost is not justified by the value.
This is the person that has a predetermined budget to follow throughout the financial year. Someone who’s focus is on managing the budget from cost side. For example, the budgeting can be in the finance department, where other decision makers are looking at the situation from a performance perspective.
Chief Executive Officer:
Ultimately the CEO or Managing Director carries responsibility for the success of the company. Depending on the size of the investment, or level of importance, this responsibility may be directed to an officer acting on their behalf.
Even if the potential purchase meets the criteria of budget, cash flow, department objectives and end user satisfaction, the CEO may still wish to have a further understanding of all features and benefits of the intended purchase before giving a final decision.
If the CEO believes that in the future there should be more focus in a different area, even though there was a budget allocation, he or she might stop the purchase.
This person thinks in one dimension; growth.
Where a typical sales presentation may include all features and benefits of the product or service for the end user, by adding additiional information of projections of potential growth, perhaps with examples from their competitors, you can establish a stronger position to motivate a positive outcome for all involved.
Regardless of whether a sales person only gets to negotiate directly with an individual or a team of decision makers, be aware that other influences can affect the success or your sales strategy and outcome.
By asking the right questions, and by being diligent in your preparation you can streamline negotiations, reducing the occurrence of any nasty surprises that may otherwise jeopardise and undermine all your hard work and enthusiasm.
As a sales person, whether or not you get to meet the end user, team leader, precurement and budgeting officer or CEO, be mindful that they can all affect the purchase process, and your skill as a negotiator will also have an impact on the success of the deal.
In a simpler world, in a smaller organization, the power of decision and budget may be with just one person and the only mandate of the sales person is to identify this person.
Sometimes with sole traders or SME, this individual may have a business coach, a mentor, or an unofficial team of advisers to bounce ideas off that you may never be aware of.
And so the hunt for hidden customer hurdles that block your sales continues. For not only do you need to find the people in an organization that are the key stakeholders for a purchase, it’s important you learn of their dynamics and relationships.
Sometimes pride and ego comes before logic and progress. There’s the challenge of one-upmanship and power play, of internal wars between different departments, and other factors of personal motivation that may over-rule the benefits to the company.
Do they love or hate each other? Who is more powerful who is more dynamic?
Sales people need to understand these relationships to be able to select the best strategies to work in harmony with these different people. And it’s this interaction with many types of people, who are in a variety of stages in their working life, that makes the sales profession so exciting.
Some are fresh-faced graduates full of enthusiams and passion, others are old-school “we’ve always done it this way” types. Others are loners or team players, or have personal discrimination issues towards their business associates. Others love everyone or trust no-one. Or they’ve been scammed before and don’t want to be scammed again.
Whatever the circumstances, whatever the product or service, people are people are people. And, just as with everything in life, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” right or wrong way to navigate through the maze of human relationships and sales negotiations.
Ways that work for some, may not be suitable for other people, and successful salespeople will always tell you that their way is the only way.
Which is true. They’ve tried and tested processes that they are comfortable with and have achieved outstanding results. Everyone is different.
So when a sales person approaches a new organization, you have a choice between two fundamental options:
The first is going directly to the top of the organisation, such as approaching the CEO of the company, ascertain who are the authorised decision makers involved in the buying process. This meeting wouldl obviously take a different form than when talking to a someone lower down the organisation.
After talking to the CEO, understanding the objectives and the vision, and gaining agreement that you can help in this direction, you get the green light to move down the lower ranks, talking to those people that perform the job.
The alternative is to talk firstly to the small business owner and or end user in a bottom up approach, as he or she is the one that understands the need for change, and personally suffers from the gaps and incapability of the current process and flow.
If you make this person a supporter for a change, they will lead you to the right people to talk to, and get the green lights necessary for the purchase.
There are valid reasons to start the sales process at the lower level and progress up to the CEO, or to first approach the CEO and be referred down the organisation. Either approach has advantages and disadvantages.
For example if one follows the bottom up approach and starts talking to the business ownner or end user, you may find out after spending some time with the lower level of people that there is no budget for this project or that suddenly there is a shift of direction of the company towards other projects that take priority.
On the other hand if one approaches the highest management first then there might not be a case to sell since the actual end users do not recognise any problem or a gap in the current situation.
A great sales person will always overcome obstacles and difficulties in their quest to find the right person or team of decision-makers, switching between the two fundamental approaches where necessary to achive a successful outcome for all parties.
As with many situations in life, be attentive and aware that there will always be hidden customer hurdles that block your sales, making each and every day an exciting adventure full of possibilities and opportunities for the enthusiastic sales person.