Users want suppliers who listen and don't just sell their solution

Do you find suppliers are increasingly wasting your time? Are your relationships with your suppliers not what they used to be?

Do you find suppliers are increasingly wasting your time? Are your relationships with your suppliers not what they used to be?

At a time when sales are increasingly hard to come by, it seems to me that far too many potential suppliers (and I'm sorry to say a few potential customers) seem to have forgotten the key principles of selling and business etiquette that are essential for a long-lasting and beneficial relationship.

So let's start at the beginning. Primarily proposals don't sell, products don't sell; people sell.

People buy from people and it is essential that good chemistry and trust exist between the customer and supplier. Yet far too many sales organisations seem to have forgotten the three basic rules: listen, listen and listen. Too frequently the salesperson has a portfolio of products and services that they are just dying to tell us about in the vague hope that one of them strikes a chord.

Occasionally this can be successful, but it is the exception not the rule. Usually we are simply bored rigid and have totally switched off. As I found myself saying on numerous occasions, "You are giving me a great solution for a problem I don't have!" So don't waste our time, listen to us and understand our issues.

But this wasting of time cuts two ways. Everybody's time is valuable and that includes the salesperson. They are not lesser beings, so we shouldn't treat them as such. Certainly we are the customers, but it is still discourteous and unprofessional to cancel a pre-arranged meeting at short notice, sometimes just on a whim. You've probably cost the salesperson half a day of their precious time.

I've known one company, who shall remain nameless, to cancel a meeting with one hour's notice when the salesperson has been driving to the meeting for two hours already. A pre-arranged meeting with an external supplier should be just as much of a commitment as an internal one.

In my time as an IT director I saw some appalling proposals from suppliers. Spelling mistakes, costs scattered throughout the proposal and no management summary. However proud they may be of their finished article, it is a sad reality that while the techies will crawl through every detail, management - the decision makers - will only read the management summary.

And we will only want to know three things: what the proposal is meant to achieve, what the business benefits are and what it costs. All three should be covered concisely and clearly in one (or at most two) pages and it is certainly the most important part of the submission. The rest is effectively window-dressing.

The objective of a successful presentation is to tell us about the products or solutions the supplier believes may be applicable and where it could benefit our organisation. It is not the prime function to tell us how big and wonderful they are. How little Jimmy started the company 30 years ago in his garage and how everything the company touches turns to gold.

We really are not that interested and it is just a waste of our time. You would not be there if we had doubts about you as a company and we really just want to know what solutions you can offer. By all means one or two quick slides but no more.

Finally, I have increasing doubts about the old sales model where the prospect list is simply divided up geographically. If there is no chemistry between the salesperson and the potential client, the view seems to be tough, move on to the next. Far better that you allow the sales force to build on existing contacts, networking and social meetings to establish trust and ongoing business relationships.

The customer should be able to deal with whoever they want within an organisation, not just the person who has been assigned because the customer is in that area. I am convinced that were suppliers prepared to take a more flexible view, sales would improve correspondingly.

Roger Ellis is managing director at Black Raven

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