It happens nearly every seminar that I do. During the question and answer session, a salesperson – many times a very good one – describes a situation where the customer is putting them through the proverbial mill. The situation they describe often differs, but the result is the same – the customer is leading the salesperson around by the nose.
It might be coincidental, but much of the time, these same customers are not necessarily BUYING a lot from the salesperson – but they have the POTENTIAL to buy a lot. These tend to be what I call “neon light” accounts – accounts where every salesperson sees a neon light above the building saying “great potential here!” Hence, salespeople line up at the door for an opportunity to beg for business, and are ready to do nearly anything to get that business.
You’re probably already seeing the problem. Too often, these accounts know exactly the potential that they possess, and have no problem wielding said potential to play one salesperson against another, one company against another, etc., to get the most advantageous terms. Sometimes the eventual terms mean that nobody is really making any money! I don’t begrudge these customers for doing whatever they can do secure the absolute best buys for their companies. That’s business.
But we salespeople don’t have to participate.
In this particular situation, the salesperson was explaining a very common scenario – she gets RFP’s, can’t contact the decision maker, fills out the RFP’s, doesn’t get business. We’ve all been there. And the only thing that will break this cycle – the only way YOU have a chance of getting anything good to happen – is to use a word that frightens salespeople more than any other.
That’s right. Say, “no.” Tell the customer that their process of doing business simply isn’t compatible with yours. Let the customer know that you’d love the opportunity to do business with them, but you need to do X. In this case, the need is to speak with the person who is making the actual decision, not the person who is gathering information.
At this, the salesperson began to protest – the fear factor was kicking in. “Well, I’ve tried to tell them before, but they just keep doing what they’re doing.”
The problem was that the salesperson had in fact said no. But, she hadn’t LIVED the no. In other words, she had the conversation, and then the next time the RFP came in, she dutifully filled it out and responded.
It’s not enough to say “no,” you must LIVE the “no.”
I often wonder how much overall sales time is wasted by salespeople who simply respond to RFP requests without ever getting business – and how much more productive those salespeople would be if they devoted that time to finding other customers that were more interested in establishing relationships and working cooperatively.
Whenever you feel like the customer is putting you at an extreme disadvantage, you’re probably right. At this point, ask yourself if the customer is really working cooperatively or just wasting your time to keep another salesperson honest. If it’s the latter, don’t be afraid to say “no.”
And live it.
If you don’t protect your time and resources, no one will do it for you.