Vendor or business resource – Jerry Stapleton

In the eyes of your customer, which one are you?
I frequently make the point that customers will perceive your value based much more on how you sell than merely on what you sell.
At the lowest level, they see you as a vendor. Moving up just a little, you become in their eyes a problem-solver. I see scant difference between the two.
As a salesperson, you take a quantum leap when you become a business resource to your customers. As a business resource, life is good and your margins are high. But you can’t just will yourself to that level. Becoming a business resource requires business acumen, organizational savvy and discipline.
Take this quick test to see if you’re there – or if you have what it takes to get there. Which one are you?
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If your motto is “look for the decision-maker” – overlooking the complexity of decision-making processes in customer organizations, where crucial purchasing decisions turn on the ebb and flow of shifting influence and evolving business conditions and goals.
You’re a business resource …
If you recognize that making decisions in the real world is complex and subtle. You understand that title and influence don’t always go together, and make it your business to figure out who in the customer firm may have high influence despite having a low title – and vice versa. One question you never ask: “Who makes the decision.”
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you dismiss the importance of selling to senior executives. “I’ll alienate my contact,” you may say. Or, “The decision just goes to senior management for a rubber stamp.”
You’re a business resource …
If you’re executive credible. It’s your standard operating procedure to approach senior management, usually early in the sales cycle. You prepare thoroughly and understand what it takes to be viewed by the customer executive as a Business Resource.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If your principal sales tool is the proposal, ignoring that most are about as inspirational as a consumer brochure on aluminum siding. If you lose a sale, you have a ready excuse: “What can I say, boss? They just didn’t like our proposal.”
You’re a business resource …
If your principal sales tool is the business presentation. You know that nothing has a higher impact in the sales cycle, and that an effective stand-up presentation is much more sophisticated than sitting across the table discussing your product, solution or company. And you know that the proposal is nothing more than a confirmation tool.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you rely on your gut feelings and hunches to qualify opportunities. You spend way too much time on sales opportunities that you end up losing (“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is your philosophy) rather than undertaking a cold, hard evaluation up front about the likelihood of winning them.
You’re a business resource …
If you force every sales opportunity to pass a three-part test: 1) Should we pursue? 2) Can we win? 3) Will it be good business? You have objective criteria for your sales campaigns and your competitive situation that you can use to answer those questions. You apply those criteria throughout the sales campaign, not just at the beginning.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If your objective is sales activity. You rack up stacks of proposals, fire off quotes, wear your index finger out making phone calls and figure it will all help you make the customer’s short list or even close the sale. Nobody can say you don’t work hard.
You’re a business resource …
If your goal isn’t mere activity, but to own the customer – to reach a relationship in which customers will turn to you first whenever they have a need that you can be reasonably expected to fill. You strive to be seen as having much broader value than a vendor, and you know you’ve reached that level when a customer gives you the right of first refusal.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you are content with fulfilling known opportunities with nominal solutions. “Is there a budget?” you ask, then try to show the customer that your solution is the best one within that constraint. You learn about your own product line so you can proffer it as the answer to your customer’s problems.
You’re a business resource …
If you create opportunities. You understand that if you know the customer’s business well enough, you may perceive a need before the customer does. You know that when a company wants to do something, it won’t be limited by existing budgets but will find the budget dollars. Instead of product knowledge, you focus on a deep knowledge of your customer’s business, and on gaining access to the executive levels where budgets are created.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you like nothing more than a good competitive fight. You’ll outsell competitors on whatever grounds they choose: price, product specifications, quality – who cares? Or if what you’re selling is little more than a commodity, then you try to win by force of your personality.
You’re a business resource …
If you know the real contest isn’t about price, specifications or quality, but strategy. You know when to go head-to-head against the competition and when to divide and conquer, or even when and how to change the ground rules.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you are a talker. Schmoozing customers, you listen for signs of a need that will give you an opportunity to pitch your product. Or, at best, your conversations with customers are the traditional problem/solution dialogue.
You’re a business resource …
If you’re a listener – and more. You listen with a strategic sense of curiosity and discipline, applying business acumen and analyzing what you hear. Most important, you listen for the need behind the need.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you sell tangible solutions, with a value that can be measured in return on investment, superior technology, price for performance, speed or savings to the customer.
You’re a business resource …
If you sell intangible value, and can communicate to the customer the value of having a business relationship with your company.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you see the customer as your friend and focus on building rapport.
You’re a business resource …
If you see the customer as a business peer, and live out the confidence you have that you have the ability to bring business value to your customer.
You’re a vendor/problem-solver …
If you understand the customer’s business – but only up to the point that it applies to what you’re selling. Your efforts to understand the customer’s problems are simply a search for opportunities to sell your product.
You’re a business resource …
If you focus on the customer’s business – in depth. You temporarily forget what you’re attempting to sell as you learn the customer’s business, its context and its environment. You’ve developed that unique ability to align the value your company brings with the business direction of the customer company.
Jerry Stapleton is president of The IBS Group, a large-account sales consulting firm based in Brookfield.
June 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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