Good relationships underpin almost every strategic or long-term customer-supplier engagement but those sales people who rely too heavily on personal relationships alone may find themselves losing out to those who get better aligned with the business goals.

Smith’s story

Smith has been selling to Jones for several years now but things just aren’t the same anymore. Jones is really difficult to get hold of these days and he just doesn’t seem to have the same clout when it comes to buying decisions.

Since the company Jones works for was bought out by a big multi-national it seems even the smallest decision takes forever to get approved. As Smith sees it, poor Jones can’t even sneeze without sign off in triplicate from the board!

Sales is definitely tougher than it used to be, Smith thinks. He’s having to drop his prices much more just to compete. And his boss is always on his back about things slipping down the forecast each month. But what can he do?

He phones Jones – and all his customers –regularly, he asks him when he will place the order, he’s offered a bigger discount if they order before the end of the quarter and he’s put a call back in the CRM for 2 weeks time. What else can he do? After all he doesn’t want to keep hassling the poor bloke!

Jones’ story

Smith’s a decent guy. Not pushy like some salespeople and he’s on the ball with pricing and service but times are changing.

Since the take-over the pace of change has been ferocious. It’s been challenging to say the least and Jones’ job has changed significantly.

He’s getting more involved in supporting the company’s ambitious growth plans. He’s part of a senior cross-function team integrating disparate systems and processes. It’s been a steep learning curve and it’s time consuming and frustrating when decisions have to be made by consensus and then still have to be rubber stamped from the top. But it’s the only way to make sure everything is joined up and aligned with the growth targets.

Suppliers like Smith haven’t got their heads round this yet. They still expect neat little requirements they can put in a box. They don’t ask about the bigger picture and what’s driving a project so they don’t understand what their contribution really is or what the wider ramifications are. Smith still asks ‘who is the decision maker? He doesn’t understand that there might not be a single ‘decision maker’ and it’s not just Jones he needs to convince but a whole bunch of people at different levels in different departments, some of whom don’t even know Smith’s company exists or have their own suppliers and preferences.

Jones knows he’s not as open or friendly to Smith these days. He likes him but he has enough friends. He needs suppliers who add value. If only Smith got to know the new company better and Jones’ new priorities and ways of working he might be able to suggest improvements and new ideas.

Jones would like to keep Smith’s company as a supplier but he needs Smith to give him a solid case and at the moment Smith’s best case is a bit of extra discount if he buys this month.

It’s going to be tough to justify keeping them as a supplier when one of their main competitors is coming to present their market insights and recommendations to the board next week…

What are your experiences of a changing sales / buying landscape- and how is your business adapting? 

For tips on how to take a more business-led approach to customer engagement and selling, check out our ‘Tips for Smith

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