From Salesperson to Management Consultant
by Nils Randrup
The B2B trade is getting more and more difficult. The traditional selling points, low price, assured delivery and a broad selection, do not work as well as they used to, and having your sales people call more often and sell harder is getting stale as well. You need to look for ways to help the customer add value, be more profitable, using your product(s).
Companies that sell based on the lowest price typically have their production facilities, when production has a material labor component, in low wage or low expense countries such as Vietnam, China, Pakistan, or some of the Eastern European countries. Flextronics, for example, which is one of the biggest outsourced electronics manufacturers, supplying to Microsoft, Sony-Ericsson, Motorola and others, manufactures most of their European products in Hungary, due to low wages and low expenses. Most other companies cannot compete on price and use other arguments, “best” product, “best” service, etc. This is typically not enough in today’s market, thus the drive towards helping your customer gain added value.
It should be obvious that you don’t help your customer add value by selling harder. In fact, many production companies as well as large retail chains have started to restrict meetings with vendor sales people. To these customers, the sales person acts as an unwanted distraction and, to add insult to injury, if the sales person succeeds in getting through and in selling their more expensive product, it is almost a given that the customer will not buy from this vendor in the future.
You help your customer add value by working with your customer, not as a sales person, but as a consultant. The steps to success are: analyze the customer’s situation, hopefully in cooperation with the customer; create a joint strategy for improvement with agreed upon metrics for success; implement; and finally keep looking at the metrics to make sure you are in fact adding value.
An international company, headquartered in Denmark, selling plastic feedstock to the packaging industry used these techniques with great success through what in hindsight may seem a simple solution: the supplier assumed responsibility for the feedstock inventory at the customer’s location. Sensors installed by the supplier communicate the instantaneous inventory level changes to the supplier who can then schedule topping up when necessary. The supplier gained predictability, a long term customer, and the customer gained certainty of inventory and lower cost of purchasing and inventory management.
The take-away is: if you want to be a trusted supplier to your customer, you'd better make sure your people in sales understand the customer’s processes so they can help the customer be more profitable.