Buying and selling; two sides of the same coin

Buying and selling; two sides of the same coin

Sales people often feel that they are really facing an uphill battle when trying to sell to a customer who already has a relationship with a competitive provider. The vast majority (70%) is convinced that more than half of the time the customer will go with their existing supplier. The buying community disagree.


41 percent of buyers do not prefer incumbent suppliers. Instead they want to look to the broader market for alternative solutions rather than just stay with the status quo. On average, buyers bring two to three different suppliers into the mix.

When an existing relationship exists, future business in the account should be there for the incumbent to win. If they delivered on their promise and served their customer well.

The seller should never take their customers for granted. Buyers are a lot more open to change than sellers believe – and this can be for a variety of reasons. Sellers looking to win an account where there is an incumbent should be less inclined to view this situation as a lost deal waiting to happen.

Many buyers are confronted with the fact that once the sale is made many suppliers fail to deliver on their promise. I’m often reminded of the words of one buyer  ‘the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Unless the devil you know is actually a devil.”

Buyers tell us that they value information exchange. They want the seller to increase their understanding of the potential solutions to their problems Many want to spread risk by at least engaging with multiple suppliers.

Everything starts with the customer. The relationship changes with them through many interactions. If you are successful, you will develop a connection or bond, an appropriate alliance that serves both parties well. But first you must appreciate that the voyage you are on together has many crossroads, on- and off-ramps, junctions and stops. It starts before they become a customer and usually ends when they become a former customer.

If the existing supplier has done a good job then they should have created a defendable position of competitive advantage, based on previous success and current relationships. This makes the buying process merely a ‘tick-the-corporate- box’ exercise.

New suppliers need to assess the strength of the incumbent relationship and either help to

resolve a bad situation created by the incumbent, or paint a new vision for the buyer.

The theatrics of buying

Trying to understand who the buyer is in a large corporation is sometimes a bit like a Broadway production.

  • Does the play have a cast of thousands or is it a one-man show?
  • Who is playing what role?
  • Who is the lead?
  • How important is the supporting cast?
  • Who’s the real buyer?
  • Is it the Chief Financial Officer who controls the money, or the CIO who sets the technology standards for the company?
  • Is the Director of Purchasing, who manages the Preferred Vendor list, in a cameo role, or is he the star attraction?
  • Maybe the star is the Line of Business (LOB) manager who has the business problem, or the End User who will end up using the product. In many companies, it may be all of these.

In other organisations, the buying power is vested entirely in the LOB Manager. The factors determining who is involved include the state of market maturity for the product being purchased, the value of the purchase, and whether you are the incumbent supplier.

The complexity of the buying process is usually linked to the size of the deal. Bigger deals present greater risk for the customer, and consequently attract significantly more diligence in the process. Incumbent suppliers will already have scaled certain heights for the customer and will have had the opportunity to establish credibility and relationship with the buyer. It is frequently much harder for a company to purchase from a vendor who is not already an approved supplier, and customers will stick with their existing suppliers if they can show sustained performance.

Whether the buying process necessitates multiple players from the customer’s organization will vary from one situation to the next. But, in every case, the buying roles will be constant. They may be vested in one or multiple individuals, but the same roles will exist in each instance.

How do you want the relationship to be?

The relationship you develop with a supplier can range from competitive to collaborative. The diagram below shows the spectrum. A competitive relationship is ‘win-lose’. This is where one party gains at the expense of the other. A collaborative relationship is ‘win-win’ where both parties benefit. Your engagement with your external supplier is key to the ’win-lose” or ‘win-win’ type of relationship.

By figuring out who the key players are, gauging whether the sales proposition is a genuine request for information and collaboration or merely a tick box exercise you can stack the odds in your favour.

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