It is always advantageous to view the sales process through the buyer’s eyes.

Once the buyer decides they have a requirement, which they want to fix, they then move to the evaluation of options stage – put simply – they have decided they are going to buy but they have NOT yet decided who from.

The customer will now contact your competitors. They want to be sure they are making the right choice. Typically, they put together some sort of evaluation process such as a committee, with the brief to evaluate all the competing suppliers.

As a prospective customer, they usually do three things: 1. Send out RFPs (requests for proposals). 2. Evaluate incoming proposals against their criteria for ordering. 3. Expect their criteria to be shaped, guided and modified by contact with the marketplace.

It is vital to recognise that at this stage the customer is focused on making the right choice. Any salesperson who helps the customer to choose between suppliers is likely to have a great impact.

Here’s an example of how not to do it.

Some years ago we were evaluating competing options for hiring a PR agency. At this stage in the purchase we had decided we were going to proceed, but we were still considering which firm to use.

Our buying team had a shortlist of six agencies. Their concern was making the right choice.

I was walking past our conference room when the team emerged and seemed upset, in fact they were fuming. I asked what was wrong.

Their answer stopped me in my tracks. ‘We’ve just wasted two hours in there with some account exec who’s been talking us through why we should use PR. We know that! We’ve gone past that stage. We’re annoyed as hell.’

That seller had made the all too common error of not considering where his customer was in the buying process. The customer was no longer thinking ‘Shall we buy?’ but ‘Who shall we buy from?’

Help the customer to choose between suppliers.

Here is a really useful skill. It originates from an old advertising story about the president of Young & Rubicam who, on hearing that the American Tobacco account was up for grabs, called that company’s president and said, ‘I hear you’re looking for a new advertising agency. I have a number of questions that are helpful in choosing between agencies.’

On that basis he got an appointment. In fact, he didn’t have the questions already, so he checked into a nearby hotel and asked himself, ‘If I were the president of American Tobacco looking for a new agency, what questions would I want to ask that agency?’

After two days he came up with 12 questions.

At the appointment he reported up front what had happened. The American Tobacco president replied, ‘I have a list as well – let’s trade lists.’ When he found that nine of the questions were the same on both lists, Young & Rubicam won the account, which they maintained for many years.

How can you apply this skill in your sales?

One approach is to say, ‘It’s sometimes very confusing choosing between different suppliers. So we sat down and put together a list of eight questions (or however many you have) that we believe will be helpful to you in making the right choice, and we’d like to discuss them with you.’

You’ll find your customer is delighted that you refrain from singing the praises of your own proposal and instead are offering to help them to choose between suppliers. This kind of approach has a professional feel to it that sets you apart from the pack.

Learn more about LDL sales development.

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