14/06/2010 | Sales management
I was reminded yesterday by a colleague, of the relevance of the work we do with sales and marketing teams to the very people they try to influence - the buyers. Professionals working in this field spend as much time and effort trying to improve their abilities, as professional sales and marketers do of course, wading through the same ‘quality’ of trainers and material in their search for a competitive edge with the same familiarly high levels of disappointment for those of a more discerning nature.
The conversation with my colleague took me back to some work we did several years ago that I made a mental not to revisit and revive. It involved coaching a team of 3 buyers who were tasked with getting the maximum level of service cover for their fire alarm systems and air conditioning plants (ideally including full warranty and all parts) for the minimum amount of money - at least 20% less than they spent the year before. They had seen the work we had done with their sales team and thought they might benefit from understanding more about the ‘tips and techniques’ (their phrase not ours) that might be ‘used against them’ (again their phrase).
Once we had persuaded them that the most productive relationship with their suppliers was not an adversarial one and should at least be symbiotic, they began to understand the importance of the suppliers sales people genuinely understanding their key drivers, goals and ambitions. People who could do this and help make them happen were actually on their side and potentially very important to them and their business. Similarly, by asking themselves what they really wanted from a supplier. what mattered to them and why, they began to challenge the very targets they had been set for straight cash savings and take a wider, deeper look at the supply chain as a whole.
They ended up with a supplier they had last bought from several years ago but who was far more willing to work with them to identify longer term savings, both in cash terms and efficiency gains than the current incumbent. This in turn led to much of their equipment being replaced, making it easier and cheaper to maintain and far better suited to the needs of their much-changed property portfolio. In hard cash terms they only saved 12% that year but the business benefited by a figure they measured as 3 times that amount when they looked beyond the confines of their own department.
Like much of what we do this is of course common sense but as we are fond of saying ‘rarely is it common practice.’ Or is that just us?
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