Think about the last year: what training have you offered your sales team on the value of your products, negotiation skills, and account planning? If you haven’t been training them on these topics and consistently reinforcing them, they are still being trained. Unfortunately, the training is led by your customer’s purchasing team and that means downward pressure on prices and profits for you.
Purchasing is a well-established profession and they are quite good at their jobs. They are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing: reducing the cost of acquiring your goods or services for their employer. Most likely they are personally compensated for that reduction. It doesn’t serve them to acknowledge the value of your offer as compared to your competitor or concede that you are the only one that can meet their requirements. It’s better for them to create uncertainty in your value and anxiety about your competitors.
Consistently, sales teams believe:
- their products are overpriced,
- customers value price more than most anything else, and
- the competition has offered a lower price.
Time and time again this has been proven untrue and yet it is common for salespeople to spend more time negotiating internally for lower prices than externally pushing for prices that represent their products’ value. So how do you take back your sales teams and give them the tools to be knowledgeable and confident on the value you provide to your customers?
- Offer training – This is probably the most obvious answer as well as potentially the most expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Strive to offer your sales team a steady menu of learning opportunities to help them develop into value sellers, including content on account planning, negotiations, value-selling, and value propositions. The more expensive path is to hire an external company to conduct formal classroom or workshop sessions, but you can also offer training through a variety of formats including online, webcasts, podcasts, articles, lunch-and-learn sessions, classes, workshops, videos, etc. This allows your salespeople to tailor the training format to accommodate for their location, time constraints, and schedules. It also allows you to leverage internal experts to create and deliver the content or, in the case of online, podcast, and videos, use external experts once and then reuse the content.
- Leverage your own purchasing team – If your customers’ purchasing team is training your sales professionals, use your own purchasing team to teach your sales team not only the mindset and approaches of professional purchasers, but also the ways to address and counteract common purchasing strategies and methods.
- Swap stories – You have a wide variety of experts that work at your company already, so leverage that. Make it a habit to create one-page case studies highlighting situations in the company where an employee successfully increased profit. Maybe they got a price increase, reduced payment terms, or passed on a low margin order; there are a myriad of great practices that can be profiled. This not only demonstrates that the action is possible within your company/industry/geography, but also celebrates the person doing the work. You can also be a bit more formal and interview some of your savviest salespeople for their perspectives on tough customer situations and how they approach it. Turning this into a “Best Practices” guide allows others to benefit from their knowledge and celebrates those who strive to drive profit for the company.
- Spend your time with end-users – Want to stop the purchasing department’s message from swaying your sales teams? Stop hanging out with them! Find out who your sales teams are connecting with at the customer. Is it the end-users that need your product and understand the value or is it the purchasing team whose goals are focused on cost savings? It makes a big difference in the tone and topics of sales calls when you are talking to the end-user. It will also help when you get to negotiations if the end-user understands and supports your value proposition.
- Align incentives – Finally, you are fighting a losing battle if your incentives aren’t aligned. Trying to get anyone to sell the value of your product and strive for higher margins and yet rewarding them personally through volume-based salary, rewards, and recognition is a losing proposition. They are going to drive that volume. Your unspoken message becomes drop price = drive volume = get rewarded. Your customer and sales team might be happy in the short term, but the company’s bottom line takes a hit.
Aristotle said “nature abhors a vacuum” and that applies here as well. When sales teams aren’t up-to-date on the value of your products, value-based selling methods, or the latest negotiation tactics, that vacuum is filled with the messages from the folks they likely spend much of their time with: customer purchasing departments. Refocus your sales team on what they do best by eliminating that vacuum with training and information that supports the value you bring to your customers.