I have been fortunate in my career that I have spent time on both sides of the negotiation table. Most of my years have been on the sales side, however, I did a stint on the supply chain side as well. This experience opened my eyes to a few things that I did not see as a salesperson in two ways. Learning how the supply chain side works helped me understand what the conversation looks like aside from price and delivery. Also, having sales professionals call on me, where I got to see some of the best and worst practices helped me up my game when I got back in the field. Based on this, here are some questions you are not asking.
- What is the sales process? This one is key to understand as there is a chance you are dealing with someone who is just gathering the quotes. It is another way to find out who the stakeholders are in the process, and who may have requirements or buying triggers outside of price. The Company where I did my supply chain work had a very defined process that included purchasing, engineering, and operations. Depending on the item, one or all stakeholders were critical in the award of business. I made the mistake coming back into sales in assuming everyone had a defined process. Sometimes there is not one; you can make either scenario work for you, but you need to know the rules.
- How do you get paid? This one is my personal favorite for larger organizations. We all have goals and performance plans; we all are getting rated on something. Just like a salesperson on commission may have different motivations and tactics than a salaried person may have, this idea holds true for your stakeholders. For example, we all can get caught up on price, as this is the easiest thing to focus on and it is heavily weighed. However, there are other goals that people carry, including lower inventory, lower lead-times, operational uptime, or time to market goals. Having and understanding of these items with the key stakeholder(s) can help you to formulate a proposal that hits on many levels. People want to meet their goals and look good at review time.
- What risks is the company experiencing? We all tend to ask, “how is business”, which is a generic question that receives a generic answer. But asking that question in a more detailed way is important. Maybe the company is facing an offshore threat, a quality issue or capacity issue. Whatever it is, you can look to position yourself to help solve the problem.
Asking these types of questions will help set you apart as someone who is interested in selling, but also in providing solutions. This breaks away from the “here’s your price and delivery” transaction.
Just so everyone is clear… when you switch sides, you are jokingly told that you are joining the ‘dark side’ either way you go.
Ryan is responsible for Business Development for Southern Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Alleghany Counties. He brings a wide range of professional experience including Engineering and Global Supply Chain Management at Bausch & Lomb as well as Sales and Business Development for General Electric and Polymer Conversions. He holds a B.S. and M.S. in Plastics Engineering from University of Massachusetts Lowell and a M.B.A. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
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