At a recent presentation at a conference, I met Dianne, an accomplished salesperson. She sells specialty paper products. She has a masterful ability to engage her potential clients in a consultative process to establish value and earn higher margins than her competition. She commented to me, however, that once the first order is placed, she ends up getting redirected to the purchasing people for reorders. Even though she earned a good profit margin on the initial order, Dianne consistently gets pressure from the purchasing people who no longer see what she does as anything but a commodity. She asked me “Even when I earn the initial sale by following a consultative process, how can I prevent the reorders from being relegated to a transaction where it is all about price?”

Transactional buyers (we’ll call him/her “Tran”) know what they need or want.  They focus on delivery times and price. They are convinced that each vendor sells a commodity they can purchase from an alternative vendor. Those of you selling widgets are most likely to encounter Tran.  Tran can often be found in the purchasing department of large organizations. I often speak about the importance of consultative selling approaches. The unfortunate reality is that very rarely can you engage Tran in a consultative process. Why not?

Tran sees their job as filling a request. Once Tran has identified a need, anyone who claims to fulfill that need looks pretty similar to him through his lens. Tran is likely to first ask you about price, and then when you can deliver. Tran’s fear is that the company might receive the wrong product, or might not receive what they need when they need it.

Consultative buyers (we’ll call her “Connie”) place some value on the vendor to provide thought leadership and make recommendations. Connie recognizes that the right vendor will bring experience, expertise, and wisdom about solving her specific challenge. Connie is open to the idea that all vendors may not be created equally, and appreciates the potential value her vendors bring to the table. She strikes a balance between time, risk and money.

So, back to the original question… What do you do if you successfully sold a creative idea to Connie, and find your reorders being redirected to Tran to make future purchases? Connie was willing to pay a bit more up front because you helped her identify the best product to fit her needs. The reorders are in Tran’s court, who, of course, is only interested in the lowest cost and fastest delivery.

The best way to address this issue is at the beginning of the initial sales process. Dianne can say “Connie, I’m glad that we were able to fully understand your needs and recommend the best product to meet your needs. Can I share one concern?”  Connie would of course accept. “Sometimes I’ll work with someone like you to determine the best product for an application. Six months later, when you run out, a purchasing person will call me to simply reorder. During that time, we might have new products that would be better, or your needs might have changed. Eventually, even though we delivered a perfect solution this time, we end up delivering a less-than ideal product in the future. When you are running low, would you be comfortable calling me? I’d hate for you to simply reorder and find out after the fact that your needs or our options have changed? With your permission, if I fear that the purchase has shifted to autopilot, would you mind if I contacted you to be sure it is still the right fit?”

In the above example, Connie now has a reason to call you directly. Connie still may delegate to Tran. But, at least you have permission to reach back to Connie.

Upside-Down Selling Tips:

  1. Recognize whether you are dealing with “Connie” or “Tran”
  2. Strive to work with “Connie.” Recognize that “Tran” has different priorities. Working with “Tran” likely means lower margins
  3. If you start with “Connie,” be sure to establish an agreement up front to be able to contact her if “Tran” appears to be taking over

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