Critical Factor to Succeed in Tough Times – Build a ‘Coalition of the Winning’

Published on April 8, 2009

‘Lead, Sell or Get Out of the Way’ – Excerpt #5

Make relationships, not cost, a top priority!

“It All Sounds the Same!” 

One of my mentors, the late Bill Brooks, was a well-known sales expert and coach to thousands of salespeople throughout the world. Bill once told me that he and a colleague conducted research on thousands of buyers across all industries and asked them this question: “Why do you beat salespeople up on price?”

In essence, the answer they got from buyers was this: “Put yourself in my shoes. I sit here at a desk, meeting with several salespeople daily, and they all do the same thing. They brag about all the bells and whistles they have to offer. But at the end of the day, it all sounds the same! When you feel that the offerings are more or less the same, you move to the next step and qualify them on price.” For the sales leader, however, the discussion of price always comes at the end of the conversation — not the beginning! In fact, if the sales leader does the job right, pricing will be a secondary consideration when compared to other key factors in the buying decision. 

Ask yourself this: What is the number one reason a purchasing manager would get fired? You may want to answer, “Paying too much for a product.” Wrong! A purchasing agent’s first responsibility is to keep the enterprise running efficiently and make sure it has the materials and services necessary to continue to supply its customers. If that supply chain is interrupted, the purchasing agent is out of a job. That’s the top priority! 

Once purchasing agents feel that they have multiple sources and a low risk of interrupting the supply chain, however, they move on to their next core responsibility: to drive cost out of the system. If you appeal to that instinct, you will lose! Instead, you must build a coalition that is based on the purchasing agent’s primary responsibility, that which he or she shares with everyone else in the organization: keeping the enterprise running efficiently, so that it can satisfy customers. 

When purchasing agents have access to multiple reliable suppliers, they will — if left to their own devices — put the squeeze on terms and conditions. To help offset this squeeze, you must lead by leveraging other relationships in the organization, relationships with people who can win by working with you, people who have a vested interest in the outcomes of your products and services. You must connect with the people whose careers depend on the results they produce, things like ease of use and zero-defect quality levels. These people must be in your “coalition of the winning!” 

Your coalition might include the engineering manager, the production manager, the CIO, the CFO, the CEO — all of those players or someone else entirely. I don’t much care what each person’s title is. What I do care about is whether you are willing to do what leaders do — establish contacts at multiple levels in the organization. 

== If your coalition consists of a single person, you will lose. 

Establishing multiple alliances and multiple points of contact is your best strategy for minimizing competitive pressures and bringing issues other than price to the forefront. This is what sales leaders do. 

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You Must Lead the Team 

Traditionally, sales executives were the main point of contact with the customer. Years ago clients generally did not interact with other members of a selling organization. Today, however, customers will inevitably communicate with any number of people in our organization. The question is whether we as salespeople are going to be able to manage those points of contact. 

Customer service and technical support are interacting with your customers in an effort to support their needs. Members of shipping and billing departments are also talking to your customers and attempting to ensure that they receive their products in a timely and professional manner. Even prospects you have not yet closed business with are just an e-mail message or a phone call away from your support team. Face it: Other people are in this game with you! 

Sales executives today need to lead the efforts of their own internal support team, and must also coordinate support of the various contacts on the buyer’s side. The salesperson must be prepared to emerge as team leader in a flexible network that not only crosses departmental lines, but also crosses the line between the selling and buying organizations! You must master not only the art of winning the deal, but also the art of winning buy-in, internally, on behalf of your customer. 

Believe it: Your success as a salesperson depends on your ability to build and sustain coalitions both inside and outside your organization. You must create and lead the coalition, no matter what you are selling. 

Many salespeople try to push back against this leadership message, but the message remains relevant all the same to a broad range of today’s sales professionals. Even providers of professional services have to lead their internal support personnel. Your assistants and internal allies are all part of your team and, in a larger sense, your coalition. So, of course, are your prospects, customers, and clients. 

The centers of influence both inside and outside your organization that refer new clients to you are also part of your team, your support network, and your coalition.

All of these people will only choose to become truly active and engaged members of your coalition if you make a conscious choice to take on a leadership role. All of these people are your critical business allies, and, today, your critical business allies must believe not only in your product or service features, but also in your mission and your capacity to inspire action in support of that mission. 

Next, I’ll show you what sales leaders believe about themselves, their mission, and the larger world  . . .  and how those beliefs support them as sellers. —— 

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ( from Lead, Sell or Get Out of the Way: The 7 Traits of Great Sellers by Ron Karr.  Copyright © 2009 by Ron Karr.   

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