Supply Chain Selling

By Henry Canaday

“If you’re still teaching closing skills and handling objections, you are working at the wrong end of the pipeline,” says Bob Ayrer of REA Performance Consultants. Why? Selling in the new world of outsourcing requires “understanding the business issues customers face, eliminating redundancies and duplication of efforts and adding value to the relationship,” he says.

Ayrer segments the sales process into three steps: 1) find prospects, 2) turn them into buyers and 3) migrate them into loyal customers.

Marketing finds suspects; then salespeople help locate the true prospects. “You have to find the prospects with a high probability of turning into lifetime customers,” Ayrer says.

Profits come from loyal customers – repeat buyers of true supply chain sales. “Loyal customers make the money and they make revenue predictable.”

“The lifetime value of the customer should drive the sales effort,” Ayrer adds. “If your customers have no perceived need for your product or services, the only card you can play is price. And you had better be the lowest-cost operator.”

To sell into the supply chain of a major customer, salespeople need skills way beyond those of traditional reps. “We need to teach business tools, accounting, logistics and materials management,” Ayrer explains.

Recruiters need to look for a different type of salesperson – different and better, not just better schooled. Education is not the same as intelligence, and experience is not competence. “Sometimes, 10 years of experience is just one year of experience 10 times – they are just recycling,” Ayrer argues.

Top salespeople have the intelligence to handle management roles, he acknowledges. “But they must make the transition to a management attitude. They have to want to do it. They should be taking evening college classes in marketing and accounting.”

The role of the sales manager necessitates lifetime learning. “Most of the time, marketing people make better sales managers than salespeople,” says Ayrer. “They are more in tune with the abstractions of management, with the attention to minutiae and details that management requires, and they can do the business analysis.”