When Buyers Change, Grin and Sell It

By Joan Leotta

Change can be like that all-too-familiar glass that’s either half full or half empty, depending on how you view the situation. When buyers change jobs or retire – buyers you have known and worked with for years – do you see new opportunities or fall into a deep depression? You’re faced with the challenge of starting all over again, winning new buyers just as you would do with any new prospect.

“Our sales representatives are faced with a market where the people change often,” explains Dave Krieger, vice president of sales for Jasco Tools in Rochester, NY. “Even when we deal with the same company, it is often with a different person.

“A new person brings different likes or dislikes to the game. For example, one buyer may require a bid to be formatted in a very specific manner and another, even from the same company, may require the same information to be presented in an entirely different way. If you don’t provide them with what they want, you probably won’t succeed.”

Mike Kraft, senior vice president of marketing for Teligent, a Vienna, VA, B-to-B broadband telecommunications firm, operates in a market where changes are commonplace. “Most of our customers are new buyers,” he explains. “Dealing with these prospective customers can be challenging because we have to build a relationship with the brand and prove our capability as a provider. One advantage is that buyers of a new service or product enter the decision-making process with fewer biases, which might make them more open to trying our new services.”

The trick is to find out how new buyers make their purchase decisions. According to Krieger, sales reps must determine whether buyers actually make purchases based on value added and, in his company’s case, listen to engineering and manufacturing people. Or perhaps they buy because a supplier offers the lowest price. He points out that it is important to understand that buyers are in a difficult position in today’s market. Once buyers were specialists in certain fields – fasteners or hydraulics, for example. Now, buyers are responsible for purchasing a much more varied array of products. Salespeople have to be the experts in today’s market.

Darren Watzman, a sales rep for Van Waters and Rogers, a Coraopolis, Pennsylvania-based chemical supply company and subsidiary of the gas, oil and chemical multinational VOPAK, says learning the buyer’s pattern is an important part of dealing with new customers. “In our business, we have to know how much of the product buyers will need and when they will need it, so that we can make sure it’s available on a timely basis. We are selling a commodity. What differentiates us from the competition is good delivery. Of course, knowing a customer’s projected annual volume helps me give that customer a lower price as well. Like a quarterback judging a potential pass, I have to research the company, ask questions and make good judgments to keep the supplies flowing.”

Krieger also advises sales reps to teach buyers about what their company provides. The buyers may not have a history or experience with the products or after-sale service and so need reinforcing details about the firm’s competitive edge.

These reinforcing details also build trust. “Building trust with a new buyer is best done by demonstrating that we are a serious company and that our commitment to customer service and savings has allowed us to earn the trust of many customers in a relatively short time frame. We maintain that trust by continually proving Teligent’s ability to follow through on its commitments and by remaining attentive to the needs and demands of our customers.”

Quickly building a relationship of trust is important when you’re trying to turn new buyers into customers. “Trust is built on consistency of performance,” Krieger points out. “For the salesperson this means, ‘Are your quotes on time – not just once, but every time? Does your product ship on time? Is it to print specifications?’ Any problem gives immediate feedback to the buyer.”

To build a relationship based on trust, start on a personal note, Krieger suggests: “A personal phone call, a formal introduction letter and then an in-person visit are required. Of course, you will have to back up that personal interest with performance. Meet your commitments in all ways.”

To meet commitments, keep everyone informed, so job orders are met on time. Watzman’s key teammates are the buyers, both onsite and at the corporate level. Coordination is the key to translating Watzman’s sales commitments into seamless product delivery for clients. “I need to keep them fully informed before I give a quote,” he explains. “They know availability, shipping times and freight charges. They get the product from the source, and I sell it.”

Your commitments also continue after the sale is complete. Maintain contact, but don’t be a pest. Just let the customer know you’re there, even if active business is not on the table.

But whether you’re dealing with regular customers or new buyers, all clients expect certain things. “Commitment to big savings, reliability and excellent customer service remains the same,” Kraft explains. “We have to follow through in these areas and build trustworthiness with our customers.”

“We want to be attentive – to not just meet, but exceed their expectations,” adds Kraft. “We want to demonstrate that the buyer is indeed getting added value by using our services.” By Joan Leotta