I received the following missive from a reader:
I read your article about purchasing and purchasing agents in the Business Journal. I agree with all the topics that you touched on. However, those of us working in purchasing for smaller companies probably have to deal with more difficulties than those with large accounts.
I would guess that vendors would bend over backward to get an account with large companies. And once that account is established, they hold on to it like gold. Personally, as a buyer of everything from toilet tissue to hot rolled coil steel, I find that I get exposed to “all kinds” of salespeople. It is simply part of being a buyer.
I believe that many companies have high turnover in sales because they are just trying to get their monthly numbers met. I try to establish relations with every person or company I buy from. If the experience is a pleasant one, they are the first ones I call the next time around. If the experience is unpleasant, I have a list on my wall of who “not” to call or to “avoid doing business with.”
Here’s what turns the ink in my pen off:
• Salespeople who start the conversation with a joke or a saying like, “You’re harder to get a hold of than the president.” I have trouble hearing anything they say after that!
• Salespeople who tell me I have to order today because their special pricing ends.
• Salespeople who tell me, “We are sending you the new catalog today. What free gift would you like us to send with that?” Any time someone is offering a free, personal gift, I automatically shut down and end the conversation. Offering gifts is bad business.
• Salespeople who give me a good price at first, only to double it the next time I order. Fool me once — shame on you…
Being a buyer (and only speaking for myself), I would like nothing better than to have a salesperson and a company I can rely on. It makes my job easier if we know we have someone we can call and they will make things happen for us.
My time can be spent on more important things when I have a trustworthy, reliable source.
One of my biggest disappointments is knowing that every time I order something, I will have to try a new company and possibly have an unpleasant experience.
We buyers want to come back to you for more services or products — all you have to do is prove yourself.
— John, a purchasing manager
The other side of the desk
Wow! What insight from the other side of the desk.
Let’s look at the sales side of what this purchasing agent is trying to say:
Don’t start out with a stupid, bad joke. And don’t start out with small talk that makes you look small. Start with meaningful, engaging dialogue from the very first words you utter. What John is saying is that his time is valuable — don’t waste it, and in the process make yourself look silly.
Whatever you’re selling, create dialogue about it right away with respect to how his company uses or could use your product, how his company is producing or could produce more using your product, how his company is enjoying or could enjoy using your product, or how his company is profiting or could profit from using your product. This will immediately let the purchasing agent know that you’re concerned with the outcome, not just the sale.
As a salesperson, you can also bring in some meaningful wisdom from afar. For example, you can talk about other companies also using your product — and some new way they found to make it a better benefit or more profitable.
Buyers are looking for consistency. Consistency in reliability. Consistency in quality of product. And most importantly, consistency in pricing. Notice that no where in John’s letter did he say that he picked the lowest price. What he consistently says is that he picks the best vendor, looks at quality, terms and conditions, then places an order.
I maintain that any salesperson whining to me about purchasing agents taking their bids and then going with the lowest price is wrong more than 50% of the time.
I believe that most purchasing agents are looking to do the best they can for their company and will not sacrifice quality, productivity, on-time delivery and user friendliness for something as insignificant as price.
In my experience, most vendors’ prices are relatively the same. The key differentiator is quality and service.
There is, however, one area where lowest price will serve you the best: Talk to the purchasing agent, determine that he or she only buys on price, go as low as you can go — knowing that your competitor will underbid you — and let them get the business and make no profit.
Not only is this fun — eventually they will go out of business.
Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail