Selling to Customers of the New School

by Chris Arlen on September 2, 2011

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Selling to New School CustomersCustomers and buying have changed. More than online reverse auctions, new school customers view suppliers and selling services differently than the old school.

Remember back in the day when old school customers:

  • Had been at their company for decades, not years
  • Knew a lot about the service they managed
  • Didn’t have to vett their choices through Procurement
  • Understood the true cost of lowest price
  • Were secure in their jobs & knew it

To sell to the old school, sales reps had to know a great deal about their service.

Sales reps knew they could get a first couple of meetings with these customers because they weren’t going anywhere.

Sales reps couldn’t take advantage of old school customers’ innocence or ignorance because they didn’t have any.

A few old school customers remain, but not many.

Welcome to the New School

New school customers work in, and are shaped by, a very different world than the old school. New school customers are recognized by their:

  • Limited experience in business
    – “I’ve never really selected or managed an outsourced service before.”
  • Lack of knowledge about the service they manage & buy
    – “Labor wages can always go lower, someone’s willing to do it for that.”
  • High rates of churn in their position
    – “This is a stepping stone for higher up, and I cost less than my predecessor.”
  • Wearing multiple hats
    – “With all the layoffs around here I’m doing the work of five.”
  • Lack of job security
    – “You haven’t heard anything about my position, have you?”

New School & Risk Syndication

In today’s uncertain business environment, the new school customer doesn’t want to get fired.

Yet they still must select new suppliers and make decisions. But they don’t want to get the blame if it’s a bad one.

So they syndicate the risk of a bad decision by spreading it amongst other decision makers. They make sure their choice is the same as the others.

This risk syndication can be informal, an over coffee chat with peers, or structured in the RFP process with decision makers from other departments.

Interestingly, the other decision makers are also new school and suffer under those same influences.

Multiple Decision Makers – Multiple Agendas

Interdependent (not independent) decision making is the key difference between the new school customer and the old.

This means sales reps must sell to multiple decision makers – which leads to multiple agendas from different departments, plus the personal agendas of the individuals.

This makes selling exponentially more difficult. Add to this the reality that sales reps rarely get access to all those decision makers. Therefore they’re not discovering those other agendas.

It’s the Sales Proposal

The only sales mechanism that can reach them all is the sales proposal.

Therefore, a proposal must sell when the rep is not there. It must sell to multiple agendas that are not solely related to the management of the service.

This makes the sales proposal the most critical step in the sales cycle. It must speak to more than service issues, but must also address broader business issues. Issues that expand the sales conversation into the other decision makers’ agendas.

And all this takes place in a written document with 1,000s of words, which is then multiplied by 3 to 6 other supplier proposals. It’s no joke that new school decision makers have a mountainous chore ahead of them.

Because if a sales rep’s proposal doesn’t sell to multiple agendas, well then the new school customer says

– “Who’s ever gotten fired for choosing the lowest price?”

How do you Sell to Multiple Decision Makers & Agendas?

This is the norm. How do you deal with it? Post up your comments.

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