Dear Vendor Rep, when you hear “We have trouble … ” You SHOULD NOT assume the individual wants you to sell them whatever your closest solution is. NEVER!

Another Friday. Another dozen topics to rant about. But one has to surface to the top, and this week, it’s the circulating documents and advice on LinkedIn on what a vendor sales rep should say when a potential customer says “X”. I don’t want to get to specific, and inadvertently call people out (although I may if I see a continued push for this nonsense), but needless to say, as this is a Friday, and another rant, the “advice” being given is entirely wrong and total BullSh!t! And I’m sick of it, and as a potential customer, you should be too.

As an example, and this is not necessarily a specific example, I’ve been seeing advice along the lines of:

If a potential customer says “we have trouble managing our inventory and/or raw materials

Then a vendor rep should hear “our business could be stalled or halted if we don’t have what we need to satisfy our customer demand, produce our products, or run our production lines” and “therefore, I want inventory management, product tracking, and or storeroom/warehouse management software and I want it now“.

And then that vendor rep should identify their most appropriate software solution or platform and say “our Gruntmaster 6000 module is exactly what you are looking for as it tracks your inventory on-hand by quantity and location, as well as in process by lane and supplier, lets you assign it to builds and customers, and gives you an accurate picture of what you have on hand and when you will need to restock and even prompts to re-order” …

H3CK NO! ( Get lost, Phil. )

As another example, if a potential customer says “we are in immediate need of Procurement cost savings

Then a vendor rep should hear “if we don’t get a cutting edge e-Sourcing or e-Procurement solution ASAP we are going to get fired so, please, find us one, no matter what it costs

And then that vendor rep should identify their most appropriate software platform and say “our new Ovation Sourcing Suite, running on the new-and-improved Phantom operating system, is exactly what you need as it will save your organization at least 10% annually on your addressable spend, which we estimate to be 400M based on your current spend profile, so you can easily afford the low, low, annual license cost of 4M

AGAIN, H3CK NO! (Phil, we’re warning you!)

In neither situation does the individual want a sale. They want a solution, but that’s not a sale, and not necessarily even a piece of software.

Specifically, they want to understand what their problem is, why they are having the problem, what processes could be changed to prevent the problem, and only then what a solution needs to be in order to help them (and they want to understand what they need before they are asked to judge a solution, and how valuable that solution really is). At least if they are an individual with independent thought who wants to remain that way. (the doctor does realize that there are apparently quite a few individuals [numbering in the thousands] who would rather just belong to a cult of savings and/or a cult of technology and that there is at least one predatory vendor out there that seeks these customers out and actively convinces them to repeat the “savings” mantra until they buy in and join the cult. But there are still quite a few individuals who may eventually want your technology who abhor cults and want to retain their individuality.)

Thus, when a customer says “we are in immediate need of Procurement cost savings

What you should say is “we need to do something or our jobs are on the line, but we don’t know what and we need some guidance

And before you give them a single word of guidance, you should ask, not say, ask “why, what’s your reasoning, and where do you think that savings could come from“.

If the reason is “the boss said if we don’t cut the costs he’ll cut our jobs“,

then you should say “okay, so your boss thinks you are overspending — that may or may not be the case in the current economic and supply chain environment; the first thing you should do is a category-based spend analysis against market benchmarks to identify where your spending is, and whether any savings is likely in each category with significant spend; then, based upon any identified opportunities, you need to determine the best way to capture those savings which could be renegotiating with contracted suppliers (in exchange for a longer term), putting spot-buy suppliers under contracts, or going to market with a (multi-round) RFP

and only then should you say, “now, if you would like us to help, we offer a spend analysis tool if you can do the analysis yourself and/or [guided] spend analysis services and/or we partner with consultancy CCA who can help you with the analysis; then, if you determine that you need RFP technology, we have an advanced sourcing product that could be a perfect fit, and if you determine (re-)negotations are the big problem, we also have a contract management solution/integration with negotiation support that many of your peers have said works great in those situations; we’ll reach back out in x weeks, which is about how long the initial analysis should take, but if you get answers sooner we’re here to help

Not only will the potential customer respect you, but you will be their first callback as soon as they know what they need, and if they can skip an open RFP process in their technology selection, it’s likely you will be their first choice because they want a vendor who will listen to them, understand their problems, help them identify the root cause and the necessary processes changes and improvement, and ensure that any solution they buy is one that’s actually appropriate to their situation and one they can use. And this will be true even if your solution costs more because they are looking first and foremost for a vendor that will help them achieve the promised ROI, not just promise them one (or insist they drink the kool-aid). (Please don’t sip the Kool Aid.)

The situation for the inventory example is similar. Almost every manufacturer has an MRP, and knows what they are buying/using, so it’s likely their inventory issue is a process issue, possibly exacerbated by a lack of integration between systems, or a lack of visibility into forthcoming production plans. Similarly, every organization knows what they buy, it’s on the PO, and they know what is shipped, it’s on the ASN, and if they have a no-receipt, no-pay policy, they know they should have received what was in the ASN. But chances are there is no counting, or ASN override, when receipt is verbally acknowledged (and a buyer keys in a single “Y” when the warehouse clerk says “yeah, we got it“), no connection between the procurement system and the inventory system, no identification of where the product is stored, and no indication of whom the product was intended for.

In other-words, they probably don’t need an inventory system, they probably need an integration solution/module that connects the systems, consulting on best practices to help them get the processes right, and auxiliary modules for sales tracking or integration into sales so the inventory is properly allocated.

They may still need your solutions, but they need your knowledge first, and if you offer the right services, possibly need your consulting, more.

Remember this before you take that bad advice to lay right into an inappropriate sales pitch. At least if you want them to want you. (They don’t want a Cheap Trick anymore.)