“We offer the highest quality, the best service, and the lowest price. You can have any two you want.”
– Unknown Salesman
There are many attributes prospects are looking for from their supplier and the sales people who say “they all just want the cheapest one” is doing your company a disservice. Describing your prospects’ possible key supplier attributes (KSA’s) allows you to define very specifically what a prospect wants from a supplier as well as what they are not getting. This list will, of course, vary from industry to industry and company to company but to get your intellectual wheels turning, consider the following example KSA’s:
• Product Availability – are promised by dates consistently met?
• Technical/Factory Support – does this vendor help solve challenging issues?
• Cost – competitively priced products (is this as a first price or lifetime cost?)
• Product Reliability – acceptable levels of product issues
• Training – technical training offered
• Serviceability – ease of after sales service
• Warranty – competitive warranty offered?
• Marketing Support – is this brand have a high degree of goodwill associated with it?
• Account Management/Customer Service – helpful and easy to deal with?
Develop a Competitor Database
Collect information from your network of customers, suppliers, other vendors and begin to build a catalogue of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. This information will act as a guide for determining the performance shortfalls that may be irritating your prospect. Most sales people do this intuitively; however, it is the organization of the information – the database itself – that provides the value. When information can be easily shared throughout your sales organization, rather than just residing in individual sales reps’ heads, its usefulness increases exponentially.
Ask Great Questions
Once you have developed the language around the KSAs and gathered intelligence around what to look for, the next question becomes how can we talk about it? Most will agree that simply asking the prospect “Are you happy with your current supplier?” would garner the typical response of “Yes, they’re pretty good” whether it was true or not. A more sophisticated strategy is necessary to build the need for your services over someone else’s. The goal is to motivate the prospect to voice their displeasure with their current supplier without having to mention any of the issues directly. A sales person can review the KSA list with the prospect, discussing each individual attribute and then asking the prospect how important each is and how well their current solution stacks up. We’ve field tested this technique for 15 years across a multitude of industries and there is almost unanimous agreement that, as long as credibility has been established, the prospects were more than happy to ‘spill the beans’ on their current suppliers and identify specifically how their business could be won.
If the prospect’s supplier’s performance was spotty when it came to on-time delivery, follow-up questions might include the repercussions of the late deliveries. Perhaps this business leader had employees/equipment standing idle in the plant or in the field waiting for the product. Have the prospect walk you through the cost of this – paying their employees to stand idle as they waited or as their activities were reprioritized. Then ask the prospect how important it is to solve this problem. Discuss the aggravation involved in dealing with the issue. Assuming the prospect responds in the typical fashion that it is very important to solve this issue and it’s very aggravating or stressful to deal with the issue on a regular basis, the sales representative now has a very motivated prospect and is in a great position to put together a targeted proposal focused on overcoming the prospect’s specific issues.