Key Supplier Attributes

“We offer the highest quality, the best service, and the lowest price. You can have any two you want.”

Unknown Salesperson

There are many attributes prospects are looking for from their supplier and the salespeople who say “they all just want the cheapest one” is doing your company a disservice. Describing your prospects’ possible key supplier attributes (KSAs) 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 KSAs:

  • Product Availability – are promised by dates consistently met?
  • Technical/Factory Support – does this vendor help solve challenging issues?
  • Cost – are products competitively priced (as first price or lifetime cost)?
  • Product Reliability – are defect rates at an acceptable level?
  • Training – is technical training offered?
  • Serviceability – is there ease of after-sale service?
  • Warranty – is a competitive warranty offered?
  • Marketing Support – does this brand have a high degree of goodwill associated with it?
  • Account Management/Customer Service – are they helpful and easy to deal with?

Develop a Competitor Database

Collect information from your network of customers, suppliers, and 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 a competitor.  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 salesperson 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 many 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.

An Example

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 re-prioritized. 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.

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Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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