I was at my first small business networking meeting of 2016 this week and the subject of the monthly presentation was telephone selling. When the question and answer segment took place at the end of the presentation, one businessman, who sold mechanical and hydraulic bearings asked how to get past the CEO’s Personal Assistant.
The speaker explained that such a person is referred to as a gatekeeper and their role is to filter calls and to arrange the information which is presented to their extremely busy employer. He stressed honesty in the reason for the call and persistence.
Sales practices are a completely different skill set to those of the marketing strategist but marketing theory can be applied to understand the behaviour of organisations when they buy. Such understanding may help you get past the gatekeeper.
Firstly, businesses and consumers buy in different ways.
For many years it was thought that consumers and businesses purchased in a similar way; through a structured process of investigation and decision-making. Now this may be the case for consumers making big decisions, such as buying a house but for the majority of consumer purchases, a less structured emotional response to buying takes place. A whole science, called behavioural economics now exists to study how consumer purchases are affected by their environment, emotions and environment.
Where consumers purchase on emotion, businesses purchase on the basis of economic and technical specifications. The process of most business purchasing is as follows:
- Identify a potential business need
- Determine the specification that will satisfy that need
- Search for a solution for the need which meets the defined specification
- acquire and analyse sales proposals
- Evaluate the proposals
- Select the winning bid and make the purchase
- Review the purchase process and the items acquired.
the second thing to remember when selling to businesses is that you are usually selling to a group of people, or a decision-making unit. In most consumer sales, you are selling to an individual.
Business decision-making units are usually made up of:
- Users of the particular product or component
- influencers on purchasing decisions such as accountants
- initiators of the purchasing process such as operations managers
- and, executors, such as buyers who actually carry out the purchase process.
All of these individuals may have one or more gatekeepers filtering the information they receive. As each member of the decision-making unit is a person, they also have emotions and preconceived beliefs and values which may conflict with those of other group members.
So how would I approach the task of getting past a gatekeeper. Well, honesty and persistence are important but I would also suggest:
- Doing your homework. Research the organisation you are going to approach and identify likely members of the decision-making unit. Find out the needs of the organisation and any potential issues they may have. Then tailor your call to meet those issues or needs. Remember a gatekeeper is not there to stop all calls from getting through; they are there to let through appropriate calls.
- Don’t expect an instant purchase decision. The sales call is the beginning of a dialogue between your firm and the potential client. An initial call may only be to make the company aware of your existence.
- Follow up the call with an email to the decision-making unit which clearly outlines the products you offer and how those products meet the clients needs. Importantly, state why you believe your company can supply a better product and service than the clients existing supplier. State in the email that you will call back within a few days to discuss the contents of your e-mail and to get their feedback.
- Consider the different needs of DMU members. Accountants may be focused on cutting costs, initiators may need to solve a problem, users may want the highest quality or highest functioning product available and the CEO may be focused on the bottom line.
- Finally, remember that you ate selling to a group, not an individual. You may have to contact several people at a firm to get on the client’s radar as a potential supplier. A rejection from one member of the Decision-Making Unit may be followed up by a more positive response from another member.
Philmus Consulting Ltd Is a marketing strategy and trading law compliance consultancy that can help your business develop effective and efficient marketing plans.