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Buyers Advocacy: Dare to be Different




Have you ever lost a deal you knew was in the bag? Have you ever had a client say, Yes, yes, yes until it came time to sign, and then you lost the deal? Are you tired of hearing call me next week or call me next month? Finally, are you frustrated with clients who wont make decisions? This article addresses how to help make those problems go away and shows channel partners how to differentiate themselves. First, though, you must understand some recent industry-changing events before you can take the steps toward effective buyers advocacy.

The first debacle of the new millennium was the anticipated Y2K crash. MIS and IT directors around the world spent entire budgets for 2000, 2001 and 2002 to pay for upgrades and new equipment deemed necessary to avoid the expected crashes resulting from the Year 2000 bug. Then the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the attitudes and ways of life for most Americans. After 9/11, many companies found themselves facing insurmountable financial problems and ceased to exist. Numerous other companies were forced to cut budgets and often the telecom departments took the hit. Staff had to be cut to keep doors open. Voice employees were let go, while data and IT people were kept to manage networks. Currently, many companies telecom executives have more expertise in data and less in voice. The last explosion was Enron — the story of bad guys, greed and the fleecing of employees. As Enron became the icing on this cake of disasters, it also breathed life into the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

To say todays telephony space is competitive is an understatement! Most telecom agents fight for sales that only gain pennies on the dollar and have ever-decreasing margins. It is vitally important to understand the end users environments as well as their ability, or lack thereof, to make decisions given their positions. Those contacts who once could sign your contracts can no longer do so. Getting a verbal agreement from a client is simply a ghost from deals of sales past. Because more data than voice personnel are managing departments, this means salespeople are dealing with more analytical managers who take longer to make decisions. How are you going to get in the door, make the pitch and close the sale before your hair turns gray?

You must differentiate yourself and become the buyers advocate, consultant, confidant, shoulder to cry on and partner. There are no more one-call closes. Clients will do business only with someone who takes time to understand their worlds. They face a daily struggle with increased workloads and less staff to get the job done. A common reply from end users is that they dont have enough time. If you could bottle and sell time, you would be a bazillionaire! End users need to understand at the start what they are buying and what it will do for them. You must articulate to your clients not only what your product will do for them, but also what it will do for their company. Deals can take longer when your contact person is not in a position to make a decision. You must investigate to determine who the true decision-makers are. Many companies have rewritten their purchasing policies, requiring multiple approvals before any contract is executed. These changes have occurred to ensure companies have all the necessary information to help them make the best decision possible. So, you must make your contact person your cheerleader and advocate who will promote your package all the way to the top of the ladder.

You must take genuine interest in your customers and their environments. You need to listen more than you talk. It is amazing what a prospective customer will tell you if you keep quiet. End users are tired of hearing we are better, faster, cheaper, bigger, etc. They are motivated by cost, quality and service after the sale. They want someone who will be there to take their calls after the sale. Over the years, I have heard end users biggest disappointments come from representative changes. I hear, I used to have this great representative who really took good care of me, and since they have moved on I cant get anything done! You must be willing to take time with your customers like never before. You need to sit down with your customers and look at their worlds with them. If you are selling dial tone, you need to be willing to look over their phone bills, and identify errors or other problems or inefficiencies they may be experiencing. If they are problems created by your company, then step out of the box and fix them. You want to understand their products and services, which can be beneficial to you as well. Your customers will not always expect you to jump through hoops for them, but the fact that you are willing to take the time to understand their environments can advance you far ahead of your competitors.

Your products and services will not sell themselves. In todays environment, there are more agents, smarter clients, decreased margins and market share, as well as a greater push from management to sell more. Being a salesperson is a tough road to travel at best. You must take time to build relationships that will go far beyond the current sale. I will leave you with my last thought. Please take just a moment to stop what you are doing and just let it sink in: You can never expect a purchase to be made that is larger than the size of the relationship!

Scott Levy is director of channel sales for Telecom Solution Center (www.telecomsolutioncenter.com).

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