I’ve been working on a research project for the last six months, doing in depth analysis of potential vendors for a solution were are hoping to find for a business initiative. It has been absolutely fascinating and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really amazing people over the course of that time period.
We wound up narrowing our vendor list down to a top five, at which point I did in depth interviews with both sales team members and technical team members. We wanted to make absolutely sure that we were obtaining the best product to meet our need.
One thing I discovered during the course of that time, is what it’s like to be on the other side of the product buying fence. My company runs on a Software As A Service model, as do the solutions we were looking into. By stepping into the potential buyer role I learned some things about creating brand fans while selling that I’d like to share with the rest of the community.
1. Understand the buyer’s primary goals and focus on selling solutions to help the buyer meet them. Don’t just rattle off a laundry list of everything your product can do, build a relationship.
I sat in on one sales presentation that absolutely blew me away. We did a quick 20 minute call before hand during which the vendor asked questions to try to understand our business needs. Then the vendor put together an absolutely amazing PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the strengths of their company and the various features they could offer us with 1:1 correlation and detailed examples of how those features would help us meet the specific business goals we had expressed during the pre presentation conversation. They listed additional services, but did not go into great detail on the items that did not apply to our goals.
They were organized and very focused on selling us solutions, not on rattling off a list of features that didn’t apply to what we were trying to achieve. They built brand trust by truly listening to what we needed and demonstrating that in their presentation, which led to a firm foundation for our buyer/vendor relationship going forward. And, I became an instant brand fan.
2. Don’t destroy the potential for creating a brand fan by acting like a pushy mattress salesman.
Of the top 5 there was 1 company that became forceful, trying to lay ultimatums. I understand that every company has sales goals, and sales reps are under pressure to meet those, but being pushy isn’t the best way to get your solution sold. It will also leave a sour brand taste in your potential clients mouth.
3. Ask how soon the potential buyer would like you to follow up rather than emailing the person 98472345 times.
Several of the vendors I worked with were absolutely great with communication. I explained that we were looking at a long time line with an unknown finish line, and that we were just in the research phase, andmost of the vendors were very understanding. Several of them asked when I wanted them to follow up. Most of them stayed true to the requested follow up time line, which I greatly appreciated. 1 vendor got a little pushy and started trying to inflict deadlines, and I had to politely tell them that if they needed a firm deadline that early in the process that we’d have to remove them from consideration. Honestly, it came across as playground bullying, which just isn’t attractive. They also lost the opportunity to convert me into a brand fan. Their brand was associated with pushy bullies in my mind from that point forward.
4. If you aren’t selected, accept it gracefully and sincerely ask for specific feedback.
I had to break up with a few vendors yesterday, which was surprisingly hard to do. I had enjoyed working with all of the vendors and their reps.
Oddly enough though, just like when personal relationships end, people sometimes turn sour and show their true colors, one of the vendor reps turned nasty when I delivered the news that they hadn’t been selected. I found his reaction very surprising. He basically tried to blame me twice for their solution not being selected, even after I had explained that their feature set wasn’t robust enough to help us accomplish our goals. He had been great to work with during the research phase, but was an absolute jerk once he knew his product wasn’t selected. It was a very strange interaction.
A second vendor rep though, handled the news so gracefully that I really REALLY wished his product had had all the features we needed to be successful. He said he thought we’d made the right choice in selecting another vendor based on our business goals, and asked for feedback on specific ways that his company can do better in the future to cater to enterprise companies like ours. He handled it so well, with such an excellent attitude, that I’m still hoping we can utilize his companies services in the future, on another project. I was incredibly impressed and he left the buyer/seller relationship fully intact, even though no transaction will be taking place at this time.
5. Even if your product or service isn’t a perfect fit and no transaction takes place, you can still make the potential buyer a fan and a brand advocate.
The positive breakup response with that particular vendor rep turned me into a legitimate brand fan, which means I not only had a great experience, I’m willing to share my great experience with other people in the industry who are looking for the services that company offers. They aren’t a good fit for my company right now, but I’ll sing their praises to anyone who they WOULD be a good fit for.
It was incredible the difference in the ways the 2 vendor reps handled the “break up” news. I delivered the same message in the same way each time, and received 2 violently different reactions. Everyone has a different personality, I get that, but what folks seem to miss sometimes is that every interaction with a brand rep shapes the customer or potential customers mental model of how the company operates and what their brand represents. I adore one of the companies we didn’t select based on my interactions and conversations with their amazing sales rep, and will forever feel like the other employs nasty snarky people who don’t care a bit about customer experience. Is it fair to over generalize that way? Nope. But since the sales rep interaction is all I have to go on as a person who did not elect to be a customer, the rest of the company won’t get the opportunity to change that perception. Be very VERY careful about who you employ as a sales representative. Make sure they are capable of representing your brand in a positive, professional, brand fan worthy way.
Every interaction a member of your team has with a potential customer, whether it results in a sale or not, is a direct reflection on your brand. Make the most of those interactions by maintaining positive relationships, and you may be able to turn even the folks who don’t end up purchasing your product into fans and advocates for your brand!