Sales Training Article: Sellers Shouldn’t Act Like Waiters

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

At one point in the original Arthur movie Dudley Moore says, “Aren’t waiters wonderful. You ask for things and they bring them to you.”

It’s amazing how salespeople selling complex offerings often act like waiters. When non-Key Players ask for resources, they receive them. Some sellers feel if they satisfy all requests the right thing will happen and they’ll be awarded the business.

If and when lower level staff members make requests the knee-jerk reaction to grant it causes several issues for salespeople:

1. They reinforce the concept that they are subordinate to the requester.

2. Things that are free aren’t valued as much as things that cost something.

3. They may give resources away in unqualified opportunities.

4. They lose a golden opportunity to barter for access.

Let’s suppose a technical evaluator (NOT a member of a buying committee) is interested in an offering and asks a seller to have a support person do an online demo. Rather than blindly give what was asked, the seller could make a conditional offer by saying:

If you like what you see in the demo, can we meet with your manager who you said would be involved in the decision?

When making requests, buyers are usually open to giving something in return if asked.

I have a client that was winning less than 5% of RFP responses when they didn’t have a chance to influence the requirements. I suggested that when they received unsolicited opportunities the seller should contact issuers (usually not Key Players) and do these five (5) things:

1. Say they appreciate being invited to bid and compliment the buyer on doing a thorough job on the RFP.

2. Indicate the seller would like to do a thorough job in responding and that there may be additional capabilities that would be of value to the company.

3. Explain that to determine if other capabilities are relevant it would be necessary to talk or meet with other staff (request access to 3 Key Player titles). If granted, sellers have an opportunity to influence the requirements.

4. If the issuer of the RFP pushes back, the seller should cite the time and effort needed to make a response and explain that unless granted access to other stakeholders, he/she would not be in a position to bid on the RFP.

5. Follow-up with a letter explaining your position. You didn’t refuse to bid, rather you were unwilling to bid without access. You hope the buyer finds what they’re looking for but if they don’t, you’d welcome a chance to bid if granted access.

Sales managers made decisions on whether to bid if not granted access. There were some cases where that made sense. My client drove win rates on unsolicited RFP’s from less than 5% to a tolerable 24% by using this approach.

This quid pro quo (give and get) approach allows sellers to leverage what a buyer requests (demo, RFP response, etc.) to get something in return (usually access to higher levels). It also positions sellers more as peers than subordinates.

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