Profiling Buying Systems

Mark Frasco - President


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One of my earliest memories of success in the sales profession was based on a relationship I had with the senior buyer of a significant custom machine builder. My company distributed fluid power components and his company used a lot of them. Rick had the authority and I had earned his trust: my company was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in business each year, for several years running.

Looking back, it seems that there used to be more of this; the sales professional built a relationship with Rick, and off they went, doing good work together. Deals were struck and problems were solved.

Today, buying systems are much more complex. It is difficult for the sales professional to establish a one-on-one relationship that uniquely positions them for sales success. Buying systems tend to have more constituents, committees and rely heavily on evaluation and approval processes. In most cases, the “Ricks” of the world have been replaced with buying teams, who live at various levels in the buying system and have specific specialties, authority and responsibility. Understanding how to profile a buying system, identifying the various players and noting your position strength or weakness at various points in that system are important skills of today’s sales professional.

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, I’m not a fan of the “decision maker” question, attempting to learn “who” has the authority to buy. Rather, I like to train sales people to attempt to learn more about the buying system and learn “how” the organization makes buying decisions.

Of course, some buying systems are less complex than others, but here are a few tips to improving your understanding of buying systems. Typically, the answers to these questions provoke deeper conversation about the buying scenario, your solution and information about your position against other alternatives or competitors:

  • “How does your buying decision making process work?” Rather than asking about the decision maker, I think the sales professional learns far more by understanding the buying system. If you let the buying influence speak, you’ll learn important information that will help you navigate the complex sale.
  • “Who is typically involved (at this stage or that)?” Have your contact help you learn about the various influencers in the buying system. It is advantageous to learn when and how each influencer is involved. Of course, with this information, you can now determine if you have your bases covered with all involved in making the buying decision. If not, you have some work to do.
  • “Do you have evaluation criteria? If so, can you tell me about that? (If not, can you tell what will influence your decision on the supplier you select?)” Some will share, some won’t, but asking usually indicates that you are serious about meeting their expectations and building a winning proposal.
  • “If you don’t already know, who do you buy from today?” Learning who they trust with their business today, or in the recent past, is one of the more insightful pieces of information the sales professional can have. This information helps you put your offer into context against the characteristics or traits of your competitor. Are they a price house? Do they pride themselves on product, people or service? How do you stack up against their offering? Can you display areas of differentiation and prove it?

Building buying system profiles is pretty common to our work. One of the more interesting buying system profiles we created took over two years to develop. One of our clients asked us to profile one of the largest consumer products manufacturers in the world. They had over thirty facilities in North America. Our team made hundreds of contacts to learn the buying influences for our client’s product/service. We developed an organizational chart of who answered to whom, their authority levels, and their power/support for our client’s solution. With that information, over time, we were able to effectively position our client in the right spots at the right time, improving their wins dramatically.

Questions or comments? Please contact Mark Frasco at mfrasco@teamCOACT.com