As salespeople, one of the things that we spend a great deal of time doing is trying to interpret what the customer is telling us. We all can hear the customer and what they are saying, but so often, we don’t know what they mean. There seems to be some kind of “customer code” that we have to deal with when trying to figure out how to win over the purchasing person and make the deal.
When a salesperson deals with a potential customer, they engage in a chess match of sorts where the seller tries to lead the buyer down a path to buy their product while the buyer, for whatever reason, resists. The seller tries to find an opening where they can demonstrate how much the buyer needs their product, and the buyer always tries to keep that opening firmly closed. It is a classic case of the buyer having too many suppliers trying to sell them what is basically the same thing, and the seller having too few customers buying from them. It makes for an interesting pas de deux, if you will.
So, for the sake of always trying to help salespeople, here are a few interpretations of what a buyer means when they say:
• “Everything is great.”
- Interpretation: “Everything is not great, but I’m not going to tell you that because I don’t feel like listening to your sales pitch for the next two hours.”
• “We have all the suppliers we need right now.”
- Interpretation: “I don’t want to deal with another supplier right now. It’s too much of a hassle to bring on a new one.”
• “I have no idea how much of your product we buy every year.”
- Interpretation: “Of course I know exactly what I buy every year; we have software that tells us that, but I am sure as heck not going to share that with you.”
• “We only deal with suppliers that have AS9100, 31032, Nadcap, ISO 2015, or another certification you do not have.”
- Interpretation: “We don’t want to do business with you.”
- Insight: If you have a technology they need, are cheap, or are online with a no-touch business offering, all these barriers to doing business go out the window. Every major OEM who tells you that you need all of these qualifications is dealing with no specifications, qualifications, quality, online, or no-touch vendors, which tells you how required these special qualifications actually are—when it is in their best interest to ignore them.
• “We have centralized our purchasing so that all of our purchasing is done out of Sofia, Bulgaria.”
- Interpretation: “We still buy what we want to buy from whom we want to buy it from, but if you’re not one our favorites, then we’re going to adhere to this ridiculous corporate policy that we ourselves don’t believe in.”
• “We are under a corporate edict to cut our supplier base, so we cut some suppliers and won’t add new ones.”
- Interpretation: “We don’t want to do business with you unless you have something that we really need; then forget what I just said.”
• “All of our vendors are highly qualified thanks to our extensive vendor qualification process; thus, they are all the same, so we just go with the one with the best price.”
- Interpretation: “We go with the lowest price all of the time, so it is much more expedient for us to believe that you are all alike—price is the only differentiator.”
• “We use contract manufacturers, so it is up to them who they choose to buy from.”
- Interpretation: “We already told our CMs who to deal with, and it’s not you.”
- Insight: If you chase down their CM, I guarantee that buyer will say, “Our customer tells us who to buy from, and we have to adhere to that.”
• “I’m glad you’re here today. I have a couple of orders I would like to place.”
- Interpretation: “We’re on cash on delivery (COD) with all of our suppliers, so we need you—or anyone else that we don’t owe money to—to build our boards.”
There is hope. When a buyer says, “I’m glad you came in today. We’ve been looking to add new suppliers. Tell me about your company,” what he really means is, “This is your opening, my friend. Now it is up to you whether or not you win my business.” It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.