Surprise! You’re in Sales!: Selling Procurement in Your Organization

Spend Matters would like to welcome a guest post from Bill Ryan, Director of Sales at b-pack.

Congratulations! If you're reading this you probably still have a job in procurement. You've lived through the economic blood-letting and emerged from the rubble leaner and wiser than ever before. People and businesses are paying more attention to spending and all signs are pointing to this change being permanent. What great news for the procurement department! I love seeing procurement getting some time in the sun, but many executives are having trouble flexing their newfound muscle. From a political standpoint, procurement has always played defense, but it's time to start playing offence. We must be aggressive and extremely visible -- I've spent the last ten years dealing some of the smartest people in this space, but I've often seen them struggle to be heard in their organizations.

Like it or not we're all in sales. While procurement folks are typically great at showing ROI, they sometimes struggle with handling objections. Remember that your CEO is constantly being pitched by the best in the business. You are fighting both internal and external stakeholders for their attention. When you get it -- you need to make something happen. I started my career selling phone service door to door. While I spent a lot of time wishing I had gotten better grades in college, I also learned some great sales techniques. Having all the facts and a good ROI is a start, but it doesn't close a deal. Every good idea has its naysayers and they have killed some of the best. Your ability to address and defeat objections is critical to getting your voice heard. Here's an old telecom sales technique to handle any objection that comes your way, the PEPC method:

Probe, Empathize, Present, Close

  1. Probe: Get as much data as possible
  2. Empathize: Put yourself in their shoes
  3. Present: Make you case
  4. Close: Get a firm commitment before the end of the conversation

My main point of contract on a recent project was an outstanding procurement leader who I'll henceforth refer to as "Jane." Jane had done all of the research and exhaustively vetted every potential vendor (23 in all). Once she selected b-pack, Jane though her work was done. Despite a compelling ROI and a great data driven presentation, she couldn't get her boss to sign off. If the key to making any sale is finding and removing objections, then Jane needed to find and address the underlining objections that her boss had, but she had no idea what they were.

After being put off for third time, Jane decided to put on her sales hat. At their next meeting, Jane firmly asked why her project was being delayed. The boss replied that he just didn't have the budget. She probed further, asking exactly which budget numbers he was looking at and what initiatives were ahead of hers, and gleaned some very valuable information. She empathized by saying "I can see how your budget is being pulled in a lot of directions right now. I would hate to be in your shoes" and then presented, by saying "I know things have changed since we originally scoped this out, but we can't measure success of the other initiatives without the purchase-to-pay project. As a matter of fact, we can use the savings from my project to finance the other initiatives that we have scheduled for the end of the year."

Needless to say the project went live after Jane took the initiative to address specific objections and make her case. If all clients could sell this well, my job would be a lot easier. You don't have to be a natural salesperson to get what you want out of your organization, you just have to know the basics. The PEPC can be used by anyone for almost anything -- it just take a little practice.

Happy Selling.

-- Bill Ryan, Director of Sales, b-pack

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