Seller beware – a senior buyer explains how to seal the deal

Friday, July 27, 2018:

When it comes to selling, important qualities make all the difference but, as veteran buyer James Wakeford explains, collaboration, honesty, integrity, authenticity and personality are just the start.

If you sell for a living, you’ll want to read this.

James Wakeford has spent 20 years in the buying business, in both direct and indirect goods and services across a broad range of sectors, from automotive, business support services, and fashion, through to his current role as vice president of group procurement at Electrocomponents, an organisation with more than a million customers in 80 countries and an annual revenue of £1.7bn.

Electrocomponents sells a huge range of half a million products, and does business with more than 2,500 suppliers, trading around the world under the brands: RS Components, Allied Electronics & Automation, and Iesa.

“Everybody in my world has been a buyer at some stage,” says James. “We all have experiences, good and bad, of sellers and selling techniques. The key is personality so we need people we’re talking to who are personable. Those are the sellers who understand and appreciate your time, and show that we are in this together. “As buyers, we can easily smell out somebody who’s looking for a quick sale and won’t actually be there with their heart and soul trying to make it work.”

Price and value

Rightly or wrongly many sales people feel that those in procurement only care about one thing: price. Not true, says James: “A good buyer won’t be looking to nail a supplier on price alone, but looking at the total value. Obviously, price is going to be an important part, but we need the sales industry to understand that it’s about combined goals.

James Wakeford, vice president of group procurement, Electrocomponents Plc

Don’t oversell
“What we definitely don’t need is oversell, and the pushy sell, because we want to make sure we are delivering on a business need. Sometimes you’ll see through the sales pitch which will be based purely on what the sales person wants to achieve, rather than what our business would need, so the key point is don’t oversell.”

Know your stuff
“You need someone who is knowledgeable, but being ‘knowledgeable’ isn’t just somebody who knows about their business, it’s being knowledgeable about our business too. It’s about understanding how the business you are selling to operates, not necessarily understanding the revenue to the nth degree, but understanding what the business proposition is.”

Don’t name drop
“We don’t need somebody who is going to come in and quote names at you, because that can be quite grating. They might come in and say, ‘Oh, I met your CEO at this trade fair, or I know such-and-such who you used to work to.’ Sometimes it can be relevant and interesting, but it can also be perceived as trying to divide and conquer which a buyer at any level won’t warm to. Buyers like to feel they are able to make an impartial decision without the additional pressures, and quite frankly the credibility of the sales individual would be in question if namedropping is the key.”

Differentiation
“We know people buy people,” says James, “but where is the glue? What’s different about your business and you as an individual? Be the same person when you communicate by phone, and face to face. If there is a gap, you’re going to struggle. There isn’t a silver bullet here. Credibility is the key and you don’t get that from a LinkedIn profile, CV or a sales pitch. Authenticity will come through. The how, rather than the what; it is behavioural.”

The Association of Professional Sales
“If I saw ‘APS’ on a seller’s email now, now I know about you, I would say there is a certain amount of credence there. A lot of people have different acronyms next to their names, so it is more about promoting the APS to make the buying community aware of the benefits of individual sellers. So personally, today, the APS would be a tick in the right box.”

Talk straight
”Obviously people have different psychological make-ups. Not everyone from one buyer to the next, or one seller to the next, is the same person but we don’t want to feel there is any ambiguity. So let’s cut through it. If you can’t do something, I’d rather you told me. Sometimes you do have to review a potential deal to drive it through, but getting peoples’ hopes up to deliver on a request when it’s not achievable is not in anyone’s interest.”

Be wary of stereotypes
The perception of the typical buyer is about price, about detail, about spreadsheets, but James notes that buyers and sellers are more alike than they might acknowledge: “There are synergies between sellers and buyers. We are cut from the same cloth; we might not think it and you might not want to admit it on either side of the fence, but the amount we drive-through, we should look at how we learn together. As buyers, we buy externally and we sell internally. Sellers sell externally and buy internally. We do both. It feels up till now, never the twain shall meet, but there is so much synergy there. Why would we not leverage that mutual learning?”

Plan and build future relationships
“Everything over £100K is really where my team operates, but if a supplier contacted me to say ‘look we don’t work at that level yet, but we will in future and you may want to keep us on your radar’ I would say that’s useful and it’s only a two-minute email.”

What’s in a wardrobe?
This might not seem to be a make-or-break issue but James advises you to research your clients. If you are wearing a shirt, tie and suit, you stand out and it’s very difficult to mirror the right behaviour if you’ve walked into an office where everyone is casually dressed. “It’s similar to an interview,” explains James. “If you turn up for an interview and you are underdressed you won’t perform as well, but if you are overdressed, you won’t either, so it’s a small thing, that does help develop relationships.” And James says, don’t be afraid to ask before you turn up in person.

James Wakeford is vice president of group procurement at Electrocomponents plc.

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