Why is it important for salespeople to understand their customers’ or potential customers’ supplier lifecycle?
It is an undeniable fact that the more we know about our customers’ requirements, the more we know about their procurement and selection process, the more successful we will be. No sales organisation would disagree with this statement; any sales training consultancy would claim that they train sales people to be customer focused.
However, isn’t the reality that usually the first time we get to see the customer requirements clearly defined is when we get sight of the RFP? The same RFP that prescribes what information you must provide, and in what format. If you have not been able to influence the RFP in any way, your chance to differentiate your offer, post RFP, is limited.
So how will understanding the supplier lifecycle help you – not just in the pre-sales phase, but post sales as well?
Put simply – understanding the supplier lifecycle will enable you to map your sales process and thinking to the process and thinking of the customer. This is because the supplier lifecycle is a holistic model – of which procurement is just a part. It covers activities pre RFP and sourcing, and those post engagement – how the customer seeks to work with a supplier once the service delivery or project is live.
As with sales models and concepts, there are a vast number of supplier lifecycle models; however the generic 5 stage approach described here is typical.
Identify – For the product, service, or project in question – establish objectives, outcomes and the detailed requirements at the business, user and technical levels
Research – Investigation and planning before moving to sourcing – to ensure that the strategy is focussed on the most effective engagement models with the right “screened in” potential suppliers
Source – The formal procurement phase – the step of going to the market with defined requirements, receiving proposals and making selection decisions against pre- defined criteria
Integrate – Engaging and transitioning -The iterative stage between sourcing decision and deliver. Designed to ensure that people and processes are aligned in moving from current state to the new business as usual
Deliver – Implementing and developing -To ensure that the supplier delivers, as a minimum, what they are contracted to deliver, to quality, time and price. Developing is about investing in the relationship, to enhance performance, and maximising value.
So how can you use this understanding to help you win more sales, and to develop an account?
- Use your contacts in your customers to find out what the lifecycle model looks like in their organisation – just asking the question will demonstrate you are trying to understand their world
- Investigate to find out who the key stakeholders are at each stage of the cycle
- Use your awareness of the integrate and deliver stages to highlight in your RFP response that you understand their expectations of you as a supplier throughout the service/ project duration
- Demonstrate your understanding of this holistic approach by asking in depth, searching questions for each phase; more than the usual questions, important though they are, of “what are your requirements?” and “what is your decision making process?”
Richard Moxham is MD of Supplier Management Training Ltd, a specialist consultancy advising and training clients in improving their management of strategic suppliers – in performance and relationship terms. In a previous life he worked in a number of sales and sales management roles, so can see the world from both customer and supplier perspectives