As CWS Council head at Staffing Industry Analysts, I have the privilege of working closely with hundreds of companies as they run through their supplier selection process. Seeing how they run these processes, including how they make their decision in selecting a supplier, I am astounded at some of the ways suppliers shoot themselves in the foot. I’d like to address a few of those ways, concluding with what suppliers can do to be more successful.

I will be addressing three behaviors of what I call the many Cs of selling: confidence, consistency and compassion.

Confidence. The supplier’s lack of confidence can be expressed in myriad ways. The most obvious and insidious way it shows up in the process is when the account executive apologizes for not being something else. This sounds like: “Well, I’m sorry Mr. Procurement Professional, we are not like competitor ‘X’; they are much larger than us and have deeper pockets, but we are still able to offer what you’re looking for.” Read: “Just give us a shot, anyway.”

Another way this lack of confidence reveals itself is in the supplier’s ability to say “no” to an unrealistic request. Many people may not realize that while the true job of procurement is to minimize cost, increase efficiencies and reduce risk, much of the supplier selection process is simply asking for concessions up to the point where you get to the true “no.” The true no is where a supplier is willing to walk away before conceding.

When I first started in procurement, I was dumbfounded by how often simply asking for something would result in a positive response. It could be a price reduction or an additional service. By asking, we would at least get some form — if not the whole — of it. It was the confident supplier, the one who truly stood behind their service and knew their value, who would say no in a call. This one is a game-changer. Don’t be a jerk, but you or your sales team should be empowered to say no when the requests are unfair and hurt your business.

Consistency. This is not just doing what you say you’re going to do (respond to emails promptly, call back as soon as possible after being called, sending proposals in a timely fashion), it also refers to a uniformity in how you are presenting yourselves to the market. When a prospect interacts with anyone from your firm, is their experience consistent? For example: Does your corporate culture emphasize the same email signature just among the sales team? This goes a long way towards creating a positive impression. Is there a consistent process regarding phone calls and voicemail? Consistency in these moving parts is key in the sales process.

Compassion. It may look out of place in a sales process, but it’s an important aspect. Have compassion for the people making the decision from the buyer’s side. Remember the process is not an easy one for both sides involved. It is frustrating when a six-week sales cycle becomes 18 months. But you need to know that human beings are not very good at making decisions as a group, and to do so is inherently risky. So companies have developed complex decision processes called RFx’s to make the process palatable and manageable.

Remember that the buyer’s or sourcing executive’s livelihood is on the line. As a staffing sales professional, you may move on to other clients, but if you’re a procurement professional, your career at this juncture will be inextricably tied with the suppliers you select.

Having compassion for the difficulties that the buyer experiences gives you a couple of different benefits. For starters, your attitude is more tolerant and makes for better listening. This in turn allows you to truly understand what the client needs. As a result, you tend to be more assured and realistic in your presentations, allowing the buyer to get a clearer glimpse of what your company can truly deliver.
Adopting these principles could not only lead to a win for your company but also turn you into a super salesperson.