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Is It The Customer’s Job To See Sales People?

by David Brock on December 21st, 2015

Recently, I read a blog post in which the author was criticizing a procurement professional who had written a post about his experience with sales people.  While I didn’t get a chance to see the source post, I get the sense the procurement person took a position that he wanted to see sales people when he wanted, talking about the things he wanted to talk about.  Beyond that, he had limited/no interest in engaging with sales person.

The author suggested the customer was being irresponsible to themselves and their company by being so selective in seeing sales people.   His position was that sales people are a great source of new ideas, failing to listen to them, the procurement professional was potentially cheating himself of chances to improve his company.

Well, yes, I guess……..

Accepting this position at face value, that sales people can be a great source of innovation and new ideas and procurement people (or any customer for that matter) should invest time in listening to sales people; I suppose I might also come to some additional conclusions.  (Afterall, sales people aren’t the only source of new ideas.)

Our customers should be attending lots of conferences and trade shows, because they are a source of ideas and new ways of doing things.

Our customers should invest time in meeting with analysts and consultants because they are a source of ideas and new ways of doing things.

Our customers should be spending time reading/researching on the web.  Perhaps participating in discussion groups, reading blogs, posts, and other social channels.

Our customers should be spending time at Universities, looking at the latest research, understanding some of the best thinking of these researchers.

Our customers should be reading books, consuming all the literature that has anything to do with their profession, the markets their companies participate in.

Finally, our customers should be spending time with their customers and their customers’ customers trying to understand what’s driving them.

By the author’s logic, any customer is being irresponsible to themselves and their companies of they aren’t doing these things.  And he’s absolutely right!  Every business professional (every human being) needs to be constantly learning and improving–both to keep themselves current and to drive innovation and continuous improvement in their own companies.

But then there’s their day jobs—the stuff they are paid to do.  The new realities of everyone’s work lives is that we are time-poor.  We simply have too much too accomplish, and too few resources and time in which to accomplish those things.

The very best performers, whether they are sales people, executives, or any other business person viciously protect their time.  Hopefully, allocating it to the most important (as opposed to urgent).

Customers, procurement and otherwise, do want to learn and improve, they have to balance that with the realities of their jobs and the competing pressures/commitments they have to themselves and their companies.  As a result, they prioritize–hopefully viciously–investing their time in those areas most urgent, where they have the greatest impact.  They invest in those things and people that create the greatest value for what they have to achieve.

Now let’s get back to this “irresponsible procurement professional,” the guy being very selective about the sales people he sees.

Let’s look at data about why customers (not just procurement) are reluctant to see sales people:  They are poorly prepared, they don’t understand their products, they don’t understand my business/company, they talk about what they want to talk about……

Given the data, is this procurement professional being irresponsible?  Is he doing his company and himself a disservice by seeing sales people on his terms and being very selective about who he sees?

Possibly, but more pragmatically, he’s just surviving.  He’s probably prioritizing his time to get things done, investing it in those sales people who create the greatest value for him.

It’s not our customers’ jobs (even procurement) to see sales people.  They aren’t being irresponsible when they choose not to.  They are simply being pragmatic, investing their time where it creates the greatest value to their companies and themselves.  Even procurement’s job is to serve their customers–so it makes sense they are highly selective in who and when they see sales people.

We are not owed anything by our customers.  We must earn the right to take their time in each and every interaction.  We must create value in each and every interaction.  If we don’t, we have failed them and ourselves.

If we aren’t creating value, bringing them new ideas, helping them learn, innovate, improve—there is no lack of other sources through which they can learn and improve.

Those sales people who get this right never have challenges in seeing customers.

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