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Helping Buyers Buy: The danger of a procurement approach in complex sales

While it is common practice to train sales people how to sell, it has occurred to me lately that buyers could benefit from learning how to buy.

We often work with salespeople who sell through intermediaries that have been hired by their clients to navigate what is often a complex and long sales cycle. In an attempt to add value, intermediaries often assume that they need to create an even playing field. To this end, they may withhold competitors’ names, broadly distribute answers to questions that only one provider has asked, and issue inflexible, cookie cutter agendas for finals presentations.

Similarly, I have witnessed clients who have enlisted their procurement department to lead the buying process. By design, procurement’s role is to drive down price. This is great when a company is buying tangible products like pencils or office equipment, but the process does not translate well to complex services where value is subjective.

While intentions are good, applying a procurement mentality to the complex sales process is not always in the best interest of the buyer. It limits the service providers’ ability to clearly differentiate themselves from one another. It also restricts their ability to demonstrate to the client through the buying process the value they can provide and what it will be like working with them. As a result, the buyers are left with very little insight to contribute to their decision-making.

Below are five best practices that will help intermediaries and buyers of complex services make more insightful buying decisions:

  • Provide as much information as you can about the problems and needs. This will enable all competitors to analyze the situation and demonstrate their expertise by providing value-added ideas and perhaps uncovering needs that you have yet to identify.

  • When providers ask for additional information, do not feel compelled to share it with everyone. This will allow you to analyze each competitor’s commitment to understanding and addressing the needs.

  • Let service providers know who their competitors are. This will drive each of them to specifically outline how they are different and why they believe they are the best choice.

  • Allow service providers to approach the sales process in their own way. Observe how they ask questions, perform as a team and listen to your needs and adjust their offering accordingly.

  • Make certain that the people with whom you will be working after the sale will be a part of the selling process. It is important to experience what it will be like to work with them.


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