Successful Sales: Achieving the Commitment

August 25, 2003 - 12:05

Part seven in an eight-part series about sales strategies that improve profit.

Let's quickly cover the important steps that have led to
this key point in the sales contact situation:

This specific interaction with the customer began with the
establishment of a plan to reach an agreement. Recall that this agreement
engages the customer in the process and allows you to move the sales call
forward. Since you plan to reach some level of agreement on each and every
contact, not every contact includes a plan to receive the order. Other examples
include: gaining agreement for an appointment next week, gaining an agreement
for the customer to visit your greenhouse facility, gaining an agreement to
review your proposal for next year's business and achieving an agreement on the
order for next season's business.

You created situations to further the relationship between
you and your customer.

You discovered key items that are of the highest importance
to your customer by asking good open-ended questions.

You made a great presentation of your company's unique
abilities to provide for the needs that you uncovered.

Now is the time to ask for the commitment.

Buying Signals

Many times in the selling process, there are subtle signals
from your customer that you have addressed their specific needs and that they
are ready to complete the order with you. There is some danger to finalizing
the sale if you miss these signals. The "buying signal" can sound
like some of the following:

"Your program looks like it will work well in my
store."

"What are your payment terms?"

"When can we begin this type of program?"

"What's the next step?"

When you hear an indicator that sounds like this, is
important to conclude the sale and reach a final agreement. You can easily
jeopardize your progress and blow all of your hard work if you miss this
opportunity to finalize the sale with your customer.

Profitable Pricing

The sequence outlined above is not only designed to get you
the sale but to get the sale at the margin you require to remain profitable.
Having followed the proper sequence, you are in a much better position to ask
for this price than you would be without, for example, having tied your
products and services to the customer's needs. The sequence of steps is very
important in allowing you to establish the value of the program you offer,
before discussing price. If the pricing discussion is forced into the earlier
stages of the meetings, it will become the focus, without you having had the
ability to present the full range of benefits your products or services offer.

Some buyers/purchasing agents will take sales courses in
order to understand the sales process to avoid the sequence that you, as a
vendor, will try to establish. Others are focused only on price and will
naturally bring this up very early in the discussion and end the meeting soon
thereafter.

"What is your price on annual flats this coming season?"
you will be asked. Although you are thinking about all the things you provide
in addition to a high-quality product, the customer is thinking only about
price. How will you recover the costs you have built into a program that
includes such things as:

* a great selection of the new varieties you discovered at
Pack Trails last spring;

* custom colored flats and custom designed labeling for an
attractive package at retail;

* a transportation and delivery system for a steady supply
of fresh product to each store; and

* responsible, trained employees who are dedicated to
serving the customer.

If the customer is only thinking about price? You will not.
The value of what you have to offer must be established before the pricing or
your program is essentially reduced to a commodity.

Negotiating

When asking for the agreement (a commitment to place an
order), always be prepared to negotiate some of the specific details of the
sale -- those that remain consistent with your goal of securing a profitable
order.

An example of a situation where you might want to negotiate
would be if you just finished your presentation and asked for a commitment but
the customer informed you of any of the following "conditions" of the
sale:

Fewer stores will be part of the order than what you
planned.

Many of the store deliveries requested are remote locations
and with lower unit drops per site.

The overall order is smaller than what you anticipated when
designing your program.

You receive a request to change the inputs that you had
budgeted on -- different container, unique tagging, posters at the store level,
etc.

Other requests that add to your cost of goods sold but
provide no opportunity for increased efficiencies.

Since there is almost always a negotiation period in the
sales process, you should prepare for it and be ready to respond accordingly.
You can ask for something in return: If fewer stores and volume is offered, ask
for a higher allotment of shelf space (units) for each drop. You can provide an
alternate solution. And you can also present your limitations on the request
and invite ideas on alternatives that work for both of you. Any alternative
that both involves the customer and protects your profit is acceptable.

Finishing Up

Congratulations on reaching this point in the sales process.
You have achieved your original goal of establishing a commitment from your
customer on the sale of your product and program. You have essentially made the
sale! There is one final step in this process, and it will be covered in next month's
final article.

About The Author

Joe Fox is marketing director and Gerry Giorgio is creative director with MasterTag, Montague, Mich. If you have questions about this article or about sales in general, they can be reached by phone at (231) 894-1712 or E-mail at fox@mastertag.com.

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