Bert Paesbrugghe , Deva Rangarajan , Bryan Hochstein & Arun Sharma
(2020) Evaluation of salespeople by the purchasing function: implications for the evolving
role of salespeople, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 40:4, 289-305, DOI:

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As the focus on the effectiveness of salespeople has increased, we concentrate on the fact that
selling involves broad sets of actors and investigate the approaches and behaviors of salespeople from the perspective of the purchasing agent to develop a deeper theoretical understanding of the effectiveness of salesperson strategies. Our focus is on the purchasing function that is increasingly involved in the buying process, and we examine a central research question—how does the purchasing function view salespeople’s strategies and behaviors? We describe the results of in-depth interviews with 35 purchasing executives that focused on how the purchasing function views salespeople’s strategies and behaviors. The findings suggest that salespeople, in general, do not focus enough on the needs of the purchasing function. Salespeople are not meeting the purchasing function needs, and purchase-centered sales strategies may need to be developed. These findings have theoretical and managerial implications and offer directions for future research in this area.

Summary of the article

Stop Pitching, Start Partnering: How to Reprogram Your Sales Force for Today’s Buyer

Gone are the days of the “Mad Men” era salesperson, slickly maneuvering their way into a C-suite with a three-martini lunch and a one-size-fits-all pitch. Today’s buyers are empowered with information at their fingertips. They’ve researched your product, your competitors, and quite possibly, your company culture before even picking up the phone. So, the age-old question for sales leaders becomes even more pressing: how do we adapt our sales force to thrive in this new buyer landscape?

The answer lies not in revamping sales scripts or quotas, but in a fundamental shift in mindset. We need to move away from the “push” mentality and reprogram our teams to function as trusted advisors and innovation partners. This requires a deep understanding of the modern buyer’s journey, a journey that prioritizes value over features and fosters genuine connections over aggressive pitches.

Building Trust: The Cornerstone of Modern Sales

In today’s information age, transparency is paramount. Buyers are wary of exaggerated claims and generic sales pitches. Building trust is the cornerstone of any successful sales interaction. Encourage your sales force to engage in authentic conversations, actively listen to buyer concerns, and prioritize honesty over a quick sale. This doesn’t mean shying away from your product’s strengths, but rather presenting them within the context of the buyer’s specific needs.

Obsessing Over Customer Needs, Not Industry Buzzwords

Gone are the days of rattling off generic industry buzzwords and hoping for a positive response. Today’s buyers expect a deep understanding of their unique challenges and goals. Equip your sales team with the tools and resources they need to become subject matter experts within their target markets. Encourage them to delve into industry reports, customer case studies, and competitor analyses. The more your sales force understands the buyer’s specific pain points, the better equipped they are to deliver solutions that resonate.

Speaking the Buyer’s Language: Industry Expertise Matters

Imagine a doctor walking into an appointment and spouting medical jargon without understanding the patient’s symptoms. It wouldn’t be a very productive conversation, would it? The same principle applies to sales. Your team needs to be fluent in the language of their target industries. Encourage them to stay abreast of industry trends, regulations, and emerging challenges. This not only builds trust but also allows your salespeople to tailor their approach to the specific risks and concerns of each buyer.

Thinking Strategically: Helping Buyers Categorize for Faster Decisions

Modern buying processes often involve multiple stakeholders, each with their own priorities. Understanding how different departments categorize purchases can be a game-changer for your sales team. For instance, some departments might view your product as a strategic investment, while others might see it as a non-critical expense. By understanding these internal classifications, your salespeople can adjust their communication style and focus on the metrics most relevant to each decision-maker.

Innovation is King: Highlighting the Future, Not Just the Present

Today’s buyers aren’t just looking for solutions to current problems; they’re seeking partners who can help them navigate an ever-changing landscape. This is where your sales force can truly shine. Help them identify how your product or service can fuel innovation within the buyer’s company. Can your solution help them streamline processes, improve efficiency, or unlock new revenue streams? Highlighting the future-oriented benefits of your offering positions your sales team as strategic partners, not just vendors.

Focusing on TCO: The Value Proposition Beyond Price

While price is always a factor, today’s buyers are increasingly focused on the total cost of ownership (TCO). This includes not just the initial purchase price, but also factors like implementation costs, ongoing maintenance, and employee training. Equip your sales force with the tools and resources to effectively communicate the long-term value proposition of your product. By presenting a clear picture of the TCO, your salespeople move beyond a simple price negotiation and demonstrate a commitment to the buyer’s bottom line.

Reprogramming for Success: A Commitment to Continuous Learning

The transition from “pitchmen” to strategic partners requires a continuous learning mindset within your sales organization. Invest in ongoing sales training programs that focus on building trust, consultative selling, and industry expertise. Encourage your team to embrace new technologies like sales automation tools and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms that streamline workflows and free up valuable time for building relationships.

By implementing these strategies, you can transform your sales force from order-takers into strategic partners. This shift will not only lead to increased sales figures but also foster customer loyalty and drive long-term growth for your organization. Remember, in today’s buyer-centric world, it’s not about selling a product; it’s about building trust, delivering value, and becoming an indispensable partner on the buyer’s journey.