The Negotiator Magazine

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Today's customers are looking for long-term relationships with suppliers who will be reliable resources over the long haul. In fact, many companies are awarding lifetime contracts to their supplier-partners. Collaborating companies are networking their computer systems to expedite order-entry, just-in-time inventory control, and electronic payment. Strategic alliance, partnering, collaboration call it what you want is taking place throughout the world on a macro level (industry to industry) and on a micro (salesperson to customer) level.

Collaborative selling means handling every aspect of the sales process with a high degree of professionalism. There are six basic steps that describe how the collaborative sales process unfolds:

Target

The first step is a marketing necessity: understand exactly what the product/service is and identify the specific markets that can best use it. This is done on a company level in their marketing plan and should be done by individual salespeople as well. It takes some time, but careful planning focuses effort and provides a greater return on time and money invested. Collaborative salespeople know they must concentrate on prospects who have a high probability of buying.

Contact

The first step after targeting a market is to contact them in a cost-effective and professional way. Naturally, this would be some combination of letter, phone, and personal contact. The right combination of contacting strategies ensures that collaborative salespeople create highly perceived value before they call on their prospects.

When contact is made, collaborative salespeople set the stage for a cooperative, working relationship. They convey their desire to explore needs and opportunities. They build credibility and trust. They express their sincere desire to be of service, and they make their competitive advantages known without jumping into a presentation.

Explore In this stage of the collaborative sales process, salespeople convey the message: "Let's explore your business situation to see if there are need to fulfill or opportunities on which to capitalize."

During the explore stage, collaborative salespeople conduct research, meet with their prospects frequently, and do whatever it takes to become an expert on their prospect's business. The give-and-take relationship that develops sets the stage for in-depth exploration of options that may culminate in a sale. Collaborative salespeople make it clear that they want to help, not just make a sale. If, after information-gathering, collaborative salespeople find that their products are not appropriate for their prospects, which is unlikely due to their careful target marketing, they will forego the sale, but have made a friend and business contact. The Explore stage of selling, and in fact the entire Collaborative Selling philosophy, is built around the following phrase--"Prescription Before Diagnosis is Malpractice"

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