Client PainI have worked with sales professionals since the 1980s and have seen an interesting phenomenon – the slowly and steady decline in the confidence of the sales professional when dealing with clients.

As organizations commoditize services as well as products, push suppliers into framework agreements and head further into e-auctions, the art of sales as such has changed – most people becoming order-takers, obediently serving the client.

OK, let’s just stop this right now.

Imagine that, instead of being in sales, you are a qualified doctor. Let’s go further, you are a neurosurgeon. You have gone through many years of education and have as many years again in the actual application of your education. You keep up to date with the latest techniques and theories.

Taking this on a stage, someone walks into your office and tells you:

a) I have a problem
b) I know what the problem is
c) I know what needs to be done to rectify it
d) You are too expensive (even before checking the price)

Sales Brain
“I expect you to be prepared to do exactly as I tell you to fix a problem that I have self-diagnosed and I also expect you to tender for this work. Oh, and you will have a better chance of winning the right to do this work by undercutting the competition.”

So, tell me something, neurosurgeon.

Inclined to help this patient?

If you are happy conducting surgery under the instruction of the patient without any appropriate diagnosis, at a cut price, then I have one final question for you… how long before you are accused of malpractice?

Let’s apply this back to sales.

I refer to people in sales as sales professionals. The best people in this field invest in training in structured sales processes, focusing on drawing full information from clients as they work to identify root issues before going away and crafting the appropriate solution. They also invest in a coach and / or mentor.

Sales professionals are not order-takers and they do not nod-and-bow to the client.

Sales professionals are serious about their discipline.

Sales professionals are very serious about their reputation (both internally in their own organization, externally with the client and externally in the wider market).

Added to this, who has the upper hand when it comes to that medical scenario above? The patient with the problem or the neurosurgeon with the solution? Simply, the sales professional has the answers and the client has the problem.

Now here is the amazing thing… the client then tells the people that can fix their problem to tender for the right to do it – and to think long and hard about how they cost it.

Just to remind you… the client has the problem.

Yet the client feels that they can dictate the situation. And the suppliers have let them get away with it.

When it comes to a transactional sale (provision of, for example, paper clips), then fine, set up an e-catalog and buy the products as-and-when. By the way, I have dozens of examples of when people have gone to their local store to buy stationery that has been cheaper than their e-catalog / framework agreement. This allegation is aimed directly at procurement professionals.

Late PaymentThe allegation against finance departments is pretty simple: if a civilian buys their internet connection from a media company, and the customer tells the supplier “this is when you will invoice me and this is when I will pay you – and it may be 30 / 60 / 90 days late”… how long before the internet connection is cut?

Interestingly, with the amount of money procurement and finance departments spend on their IT, why do they still insist on paying invoices on one day a month – surely the system is automated enough for payment on the same day that the invoice is signed off?

Remember who has the solution to the problem.

But should clients be dictating to suppliers when the issue is ill-defined, the solution is complex and the outcomes ambiguous?

Yet, the supplier takes this from the client. Every time.

Just to recap all this, sales professionals allow the client to:

  • tells them what is wrong
  • tell them what to do
  • decide when they pay
  • develop an onerous process to earn the right to do this
  • expect you to pay all costs as you tender for this

Want me to labor a point here? Remember who has the solution to the problem.

So here’s the point to this article:

It is the responsibility of the client to ‘sell’ their problem to an appropriate supplier and this means:

  • Approach the supplier that you already know is likeliest to win a competitive tender and work with them to articulate the problem and define a solution (any procurement department that tells you that they need to competitively tender it has not bothered to build relationships with their supply chain – they should know who would win a competitive tender). Any supplier striving to be seen as a trusted supplier will decline work that they cannot do
  • Get the sales people out of the process as soon as possible and let the people involved in the delivery take up the conversation. Use the sales people to manage the process – they have an entire approach to managing complex sales with multiple stakeholders and it can be used as a framework for this
  • Automate the transactional procurement and then dump the procurement department


The reality is that clients won’t change to this extreme, your sales people want to be seen to be advisers but don’t know how to constructively challenge their customers and your corporate imperative is ‘get on with it, quit whining, generate revenue’. But hey, we can all dream, yeah?

If you are looking to reinvigorate your sales team, then contact Neil to organize a meeting.

Sell Me Your Problem