I recently sat in on a vendor meeting with our director of sales & business development. We hadn’t done a lot of business with this particular company, and I had a few questions — mainly about their commercial offerings. I patiently listened as our rep ran us through his slide deck, which focused mainly on residential products. I interrupted a few times, attempting to guide the conversation toward the commercial updates we wanted to no avail. It dawned on me that this dynamic is fairly common in our industry with vendors. They have a limited set of products to offer and can often focus on pushing their own agenda vs. probing for pain points. This can present talking at the purchaser, vainly searching for a purchase order.
I marinated a little bit and transposed the interaction into one of our own vendor/client meetings. I chuckled a little bit as I imagined going into a conversation with a customer launching headlong into a prepared spiel without asking any questions. I then imagined showing the client their purchase history and threatening to cut them off if they didn’t buy more. Why is it that we’ve normalized these manufacturer/integrator relationships that would never fly with our own clients?
I don’t mean to paint all our vendors with this brush, but there are a few that stick out at me. They’re the ones who generally talk about loyalty and want you to buy all categories from them even though only one or two might be best-in-class. While I can’t change vendor behavior, we can certainly vote with our wallets and feet.
Also by Henry Clifford: Rethinking Specialty Training
My vendor meeting also has me reflecting on our own client interactions. While we say we’re in the business of finding friction and listening more than we talk, is that in fact what we’re doing each and every time? I’m not naive enough to think our sales team is executing uniformly across different personalities and styles. I also don’t want a bunch of automatons working at Livewire blindly following a script. That’s a big reason why our guidance centers around standards vs. rules and we look for salespeople who need more context and less control. A contextual player is more likely to understand the bigger picture and know when it’s okay to bend the rules because it’s the best thing for the customer and the company in the moment.
The “talk less, listen more” mantra works wonders. There are even software solutions out there (a little creepy) like Gong, which will sit in on virtual meetings and measure talking vs. listening. Gong will squawk anytime one of your reps talks more than 20 percent of the time. Their recording feature also enables a sales manager to capture the best reps in action and use their interactions for coaching purposes.
Related: Listen Up!
What are you doing in your business to focus on vendor relationships that treat you the same way you treat your customers? Do you talk more than you listen in meetings? What will you do to change?
Stay frosty, and see you in the field.