Approach with Purchasing Departments
By Mark Hunter
It’s easy to view purchasing departments as evil. The number
of salespeople who have told me stories about how much they can’t
stand working with purchasing departments is huge! I’ve heard every
reason “why” salespeople don’t like working with purchasing
departments, but let’s cut to the chase.
When a salesperson does nothing more than bash a purchasing
department, the only thing they’re doing is chipping away at their
own personal motivation and credibility. Talking negatively or
thinking negatively isn’t going to help the situation one bit. It’s
more important to view the purchasing department as an asset to
their company, which they are. It’s more important to view the
employees of the purchasing department as dedicated employees of
their company, which they are. It’s also more important to view
them as an intellectual resource in your selling process, which they
Do you see the difference? Start now to view purchasing
departments not as an obstacle, but rather as a valuable source of
insights that are critical to your sales process.
Keep in mind that the typical purchasing agent or buyer will
deal with far more salespeople over the course of their career than
a salesperson will deal with buyers. This means the buyer is a lot
smarter in knowing what makes you tick than you are in knowing what
makes them tick. When you begin to view them in a professional
manner, not only when you’re with them, but also when you’re not
with them, you will find your attitude toward them changing. You
will be amazed at how far your relationship with them will go.
When salespeople comment to me about how much they dislike
dealing with purchasing departments, I love to ask them the
following question: “Who does your competition deal with at that
company?” The answer invariably is something like, “Oh, they have
to deal with the same people I’m dealing with.” Right there is the
If your competition is dealing with the same people you are,
then one of your goals is to ensure your buyer has a better
experience with you than with your competition. This means that if
you feel your buyer is hard to work with, then chances are your
competitor feels the same way. This should help you put things into
perspective and give you the confidence to know that by developing a
positive attitude toward the purchasing department, you are most
likely stepping ahead of your competitors.
You want to be the salesperson who leaves a more favorable
impression. You have it within your power to develop a reputation as
being the person with whom buyers want to interact.
Another activity you can do to improve your attitude with
purchasing departments is to view them as conduits of information.
They are sources of knowledge that can only be accessed by
developing a relationship and being willing to serve them. Every
purchasing department has goals that must be met – goals that go
beyond merely securing a lower price on what they buy. Unless you
approach the purchasing department with a positive attitude, there
is no way you’ll ever be in a position to learn the key pieces of
information about how they operate.
One way to begin opening doors with the buyer is by allowing
them to see you too as a source of valuable information. I am not
talking just about what you sell, but also about the industry as a
whole and business in general. In this way, the relationship becomes
reciprocal, creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and openness.
Be willing to take the time to provide them information and insights
that will benefit them. As simple as this is, it is amazing how few
salespeople actively do this. What I’ve found is that the only
salespeople who do it are those who approach the purchasing
department with a great attitude.
A final way you can use your positive attitude with the
purchasing department is to develop relationships with as many
people as possible in the department. Yes, there are some purchasing
departments that put up barriers to salespeople being able to do
this (I might add that these are the same barriers they are putting
up with your competitors, so don’t think that you are at a
disadvantage if this happens).
Even if the purchasing department puts up some barriers, what
I’ve found regardless of the industry is that the employees in these
departments are still very much human. They tend to have a natural
desire to interact with others. When you have a good attitude toward
people, they will naturally respond positively toward you. In time,
you will find professional relationships developing that go beyond
the corporate expectations of the purchasing department.
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself what level of results do
you really want. The truth is that the results you achieve from
working with purchasing departments are a direct reflection of the
attitude you take toward them, regardless of the pricing you offer.
Your long-term profit will be in relation to the efforts you
make with a respectful approach. The key word is “long-term.” If you
base your relationship off short-term responses, then you can expect
your attitude to come under attack. Just as you have a job to do, so
too does the purchasing agent. There obviously will be topics
discussed and decisions made with which you do not always agree. It
is in these exact situations where you have the greatest opportunity
to allow your positive attitude to come through. In doing so, you
will be sowing the seeds for a profitable long-term relationship.
A positive attitude isn’t everything, but it is so
foundational that without it, you will never go as far with
purchasing departments as you would like. Make the attitude
adjustments that make a difference.
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