Getting a consensus – the secret ingredient

One of the unacknowledged challenges in both buying and selling, in the discussions between sales teams and their counterparts in customer organisations, is the need to achieve consensus. This sounds obvious; clearly, the sales team and the customer organisation need to reach consensus across the two parties to be able to effect a sale or a purchase. However, the larger challenge is getting the internal consensus aligned in both organisations; for the sales team and their broader organisation to agree what is being sold, and for the customer team to get agreement internally on what they are buying.

The challenges of this are self evident when you are inside a sales cycle. Getting agreement on different things from different parts of the customer is an ongoing challenge. This isn’t helped by the observation that the customer side often holds disparate views on what is important or essential when looking at a product or service to be acquired.

The irony of the situation is that both sides are trying to reach the same position: where both sides have a clear understanding of what is needed and what is being offered, visible to all participants, and with any areas of concern or opportunity being worked on.

The danger is that both parties create an environment where part of the underlying requirements or offer are being obscured,  often because of a perceived weakness on either side which is then hidden until the contract is enacted.

As an example, the purchasing side often have a very limited idea about volumes which will actually be bought, and will provide a number which they hope is correct. The selling side need that number to understand the scale of the opportunity and the impact of the sell. If there is not a very clear discussion from both sides about the actual plans and impact, it is very hard for a warm consensus to be reached. At the point at which the limitations of the numbers provided becomes evident, it is often too late to change the effect of volume on other parts of the agreement, or how that plays out in the longer term relationship.

Clearly, both sides need to work out how to get to that consensus. From the purchasing / customer side, the various competing elements which have to be fulfilled need to be drawn from individual participants, shaped into a good quality output and cross business agreement reached on what they are. From the sales side, it is suggested that champions inside the customer are identified and helped (although the danger of this is that the ‘champions ‘ can be seen as taking on a  role selling for a particular supplier without broader consideration of other options available).

The radical step is for both sides to share their key issues and motivators in a clear way, and to work together to develop the best solution for all concerned. This approach of revealing issues which traditionally have remained hidden can feel deeply uncomfortable, and is counter intuitive for many.

However, embracing this approach, or certainly experimenting with it, can lead to better and more effective supplier customer relations and lead to efficiency and speed of delivery benefits otherwise unavailable.

We’d be happy to talk with you to explore how this approach might help you, on both the sales side and the purchasing side.

Contact to hear more.


About Mark Hubbard

I set up a specialist purchasing consultancy and a business focussing on seeking innovation. I work all over the world with clients, helping purchasing teams develop new ways of delivering value for their businesses. I love thinking about how purchasing works, and how it can be better, and I'd love to share some of those thoughts with you
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