What do buyers want to see from sellers? 

At the PM Forum annual conference last week three experts gave us their frank opinions on sellers.

Sellers need to listen to what these people are saying.

Here are my top takeaways from their panel session. I’ve included bios from all the speakers below for reference. 

Make the customer’s problem your problem

I’ve heard this articulated a number of different ways but most commonly this is phrased as aligning with the customer.

Rob Booth from The Crown Estate put it well when he said “I don’t care if we are a good client for you or if we are the type of organisation you like to work with. I want to see that you understand and care about our problems and the success of our organisation”.

Asking about the customer’s challenge, trying to understand it in detail and then critically, demonstrating that you understand and can contribute to the success of the customer was probably the most powerful thing a seller could do.

Andrew Lane from Surrey Cricket Club used an interesting phrase, he said firms that understand us; talk about what we do, in our language.

Only toot your own horn once

Elaine Hutton from Juul Labs very nicely addressed this one. She gave an anecdote of a supplier who had done some excellent research (that Elaine would have paid tens of thousands for) and delivered it as part of a bid process for nothing.

Unfortunately, the supplier followed this up with talk of all the great work they had done in the past and all the awards they’d won. Awards and recognition is a good stamp of trust and competency - but buyers only need to see that once.

All the good work sellers have done can be undone by shifting focus away from the client's needs. There is a great Maori proverb from NZ about this.

Kaore te kumara e korero mo tona ake reka. 

The sweet potato does not speak of its own sweetness.

Think long-term - be patient

Sales targets may be time sensitive but a customer’s challenge is timeless. Or as Rob put it, he wants suppliers to be interested in his organisation, not their revenue line. Patience and a commitment to a long-term relationship are what buyers are looking for from suppliers.

Be someone they want to work with

Andrew Lane made a really good point when he said that when he's buying, he’s not just picking a company - he’s picking people he wants to work with. Showing personality, being approachable and human and making a connection with other people is essential. 

Elaine spoke about how suppliers become trusted advisors over time, how long-term business engagements can become almost friendships with customers. Her advice was to be kind, likeable and be someone that clients want to meet not have to meet.

Clients don’t want fans. Andrew, the FD for Surrey County Cricket Club (current English champions) recounted how one company spent almost their entire pitch saying how big a fan they were of cricket and neglecting to mention how they could help the Club. Needless to say, they didn’t win the bid.  Partners are needed not 'yes' men and women.

Have a purpose

Each of the panellists had a personal connection to their own work and their company. They believed in their role and that their work mattered. They cared about what they were doing. 

Suppliers need to show an equal purpose, one that connects with the purpose of their customers. A point that Andrew made was that sellers who had a purpose, a reason for selling stood out and that companies with a goal, a drive to be exceptional were the preference. 

*NB: I’d like to say a special thanks to our panel, hopefully, I’ve done justice to the insights you gave us.

Rob Booth - General Counsel & Company Secretary for The Crown Estate

Rob is the strategic lead for legal, knowledge, information security and governance at The Crown Estate. His remit sees him responsible for tens of millions of pounds of budget for professional services firms.

Elaine Hutton - General Council EMEA for JUUL Labs

Elaine works for JUUL labs, an electronic E-Cigarette company valued at over 16bn. Their mission is to move consumers away from harmful cigarettes. Elaine's impressive career has seen her work at Clifford Chance, FremantleMedia, Channel4, Paramount Pictures, Apple and D&G (among others, sorry Elaine I can't mention them here). Safe to say, she is an expert.

Andrew Lane - Financial Director at Surrey County Cricket Club

Andrew joined SCCC ten years ago from London Wasps. His tenure at the club has seen an improvement and development in the club and the game, punctuated by Surrey winning the 2018 Championship.