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BoxScore - AICC

Is Price Really The Focus?

Ask a sales rep why he made a sale. Will he tell you it was because of the price? Sometimes, however most times he will tell you the sale was made because of the relationship he built with the customer, giving an accurate assessment of the professional qualities he brought to the sales process that won the business. On the other hand, ask the same sales rep why a particular sale was not made. It is likely that the first answer will be, "Price!"

Negotiation is an exchange of resources between two parties. When it works well, it is a kind of professional sharing leading to an agreement in which both parties are satisfied that they did their jobs in getting the best deal possible. Pricing is clearly important yet when I interviewed box buyers for the AICC, they stated, when making buying decisions, that professionalism and trustworthiness were by far more important than the price of the box. I see this same purchasing perspective in other industries as I conduct programs on negotiation across the country.

I would say that the biggest challenge sellers face when trying to make a sale is that they often appear self-focused to the buyers they meet. This is not to suggest that box sellers are generally unprofessional. In my view, it is just the opposite. I consistently see, in the Independent box companies I meet, a high level of professionalism. However, the industry itself has gone through wrenching change over the past five years. Predictability is gone. Individual and company security - both for seller and buyer - are concepts that have gone into hibernation for many. A sort of hunkering down and facing the fire of today seems to be the order of things presently. It is hard, and often seems pointless, to take the time to build relationships in the way they were built in the past. We all worry, buyers and sellers alike, that no relationship is as solid and predictable as we hope it to be. So, it is not surprising that sales people out in the field, whether attempting to gain new business or build success with their existing customers, are working harder than ever to deal with the daily pressures they face.

Negotiation is a process filled with tension. Tension, pressure and fear lead to a patterned response of self-protection that leads the other party to become self-protective as well. When trust is not established, when a sales person becomes reactive and loses his calm, balanced self-confidence, tensions rise and both parties become self-focused. Under this condition it is natural to get bogged down in price discussions/debates. Professional demeanor is diminished and the customer closes off to the value the seller wishes to communicate. Often, an atmosphere of mutual defensiveness has been established before the sales person has finished saying, "Thank you for taking the time to see me."

Clearly a sales person needs to know how to handle price discussions, however if that sales rep does not handle pressure and fear first, then it will follow that he/she will appear self-focused to the buyer and that buyer will lead the seller down the price path.

I would suggest that the primary negotiation is not between buyer and seller over price. Instead, it is one that takes place at the sales rep's own plant, in the mind of each individual, regarding whether or not to establish a shared atmosphere of leadership and cooperation within their own company. It helps when this is a value communicated clearly from the top, however it is in each person's best interest to work to establish such a culture by sharing their willingness to listen, respect and care about their co-workers - even when it appears that such values are not being immediately returned. Building upon the principle of reciprocity using the resources of listening, respect and care with co-workers, a culture of leadership can be established. When one person chooses to share these resources it makes it easier for others to do their jobs well. When a company chooses to reinforce these values together it builds internal balance and confidence and the company as a whole demonstrates greater attractiveness to its customers. In other words, "teamwork is truly the key to success." When it is practically implemented, sales will naturally increase.

An atmosphere of trust and open communication between Plant, Sales, Human Resources and Management are the keys to a thriving business. Where there is internal alignment within a company, more confident selling will naturally follow.

Mark Neely
July 2005

©2005 Text as it appeared in BoxScore Publication Vol. XIX, No. 4 July-August 2005

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