Having spent almost three decades in sales, I believe it is time to also start discussing what I call PX – the Purchasing Experience. While CX can relate to customers across the entire spectrum of sales, PX is more about capturing and enhancing the experience for organizations that participate in complex, in-depth and often lengthy purchasing negotiations. As anyone who has been entrusted with securing a multimillion-dollar deal to purchase new technology knows, the Purchasing Experience warrants a buzzword all of its own.
I mention technology because that is my area of expertise. I have developed and negotiated countless large-scale deals and partnerships over the years, including in my current role with Probe CX, and cannot remember a time of greater disruption to the Purchasing Experience than the past year or so. The COVID-19 global pandemic turned the entire process upside-down almost overnight and buyers and sellers alike continue to do their best to adjust to an ever-changing landscape and ultimately an all-new PX.
Historians will one day study the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic and marvel at how so many businesses were able to almost immediately meet the challenges of the new world. With lockdowns on in earnest and ‘social distancing’ entering the lexicon, organizations employing thousands of people not only needed to stand up unprecedented remote working capabilities in an instant but source the technology and equipment to allow them to do so. Purchasing processes that would normally have required months of compliance unfolded in a matter of weeks, if not days.
Even now, many of the purchasing processes that enterprises have used for years remain unviable in a COVID world, just as many of the steps that sales teams once considered the norm are increasingly off the table. First impressions need to be made online instead of in person. Sales presentations are delivered from different cities, states or even countries. Global executives are unable to fly into town to build a rapport with their purchasing counterparts or negotiate face to face. Some companies have done away with working out of physical offices all together, which may be perceived by some buyers as weakening their position, especially if they are overseas.
For so long, buyers and sellers knew the rules of engagement. Now they are not only navigating uncharted waters but conditions can change by the day.
Like most veterans of the sales game who have built close plans and strategised, I have countless memories of winning and losing deals based on how my team and I performed during a pitch presentation. Standing in front of our potential clients gave us an immediate opportunity to read the room and we often walked away knowing if we were on the road to a partnership or in desperate need of a miracle. The pandemic means such face-to-face pitches are increasingly a luxury and it is making the PX more challenging for both parties.
For buyers, it is certainly making vendor evaluation more difficult. Where concerns could once be addressed in person and relationships developed organically, the current environment is creating a greater need for proactive market research, even in new areas like staff retention and Wellness programs, especially when dealing with vendors yet to have proven themselves. Organizations are turning more to independent third-party organizations that provide ratings and reviews on product and capabilities with comparison to others in the marketplace.
Travel and movement restrictions have also highlighted the advantage of working with vendors that have a physical presence in-country and ideally across multiple cities or states. As a senior executive looking to spend tens of millions of dollars on technology, it was previously a given that you would meet with executives or even the CEO of a potential vendor, even if it meant they had to jet from the US or Europe to make the meeting a reality. Many of those introductions are now happening via online platforms, which, while better than nothing, are not ideal.
By teaming with vendors that boast executives in multiple locations, buyers have a better opportunity to physically connect with an organization. I know this has proven invaluable for myself during the pandemic, with many current and potential customers embracing my offer for them to meet with senior Probe CX colleagues when restrictions have hampered my ability to do so myself. It is all about being creative when it comes to establishing the trust and rapport needed for a successful partnership.
A final word of warning for buyers negotiating a new approach to PX – where possible, take your time. When COVID-19 first hit, there was an OMG moment as businesses realized just how quickly they had to acquire the tech needed to accommodate a remote workforce. Purchasing processes that had been in place for years were thrown out the window and deals rushed through without the multiple approvals that would have once been needed.
While those frantic days have passed for most organizations, many have flattened their decision-making processes. Needing to tick less boxes before signing off on a deal may seem attractive but it’s important to remember that today’s great deal may not be so in the long-term. When a business takes weeks rather than months to commit to spending $10 million on technology, there is a risk they may not fully appreciate what lies ahead. It’s all about having safeguards in place to ensure that the $10 million one spends today doesn’t end up costing far more than that in latter parts of a deal.
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