Making the Deal Happen

August 7th, 2017 by Michael Gruenberg

This article appeared in the June, 2017 issue of Against the Grain v29 #3 June 23, 2017

Michael Gruenberg  (Managing Partner, Gruenberg Consulting, LLC)

Salespeople, especially those whose job it is to call on libraries face a number of challenges in closing the deal for a library to buy the company’s product.  A common roadblock in attempting to derail a possible sale is the classic excuse used by many an information professional when they say, “we have no money to buy new resources.”  Virtually every sales rep in our business has heard this excuse countless times in their careers.  It seems that this is the fail-safe rationale for not buying a product while still being nice to the salesperson.

Yes, we all realize that libraries constantly face funding difficulties, but when a valuable, new eContent product comes to market, both the salesperson and the library person are tasked to get together and figure out a way to finalize a purchase that results in a mutually acceptable solution for both parties.  Whether it’s cancelling a product in lieu of the new one or getting a special deal from the company, all avenues of possibilities must be pursued to get the deal done.  In a business that thrives on new technologies, funding should not stand in the way of acquiring new content.  Any salesperson that walks away from a potential deal after hearing the “no money” excuse is not doing their job and needs to explore as many ways as possible to make the deal happen.

At the outset of the buying and selling process, it’s in everyone’s best interest to review the library’s purchasing procedure.  What is the funding situation?  If funding is an issue, how can that be overcome?  Who are the main people at the library that will ultimately decide on buying or not?  What incentives are needed by the buyer to help make the deal happen?  If an order is forthcoming, how long will it take to materialize into a signed agreement?

Of course, the first step in the process is for the sales rep to contact the library, to present the finer points of the product to be sold and gauge the interest of the librarian.  The deal falls apart here if there is no interest on the part of the library.  Whatever the reason, this is the first moment of truth in the buying and selling process.  Don’t like the product?  Don’t have the money?  Don’t want to be bothered?  This the time to tell the rep that it is in no one’s best interest to continue the discussion for whatever the reason.  And that’s fine because sales reps in our business have monthly/yearly sales goals and are tasked with speaking to a wide array of prospects.  So if Library A says “no” then it’s time to call Library B, C, D, etc.  No database publisher/aggregator produces a product to be sold to just one library.  So declining to see the rep is not necessarily a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, the information professional is doing that salesperson a favor because a rep’s time is better spent with interested prospects than those who are unable to buy.

On the other hand, if the library agrees to see the rep even though they know that there is no hope of a sale any time soon, then that is not right unless the rep knows up front that a sale is not forthcoming in the immediate future.  Salespeople in the information industry or any industry for that matter must be fastidious in the management of their time.  By visiting a library without knowing in advance that the chances of a sale are non-existent is simply a waste of everyone’s time.

So, let’s assume that Mary the salesperson for a major aggregator has just called the Schliderman Memorial Library at Dust University.  The librarian is intrigued with the brief description of the database, is not sure if the funding will be available but nevertheless invites Mary to the campus and tells her about the uncertain funding situation once again.  As they meet, and discuss the pros & cons of the product, it is clear that there is interest and as such, funds may be available for a purchase.  For both parties, they have reached the second moment of truth.

It is at this point that Mary has to begin to review the needs of the library with the information professional so that both parties are on the same page.  Mary should review her notes at the conclusion of the meeting with her counterpart and highlight all the needs expressed by the library person and describe how the new product will fulfill and hopefully surpass those needs.  Once that mutual review is completed, Mary will probably say, “Given that the database I just described will solve a number of your library’s needs, what is the next step in order approval process?”  And here ladies and gentlemen, is the ever so crucial third moment of truth.

To counteract  the “we have no money for new resources” excuse, Mary needs to begin the discussion with an open ended question, such as, “Given all the ways in which this new product will undoubtedly save you  time and money while providing an excellent resource for faculty and students, alike, what would you expect to pay for this valuable database?”  While Mary may not get an answer about specific dollars in the budget, she has laid the groundwork for a discussion on how much money it will take to buy her new product.

The ball is now in the library’s court.  There is an expectation on the part of the salesperson that the information professional is fully aware of the budget which corresponds to the price of the product presented.  So, let’s assume, the librarian is fully aware of what can be spent to purchase the item presented.  Now begins a series of questions and answers designed to remove all roadblocks, thus allowing the purchase to be completed.

“Mary, I am intrigued by this new database and I know it will be well received here at the library.  Can you tell me how much it will cost?”

“Given that this is a new product, the eventual selling price will be $15,500, but since it is so new, the company is giving a 15% discount to early adopters, so your cost would be $13, 175 for the first year,” Mary replies.

Sounds like a nice deal, but Mary needs to be pushed for a better one.  Perhaps asking for that initial price to be frozen for next year’s renewal or asking to be a beta test site for half the quoted price in year one or just simply asking for a deeper discount should be considered responses when the price is given.

Depending on Mary’s incentives to make the sale happen and the library’s ability to have the budget to buy, the fourth (and most important) moment of truth has been put into play.  How far will the company go to satisfy the customer?  How far will the library go to get the best deal possible?  And now, the serious negotiations begin.

The selling process is one in which a good salesperson overcomes whatever objections are posed by the buyer with positive responses that will overcome the roadblocks seemingly preventing the purchase.

Too often, a salesperson will return from a meeting with a prospect and tell the sales manager that a sale could not be made because the library said that they have no money for purchase.  The salesperson should have inquired in advance about the funding possibilities and know what the company is willing to do to make the sale happen.  And the information professional should always share with the salesperson the realistic budget possibilities.

Making the deal happen is all about knocking down roadblocks that get in the way of a sale.  Price is always the easiest roadblock to surmount.  Discounts, extended payments, flat renewals in the following years, beta test site, etc., are all ways to help the client with justifying the price.  There are technical issues, content issues, platform issues, etc., that must be also dealt with, but if the sales rep and the librarian are both willing to negotiate in good faith, a deal can be struck.

In the ’60s the group The Youngbloods had a hit record written by Jesse Colin Young called “Get Together.”  Getting Together is what making the deal happen is all about.

Most people have difficulty coping with “change” in their daily lives.  I’m not referring to the amount of coins in everyone’s pockets and purses.  What I’m referring to is coping with and understanding that there are changes taking place in our lives all around us.  And if we don’t make adjustments to embrace those ever present changes in both our personal and business lives, we risk the non-attainment of our goals and objectives.

The only person who truly likes change is a wet baby.  For the rest of us, we become far too comfortable in our personal environments.  We complain about our job, yet we make no move to find another place to work.  We know that there are certain lifestyle changes we must make for the betterment of our health and well-being and yet we postpone making those necessary changes because it makes us uncomfortable to be trying something new.  It’s easy to grumble, not so easy to do something about the very issues that seemingly give us discomfort.  We all need to get in the game and embrace “change.”  Being engaged on the field of play is far more productive than booing from the stands!

Both salespeople and information professionals face a daily onslaught of changes in their individual professions.  New sources of data for the salesperson to understand, demonstrate and sell;  new technologies that need to be understood by all parties;  new bosses at both our places of employment and a seemingly endless scheduling of meetings replete with power points, email references and spreadsheets that have become the new realities of the workplace.

We are fortunate to be in an industry that continues to reinvent itself, but with that is the reality that everyone must keep up with the changes or risk being left behind.  I recently participated as a judge for the SIIA 2016 CODiE Awards.  This competition brings to the foreground the cutting edge companies who are providing new technologies in the information industry.  Naturally, having been acutely involved in the sales and marketing of information products sold to libraries for well over 35 years, I was chosen to be a judge for new sales management technologies that were demonstrated.

Not only was I blown away by the new technologies presented, I was duly impressed by the wisdom and professionalism of the people who showed those products to me.  It was clear to me that these companies were more than embracing change, they were truly “change agents” which is where we all have to be in order to survive and thrive.  Understanding how the concept of change relates to both our business and professional lives is crucial to our success.

How many times have you heard a person say that “this is the way we’ve always done it;  and we will continue to do it this way for as long as I’m here?”  The odds of that person’s business or personal life enjoying future success diminish exponentially as long as that attitude prevails.  Even the name-brand items we have bought for so many years at our local markets constantly face challenges to their customer base as new companies introduce copycat brand offerings.  Competition goes hand-in-hand with change.  If you are doing business today the same way you did even six months ago, you are probably falling behind the curve.

Change Comes To Sales Organizations

Selling any product or service today in the library vertical requires an understanding of the prospects’ needs, a more than a casual understanding of the product/service to be sold and a thorough perception of who else is competing for that library’s budgetary dollars in that vertical.

There was a time when salespeople were hired in part, due to their rolodex.  “Who do you know in our industry that you’ve previously sold to” was probably uttered by many an interviewer as each candidate for a sales position was considered for employment.  Today, with easily referenced access to demographics, detailed budget numbers including a history of spending by public institutions, documents filed at the SEC by public companies and a detailed record of correspondence between the company and the customer, the rolodex question is not at the top of the questioning list.  That data is available in many ways from a variety of sources both internally and externally.  Companies like SalesForce.com have literally transformed the way salespeople interact with their customers and prospects.  And that’s a good thing for both parties.

SalesForce.com is one of many software developers that offer a “Customer Relationship Management (CRM)” tool that is being used by a wide variety of companies in all industries.  CRM therefore is a term that refers to practices, strategies and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention and driving sales growth.

Apps like SalesForce.com are leveling the playing field.  Where once a seasoned salesperson would mostly rely on their rolodex for the “best leads,” now apps, much like the ones I saw at the SIIA CODie Awards gives every rep from every company all the information they need to find the business, analyze the prospects’ needs for the product to be presented and then efficiently close the sale.  With the right CRM installed on their laptop, every sales rep in the information business (or any business) can become an expert.  That is, they can be an expert if they embrace change and use the CRM tools at their disposal.

Change Comes To the Marketplace

The Internet has changed the environment for purchasers of eContent or any kind of product or service.  Thanks to social media, strong networking and the ability to be acquainted with the strengths and/or flaws in the products of any seller of goods and services is the reality.  This gives potential customers a significant bargaining edge over their sales reps at the negotiating table.  Customers have the ability to tap into a treasure trove of global research to find the good, the bad and the ugly of the next product to be presented for possible purchase.  Deliver a database with faulty or inaccurate information and the marketplace will know about it immediately.  Create a platform that doesn’t work as advertised and the industry will buzz about it very quickly.  And having a less than world-class customer service department will surely ensure a drop in revenue.

For every product/service presented for sale to libraries in the information industry, there will always be a handful of competitors who have similar products actively looking to see how they can unseat the competition.  They will monitor journals, encourage customer observations and look to industry publications for the faintest sign of an opening to become the new provider of information to the library.  In essence, today’s information marketplace is more transparent than it’s ever been.  Competitors thrive on change.  Their entire being is to present the best products possible and convince the library to abandon subscribing to the current publications in favor of theirs.

Change Comes to Libraries and Librarians

Much the same as an app like Sales Force.com is used for sales organizations;  libraries are creating programs that help them as buyers of information to know all the pertinent facts that will affect the intended purchase.  For example, if the library gets funding through a variety of sources (capital budget, grants, alumni donations for specific subject areas, endowments, etc.).  There are programs that can track every dollar that’s been spent and how much money is left in each category to spend.  Those apps can also track every salesperson from every company doing business with the library.  Contact information about those companies ranging from the sales reps’ contact information to the customer support group and all the way up to the President of the company are now easily accessible.

Each library, be it a University, Fortune 500 company, law firm, etc., have unique ways in which they interact with the sales reps and how an eventual order is placed.  For even the most seasoned sales executive, navigating through the acquisitions process can be quite daunting.  Sometimes a library’s polices and methodologies for buying content can be a bit obtuse.  In the interest of transparency, the University of Tennessee library in Knoxville has clearly placed on their website how a vendor can and must conduct business with the University.  It’s all spelled out and each vendor needs to follow those guidelines if they have any hope in selling their products to that library.

There are programs that tell Public Library administrators what items have received the largest numbers of holds-or reserves- from their patrons.  By knowing this information, the library gains great insight into what their public is looking for.  For example, if ten or more people are requesting a certain title, that means that there are probably another ten who would want the same title, but just didn’t take the time to make the request.  Libraries throughout the country are using this type of report to actually buy materials that their patrons really want.

Along with more sophisticated methods to understand the buying and selling process, the emergence of eBooks further adds to a situation that demands the acceptance of change for every library throughout the world.  One of my colleagues used to say “change is security and security is change.”

The great Buddy Miles sang the song “Them Changes” and said “my mind is goin’ through them changes.”  Recognizing that change is everywhere and understanding how to cope with it and ultimately manage those changes should be a part of everyone’s individual goal for success.

Computers in Libraries 2015.

May 4th, 2015 by Michael Gruenberg

I had a great time in DC attending and presenting at Computers in Libraries 2015. If you are interested my presentation on negotiating for content, you can download the slides here. All slides from CIL 2015 are available on the website.

Is That A Meeting Anyone Really Wants To Attend?

April 6th, 2015 by Michael Gruenberg

I wrote a piece at Against the Grain on ways that librarians can ensure positive and productive results when meeting with salespeople.

I have always advised my library clients to set aside a portion of the week devoted to returning calls and letting all the salespeople who want to do business with the library know that the best time to call is at a certain time on a specific day of the week.  Moreover, it is just a good business practice to advise them also that any calls received outside of that window of opportunity will not be dealt with immediately.  This procedure puts everyone on the same page and avoids dangling conversations.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mike is the embodiment of a mature and seasoned sales executive. He has that rare ability to establish an instant rapport with colleagues and customers and he is always focused on the customer’s needs.
Simon Beale, Senior VP, John Wiley & Sons
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