Making the Deal Happen

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.

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I have known Mike for over 20 years in a variety of capacities. He is the consummate professional as a sales and relationship leader for complex deals and advanced electronic products. He is always strategic and keeps the customer’s needs at the forefront while ensuring that the business needs are met. It is a rare person in our industry who does not know and respect Mike.

Stephen Abram, Executive Director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries
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