During the summer of 1973 I took my first job in the fastener industry. My how time flies! Over the years I have witnessed some incredible changes in how buyers or purchasing agents conduct relations with their suppliers.
When I began making sales calls account managers would make normal visitations by “showing up” at an appointed day and time. It was not unusual for me to sit in a customer’s lobby for hours. While there, I visited with my peers, or more importantly, my competitors. We had a lot of time on our hands. We told each other jokes, shared newspapers, and we went to lunch and dinner with each other. We were a band of brothers.
It is important to also remember the time. This process of selling was formal. Everyone wore a suit and tie. The buyer or purchasing agent was typically a seasoned career male employee who was not interested in “rocking the boat” in his organization. Concerns about price, delivery, and quality were rarely addressed. A successful sales associate utilized personalized selling techniques that were always supported with giveaways, lunch and dinner dates, or tickets to professional sporting events, the theater, etc. The sales process was all about relationships.
During the 1980’s things started to radically change. Imported fasteners came to the USA in a big way form Asia. The federal government bailed out Chrysler. In the 1990’s a guy by the name of Jose Lopez showed up at General Motors and relationships in the automotive sector dramatically ended.
These events, and others, have forever changed the face of how we do business with our customers today throughout North America. Lobbies are closed, pre-set appointments are mandatory, voice mail has replaced the receptionist, no one responds to email, handshakes have been replaced by written contracts which are torn up in a moment.
Today, we all live with what I call “Buyer 2013.” Most of these folks have recently graduated from a business college and are entering the work place for the first time. Product knowledge is non-existent. Most new buyers or purchasing agents are usually assigned to “fasteners” to see if they “can make it!”
Buyer 2013 never goes to lunch with a supplier, will never go to dinner with a vendor, and can not accept those entertainment tickets. After completing a day at the office, Buyer 2013 goes home, rushes through dinner, starts a load of laundry, puts down the kids for the night, and then fires up their laptop to place orders for the company’s fastener requirements for tomorrow that night.
So much for relationships! What does this mean for field sales today? We have to work smarter and listen more to what our customer needs. What say you?