Gloves Off As Marketing Viewpoints Clash

Edition: June 2002 - Vol 10 Number 06
Article#: 1255
Author: Repertoire

Bruised, tattered, exhausted. How else to describe the two opposing sides after the “Fray in the Bay,” held during the recent Spring Conference of the Healthcare Manufacturers Marketing Council?

HMMC members had demanded the showdown, between 95% Share Marketing's Scott Fanning, and Sales Service Institute's Sam Bowers, following the latter's presentation at the organization's Fall Conference in Chicago last November. Bowers had claimed then that the rise of Internet-savvy, transactional-oriented buyers would signal the end of traditional salesmanship, with its heavy emphasis on the personal touch and relationship-building. His opinions appeared to differ dramatically from those of Fanning, a proponent of the personalized, “own the relationship with your customers” approach to selling.

Bowers opened the fray by summarizing his beliefs: buying – not selling – has become the competitive edge. Companies such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot have earned their success not by superior selling, but by superior buying. Using information resources, today's buyers can usually find two or more vendors for virtually anything they buy, including high-quality med/surg supplies. Having done so, they can demand that the competing suppliers duke it out for the business. In most cases, low price wins.

According to Bowers, if your company is one of the lucky two or three to get called into the buyer's office, the key to winning the business is not to fall into the traditional selling mode – that is, demonstrating why your company is the best one with which to do business. The fact is, the customer has already decided that you would be an adequate supplier. Rather, the key is assuming a negotiating role. That means finding out exactly what services the customer wants, matching that with your offerings, and arriving at a price.

Standing up to state his position, Fanning quoted a Northwestern University professor who made the following distinction: Transactional buyers are those who take great pride in getting the best deal, regardless of vendor; and relationship buyers are those who will stay with a vendor forever, provided the relationship between them is strong and the products and services satisfactory. The relationship buyer is the one you want, said Fanning.

He then told the audience how to own the relationship with their customers. Convince them that you care about them, he said. Make them look good in front of the people who are most important to them, such as co-workers, bosses and family members. Find a way to say “yes” when everyone else says “no.”

People want to be relationship buyers, claimed Fanning, but the industry hasn't given them a reason to do so.

Audience members were then invited to join a breakout with the gentleman with whom they agreed. Approximately 2/3 went with Fanning, the remaining 1/3 with Bowers. Each team outlined five or six of its strongest points, then came back into the main area to debate the issue.

During the “fray,” team members traded barbs, as well as snippets of wisdom and logic. Fanning's team told stories of extraordinary courage and service, some of which won them customers for life, in a manner of speaking. Bowers' team, on the other hand, laid out their case, namely, that even though they would love to continue relationship-selling, the market is dictating that they give it up. Let's be prepared for the future, they said.

When referee Charlie Higgins of Rusch called for a final vote as to who won the fray, not one HMMC member admitted to having changed his or her mind since the opening coin toss. Was the matter resolved? Did HMMC members walk away with resolve, having decided either to embrace an “own the relationship” approach, or to prepare for the future by improving their negotiating skills? The answer to that question will be decided at each member's company in the months and years ahead.