Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople made a challenging sale despite price objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. Here, Lee Salz, president and founder of Sales Architects in Minneapolis, tells how he stood up to the Procurement Department and got the price he deserved.

The Price Police had us in their clutches, and they weren’t about to let us go.

Our prospective customer was an old-line Fortune 500 company, and it did everything by the book. I was working for a supplier that offered a fully outsourced drug-testing program. Drug testing was critical to the prospect, but a huge administrative headache. We could make that headache go away. Our competitors, who offered traditional services, couldn’t.

The front-line managers loved our proposal, but we couldn’t negotiate with them directly. “That’s how it is here,” they told us. “Everything has to go through the Procurement Department.”

Price, price, price
“Your price is three times higher than any other vendor,” the procurement officer told us. On paper, yes. But, we explained, our solution offered far more value. Their total cost would be less.

Procurement didn’t care. They had a grid and they wanted us on it. “Let’s do a line-by-line comparison,” they said.

It’s apples and oranges, we said.

“But your price is out of line,” they insisted. “What are you going to do about it?”

We tried educating them. We even opened up our books to show them why we charge what we do. “Yes, but what about your price?” they asked.

Good cop, bad cop
The line managers played good cop. “We really like your approach,” they said. “But you have to work it out with Procurement.” We finally, reluctantly, concluded that we were wasting our time. Our value proposition didn’t matter to the Price Police – because they didn’t think their job was to get the best value. They thought their job was to get the best price.

We went to the front-line managers and laid it out. “We’re getting nowhere,” we told them. “We’re going to have to walk away.”

All along, they’d been telling us their hands were tied. Now, suddenly, they changed their tune. All it took was one phone call to Procurement. “Back off,” the line managers said. “We want this.”

When we made our final presentation, everyone was there, including the Price Police. I suspected they were determined to have one more go at us. But as we neared the end, the key decision maker threw her hands straight up. “Touchdown!” she cried.

“That sure doesn’t leave us much negotiating room,” Procurement grumbled. We got our price.

Stood up for value
This was my greatest sale because I believed in my value proposition. I stood by it, so my buyers believed in it, too. And the Price Police? They had to stand down.

You can reach Lee Salz at www.salesarchitecture.com

photo credit: ThisParticularGreg

6 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    I had a similar experience selling about a dozen underground drilling machines to a large underground mining company in the early 80’s. After several visits in which proposals for each of several custom engineered designs were presented for various applications in their mines, a meeting was held with the operations and engineering staff to review our final proposal. The engineering VP approved the program and told us to meet with procurement to finalyze the purchase. When I met with purchasing the agent said he needed a 10% reduction in the price or the sale could not go thru. I was confident in the value of our equipment and the proposals so said to him, “John, we have worked closely with your operations group to evaluate your mining operation and develop a specific plan for exactly what is needed at each mine site. Your Vice President of Operations has approved the designs and the purchase of these machines and asked us to proceed quickly with manufacturing of this important equipment. Our price is fair and provides the value your company asked us to provide. We are ready to proceed as soon as you release the purchase order. He released a purchase order to me on the spot.

  • Anonymous says:

    I had a similar experience selling about a dozen underground drilling machines to a large underground mining company in the early 80’s. After several visits in which proposals for each of several custom engineered designs were presented for various applications in their mines, a meeting was held with the operations and engineering staff to review our final proposal. The engineering VP approved the program and told us to meet with procurement to finalyze the purchase. When I met with purchasing the agent said he needed a 10% reduction in the price or the sale could not go thru. I was confident in the value of our equipment and the proposals so said to him, “John, we have worked closely with your operations group to evaluate your mining operation and develop a specific plan for exactly what is needed at each mine site. Your Vice President of Operations has approved the designs and the purchase of these machines and asked us to proceed quickly with manufacturing of this important equipment. Our price is fair and provides the value your company asked us to provide. We are ready to proceed as soon as you release the purchase order. He released a purchase order to me on the spot.

  • josephfinn says:

    I had a similar experience selling about a dozen underground drilling machines to a large underground mining company in the early 80's. After several visits in which proposals for each of several custom engineered designs were presented for various applications in their mines, a meeting was held with the operations and engineering staff to review our final proposal. The engineering VP approved the program and told us to meet with procurement to finalyze the purchase. When I met with purchasing the agent said he needed a 10% reduction in the price or the sale could not go thru. I was confident in the value of our equipment and the proposals so said to him, “John, we have worked closely with your operations group to evaluate your mining operation and develop a specific plan for exactly what is needed at each mine site. Your Vice President of Operations has approved the designs and the purchase of these machines and asked us to proceed quickly with manufacturing of this important equipment. Our price is fair and provides the value your company asked us to provide. We are ready to proceed as soon as you release the purchase order. He released a purchase order to me on the spot.

  • josephfinn says:

    I had a similar experience selling about a dozen underground drilling machines to a large underground mining company in the early 80's. After several visits in which proposals for each of several custom engineered designs were presented for various applications in their mines, a meeting was held with the operations and engineering staff to review our final proposal. The engineering VP approved the program and told us to meet with procurement to finalyze the purchase. When I met with purchasing the agent said he needed a 10% reduction in the price or the sale could not go thru. I was confident in the value of our equipment and the proposals so said to him, “John, we have worked closely with your operations group to evaluate your mining operation and develop a specific plan for exactly what is needed at each mine site. Your Vice President of Operations has approved the designs and the purchase of these machines and asked us to proceed quickly with manufacturing of this important equipment. Our price is fair and provides the value your company asked us to provide. We are ready to proceed as soon as you release the purchase order. He released a purchase order to me on the spot.

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