Bayer Polyurethane has developed a program that has led to long-term partnering relationships. This is not just a way for Bayer to sell its raw materials; more important, it's a way to give the customer extra value, according to Charles Valentine, national sales director.
Bayer Polyurethane accomplishes this through an agreement that increases its usage and their linkage to the customer. This arrangement provides the customer with additional support and access to Bayer's technology. It also helps improve the customer's product and manufacturing process. In this relationship, the technology door is open; Bayer shares technology with the customer that would be held close to the vest within a normal business relationship for fear that the technology could be used with a competitor's materials.
A team came up with this new approach. At first, it was met with customer reluctance. Some of the customer's people considered Bayer's effort intrusive. They were protective of their own technology and way of doing things. They said, "We will solve our own problems." Convincing the customer to be open to this new approach wasn't easy, but Bayer worked hard to convince the customers that it had a vast number of resources that could help them solve their problem.
Identify the value of what you are proposing. Find the real value by presenting options and assessing how the customer reacts. Look at where the customer's focus is. For example, selling is tough in certain markets because of the move toward lean structures. Look for ways to make the customer's job easier by fitting in with that lean structure rather than fighting it.
Sell and create a relationship that increases your value. Move toward a partnership model so that both parties begin to realize that the win-win scenario is real. We want to arrive at the point where the customer says, "I couldn't envision doing business without you." As you attempt to forge a new relationship, recognize that the customer may not be receptive at first. Plan how you will manage the change in the relationship.
Raise the level of professionalism of your salespeople. Let them all know that they are salespeople and businesspeople. They need to manage the business with the customer. This includes understanding how the customer operates, what their market perspective is, whether they are leaders or price buyers, and what is their payment history.
Valentine says, "American businesses used to be innovators; but too often today, businesses try to save their way into prosperity. Instead of managing their business, they manage costs. I don't know what the solution is, but we have to keep remembering that there is a business behind every decision. The bottom line is the value of the long-term relationship. For us it means knowing where 90 percent of our capacity is going, which is significant for our business."
One of the other things that Valentine's salespeople do is to have what they call "commercial discussions" prior to technical discussions. They want to be able to prove to the customer the value of their proposal on a business basis before they prove it in on a technical basis.
Members of the Bayer sales force may communicate different things to different people, depending on their function, but they communicate the same core messages to each, such as the value of the innovative approach they are proposing. Valentine says, "One of the keys is if you're going to invest a half million dollars in a project and you are talking with marketing and they don't have a marketing plan, then you don't have a commitment. The customer's internal communications may not be all that good."
He continues, "This approach helps expands our customers' market and thereby increases our own; it should lead to a long-term arrangement. There are benefits to planning and partnering this way, and one of them is the intangible cost of switching vendors or customers. The costs of switching are not a line item, so you don't want the customer to overlook them."
The approach Bayer uses today is, "Let's see if we can find more innovative ways to increase our comfort level in revealing the technology." Valentine says the real issue is not a matter of mistrust; it's that people change positions and larger corporations are multidimensional, so not everyone may be aware of the value you bring. "There are different departments within the customer's organization, and each can pull in separate directions. If purchasing is measured on reduction in cost, how do they justify paying a higher price? And could they perceive you as taking away their job? Even upper management has to justify the difference. We use constant communications to all levels and across all departments to inform people about the value of what we bring and to keep people up to date."
According to Valentine, Bayer has always sold technology, but the difference was that most times a supplier and customer would reveal as little as possible about the technology. They would try to incorporate technology into the product in such a way that the customer couldn't misappropriate it for use with another supplier.