Instead of leaving it to the salesperson to adapt to the buyer, why not raise the strategic level and focus on adaptation in a way that permeates all levels in the organisation? Why? Because this can be a way for creating a win-win situation for both parties.

When a salesperson adapts his/ her selling style to accommodate for the customer’s preferences (as assumed by the seller), this is usually referred to as adaptive selling. Although adaptive selling may appear to be closely related to relationship orientation, i.e. aiming for a long-term relationship between the seller and buyer, adaptive selling is mostly used as a tactical sales tool. The concept adaptive selling was not developed during an era that was characterised by focusing on building ‘true’ relationships. The concept adaptive selling surfaced in the mid 1980’s and was presented as a tool that could help the salesperson in progressing faster and more efficiently through the selling process. Although to some extent efficient, adaptive selling mostly refers to e.g. adjusting the sales presentation to better fit the buyer’s needs or the salesperson adjusting his/ her tone of voice, clothing style, body language or vocabulary to those of the buyer. Back in the 1980’s, in many industries this worked well.

In today’s world, personal selling and purchasing have become more complex. Instead of having a salesperson and a buyer, it is common to have sales teams and buying teams interacting during the sales-buying process. In the case of customised solutions, it is common that e.g. the design, research & development, production, testing and marketing functions are involved in the sales and buying teams. All these functions usually have and follow their own processes. When taking relationship orientation seriously and aiming for a win-win solution that will benefit both parties, this requires another approach than adaptive selling. As opposed to a situation where both parties are focusing on ‘getting a bigger piece of the pie’, both parties should recognise the value in aiming for a mutual goal. This requires a change in the mindsets of the seller and buyer.

Adaptation on a strategic business level involves matching the key business processes of the seller and buyer firms. Only when matching these can the parties be regarded as being truly relationship oriented. Business process matching is closely related to but does not go quite as far as business partnering. In business process matching the parties can still be viewed as operating for their own and for the shared benefit. In business partnering however, the seller and buyer often operate as if they would form one entity.

Business process matching requires openness from the parties and a strong willingness to seriously aim for mutual business engagement. Once companies become increasingly aware of the value related to mutually aiming for ‘a bigger pie’, business process matching is likely to surface in sales and purchasing literature and to be adopted in business practice. In situations where we consider it appropriate, we guide our clients to conduct business process matching. The results have mostly been positive: business process matching has resulted in win-win situations.

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