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Easy Prey For Aggressive Buyers?



With more sellers chasing fewer customers these days, do B2B buyers have the upper hand? Well, according to buyers themselves, the answers is yes. However, it’s also apparent that some B2B sellers are leaving themselves vulnerable to manipulation from increasingly aggressive buyers. In this article we look at what this means, as well as offering some advice on how to maintain the balance of power.

A Shift in The Balance of Power

“Salespeople are easy prey at the moment…”, revealed a global procurement manager working for a major pharmaceutical company. The same manager went on to remark that “sometimes it can be a bit like taking candy from a child.”

In a chest-thumping manner, he also boasted of dominating unwitting salespeoplepitting sellers against each other and relentlessly pursuing the best possible deal. His message was clear: “Buyers now have the upper hand!”

Echoing the general sentiments of others we have talked to, the experienced procurement manager made it clear that the balance of power has now shifted, and that today’s sellers are no match for the new breed of highly-empowered professional buyers.

Buyers Have The Upper Hand

But do buyers really have the upper hand in today’s tough market conditions? Clearly, more and more buyers believe that they do. They commonly tend to cite the following factors by way of explanation:

  • Sellers being caught off-guard by the appearance of procurement during negotiations
  • Sellers collapsing in the face of pressure on price and terms
  • Sellers becoming perturbed by seeing long-standing supply contracts going out to tender
  • Sellers exhibiting clear signs of frustration at having to surrender to a particular buying process
  • Sellers attempting to rely on past relationships to ensure future survival, as well as making feeble attempts to go around, or over, to gain access

In other words, buyers believe that sellers are struggling to get to grips with the new realities of professional buying – and they are happy to take full advantage of this fact. It would seem they are intent on making the most of their new-found power in order to achieve major savings.

Buyers Flex Their Muscles

With all the timidity of salespeople bragging about deals made during the boom years, procurement managers and directors have been taking to the stand to boast of their accomplishments, such as:

  • Cutting supplier costs in respect of management consulting services by 25-35%
  • Cutting marketing costs by upwards of 35%
  • Reducing capital spend from 7.5% to 3.5% of turnover for a multi million-dollar organization

Over the course of just one afternoon, we heard of savings totalling in the region of $4-5 billion being achieved in supplier costs by just a handful of buyers. These savings – the equivalent of the entire national output of several African economies combined – were the manifest result of buyers gaining the upper hand. With each dollar, pound or euro that is saved, the power and influence of procurement is further strengthened.

“It is either their profit margin or yours… Any money you leave on the table is the supplier’s profit.”

Buyers have grown increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of savings from suppliers. Many managers talk of the savings they manage to achieve as if they are a divine right, or even an obligation. As one manager puts it: “It is either their profit margin or yours… Any money you leave on the table is the supplier’s profit.” Clearly, increased power for the buyer means lower profit for the seller – it quickly becomes a win/lose situation.

How Can Sellers Redress The Balance?

Buyers may indeed now have the upper hand, but for how long is this likely to last? And more importantly: how can sellers go about regaining their lost power and ensuring they don’t remain easy prey for the aggressive buyer? Well, we asked several sales managers for their views, making note of their suggestions vis-a-vis redressing the buyer/seller power balance. Some of these suggestions were as follows:

  • Step into the buyer’s shoes. Seek to better understand how he/she thinks, what is driving him/her and how the decision is likely to be made. Salespeople ought to be capable – if they put their minds to it – of anticipating much of what buyers will do.
  • Be more prepared for all interactions with buyers – and especially for dealings  with procurement
  • Revise all aspects of your sales approach – from pre-qualification to closing – to reflect the new realities of buying
  • Manage opportunities in the pipeline better. As a seller, you need to start thinking two steps ahead; you must be on the lookout for early warning signs, and should always be looking around the next bend. That way you won’t be caught off-guard so easily or often.
  • Get involved earlier, always with a view towards influencing the specification or shaping the purchase (as opposed to simply waiting on the call to a competitive tender)
  • Adapt how you sell to fit the new realities of how your customers buy, including the requirements of the buying process, the business case and the buying team
  • Focus on more effective negotiation, with a particular emphasis on pre-negotiation preparation
  • Stop relying on past relationships or past glory. Strive to become more proactive in guarding existing accounts, while always planning ahead for the possibility that they will go out to tender.
  • Adopt an account development mindset, as opposed to one simply focused on account    management. In other words, look to emphasize innovation and partnership.
  • Stop acting like a salesperson, and start behaving like an expert or trusted advisor upon whom the buyer can depend
  • You must be prepared to walk away, especially if you are either unwilling to be bullied by a buyer or determined to protect your margin. At the end of the day if the buyer doesn’t value your value, you have to walk.

It would be great to hear other peoples experiences.



The Author:

John O’ Gorman is a Business to Business sales coach who works with sales teams and sales managers across Europe to pinpoint sales performance opportunities and barriers to growth. John has recently co-authored “The B2B Sales Revolution - http://b2bsalesrevolution.com/” and “Quick Win B2B Selling”. The B2B Sales Revolution is the first ever book written on selling in conjunction with buyers from Fortune 1000 organizations. http://b2bsalesrevolution.com/

Add Your Comment

  • http://www.tweakyourbiz.com Niall Devitt

    Hi John, Some great points here! I agree that salespeople need to work much harder to understand the buyer’s business, market, products, customers and language. Try to get inside the head of the buyer, see the world from their vantage point and with their eyes. u00a0 u00a0

  • http://twitter.com/emcg53 Eamon McGlade

    Excellent article that is so applicable to today’s business environment. Having been on the receiving end of a few negotiations that could have been used to script this article, I think the pertinent point is that you must be prepared to walk away. As difficult as this is to even countenance when every sale counts, being prepared to walk away helps both buyer and seller focused on the cost of failure to each party if they cannot reach agreement. It can also minimise bullying from the buyers side if they are just playing hard-ball but ultimately intend to purchase. That said there are some Alpha male buyer types out there looking for some payback for the last few years and their ship has well and truly come in.

  • http://websitesgiveback.com/blog/ Elena Patrice

    Very interesting thoughts here John. I’m in B2B sales and the way business is being done is definitely different. What I do is not a “high” ticket item and yet we still have to find ways to work with them and earn their business, especially since they’re bombarded constantly in my industry. For us, transparency, patience and empathy are key; all which work extremely well for us. This article intrigues me because I was wondering how the “big” boys and higher ticket market was fairing and dealing with things. Thank you for the information here, Iu2019m very appreciative!nu00a0nMuch kindness,nu00a0nElena

  • Johnogorman

    Hi Eamon, thanks for your thoughts. As you say knowing when to walk and when the deal isn’t good for both sides is key.