SI Review: June 2011


Power Seller

Mr. Green and the Five Firms

Sales lessons that can help win the deal

Once upon a time, a company with $250 million in annual staffing spend began to search for a managed service provider partner that would help the company reduce its risk, increase its visibility and better manage costs.

Some of what took place during the vendor selection process surprised our protagonist, Mr. Green* (the buyer, referred to as Buyer Green in this article.). It is in these details that we can find some important sales lessons — lessons that sales representatives should be reminded of often.

The Players

Buyer Green knew its ideal partner would need to have a strong international presence
and extensive experience in its industry. It built a request for proposals based on its needs and requirements, and invited five firms to compete for the contract.

“Lazy” had worked with the buyer for years; Buyer Green felt strongly that this firm would emerge as the winner.

“Bashful” had earned Buyer Green’s respect and admiration, but the buyer noted one area of weakness Bashful needed to address.

“Crazy” was a long-time provider to Buyer Green and was well-positioned for the role.

“Dopey” also had worked with Buyer Green for many years and was expected to do well.

“Happy” was the clear underdog. Buyer Green had not worked with this firm before and was unsure about its ability to meet the needs and requirements outlined in the request for proposal.


As Buyer Green went through the presentations and selection process, the staffing firms competing for the contract made some surprising choices, some to their detriment.

Crazy’s initial presentation and solution demonstration were the most impressive to Buyer Green by a wide margin. Then, with very little explanation, Crazy withdrew itself from consideration. The suddenness of this step and lack of explanation led Buyer Green to decide not to do any business with the firm in the future.

• Insight — Communicate clearly with your buyers, even when choosing not to pursue a deal. Lack of communication can and will damage relationships and put you at a serious disadvantage. This buyer even indicated that it had recommended to peers at other companies that they NOT do business with this firm because of what the buyer considered unprofessional actions and behavior.

Crazy’s sudden withdrawal gave Bashful a wonderful opportunity to step into the lead. However, Bashful chose to present its standard solution and didn’t address its key weakness that Buyer Green had identified as a concern. Because of this oversight, Buyer Green was forced to eliminate Bashful from further consideration.

• Insight — When a buyer identifies a weakness or gap in your solution, you MUST show the buyer how you will address it. In this case, the buyer had hoped that the firm would find a partner to fill a gap in its offerings so it could seriously be considered as a solution. When Bashful did not do this, not only did the firm demonstrate that it did not have the necessary capabilities, but it also hurt the level of trust it had with the buyer.

Lazy knew it was the solution that Buyer Green’s team wanted from the outset. However, Lazy’s sales team put in minimal effort during the process and failed to listen to Buyer Green. This ultimately cost the firm the contract.

• Insight — Never assume that you will win an opportunity without trying. This firm should have won, but it took its existing relationship with the prospect for granted and was overly confident that its leadership position in the marketplace would be all it needed to win.

Despite having worked with Dopey for years, Buyer Green had to ask Dopey numerous times to respond. Dopey finally put together a weak and hasty response that lost the firm the contract.

• Insight — It should go without saying that being non-responsive or slow to respond to your buyers’ requests is a sure way to send the message that you’re not interested in doing business with them. It is also an excellent way to ensure you won’t be doing business with them.

All good stories have surprise endings, and this one is no exception. Happy was the “diamond in the rough” for Buyer Green’s  team, ultimately winning the contract. The firm’s sales reps listened to the buyer carefully, understood the rules, and put a concerted effort into doing its best in addressing the buyer’s specific needs and concerns.

• Insight — This firm listened to every need the prospect outlined and made sure to address those needs in its response. Even though other firms’ solutions were technically stronger, this firm won in the end because “they were willing to understand our business.”

Lazy, Crazy, Bashful, Dopey and Happy are roles that all of us in sales have purposely or inadvertently played at one time or another. Which role are you playing in the deals you’re pursuing today, and which role do you want to play — villain, comic relief, or the hero that wins the day?


Ken Allred is CEO of Primary Intelligence (, a provider of win-loss analysis and customer experience solutions. He can be reached at

*This story is based on an actual 2010 MSP sales decision recently analyzed by Primary Intelligence. With Apologies to Snow White and Walt Disney, all names have been changed to protect the innocent (except, of course, for “Dopey”).


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