“The worst thing a salesperson can do in my book is not have all the facts about his company to hand,” says Brian Jeal, Head of Procurement at MPS. “I had one salesperson in here the other day who couldn’t tell me his company turnover or even how many staff it employed. He got short shrift. I’ve been in procurement for many years now, and I’ve seen some pretty bad salespeople. I can tell you a few good stories.”
The MPS Group
The MPS Group is a provider of staffing, consulting, and solutions in the disciplines of information technology, finance and accounting, law, engineering, marketing and creative, property, and healthcare. It delivers its services to governments and businesses in virtually all industries throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia.
In the UK its main operating company is Badenoch & Clark, a recruitment firm which was established in 1980 and now has 15 offices in the UK as well as branches in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Jeal joined the company as Print Procurement Manager five years ago, and last year was promoted to head all procurement for the group.
£40 million budget
“If we buy anything I‘m involved,” he says. “Annually we spend £40 million, and recently I’ve been involved in buying medical insurance, 70 company cars, print, utilities, copiers, franking machines, furniture and couriers.” Without a doubt, Jeal is the sort of person sales professionals want to impress.
He is forthright about what it is that will impress him right now. “In the current climate, cost is my key driver,” he explains. “It’s all about minimising risk to the company. However, I value long-term relationships with my suppliers. For the larger ones where we spend over £50,000 a year I like to see them once a quarter. I also know that there is a difference between cost and value. For example, if someone comes in with a ridiculously low price I tend to ignore them.”
Making initial contact
So, how can salespeople get their foot in the door to see him? First of all he does not want to be pestered. He says: “I get a cold call every three minutes, so my landline is always on answerphone. What I want from potential new suppliers is a short e-mail which contains a link to a website – if you haven’t got a website these days you’re not a serious player – as well as some credible references. It should also show me that the company knows what we can do, and how they can add value to our business.”
In terms of follow-up he does not want to be called the next day, or even the next few days. He likes e-mails to end by saying that the sender will follow up in four weeks if they have heard nothing.
Impressing in the meeting
When it comes to an initial credentials meeting he is looking for people who are honest and direct with him. “I’ve no time for bullshit,” he says simply. “I want to meet the person who I will be working with, and I want to start a good relationship with a straightforward, knowledgeable person.”
Other than these personal qualities, he looks for companies that have ISO14001 accreditation or are at least doing something to minimise their environmental impact. He explains: “We work hard at MPS to be green, and I expect my suppliers to do the same.”
What NOT to do
He estimates that, of those who come in to see him only 20% fit this bill. Another 20% are acceptable, but at least 60% fall some way short of the mark. Some fall a long way short. “One of the worst was a fellow who came in at ten in the morning reeking of whisky,” he recalls. “That meeting lasted three minutes. Then there was the salesman who forgot all his paperwork, but said that whatever price I was paying he’d beat it. That lasted two minutes.”
Perhaps his worst experience, however, was with the salesman who took him out to lunch, and then got so drunk that Jeal had to drive him back to his office. Partly as a result of that experience, and partly because he is so busy, he now rarely accepts any offers of entertainment.
Yet, Jeal is quick to point out that not all salespeople are this unprofessional. Some are genuinely excellent at their jobs. He points to Darren Parker, who works for a paper mill Jeal buys from. “He listens to me, which is an all too rare quality,” says Jeal.
He continues: “Darren always comes back to me, and he’s proactive. Often he’ll spot something that he thinks would be useful to me, even though it’s not his remit to sell it, and he’ll call up to discuss it. Really, it’s not like he’s an external supplier, more like he’s a trusted member of the team.”
He also has a few good words to say about Stephen Kirkham, the MD of a print firm: “Stephen is always professional and polite. Quite simply it’s a pleasure to work with him.”
Jeal concludes with this final piece of advice to sales professionals: “If your company has produced a mailer and you don’t think it’s very good then don’t send it. I’m proud of my company and what we do – I expect salespeople to be proud of their companies.”