You Can Sell to the Purchasing Agent No fear, no end-run games--the purchasing department is your new client.

If you sell a product, it probably happened to you long ago. If you sell services, it's probably happened to you more recently. And if it hasn't happened to you yet, just wait--it's coming to a customer or client near you.

I'm talking about having to sell to the purchasing department.

It's tempting to see this as a pure negative, particularly for those selling professional services. It represents the death of relationships, the triumph of price over quality, a barrier erected between you and your client--you've heard all these complaints, maybe even made them yourself. But there's another way to look at the situation, and it's this: The purchasing agent is your new client.

Your New Client Is Just Like the Old Client
Against the grain of commonly held truths, purchasing agents aren't all that different from the old clients we know and love. For example, despite their reputation, they aren't all about squeezing the lowest price out of you. If anything, purchasing agents are more motivated to get the right provider for their clients than they are to save a few nickels getting the wrong provider.

There are more similarities. If all you can do is cite features and benefits and argue over price, you're not going to have any better results with a professional buyer than you did with a "regular" client. While you may not be able to schmooze with a professional buyer, you'd still better figure out some ways to establish a relationship.

Don't Attempt the End-Run
When first directed to go through the purchasing department, a common reaction of B2B sellers is to do an end-run--going around purchasing and getting back to the good old client, so they can put pressure on the purchasing agent.

You already know how politically dangerous it is to end-run a gatekeeper to get to a friendlier, higher-up decision-maker. You're better off helping the gatekeeper get something he or she needs and keeping the game aboveboard. That's clearly true for "line" clients. Yet somehow we have no compunction about trying to end-run the purchasing department.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the purchasing agent; are you any less displeased by that tactic than is a "line" client? I didn't think so.

Worse, if you do try the end-run, you may find your client is not as predisposed to helping you as you thought. To talk to you, they probably have to go against the new policy. Few clients really want to do this; they prefer you work it out yourself with purchasing.

And worse still, they may find that they actually prefer letting someone else do the haggling; they'd never say so to your face, but frankly, it's a relief not to have to bargain with you. Ultimately, you're asking quite a lot of your client by asking them to intercede with purchasing, and they're not likely to appreciate it.

Quick Dos and Don'ts:

  • Resolve to go through the purchasing agent.
  • Don't complain unnecessarily--you're not likely to win every sale, so deal with it.
  • Don't offer to do special services unless you suggest the agent seek the same services from all your competitors.
  • Don't obsess over the confidentiality of your materials--assume the agent is a professional and let them know you assume it--once.
  • Don't ask what the agent can do for you; ask what you can do for them.
  • Be open, available and transparent. If you don't know something, say so.

The purchasing function in modern business is becoming more, not less, important. It's one of the faster-growing professions, and it's more central to corporate strategies now. The idea that people buy from those they trust--those who pay attention to them and care about them--extends to the purchasing department. Purchasing agents are people. It's important to treat them well. They are your new clients.

Editor's Pick

Starting a Business

Its First Year, This Startup Struggled to Get 75 Clients. Five Years Later, They Have 18,000. Here's How They Did It.

Financial planning startup Facet knew they were targeting a huge untapped market. But getting clients wasn't as easy as they hoped.

Buying / Investing in Business

Get Better at Real Estate Investing with Mashvisor — on Sale for Just $39.99

A lifetime subscription regularly costs $899.


There's a Scientific Reason You Can't Stop Thinking About Unfinished Tasks. Learning to Harness That Energy Will Make You More Productive.

Why unfinished work captures our attention more than finished tasks, and how to leverage that psychological tendency for both personal and professional betterment.


Master Time Management by Using These Essential Tips for Self-Employed Entrepreneurs

These key time management tips have not only helped me stay afloat amidst the chaos but have bolstered my business and reputation.

Growing a Business

5 Surefire Ways to Grow Your Remote Business

Many people dream of having their own business, and today, that dream often extends to doing so remotely. But what does it take to make that dream a reality?


Franchise Legalese Defined — A Deep Dive Into Franchising Definitions

Before you can decide if you should franchise, find out exactly what you're getting yourself into.