Why you should stop cooperating with your buyers

George Brontén

“Cooperation is not good enough,” says Tim Ohai, Global Lead, Sales Process & Methodology at Workday. In this guest post on Keenan’s blog, he makes a case for sales professionals to avoid cooperation and claims it’s killing your sales effectiveness.

The idea is counterintuitive – surely working well with others is an important trait in a salesperson. After all, don’t we want them to get along with our customers and each other?

Perhaps. But cooperation is the wrong tool for that, and it’s time to go beyond it.

Here’s why I agree with Ohai, and how you can stop cooperating so you can make more sales.

Cooperation is only marginally better than competition

Some sales organizations approach the selling process as though it were a competition. They use language that calls people winners and losers and talk about the buyer as though they were an adversary who has to be manipulated or strong-armed into making a favorable purchasing decision. The sales process becomes a game to see just how much “wallet” you can squeeze out of each prospect.

This competitive environment is heightened within the team by the use of “leader boards” and rewards and compensation based on relative performance.

While this environment might “work” for making lots of fast, transactional sales, it ultimately creates a toxic environment that drives great salespeople away and poisons the well by annoying customers.

At first flush, it seems like a cooperative approach to selling would be the antidote to competitive selling. Instead of focusing on which salesperson makes the most sales this month, a cooperative environment is much “nicer,” with folks agreeably sharing information and helping each other when necessary.

In a cooperative environment, sellers also cooperate with the customer to help them make the purchase.

Sounds nice, but cooperation has serious limits.

Collaborating means working together until the goal (not the purchase) has been achieved.
George Brontén

A cooperative sales environment puts the buyer in the driver’s seat, with sellers simply and amiably along for the ride. In this environment, sellers only provide the information that buyers ask for, they follow their lead in the buying process, and cooperate with them to the point of the sale… then the buyer is left on their own.

In a cooperative sales environment, there’s little room for the salesperson to challenge the buyer’s assumptions, to take them in a new direction that will work better for them, or to suggest more effective solutions to their problems.

Worse, a cooperative mindset may help the buyer make the purchase, but that’s where it stops. Once the seller has signed the contract and collected their commission, they no longer have any incentive to help the buyer make sure they get the value they want out of the purchase.

They simply “hand off” the new customer to the delivery team and move on to the next likely buyer on their list.

The delivery team, having not been a part of the purchase process, may not know what the customer wants to achieve with it, or how they need it to work for them. Often, the disconnect includes promises made by the salesperson that the delivery team can’t or doesn’t want to deliver.

The customer’s success criteria aren’t even considered.

How collaboration beats the socks off of cooperation

There’s a reason we use the word “cooperate” in the context of criminal investigations. It implies a potentially adversarial relationship in which both parties are temporarily working together while their needs happen to align.

But as soon as the police begin to suspect you of the crime, you probably stop cooperating with their investigation.

In a sales setting, you and the buyer cooperate as long as your needs (to make a commission) align with theirs (to make a purchase). But as soon as you’ve got what you need, and their attention shifts from making the purchase to gaining the benefit from the purchase, cooperation ends.

Collaboration, however, is something else entirely. Collaboration is what happens on a truly well-functioning team. Collaboration means working together closely to solve a problem that everyone on the team cares about.

In a collaborative sales environment, the sales team works together with the buyer to identify and understand the problem and to develop solutions that will genuinely solve that problem. A collaborative environment is proactive and includes multiple parties. Subject matter experts, human resources, executive team members, engineers, and others may be brought into the process.

When the purchase is made, the collaboration doesn’t end. The sales team and the buyer have identified the problem and the success criteria together, and these are communicated to the customer success team, who becomes responsible for helping the buyer achieve the goals for which they made the purchase.

In a collaborative environment, the baton is passed smoothly and proactively between teams to ensure the customer has an excellent experience and achieves what they want to achieve with the purchase.

As an example, if a customer comes to me stating that they want to grow, the first thing our team will do is help them define what that means to them. Perhaps they want to increase revenue by $19 million in three years, for instance.

Next, our team might run scenarios to determine whether that goal is achievable with our tools and our partners' know-how, and what else would be necessary to do it. Then we would work collaboratively with the client and the partner to develop a plan for achieving that goal.

Once the contract is signed, we would coordinate with customer success and the partner working with the client closely until the goal is achieved–and beyond, to whatever new goals they set.

Collaboration beats cooperation because it gets everyone more of what they want. In a complex b2b sales environment, it puts the sales team on the same side with the buying team. It builds trust and usually leads to bigger and more successful sales, as well as greater customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to more business and referrals.

We believe Membrain is the right tool to enable true collaboration across your people, teams, partners, and customers. Let’s start by running the numbers of what increased sales effectiveness would mean to your organization and then look at how our tools will help you.

George Brontén
Published July 24, 2019, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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