Changing the Relationship Between EHS Software Buyers and Sellers

Historically, the relationship between enterprise business software buyer and seller has been one of confrontation. Buyers are trying to seek the best possible terms at the lowest cost, while sellers are trying to maximize profits - both of which were very myopic goals. This dynamic is changing as progressive buyers are realizing the benefits of a more open and transparent relationship, while forward-thinking sellers focus on long-term partnerships with companies that are a good fit for their software.

Take for example sharing the purchasing processes the business is going through when purchasing EHS software. Explaining this process (budget, timeline, decision making, roles, etc.) can limit unwanted “check-in” calls and emails from sales consultants because they know where the process stands. Buyers can also benefit from white papers developed by sellers providing education at every stage of the purchasing process such as identifying business needs, vendor selection, implementation etc.

Once the software buying process is understood, experienced sales consultants can share a wealth of knowledge on best practices the organization may have missed. Here are two examples from my experience. Many buyers purchase by committee, although one “gatekeeper” is often the main point of contact, limiting the salesperson’s access to other stakeholders. If buyers are transparent about their decision making process, it opens up the possibility of obtaining valuable feedback from seasoned sales consultants. Once you are further along in the buying process, my advice is to allow the salesperson access to key stakeholders. This will ensure all voices are heard and questions answered. I know a few cases where the executive sponsor or other decision makers brought up new critical business needs after purchase, which were not provided to the salesperson during the assessment and contracting phase. In a case like this, the gatekeeper mentality leaves both parties frustrated and scrambling to figure out how or even if the newly identified needs can be met potentially derailing the success of the project.

Another example involves pushing trial access down to the facility level, including employees who will be interacting with the software on a day-to-day basis. Often managers and executives make purchasing decision in a vacuum, not taking into account the needs of frontline staff. Two of the primary requirements for successful adoption of a system are simplicity and usability. These cannot be properly assessed without feedback from end users.

Software buyers also stand to gain from learning about the seller’s process. The selling process itself says a lot about the seller. For example, sellers that take the time to understand the buyer’s business needs before proceeding with a demonstration can indicate greater professionalism. The seller wants to make sure the business needs are addressed in the demonstration and ensure fit for a long-term mutually beneficial relationship. Buyers should build team consensus by extending trial access throughout the organization. Buyers would therefore benefit from also finding out if trial access is available, how long it takes to set up, how long it lasts, if there is a cost, and if the number of users is limited.

Smart software sellers ask if buyers have a budget, not to seize up the opportunity, but to offer valuable advice. Budget is something many buyers keep close to their chest, but it is in their best interest to share with the seller. Getting back to white papers, many sellers have experience to help buyers build the business case for new software for senior management in cases when a budget isn’t secure. Sharing how the budget is structured (e.g. one-time capital expenditure vs. annual expense) can allow the seller to offer different fee options or steer the buyer towards a self-hosted system vs. the cloud model of system delivery. Disclosing the budget can also direct the conversation in meaningful directions. If the budget is tight, perhaps the buyer needs to reduce their initial scope and focus on core business needs or maybe sticking to system defaults to keep within budgetary constraints. Lastly, answering the budget question may lead the buyer toward wanting the implementation being billed time & material vs. fixed-cost. One final aspect of the seller’s process buyers should keep in mind, is finding out what will happen after the purchase of software. Leading sales organizations often initially include the salesperson in the implementation process to help ensure both parties keep themselves honest regarding what was discussed and agreed to in the sales cycle and aid in the transfer of information to the implementation team.

In summary, buyers will have a more successful experience buying and implementing software if they take a collaborative approach with sales consultant by sharing their purchasing process, taking the time to understand the seller’s process and having candid discussion about critical business needs. Once this information has been shared, sellers can often add value by offering a range of services and sharing their real-life experiences dealing with people in similar situations. The seller’s process speaks volumes about their company and will help you determine who is the best fit to meet your business needs. Good companies have smart, honest sales people who want what is best for their clients. Buyers should seek out these types of organizations and work in a collaborative and transparent manner with them. After the buying and selling process is over, buyers will end up with a far better, cost effective and efficient software application.