A Survival Guide For Selling to Committees – Part 1

by  Leonard L. Given

As IC manufacturers and OEM suppliers to the semiconductor industry have become larger, and the risks associated with process and vendor selection have increased, committees have been interjected into the buying process more and more. Committees tend to reduce the risk factors by involving multi-disciplinary and multi-geographic locations into the decision equation. There is also comfort in spreading the risks (and possibly the blame) across numerous people.

Generally in the SEM industry, sales teams will encounter two types of committees: formal, permanently established committees such as Intel's PED (Process Equipment Development ) Committee or IBM' s SEC (Strategic Equipment Council); and ad hoc committees that are convened temporarily to make specific vendor evaluations, recommendations and decisions. The sales team needs to understand the committee environment thoroughly if it is going to successfully navigate the process to ultimate selection as the vendor of choice.

Obtaining Crucial Information

First, be aware that there often is more than one committee that is involved in the decision process. Several years ago, we were both training and consulting with teams from a major equipment supplier where one of the key targets was National Semiconductor. The responsible team felt they understood the environment and identified a committee totally responsible for the equipment selection. As the sales planning process unfolded and questions were asked of regional people, it became apparent that not one, but three committees had a significant impact upon the outcome.

Second, identify both the committee members, not just by name and position, but by personality and influence. Along with that knowledge it will also be necessary to identify people peripheral to the committee members who might substantially influence them. This sounds pretty obvious but, in practice, we have found most sales team do a superficial job in this area and are ill-equipped to develop meaningful sales strategies and tactics. Remember, obtaining a large revenue stream from an IC manufacturer or OEM usually involves a complex process sale that goes over many months (or several years) and ultimately can involve dozens of customer personnel. Establishing a relationship that results in many millions of dollars of revenue is worth the front-end investment necessary to understand the customer's environment.

Third, determine what process each committee follows. What are they charged with accomplishing? What issues are most important and what answers are they seeking? How will company executives evaluate them? Do they have a deadline? What opinions has the committee already developed? Is there any member(s) who has the ability to change the committee decision or direction? A shift in any of these areas can effect a change in the committee recommendation or decision. Recognizing that, it is important to get as many answers as possible to these questions early in the sales process, and keep abreast of any changes throughout the sales process.

Fourth, it is vitally important to understand the competition. Which competitors would be considered viable in this sales situation? How do committee members feel about each competitor, particularly vis-à-vis your company and product? Does the competitor have any champions either on the committee, or in an influential position outside the committee? Does the competitor have any recognized adversaries? In both situations, what are the issues and what is likely to enhance your advantage or overcome a weakness IN THE MINDS OF THE COMMITTEE MEMBERS? Again, obvious questions,

Common Mistakes

  • Discharging your weapons before you know the landscape—Making a committee presentation that could evoke damaging questions or call for decisions is very dangerous before you know the people, their attitudes, and their pre-conceived positions. Other than a broad technical presentation to stimulate an interest in your products and services, committee presentations should wait until later when key issues and possible detractors have been identified, and you have set up some leverage to counter problems.
  • Assuming you know how the power and decision making operates in the committee because you know the make-up of some strong key members—The dynamic of a committee is dependent upon the collective makeup of its members. People may act one way individually, but different where they are interacting with a group representing a myriad of personalities, influences and agendas. A change in any one committee member can change the committee dynamic. Also, committees are sometimes formed to cut the influence of one of its members. At a client, with whom we were consulting, the sales team had identified that the decision making committee was strictly a "rubber stamp" because one individual in a key position had such a strong personality and held so much power. As it turned out, he was basically emasculated by the committee and yielded the least amount of influence on the buying equation.
  • Assuming your position is secure because you are the incumbent vendor—Very dangerous. Your past successes and good feelings may lose a great deal of their luster due to an unhappy individual who voices his opinion; a change in desired outcomes and an assumption that your company or product can't support it; a new committee member with a preference for a competitor; attacks directly by your competitor; etc. These are crucial when the decision maker is a committee. There are many more opportunities to unseat you and you could be out before you realize what happened. Remember . . . the competition is actively trying to unseat you just as your are trying to do in their secure accounts.
  • Assuming you have won the battle when your product is selected by the committee—This may not be an automatic open door for the same reasons stated above. Keep on selling at every level!

Look for Part 2 of this article appearing soon. In Part 2 we
will discuss various approaches for selling to committees.

‹‹ Leonard L. Given
[About the Author]