After a morning of phone calls with multiple buyers who didn’t fully understand contingent labor or vendor management systems, I walked into a meeting with a customer I’d only spoken to once. As an account executive selling VMS technology, I was prepared and eager, but also dreaded the thought of repeating myself again.

Imagine my surprise when the buyer’s team came to the table having already researched the industry, built their business case, shopped the project to the organization’s other business units for buy-in, and secured executive sponsorship from the chief procurement officer.

Thanks to their due diligence, this initial meeting enabled them to share information, outline the coming months and provide in-person introductions to those managing the evaluation. This set the course for a collaborative and successful two-year sales journey. And you can bet that customer became my No. 1 priority.

This fruitful experience offers a valuable lesson for contingent workforce managers who are shopping for services: With early preparation and an understanding of the sales process, they can make their interactions with their sales professional exponentially more valuable.

I understand why such experiences aren’t more frequent, however. The contingent labor industry is complex and multi-faceted. Buyers usually have CW program responsibility assigned to them, rather than seeking it out. And it’s not something they learn during university. As a result, sales professionals are forced to spend more time educating buyers on the contingent labor market than on explaining their products or services.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A little understanding can help both parties achieve results more quickly and beneficially. It may surprise you to know that, while contingent workforce professionals are coming to the table to qualify potential suppliers, the suppliers are also evaluating whether the enterprise buyer organization is the right fit. When they know they’re aligned, buyers will receive better service from their sales professionals.

Plenty of Education Needed

SIA’s Workforce Solutions Buyers Survey 2023 found that 79% of respondents with 1,000-plus employees had a VMS in place at the time, while another 20% were seriously looking to explore changing it over the next two years. In addition, 59% of such respondents had an MSP currently in place, with 14% of them seriously considering going to market in the next two years. This proves there is no slowing down with MSP and VMS evaluations and buyers need for sales professionals’ support.

In today’s market landscape, most buyers continue to lean heavily on their sales professionals for comprehensive market education, even beyond the specifics of the products or services being offered. Prioritizing thorough preparation from the buyer’s side at the onset of the relationship will provide the best outcomes.

Here are three key aspects buyers should consider:

Contingent labor management experience. Throughout the qualification process, sales professionals seek to work with buyers who have properly educated themselves on the contingent labor industry, understand their organizations contingent labor program, have an approved business case, allocated budget and executive sponsorship. Having these in place demonstrates seriousness. This gets your sales professional’s attention and moves you to the top of their list. Yet, getting to this point in the buying journey is often challenging for the buyer if they have minimal experience in the industry or category.

It is essential to clearly communicate where you are on the buying journey and your intentions to properly unlock the support of a sales professional. A buyer who lacks understanding of the contingent labor market, procurement category or the complexities in contingent labor management signals to the sales professional to expect a much longer sales cycle — and while equally important, you may become a lesser priority to them.

Budget. Be prepared to discuss your budget when you first engage — even if you do not have one yet. Knowing if you have a secured budget is crucial in establishing where you are in a potential two-year journey and what support you may need. When buyers are open, their sales professionals will be more engaged and eager to support them. They’ll know you value their time and will therefore prioritize opportunities for you based on your communication, commitment and readiness.

At the same time, an approved budget not only signifies internal sponsorship but also suggests likely executive sponsorship, indicating that the business case has undergone internal scrutiny and approval. This demonstrates a level of seriousness and opportunity. 

Collaboration. Sales professionals prefer engaging with buyers who actively participate in the process. Building relationships is a vital aspect of the sales cycle, and it is the part of the job that sales professionals love the most. Many of the buyers and sales professionals — regardless of the outcome of the discussions — become dear friends and valued resources because of the relationship and trust established through the buying process. Buyers should altogether avoid blind request for proposals.

Similarly, buyers should recognize that seeking support and information to bolster a business case is appropriate — and sales professional expect these queries — but there is a delicate balance between requesting basic support and soliciting free consulting. After all, like wait staff in the US who receive the bulk of their compensation from tips, sales professionals’ largest opportunity for compensation resides in commission. Buyers who engage with sales professionals repeatedly for free consulting without intent to buy or who do not have an approved business case will quickly find themselves at the bottom of the priority list. An informed and educated buyer who demonstrates preparedness and shows seriousness will attract the attention they merit, and those who actively engage in building relationships receive an elevated level of attention and trust.

Thorough preparation and active participation in the process is key to a fruitful partnership. Just as you expect exceptional efforts in suppliers’ investment of time, commitment and presentations to you, it is equally crucial for you, as a buyer, to be well-informed before initiating interactions with sales professionals. Utilizing this approach stands as one of the most influential methods to capture the attention of leading suppliers and their expert sales professionals.

I’d also be remiss as a sales professional, if I didn’t mention, for those seeking data, insights, and industry research regarding contingent labor management, before engaging sales professionals, joining SIA’s CWS Council community is recommended.  And for newcomers to the industry, I encourage you to get CCWP certified before going to market. Both of these will give you a leg up in getting the sales professionals time and attention.