What's it really like?
Dave Swinfen has been in a Commercial Negotiator role for 18 months and gives us an insight..
I've worked for Uponor Housing Solutions, a supplier of plumbing and underfloor heating systems for three years. I joined as an administrator and quickly progressed onto the consumer sales side, before accepting a job as the company's sole Commercial Negotiator.
Commercial sales differs to other sales roles I have been involved with because it is very open-ended. When you arrive at work each day, you are able to choose how to plan your time to bring in the most opportunities possible. It involves a lot of internet research and data mining to generate leads for the external sales force. After a while, you develop relationships with industry contacts who keep you abreast of potential projects which you may wish to become involved with. Time prioritisation is essential, and you spend a lot of time picking through many projects looking for that one that may prove lucrative.
It can be tough at times working to rigid sales targets, especially since the recession started to bite last year. This has had a huge impact on commercial builds taking place, as authorities look to cut costs and take advantage of intense competition amongst suppliers.
I would ultimately like to progress to a more creative marketing role, but while I am studying towards a degree from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, my job offers me a lot of knowledge and understanding about business practice. The opportunity for site visits is always welcome and there is a lot to learn, especially when having to give presentations and organise trade evenings.
Perhaps the thing I enjoy most about the role is the chance to manage a list of regular clients that I was able to introduce to the business through my own planning. I enjoy going through my electronic diary and progressing large jobs, like the London 2012 Olympic bid.
I would say to any potential candidates not to be put off entering a particular industry because you know nothing about it. Commercial negotiation means that regardless of what you are selling, you will learn about it very quickly!
Commercial Sales Negotiator
A Commercial Sales Negotiator is responsible for ensuring that businesses who wish to tender for large-scale or high-value projects are considered as a possible supplier of goods or services.
Whenever a business or organisation proposes a new scheme, such as a site for an office to be built, a need for a new product or service, or modification to an existing product or service, a Package of Works will need to be established. This will include detailed elements of the specifics which are required to complete that project.
For a building scheme, it will contain requirements of the structural layout, groundwork, enabling, hard landscaping, plumbing, ventilation and electrics. For an engineering project, it may detail the requirements of the completed design, its operating parameters and the required componentry to make it work. In an IT system, it will consider the hardware required to support the solution and the software that will be necessary to make the system easy to use and stable.
A company that wishes to bid for any of these elements of work will usually employ a Commercial Sales Negotiator to find out about new projects. He/she will track them whilst they are going from concept to tender and then try and get a “foot in the door” with the company issuing the project in order to bid for the relevant element of the work. This process can often take several years, from project planning stage through to all the contractors starting work.
A Commercial Sales Negotiator can expect a £15,000 basic starting salary rising to £25,000 basic salary after approximately five years' experience. Bonuses for on-target earnings are often substantial.
The Commercial Negotiator must...
- Keep up to date on new opportunities that are happening in their industry using various trade publications.
- Track ongoing projects awaiting finalisation using industry contacts and bought data.
- Ensure all tenders for solicited bids are sent in on time and are correct.
- Report to the relevant management team on the status of tendered bids.
- Participate in warm/cold calling exercises from the company database of potential partners and clients.
- Arrange site visits for external sales representatives to win new contracts.
- Negotiate levels of discount and agree delivery/completion expectations for won jobs.
- Manage customer relationships and expectations after the project sale is completed.
There are no formal academic barriers to entry, but previous sales experience is a must. Often a candidate will join a company in a more straightforward sales role, such as sales administration or business-to-consumer sales. A degree or undergraduate certificate in Marketing or Business Studies can be helpful in recognising potential for sales growth and adapting techniques to suit, and employers will value any professional certification you may have.
Sales negotiation can be an excellent way of learning about a given industry very quickly. For example, it is possible to join a media group as a salesperson without any prior media experience or study. This will then allow the candidate to grow their skills in a particular industry and move on to an industry-specific role that they would not otherwise have been able to.
It is your sales skills that a potential employer is most interested in, so as well as needing a good interview technique, you may benefit from taking with you some examples of your previous sales performance, such as turnover figures or any awards you may have been given in previous sales roles.
- As the job involves a lot of calling of potential customers with whom the business has no prior trading history, it helps if the salesperson is “thick skinned” and not easily offended. However, commercial sales calls are usually not as ill-received as consumer cold calls, as companies will expect a lot of interest once a project has been issued out to tender.
- A strong personality is necessary for the quick development of a rapport with a potential customer.
- The negotiator must be self-motivated as the role involves a lot of research, the method of which is determined by oneself.
- An ability to handle pressure is a must as the key performance indicator is usually one of revenue, and the role is very target-orientated.
- Tough targets will be set each month and there is an expectation that the negotiator will be able to deliver against these goals consistently.
The role is office-based so there are no particular concerns besides the usual health and safety requirements which your employer is expected to meet.
Depending on the business, there will sometimes be a requirement to attend site. This will often be done with a Regional Manager who may feel that your prior handling of a customer account or knowledge of a particular product means your attendance will be beneficial. When on site, it is necessary that safety requirements are met, and most medium-risk areas demand visiting persons to wear a high-visibility jacket and hard hat.
Much of the negotiator's working day will be spent in his or her own office. There can be considerable mental stress to deal with, particularly when the negotiator is under pressure to rectify a faltering monthly sales figure. This can of course happen due to market-related issues and can happen despite the best efforts of the sales team. Depending on the business, a commercial negotiator may be situated in a call centre, which in itself brings challenges of background noise and call frequency report boards.
A minimum of 2-3 years sales experience is normally required before a candidate is given a portfolio of commercial projects to try and win. The usual entry into this role is to progress from a non-commercial role within the same company or industry sector, and move onto the commercial side once a good business understanding has developed.
As mentioned above, a commercial sales role normally develops from a less specific sales or sales support type role. Commercial appreciation learnt from time spent during this type of negotiation will put the candidate in an excellent position to be considered for external sales or Business Development roles, with the potential for very good rates of pay and benefits.
Not every salesperson wishes to go “on the road”, so commercial negotiation is best thought of as being an office-based Regional Sales Manager.
You will find that people will regularly move industries but stay within a similar discipline. For example, if you have three years sales experience with an automotive gearbox engineering firm, you may consider opportunities in the marine market or heavy machinery sales. The principles of knowing your product and understanding the tender process remain largely the same.