Relationships, What Are They?

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 01-08-2008

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In today’s sales world you will hear and read a lot about building relationships. This consultative style of selling doesn’t just happen on the first call and building a solid relationship with a prospect takes time. Many years ago sales people would do the old razzle-dazzle on the prospect and make the quick sale before the prospect had time to realize they had said yes. That isn’t the case any longer, though I’m certain there are still a few of these morons around who think they can ‘wow’ themselves into a sale.What is the definition of a ‘relationship’? Webster’s defines a relationship as; a state involving mutual dealings between people or parties, or a connectedness between people. Well who am I to argue with Webster’s? Let me suggest my simplified definition of a sales rep-to-prospect relationship as “a state of trust and respect between parties that results in meeting the needs of one another in a professional and personal manner.”  In the business products industry this relationship can and will overcome many hurdles as time goes on. You will earn the trust and respect of your customer because you will demonstrate over time that you sincerely care about them as individuals, and customers.

The consultative selling process involves asking questions, questions, and more questions. Who are the greatest sales people on earth? Your children are! Think about it. They pepper you with questions, they are very effective about making a case for the new toy they want and they get you to make an emotional decision. They are persistent and don’t easily take ‘no’ for an answer. Take some lessons from your kids who know how to get what they want! They effectively take down all the negative barriers you have and present a strong case for themselves.  If you used all these strategies on your last sales call how effective do you think the call would have been? 

The last word: “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows you are slightly cracked.”– Bernard Meltzer

Delivery Personnel, Your Front Line of Defense

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 18-01-2008

I was out for lunch the other day and noticed a Staples delivery guy stopping to make his delivery.  He got out of his truck with his cigarette hanging out of his mouth and talking on his cell phone.  He wondered around the truck and opened the rear door and disappeared for a few minutes.  Shortly afterwards I saw his cigarette butt flicked out the back and he emerged with his hand-truck and a couple of boxes of supplies.  His facial expression and body language told me that he would rather be anywhere but where he was that day as he slammed the gate on his truck.  He rushed into the business and quickly returned to his truck where he resumed his cell phone conversation again and sat in his truck for another fifteen minutes before pulling away.  I have a pretty good idea what his attitude was when he entered the customers office.

Our big box competitors have hundreds of delivery personnel and those people typically don’t stay in those positions for a long time so it is difficult for them to develop relationships with the customers and for most I expect their job is temporary until they find something else.

However, most independent dealers have smaller numbers of delivery people and with a more family oriented workplace they stay much longer.  These delivery guys (or gals) are a critical element in your strategy to gain new business and in your existing account penetration efforts.  You should take the time necessary to train your delivery staff on more than just company safety policy.  Today’s business environment requires more than just be friendly and courteous in the customers office.  I trained my drivers to always keep their eyes and ears open.  They are to be attentive to the customers needs and when making their delivery to listen, and look for signs that the customer needs attention.  These signs would be things such a a new printer or fax machine that needs supplies (hopefully you know this because you sold the equipment), perhaps someone is discussing a need for a new file cabinet or desk.  Perhaps they overhear plans to expand or move into a larger space.  Maybe a competitor is, or has been, there trying to get the business and left a catalog or portfolio.  Maybe the customer isn’t buying all of their supplies from you and the competitions has just made a delivery.  Don’t you want to know who that is?  Maybe the guy in the back that signs for deliveries tells your driver that they just got a big contract and will be expanding their warehouse to handle the new business or there is a supply issue with someone in the office that is making a real “stink” about their dissatisfaction.  All this leads to opportunities for you and your business!  This information needs to be immediately communicated to the sales rep and/or sales manager for follow-up.  Your driver is part delivery man, part customer service rep, part sales rep, and part secret agent.  A good observant driver can be a driving force in your efforts to meet the needs and wants of your customers and many times will see the same customers far more often than your rep does.  Use that to your advantage!

Also, have a policy where your sales reps ride one day each month with the drivers.  This simple act affords them an opportunity to see what the driver see’s every day.  The rep isn’t so pushed to be on appointments and can observe new or existing businesses they may have otherwise ignored that are in the same area.  A good rep should have already saturated the area before moving on but we know that isn’t always the case.  Therefore take the time to train your delivery personnel to be observant and watchful and to keep you well informed.  These people are out in “the trenches” every day and can be (should be) a critical element in your strategies to grow your business and another weapon in your arsenal to combat the competition.

CSR’s plus CRM, a Formula for Success or Exercise in Futility?

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 17-12-2007

CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, software such as salesforce.com, Sage CRM, or the Goldmine product such as offered by reputable sellers like Longbow Consulting Group can be a love it or hate it relationship for you and your customers.  While salesforce.com and the SageCRM product offer an enormous degree of personalization they require  someone who has the programming knowledge for customization or you will need to invest what could amount to substantial dollars to get the product to work and perform to the standard necessary to meet the needs of most independent dealers.  While I have tried using the SageCRM product for some time it is so advanced and complicated I can’t make it perform to my standards without investing, what may amount to, several thousand dollars more.  I like the product but the issue here is that it is made to fit many kinds of industries and complicated sales processes and is very customizable to those kinds of businesses.  The Goldmine product as presented by Neil Saviano (Longbow Consulting) has already been customized to meet the needs of the typical office stationer.  It also incorporates an information funnel from your existing back office system to transfer customer information into the Goldmine product allowing you access to info that is useful and valuable.  I inquired about the capability ro integrate this kind of information funel in the SageCRM product and Sage estimated the cost to be in excess of $15K, if it was even possible.  There are other CRM products available but these specific CRM products I have some experience and knowledge in.

My bone of contention as it were is that a CRM system like any of these do have a great deal of value if used appropriately and regularly.  Staples uses, with great success, a CRM component in their systems and its function comes from a directive right from the CEO’s office.  They utilize it successfully and it drives sales.  Neither Office Depot not Office Max nor CorpEx make use of a CRM package.  A CRM package can help in many ways from reminding you to follow-up on a new customer or to highlight a potential problem customer that hasn’t ordered in sixty or ninety days.  With information that flows between your back office accounting system to your sales systems the CRM can be setup with many such reminders and can also send out email blasts or fax blasts.  (Does anyone still use fax blasts?) 

If you incorporate your CRM into reminders to your customer service team they are instantly able to identify customers that either need help, a reminder or perhaps they are over their credit limit and have just place an online order.  You can funnel info to and from your sales staff and with some CRM packages the sales team can remotely access their customer information.  Don’t cripple your staff with a lack of information, you are all on the same page and want to drive more sales to your business.  I know reps that have over six hundred accounts and I know for a fact that there is no way they can effectively mange that many contacts without some kind of contact management system.  Customers get ignored, customer service suffers and sales do not grow.  Your verbal and written statement of how great your customer service is isn’t worth the ink on the page.

Great customer service comes not only comes from great people but from the support they receive through your systems and the technology they utilize.  Who in your office champions the customer?  Are your efforts in customer service hampered by a lack of the proper technology or its function?  Have you ever called your office anonymously to place an order to see just how your staff performs?  Don’t let your efforts to provide great service be in vain.  Great technology is out there that can make your business and your customer service really stand out in the crowd. 

final show report

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 26-10-2007

Hands down the consumer products show was a tremendous success.  Over three weeks have passed since the September 21st event and our sales people are still taking orders for products seen at the event and fielding requests for more info or demo’s on products from the show.  I tried to keep a track of the orders resulting from the show but there has literally been so much business resulting from it that I cannot keep track of them all.  That’s a good problem so I’m not complaining.  We had a good mix of office products, breakroom foods and supplies, janitorial products and furniture and also had advertising specialty exhibitors.  The ad-specialty guys did a great job and one of my reps turned in another order for embroidered laptop cases.  We have entered many orders for apparel items and numerous bags of various styles.  We have sold more ad-specialty products in the last three weeks than the previous 9 months of this year.  Zip-Notes was another new product demonstrated at the show and everyone loves it.  This little company has a cool product and we have since learned it can be screen printed and have already sold some of these custom imprinted products.  We totally blew out the warehouse inventory for Zip-Notes and are about to start buying direct.  All this as a direct result of the show.

I have received many personal accolades for my 8 months of work, planning and executing the show and to all those I humbly thank you.  Please know that credit is also due to my event committee members who supported my ideas and were there during all those planning meetings and without whose help I could never have gotten everything accomplished.  Thanks also to my “elves” who stuffed envelopes and pasted hundreds of mailing labels on invitations.  Annette, Susan, Terry and Donna, you guys are awesome and I sincerely appreciate everything you did.  Company wide support was good and our fearless leader was all smiles at the show.  He was thrilled to see the vendor support and the guests enthusiasm! 

In closing the show has had multiple effects.  A boost in sales revenue and account penetration is very obvious and is continuing.  The amazing thing is the change in employee morale and the effect the show had on our customers.  Excitement is obvious when manufacture’s reps are telling other reps that didn’t come about how much they missed by not being there.  But customers are calling that didn’t come to the show and telling us that they have heard stories about how good the show was and next year they are going to take time off from their job, personal time off, just to make sure they don’t miss the next show.  That says volumes about the quality and success of the overall event. 

more factoids

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 19-10-2007

This months edition of Office Solutions Magazine had some interesting info.

  • Talking loud in an office ranked #1 most annoying habit
  • 32% of U.S. workers ranked talking loud in the office as the most annoying workplace habit
  • Annoying cell phone ring tones and speakerphones ranked #2 & #3 most annoying respectively
  • 32.1% of large U.S. companies (over 1000 employees) employ personnel to read outbound employee email
  • 45.5% of those employers have disciplined an employess for violating email policies in the past year
  • 62% of small businesses ranked “retaining employees” as their No.1 employee benefit objective
  • 39% of small business employees say they are satisfied with the benefits offererd by their employer

In other words, talk softly, turn off your freakin cell phone, don’t send out personal e-mails from the office and tell the boss you want more vacation time! :)

survey’s and ideas

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 05-10-2007

I know, I’ve been slack and haven’t been writing here much lately.  I’ve been busy with analyzing the after effects of the show.  The orders and customer calls continue much to my delight.  I was following up on my guest survey cards and find it interesting that even though our sales team does a pretty good job of selling many of our customers didn’t know we sold certain categories of products such as JanSan, Ad Specialty, printing.  I guess I’m a little surprised at this because I assumed that we make a concerted effort to sell all our products on a continuous basis but as the survery results show, that isn’t the case.

Now, of course, I’m asked what am I going to do in the marketing department to increase sales over the next period.  Marketing alone isn’t a fix for poor sales, there is only so much I can do alone.  I am certain that there is more business in nearly every account we service that we don’t get.  These other lost products are areas of higher profit margins if we can find a way to be more effective at account penetration.  That is really what it is all about.  Are we really doing an effective job of asking the right questions and from the right people?  I’ve received a lot of feedback about new products these customers didn’t know about.  But the reality is some of these products were not new at all.  They have been around for a year or more!  What the heck are these salespeople doing?  Are they just order takers?  Perhaps they are not being managed effectively.  Either way the survey feedback was specific enough to tell me that we are not doing a good job of introducing new products and new catagories to our client base.  As for promoting new products I do have some ideas for new ways to promote new products on our web site but I expect they will be met with a sour note of disagreement.  I’m thinking about video marketing of new products on the web site and via email.  It wouldnt be that difficult.  In fact I could do it in such a way as to make that service available to other dealers.  They could use the video messages to send out to customers via email or place customized one on their web sites.  What do you think?

Well, I’m off this next week for vacation.  The family and I are going to the outer banks of North Carolina near Cape Hatteras for some much earned rest and some time spent fishing.  I appreciate your time spent reading here and please share your thoughts and ideas!  I’d love to hear from you. 

the show summary

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 24-09-2007

Wow!  The show was an incredible event.  Six months of planning and organizing paid off in a big way with our consumer products show last Friday.  We had over 345 people in attendance and so far the feedback I’ve received from the customers and prospects has been overwhelmingly positive with praises and accolades with everyone wanting to know when the next one will be held is 2008.  Same feedback was received from all the 43 exhibitors present which confirms I was on track with my plan.

When this project began last February I begin writing an expectations chart based upon exhibitors, customers, and dealership expectations and best case scenarios from each viewpoint.  By meeting as many of these expectations as possible I determined that the show would be successful barring any unforseen complication.  Although my company had done these shows prior to my employ they had not planned out beyond inviting customers and vendors and feeding them barbeque.  Not that there is anything wrong with that but in my opinion they were missing a tremendous opportunity by not selling products and services.  The point is to increase your business and this event affords the exhibitors a unique opportunity to sell and demo product directly to the buyer, user/chooser, end-user. 

Today I counted not less than 34 dozen pens just from one exhibitor that was sold.  We sold furniture and janitorial products and my survey cards from the attendees were loaded with examples of products the customers didn’t know we had.  That fact also highlights some other issues that need to be addressed.  Overall, the event was a huge success.  The tab for the event will probably come in at over $13K of which over 98% was paid for by the exhibitors and our ad space that was sold.  We also gave away over 50 door prizes and our meal was fabulous.  We continue to receive calls today from people still excited about the show and wanting to buy products they saw at the event.  I sincerely appreciate all the work from my committee members and the support of our staff for helping make the event a great success.  I could not have done it without their valuable help and suggestions.