Is Your Growth Pigeonholed?

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 07-02-2013

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In case you’re wondering what pigeonholing is, it has to do with missing opportunities due to carelessness or many times laziness.  In my continuing review of sales rep performances I continue to find that many reps get into a comfort zone selling only one kind of product group.  This could mean his/her devotes most, if not all, of their time selling office products, or toners or maybe it’s furniture.  Typically the excuses I hear are:

  • We’re not competitive
  • I can’t make any money on it
  • I don’t like it therefore my customer won’t like it
  • I don’t know/understand the product (i.e.: I don’t want to)

Obviously product knowledge is easily remedied; the other objections are simply excuses.  Thinking about my previous experiences in sales I can understand how easy it is to become comfortable selling a certain product.  Many years ago I was comfortable selling roll thermal paper for fax machines and avoided most everything else.  I was making money on it and I was comfortable.  The plain paper fax machines starting eating into my commissions but I was behind and my stubbornness cost me sales.  A good business friend of mine quickly gave me some good advice.  He told me over lunch one day that nothing in an office environment should ever be out of bounds for me to sell, and if I didn’t sell it find someone that I could trust to sell it to my client/customer.  I took that to heart and the following week I sold 10 microfilm machines that I sourced from a trusted supplier and made a big commission.  My source installed and serviced the equipment and I sold the supplies.  When the customer renewed their service agreement my source spiffed me because I maintained the relationship with the client.

It was a new day and I then knew I would never be pigeonholed into one category of product again.  I know someone even now that refuses to sell furniture.  Other reps are getting $100K furniture jobs and this rep continues to sell supplies at low margins.  It doesn’t seem to matter how much product training I offer the rep refuses to sell the product because it is out of their comfort zone.  Same thing applies to the janitorial market as it becomes more open to independent dealers.  You need to understand towels, cleaners, soaps, dispensers, etc.  A lot to learn I know but it further enhances your relationship with your customer as a resource and business partner, not just the lowly sales rep.  This is just my personal opinion but if a rep isn’t willing to grow with the products available to sell and refuses to utilize the relationship with the customer they are doing a disservice to the company and should no longer be employed.  It’s all about personal growth and responsibility.  This is an on-going process that needs to be continually evaluated by the rep and their management.

 

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”– Henri Bergson

Are You Selling Solutions or Products?

Filed Under (First Impressions, OP Sales Training) by Don on 27-06-2012

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Websites sell products but people sell (provide) solutions.  How do you talk to your customers?  When you make your calls do you spend most of your time talking, or listening?  In order to provide value you must give your prospect/customer a reason or justification to do business with you.  This is accomplished by providing a solution to a problem the customer/prospect has.  A problem that you have uncovered by effectively listening and asking open-ended questions.  No tricks or gimmicks.  I know a sales rep that asks me every time I see him, “What is the best gimmick I can use to open accounts?” I keep telling him that gimmicks are a waste of time but providing a solution to a problem will win the business every time as long as you can deliver on your promises to solve said problem(s).  If you’re already selling to the customer are you taking the time to develop relationships with the empowered buyers in the office?

An account won on price is an account lost on price.  However, if you sell a solution you have proven yourself to be someone who desires to be a true business partner and help your customer grow their business.  Regular business reviews will help uncover new opportunities, a subject I have discussed many times here.   Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you know what your value proposition is?
  • Are you developing relationships throughout the customers office?
  • What do you do differently than your competition?
  • How often do you communicate new products and ideas to your customers?
  • Websites sell products, people sell or provide solutions. Which one are you?
  • Who do you have your business reviews with? If it’s just the buyer you’re missing a golden opportunity to show the value you present.
  • Are you making full use of your CRM program?
  • Have you completed an Account Analysis worksheet to identify the business opportunity in each of your accounts and prospects?

My last question involved an Account Analysis worksheet.  If your manager or company doesn’t have this email me and I’ll send you a copy.  It is widely available from the major wholesalers but I will gladly email you a copy if requested.  So stop selling products and start selling and providing real solutions.

The last word:  “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” –Dale Carnegie

Five Tips to Grow Your Business

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 03-05-2012

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Here are five tips to help you grow your business.  You should already be doing most of these but I hope the suggestions will help you find a new avenue or idea.  Feel free to share any suggestions you have!

  1. Communicate – Use every means at your disposal to reach out and touch your customer. E-Mail, text, statement stuffers, box stuffers, e-newsletters, weekly email blasts, social media.  Be diligent and deliberate and most of all be consistent!  Offer your value message and your brand in everything you do.
  2. Account Penetration – On average you only get about 30% of the total spend in your customers office.  Are you asking about janitorial and breakroom products?  How about stamps, printing, furniture and technology products?  From the reception room to the warehouse you have products to meet their needs.  Take off your blinders and see what you are missing!
  3. Befriend everyone – Be personal and take the time to meet and greet every one possible in your customers office.  From the janitor to the CEO and everyone in between.  You will be surprised the little tidbits of information you glean or the account you might save from your ‘friends’ in the office.
  4. Business Reviews – While this should be a staple in your sales strategies I’m constantly surprised by the reps who never do this with their accounts.  It offers up a treasure trove of information and opportunity and builds upon the relationship with the customer.  Do this twice a year with most accounts.  Accounts with more than 100 employees may require a quarterly review.  Make a big deal out of it and invite the senior managers, order placers, buyers and anyone else you can to the meeting.  Provide lunch and show them how much money you have saved them and share any ideas you have on how to save them even more money.  Bring your manager and if possible your customer service rep in on the meeting and make a positive impression on the value your bring to their business.  Bring a good PowerPoint too, it is absolutely necessary for success with the “C” level managers.
  5. Margin Management – The big boxes do a fantastic job in this arena and have proven success in increasing their margins.  Most reps set up pricing and don’t think about it until contract renewals come around again.  The big boxes manage margins monthly and in some cases weekly.  Changing your product mix and adjusting margins effectively will grow your profit margin and potentially increase your business.  Utilizing the many price matrices available can be a big asset here too.

That’s my five quick tips for growth.  I’m certain you can think of many more.

The last word: “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” -Peter Drucker

Your Success Depends on the Choices YOU Make

Filed Under (OP Sales Training, Suggested Reading) by Don on 17-04-2012

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Success, or failure is highly dependent on the choices you make.  I’m sure this isn’t rocket science to most of us but it seems to me that our current crop of potential sales people are more interested in time off than time spent earning that success.  It isn’t my purpose to put every one of these potentials in a single nutshell but this does seem to apply to a majority.  Lesson number one for you folks is; your success or failure is strictly up to you and you alone.  If you accept a sales job, no matter what the product line represents, it is your responsibility to put forth the necessary effort to learn everything you can about the product(s) and how they are to be used as possible.  Lesson number two is; the second most important ingredient to your success or failure is YOUR attitude.  I don’t want to hear about all the negative influences you have in your life.  Face it spunky, we all have them!  How you allow those negative influences to affect your attitude is a decision you make and it will define how you are perceived by your prospects and clients.  Forgive me for not remembering who said this but there is a quote by one of the great sales trainers/writers that says “Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude”.  Successful sales training is an effective combination of efforts from the employer and the individual rep.  The employer can give you all the tools necessary to help you be successful and sales/selling is a continual process that demands continuous improvement, practice and refinement on your part.

Now you employers are on the hook here too for some shared responsibility.  Back in the mid-1980′s when I was first hired into this industry my new employer met me on my first day with an 1000 page catalog and told me, “Here is what you can sell and here are your prices.  Now go out there and sell something.” This honestly happened to me and I hope it never happens to you. I succeeded because I’m stubborn, hard-headed and darned determined to be successful.  When you bring on a new rep that isn’t experienced in your industry or product you need to have a written plan on how you will bring your new rep up to speed.  In the OP industry you can’t learn 30,000+ items overnight.  That means homework.  Since my primary wholesaler is USSCO then I’ll take their mega catalog and assign categories to the rep starting with the most commonly purchased products such as “Clips”, “Correction” and “Paper”.  After a couple of days I’ll quiz them on what item fits which category and what is the starting page number for that category.  I have reps spend time with the customer service staff, warehouse, delivery and if possible a furniture install.  All these things round out their understanding of what is required to effectively represent the company and it’s products.  While this isn’t an exhaustive list it is a good start.  It is also important that the dealer have the rep participate in wholesaler sponsored training classes.  You (the dealer) must make a reasonable investment in your reps success.

As a rep it is your responsibility to invest the time necessary to become successful.  Sales is NOT a 9-5 job.  If you think it is then I suggest you find another line of work.  Sales isn’t for you.  To become and to remain successful in sales is a constant process.  You are a work in progress and you have to feed your mind.  There are so many excellent sales trainers, seminars, classes, mentors, books and processes out there I could not do them enough justice here to recommend them all.  Krista Moore is an excellent trainer, coach and mentor specific to the OP industry.  There is Dave Kahle and one of my personal favorites is Jeffrey Gitomer.  Gitomer has a great line of books that have simple, actionable points designed to make you think and take action.  If you are serious about your personal sales success then be serious about how to plan to be successful.  You are making an investment in yourself and your time spent is the first place to start.  No excuses, no blaming others.  Your success ultimately depends on you, no one else.  God doesn’t make mistakes and He made a wonderful person in you.  He gave you all the abilities and capabilities you need to be successful.  It’s up to you to use those abilities with determination and wisdom.

The last word: “Great things are accomplished by talented people who believe they will accomplish them.” -Warren G. Bennis

The Sales Report. Really? Do I have to?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 10-04-2012

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The sales report, we love it and we hate it.  Does it really have a purpose or is it just a waste of precious time?  The answer is actually both to some degree.  While the general purpose of a sales report is to inform the sales manager/management of your activities regarding the capture of business it is often abused and overused.  If used correctly, and with a clear explanation of its purpose to the sales team, the sales report is a valuable tool in the sales managers arsenal.  Otherwise it is simply a time waster on the part of the rep that involves time spent and lies told, and the manager for reading and not discerning the support or help needed, if any, to land the sale.

For this discussion, I’m referring to a sales team that is locally based, not a national team that covers many different regions and/or states.  A sales report is basically a log of the reps daily activities.  So why not rename it to an Activities Report? That’s really what we want to know isn’t it?  As a sales manager my job is to support, train, coach, hire, dismiss, prospect (yes, prospect), build rapport with customers and prospects, help increase margins and drive acquisition and penetration, identify new business potential and be a cheerleader for the sales team and be accountable for the teams successes and failures. Accountability is something many sales managers pass the buck on.  A sales report/activity report tells me about the productivity of a previous period of time.  I prefer a daily report but weekly is okay.  Why?  Because it is easier on a daily basis than trying to absorb a weeks worth at a time.  I want the information while is is still warm so I can see if there is additional support or advice needed to help get the business.  Many times my experience contains important information that the rep may not know or perhaps some history of the buyer or company.  If the rep has targeted a law firm then what are they trying to sell them or do I know of a promotion or new product that could benefit the potential acquisition.  It’s nice to see if the rep is practicing wise time management skills. Are they selling or just taking orders?  If they are just being an order taker then we need to have a discussion about the purpose of online ordering and our paid customer service staff.

I spend a lot of time riding with my reps while they make their calls.  I want to see how they interact, their selling skills, how they build their relationships, introduce new products and ask questions.  I want the customer or prospect to know that as part of the management team we appreciate their business and let them know that I am also a resource if they need help.  You see, I also am building a relationship so if my rep is out on vacation or perhaps a family emergency I am familiar enough with the account to know their needs and habits.  If the rep leaves our employ then it is much easier for me to introduce a new rep and bring them up to speed on the accounts history.  When I ride with the reps I make certain that they understand my role in the sales call.  It’s their call and I’m not there to bail them out except on rare occasion.  We discuss the call before and after in detail.

Do I use sales reports?  Yes, and no.  I use  a report for the first 12-18 months after a rep comes on board.  I schedule my ride-a-longs often and read my internal sales/customer reports daily to get the information I need.  Programs such as Sales-i is a tremendous asset for managers and sales teams.  I know/learn  the customer list, the rep and the customer.  I talk to my reps almost every day so I ask lots of questions.  I have enough other information at my disposal to have a clear picture of what my rep is doing.  I am more interested in their prospecting activities at this stage so a Prospecting Activity Report is more valuable.  But that is another discussion.  A good sales manager is highly involved in the activities of their reps.  They lead and manage by their activity, certainly not by their desk in the office every day.  Your report should tell you specifically what the purpose of the sales call was and what was the outcome.  If your rep can not tell you why they are in the customers office that day, or any other day then you have a problem.  Every call has a specific purpose and an outcome and you can’t have one without the other.

While this topic could fill a book and many authors have done so, I suggest you examine what you want to accomplish with your report.  Make it easy to complete such as online submission and make it have value for the time spent for the rep completing it and for your time digesting and evaluating it.  Now it’s up to you to make it a valuable resource or a dreaded task.

The last word: “By mutual confidence and mutual aid – great things are done, and great discoveries made.” -Homer

Effective Questioning – Are You Listening?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 04-08-2011

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I think many sales people would agree with me when I say loyalty is on a steady decline in our marketplace.  I blame it on the current economic conditions primarily.  I hear it day in and day out from sales people about their once loyal customers hammering them on price.  Businesses, in a sour economy especially, always seem to pick on their office supplies to cut costs first.  However, we also know that an account won on price is also lost on price.

So with price being such a big deal how do we avoid it when prospecting for new business?  We don’t.  We just side step it in the beginning. The first skill you must master is effective questioning.  When you finally get that face time with your prospect you ask questions about their current ordering process, the delivery schedule, delivery preferences, shopping/ordering preferences, item subs, toner needs, etc., you get the idea.  When a prospect says something like, “They always leave my deliveries at the front desk and I have to get someone else to take them to my supply closet..” that is a sign of dissatisfaction and should be written down in your notes.  However, you should follow up that statement with something like. “Isn’t that inconvenient?” or “do you really have time for that?” or “have you ever hurt your back doing that kind of stuff?”  You want to identify with your prospects problems, highlight and expand on the problems it creates because you are going to provide a solution, BUT NOT NOW!  You must question effectively NOW and provide your solution later.  You absolutely must resist the urge to enter ‘sales mode’ and solve the problem now.  You are on a fact finding mission  and besides you may find other areas of opportunity during your interview.

Seek out problems and potential areas for improvement first and offer value when you return.  Get a commitment and do not forget to ask for the order!  So many times we offer all the solutions and value but forget to ask for the business.  This, of course, is just a small part of effective questioning and prospecting.  Effective listening is vital to the success of this skill set and I urge you to practice these skills every day.  Role-playing is especially effective when working on these skills.  Each sales meeting should have a dedicated time set aside for role-playing in the group setting.  How often do you practice with your team?

The last word: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”– Henry Ford

From Reception Desk to Receiving Dock, Do You Really Know Your Customer?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 26-05-2011

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The ease with which we communicate to our customer via email, text messaging and other digital forms makes a lot of our customer contact very impersonal.  Of course this is widely accepted in our age but at what cost?  The result is we fail to reach all the potential purchasers and users of the products we sell.  Recent statistics show that 35% of the non-regular purchasers of business products go outside of the normal purchasing channels of their company and submit for reimbursement later.  By avoiding the personal customer interaction we are missing on opportunities to further build and strengthen our relationships within each of our customers/clients offices.  Not to mention keeping an eye out for the stray competitors shipping carton hiding out somewhere in the office.

What’s the remedy?  Sales people need to take the time at least once every six weeks at the most to physically visit the customers office and take time to meet and greet everyone possible so the staff knows who you are and what services and products you provide.  If possible hand out product samples and a business card and let the staff know you are available for product questions and support, presuming this is agreeable with your primary buyer.  On a recent field sales call with one of my reps upon ‘socializing’ with some of the office staff I learned that they were discharging their janitorial crew in favor of doing it with in-house associates.  This information allowed us to open a conversation on providing their JanSan products and dispensers.  The call ended up very productive and we landed a very nice piece of new business that we didn’t have before.  Remind your outside reps of the importance of really knowing your customers and you may find your sales increase and your business solidified.

The last word: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller