Account Penetration is a Process, Not a Thing

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 31-01-2007

Last year our company determined the best use of our resources would be spent creating a new inside sales team instead of bringing on another outside sale rep.   I applauded that decision (especially since that team would come under my direction and coaching!) and immediately set to writing a training manual for the new inside sales (tele-sales) team.  I knew that my new candidates most likely will not have experience in the office products industry so I naturally began from the beginning drawing upon my twenty-two plus years of experience.  The manual is very structured by design to give them the necessary knowledge and tools to perform their job in such a way to meet my high expectations.  One of the areas I concentrate specifically on is account penetration.  This term means different things to different people, perhaps it is because of their lack of complete understanding of this concept.  Many will define account penetration as a THING.  A thing it is NOT, it is a PROCESS.  Sales is a process and account penetration is also a process.   An extremely important process especially in the office products industry.  I would wager that most dealers miss at least fifty percent of their customers business by not following a structured process of account penetration.  They become very comfortable with only a small piece of the customers business and fail to identify new business opportunities because they didn’t follow a defined PROCESS.

Take a moment and freshen up your coffee, close your office door and place your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb”, grab a pen and pad and take some notes.  The first part of this process begins with the sales team taking responsibility of the account.  The growth and relationship building process is the responsibility of each sales team member, not marketing, not warehouse or customer service or managment.  This responsibility comes in the form of accurate and timely communications and reporting between them and the company.  They must accept responsibility of the growth of the account.  By being deligent to the process you will soon overcome the 80/20 rule that we are all to aware of.  These activities require their direct involvement and is a critical part of the next process, the relationship

The process of developing a meaningful relationship with the customer will bring you more rewards and loyalty than you can imagine and is probably the single most important part of the sales and account penetration process.  Building a meaningful relationship means the rep must learn to stop doing all the talking and start listening.  Ask open ended questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” response.  These questions begin with words like “who”, “what”, “how”, “where”, “when”, and “how”.  This skill can be easily developed by utilizing role-playing scenerios.  The training I give my new hires lasts nearly two weeks.  You may think you don’t have the time for this but truthfully you can’t afford not to make the time.  Why does it take so long?  Simple.  I spend a lot of time doing role-play, practicing different situations, recording their responses and offering constructive criticism.  We pratice until they can reply to the objections with their eyes closed.  When I turn them loose on the phones I record their calls and we have meetings to discuss the good, and the bad.  We will continue to role-play until they are comfortable and fluid in their delivery. 

The next process is understand the customers business, how it is organized, who their competitors are, their corporate goals and identify any specific needs.  Once this is accomplished demonstrate how your organization can meet those needs with your products and services.  Educate them on your “value proposition”.

Next is simply know all the equipment in your customers office.  How old it is, what condition it is in and how satisified they are with the function and cost of operation.  Demonstrate any cost savings available with either new equipment upgrades or different consumable options such as remanufactured toners or non OEM brands.

Articulate your strengths.  You may have CSR’s with exceptional product knowledge, technicians with specific expertise, or management with previous experiences in their industry.  Use these strengths and make team calls to the customer to aid in the development of the relationship. 

Do not be intimidated by the customer or the competition.  You are a professional, you know the competition and you know how to best service the customer.  You have years or even decades of experience that your “big box” competitors don’t.  Customers are in desperate need of personal service and you are in the driver’s seat in this respect.  Show the customer the “value” of doing business you with company.

CRM, Customer Relationhip Management software.  There are many useful, functional packages on the market today that can be an asset to your business.  I insist on accurate documentation and call history on every account.  Hosted (off site) solutions are particularly valuable since they will allow your outside sales team to enter this information via a laptop or home computer via the internet.   They also have a lower start up cost.  Onsite solutions are costly but may offer some connectivity to your back-office systems for greater reporting capabilities.  Take the time to throughly investigate these solutions and how they can be applied to your needs.

The processes outlined here will give you a good start on developing your own system of account penetration.  Ask your customer lots of questions, identify your opportunities, listen, listen, listen.  Then take ownership of the account and give them a unique customer experience as a end result of your process.  Customer service is worthless by itself but a unique customer experience will give you a loyal customer for years to come.  You can’t put a price on loyalty.

Survey said…

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 30-01-2007

I love to read.  In fact I read nearly everything I get my hands on, except for trash.  You know, trash materials that contain nothing but either bogus information or junk that ruins your mind, your values, or most especially your attitude.  Some material just isn’t fit for the mind.  It’s like the food you eat.  Good food comes in and you feel great!  Eat something bad or overeat (over indulge) and you become miserable.  Same thing applies to what you put into your mind.  It’s candy for your mind so to speak.  I read to be informed and educated but also to enlighten and grow myself spiritually and mentally.  My wife would laughingly remark to this “You’re already a mental case!” to which I would probably answer with a big smile “Absolutely!”  I love the outdoors so I read about adventure, I love cooking and camping and there are lots of materials available about that too.   

I like to read books from successful people that talk about how they achieved their successes and where they made their failures.  We all fail sooner or later, that is inevitable, but it’s the success that comes from that failure that makes us much wiser and more successful in the future.  After all, our life is the sum of our experiences.  I was reading a series of polls and noticed several that really made me think.  A Harris Poll surveyed 23,000 working adults in key position and industries in the United States.  One  result was that only 37% of the employees understood what the corporate goals were in the company to which they were employed.  The other was only 10% of those same workers felt the company held them “accountable for results.”  I was really surprised because I guess I took for granted the fact that if you worked for a large company you automatically knew what the corporate goals were.  Obviously I was wrong.  I am also surprised that only 10% feel accountable.  Why is that?  Is it a lack of responsibility or is it a lack of motivation to even care?  In my past life as a business owner I always kept my employees informed of the business status.  I wanted them to feel a part of the process and understand they were a vital part of the company future.  I think a lack of recognition of employees in today’s workplace contributes to this.  Even if you don’t play a big role in your company you should always feel that you are a valuable player and that everyone respects the contribution you make.  I have always considered myself successful but that is only because the people around me are successful too.  I want my coworkers to know that I sincerely appreciate everything they do.  I recognize that without them success would be a lonely place.  

Another survey is from the Gallup Organization.  It reported that 73% of those surveyed said that $33,000 in additional salary per year would make them much happier.  I was actually surprised that this number wasn’t much higher.  Upon close self examination I also find that this amount would be a welcomed addition to my own salary.  Not to say that more wouldn’t be better but this is a valid figure that accomplishes a lot in terms of financial freedom.  Sales people have such a huge advantage in this area.  They simply work smarter and harder and they can achieve any financial goal they desire.  The computer has changed how we work and how we receive our information to such a degree that an intelligent and focused sales person can achieve nearly limitless possibilities in any field.  Perhaps that is why I love to train new sales people.  The experienced sales person is set in their old habits and highly resistant to change.  The new sales person has their eyes wide open; their minds are not clouded with past failures and rejections and they are very comfortable with technology.  In my opinion however, I believe that the experienced sales person remains successful and stays on top of their game by reading and focusing on their goals and how they expect to reach them.  New ideas, techniques and strategies are written about every day but if you don’t take the time to read and absorb and experiment with new ways to do business you can’t grow yourself or your business.  Let’s reference one last poll, this one is given by OfficeTeam.  This survey states that 84% of the executives polled said they would remove a résumé from consideration if it contained as little as two typographical errors. I completely agree, I see a lot of résumés and the spelling and grammar I see from many of today’s college graduates is oftentimes atrocious. No matter how much I like the candidate on paper if I see these kinds of errors I immediately place them in my “do not consider” file.  If something that important (spelling and grammar) isn’t given your absolute best effort then how can I expect you to always give me your best every day?  I have high expectations of my employees because I know they are highly capable and we are a team that expects the very best from one another, every day.  What are you reading?  Are you reading for growth or entertainment, or perhaps both? 

“Thank You” Power

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 24-01-2007

What is the most valuable thing you have?  Is it your family?  Your faith?  Your children?  Your new Lexus?  All good answers, but all the wrong answer.  The most valuable thing you have is your TIME!  Time is the one constant you can never get back.  There are no ‘do-overs’ when it comes to time.  If you have children I’m sure the thought has crossed your mind at some point “I wish I had spent more time with the kids when they were little”.  Time is so precious and so easily wasted.  I cannot even measure the time I wasted that my memory can recall.  So much wasted, so little remembered.  My son just turned twenty one years young and every time I see him I wonder if I’ve spent enough time with him.  I don’t think I did.  I don’t think I ever will either, oh God, forgive me for all of my wasted time.  Talking about a waste of time there is something that really infuriates me.  Why do we bother with a doctors “appointment”?  Every time I go to a doctors office, medical, dentist, or otherwise I always always end up waiting one, two, sometimes three hours past my ‘appointment’ time.  Why is that?  Don’t give me that “we’re just so busy” or “we’re over booked today” because I DON’T CARE!  I made an APPOINTMENT to be seen at a specific time not three hours later!  More time wasted!  I refuse to do that again.  I will not wait more than 30 minutes past my appointment, my time is just as valuable as the doctors.  Frankly, I think it is more valuable!  If they cannot run their office in a professional and timely manner, close the doors!

Time.  What do you do with your time?  Ever write down what you do for each hour of your day for a week and look back and say “what a waste of time that was”?  I guess I am a bit old fashioned because I believe in taking the time to write personal Thank You Notes to people.  Not an e-mail, or a verbal thank you but a hand written thank you note.  I’m not saying that a verbal thank you doesn’t go a long way, it does.  But to really make an impression and let the other person know just how important they are and the importance of why you are thanking them, write it in your own words.  You don’t have to write a novel, it can be very brief.  I write thank you notes all the time, to customers, employees, managers, vendors, sales reps, everyone!  It doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 48, manager or employee, make it a personal habit to write thank you notes.  If you don’t think you have the ability to say ‘thank you’ to someone then you probably need to consult a shrink!  A “thank you” is a critical part of success.  “Thanking” someone is a big part of Encouragement, Passion, Public Recognition, Appreciation, and Respect.  All these are critical to your personal and professional success.  If you think you don’t have anyone to say “thank you” too you are wrong.  What about your wife or husband that washes your clothes, cooks your meals, mows the grass, washes the car, buys the groceries, changes the diapers, or simply loves you?  Don’t you think that person is worthy of a “Thank You”?  How about your Creator?  Have you given thanks to Him lately?


“Thank you’s” wield power.  Thank you’s tell people that you are different than the rest, you recognize and appreciate them.  It is a widely know fact that most employees don’t want more money, they want to be appreciated, recognized as a valuable part of the company.  Our deepest human need is to be appreciated.  It is a rare gift that we can all share and enjoy.

One of my favorite quotes is “The two most powerful things in existence: a kind word and a thoughtful gesture.”—Ken Langone, VC and Home Depot founder.

“Thank You” for sharing your time with me.  Your gift is truly appreciated. -dh

National Contracts

Filed Under (OP Sales Training, The Competition) by Don on 19-01-2007

An account rep was complaining to me the other day that they were likely to loose a large account to one of the power channel players.  I recognize their concern and have personally had to deal with this issue in the past.  It is frustrating to compete with a national organization that is very fluent at bait and switch tactics and loading the contracts with fine print to make it nearly impossible to qualify for the rebates and incentives they promise.  Their incentives are based on inflated numbers and the odds are good that the customer will never be able to meet the volume required.  Presuming the rep has been actively working to build a solid relationship with the customer it should not be a problem to point out some of the potential issues they (the customer) will be facing.  It may be possible to retain their furniture or promotional products business or even their janitorial and custom printing.  All their business may not be a total loss and the products you keep may be the ones with the highest profit margins!

Another significant advantage of the independent dealer is that the national players have scaled back significantly on the quality and quantity of their field reps, specifically the knowledgable and experienced ones.  The time is very near when they will not have ANY field reps, all customer service will come over the phone or email.  The power channels cut back in this area has virtually eliminated the odds of an experienced and knowledgable rep being available for the customer to consult, solve problems and provide the superior level of customer service that the customer has come to rely on.  The reason for these cutbacks are simply cost savings measures.  In order for them to continue to be as price aggressive as they have been in the past they are forced to cut costs.  By cutting costs in the area of field reps and experience customer service reps the customer stands to loose the most. 

I have to admit that I get very frustrated at companies that send down directives from the ‘board room’ dictating that the staff comply with contracts and purchase agreements that the board or CEO has agreed to.  It is easy for someone to bark orders down the line when they themselves don’t have to deal with the poor service issues the buyers and users have to endure.  I have experienced a large customer loss when she informed me that the company CEO directed her to stop purchasing her supplies from me and to start with another supplier.  When my customer objected she was told to do it because she was the employee and needed to keep her job.  Several months later she complained that her “new supplier” had horrible customer service and they were actually paying higher prices than before.  She was abruptly told that the new supplier was the CEO’s neighbor and the CEO could care less about the price, he only wanted to appease his neighbor.  Ha!  Who do you think the CEO will blame when he see his costs rise and has to explain that to the shareholders!  The blame will be passed down the line to the buyer, that’s who!

I can think of at least a dozen such stories and I’m sure you have a few also!  The thing to remember here is you can compete against these national contracts.  Don’t loose your temper or your head.  Depend on your relationship, your integrity and customer service skills to win back and educate your customer.  When the time is right, ask to review their contract, you may discover than you are more price competitive than you imagined.  Consider all the services you can provide to them and the ‘value’ of doing business with you.  Continue to give your customer a unique ‘customer experience’ and you will always have an edge on the competition.  Keep your arsenol of selling skills stocked and your customers well serviced and hopefully when this problem arises you will be smart and prepared to win!

Staples Drops Remanufactured HP Toners from Catalog

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 15-01-2007

This weekend I learned that Staples has dropped their Staples brand HP compatible toners along with Epson toners.  It is being reported that Staples plans to drop all of its Staples branded HP toners from its retail stores sometime during the first quarter this year.  This does cause one to assume that Staples has made some kind of deal with the powers at HP to sell only HP Branded consumables.  There has been talk for a long time in the marketplace that HP and Staples had some type of ‘backroom’ deal that was worth significant dollars to Staples if they dropped their compatibles and sold only OEM HP toner.  Apparently HP will be giving some healthy rebates back to Staples.  I can assure you that Staples made this decision in the name of profit, not in any way to help the consumer.  This is interesting when you consider that some HP compatible toners are as much as 50% less than the OEM toner.

HP makes huge profits on their toners while selling the printers at, or near cost.  This does make one ask why are they doing this now?  How will this affect the customer?  How will this affect the marketplace?  Considering the significant cost savings for consumers when purchasing compatibles how will Staples justify their decision to their customers to buy OEM only?  Staples isn’t dumb enough to drop all their compatible toner business but it forces you to ask, what’s next?

This is good news, in my opinion, for the independent dealer.  Dealers can show consumers huge savings when buying compatible HP toners and the independent dealers relationship with their customers will be strengthened. 

Power Channel Update

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 11-01-2007

I was informed today from a reliable source, that power channel player Office Depot is about to make another internal change that will again degrade their already suffering customer service abilities.  There is a department currently in place that, when needed, will go to the customers office for support and service for issues ranging from products to ordering problems.  This department level is being abolished completely and will no longer exist.  This further demonstrates the need for the power channel players to meet shareholder expectations by lowering costs and streamlining operations.  The big box stores have been rapidly consolidating their customer call centers in areas such as Colorado to accomplish this in part.  This means no matter what state or city the customers physical office is located when they call Corporate Express, Office Depot, etc., they are speaking to someone in a call center located in or near the mid west. 

Obviously when someone buys shares in a corporation they expect to receive dividends.  These dividends will not happen if the corporation does not continue to show a profit.  These big box, or power channel, operations cannot continue to sell their products at extremely low margins and generate dividends too.  I have said for years that it is only a matter of time before they will be forced to make changes in order to stay ahead of the independent dealer channel.  Cost of transportation, warehousing, personnel, brick and mortar store fronts and expensive advertising campaigns add up to some serious expenses.  These big box competitors have resorted to smoke and mirrors and pass-through dealers to get government contracts thereby defrauding the government and the taxpayers.  This is evident in the North Carolina supplies contract recently awarded to Office Depot.  There is plenty of information available on the web about this event.

This further eroding of the big box stores customer service capabilities is also evident in some recent tele-sales calls.  The prospects informed us that Office Depot and Staples were doing a lousy job of order fulfillment and delivery.  Orders were pulled wrong, drivers delivered the wrong orders, defective merchandise was never picked up or the customer service/order entry person had very limited product knowledge.  In one instance a Depot customer had complained that their product had been credited but the driver refused to take it back and the Depot representative told the customer to just “throw the products in the trash”!  Who do you think ultimately pays for this trashed product?

The independent dealer reigns supreme when it comes to customer service!  Let’s make an effort to give the customer or prospect an “experience” when they call.  It’s not just the service anymore but the experience the customer has when they talk to us.  Every day the power channel players put more ammunition in our belts.  Make that customer experience happen on every call.



Some Suggested Reading

Filed Under (Suggested Reading) by Don on 03-01-2007

There are so many great books about sales, motivation and public speaking.  If you sell you must read to keep your mind fresh and with ideas or refresh old ones.  Afterall, nothing happens until something is sold!  I’ll start with a few of the ‘must haves’ in my library.  What are some of yours?


  • The Holy Bible
  • “Selling With Integrity” Sharon Drew Morgan
  • “The Power of Positive Thinking”  Norman Vincent Peale
  • “See You at the Top”  Zig Ziglar
  • “Non-Manipulative Selling”  Tony Alessandra
  • “Swim with the Sharks”  Harvey MacKay
  • “How to Win Friends & Influence People”  Dale Carnegie
  • “GOALS!-How to Get Everything You Want”  Brian Tracy
  • “How to Master the Art of Selling”  Tom Hopkins
  • “Little Red Book of Sales Answers”  Jeffrey Gitomer
  • “Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale”  Zig Ziglar
  • “Negotiation Boot Camp – How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers and Make Better Deals”  Ed Brodow