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

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

Toughest Question Ever!

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 20-09-2010

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Some reps have said I’m a demanding manager.  Not a tyrant by any means, nothing of the sort.  I simply have high expectations.  I have high expectations of myself so it stands to reason that I have high expectations of others.  I’ve learned over the years that if you expect the best from yourself and from others, people will typically make the extra effort to be successful and do a good job.  No matter what the job is.  I discovered that owning a small business was very demanding and it was challenging meeting my personal expectations.  Those days have gone and now I’m on the other end of the ‘food chain’ again. :)

A manufacturers rep told me one day that I was a demanding customer.  I asked him why.  Because he (the mfrs rep) failed to follow-up with a request I had made not once, but on three separate occasions in an effort to get some information to help one of my staff help with a customer sale.  That makes me a ‘demanding’ person?  I simply smiled and told him that if I was as tough a customer/manager as he implied then I would have called his superior after the second request was ignored.  If this makes me a demanding person, then I’m proud of it.  If you are like me then you can relate to how much emphasis I/you place on giving outstanding customer care/service.  You can’t build long-term personal relationships on crappy customer service.  You don’t build loyalty with crappy customer service.  Instead you bust your behind doing what other people fail, or refuse, to do to give your clients the service they deserve.  Don’t you think YOU deserve that same level of service from others?  How about from the company you work for?

How does this relate to the topic of this post?  Oftentimes when I talk to other sales people I like to ask a tough question. 

Here it is: Would you buy product from your own company?

Many, many times the answer is “no”.  The reason is not usually because of a defective or faulty product.  It usually stems from poor service from other areas in the business out of their control or influence.  Their internal customer service fails in some way, or sometimes their accounting personnel has poor people skills or worse yet, unprofessional collection procedures.  Sometimes it is the delivery or warehouse staff or some other distribution issue directly attributed to their company.  While a one-on-one with the reps manager may bring attention to the issues, most often the problems are never corrected.  If you have, or currently experience these kinds of problems then I’m preaching to the choir so to speak.

So I ask you again, “Would you buy products from your own company” and still feel confident that you will have a great buyers experience?  Think about it.

The last word: “Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph. Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, becoming all that we can be.”-Zig Ziglar

Are You Surveying Your Customers?

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 09-07-2010

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This is a busy time of year for me as I’m busy planning our marketing strategies, catalogs and flyers for 2011.   I typically use my past experience(s), seek the input/opinions of my field reps, and listen to suggestions from our first call wholesaler regarding any new programs they offer plus my various research throughout the year to create my plan.  While I’m comfortable with these procedures I decided this year to do things a little differently.  I normally survey our customers via email survey at least once per year and this has always been very revealing and provided much feedback.  This year I decided that I would visit some customers and ask them what kinds, or types,  of marketing materials (catalogs, flyers, emails, etc.) they prefer.  The results were most interesting.  Let me explain.

I’ve been in this industry since 1985 therefore it is easy to guess my age.  Age is important because most people our ages do not shop and make purchases the same way many of our customers do.  Since I’m a bit of a computer/technology geek I don’t necessarily fit this description.  If you’re out in the market you soon realize that buyers of business products are getting younger and the age group is usually between 25 and 40 years of age with the majority of orders being placed by someone in the front office or the receptionist.  This age group grew up with computers and the internet, this is their comfort zone.  Have you noticed that most, if not all, cell phone advertising is directed toward the 18-30 age group?  Does it not stand to reason that if this is the age group placing orders for the products you sell, then it makes sense to target that age group in a form and fashion they prefer?  Absolutely!  So, I went into the field and talked at length to customers and asked them specifically how they shopped; do they look at catalogs, do they prefer to shop online or in a book, what catalogs they liked or preferred, and how did they want to place their orders?

This line of questioning was the basis of my visit and obviously there were more questions directed at their responses but in the interest of time I’ll make the results brief.  Many of the replies were expected, and suspected, but they made valid much of my previous research.  Here are the responses:

95%, preferred only a single (yearly) list-priced full line reference catalog.  98% preferred a monthly sales flyer over a quarterly flyer.  86% preferred to place orders online.  94% preferred to shop and/or search prices online.  82% found the mail-in rebates in flyers created a desire to purchase the product to receive the “Free” item.  When specifically pointing out a mail-in rebate for a toner cartridge that required the buyer to purchase two cartridges to qualify for the free offer, 97% chose to buy two just to receive the free offer and 99% of those who send in for the free offer take the offer home for their personal use.  98% said they wanted to recieve at least one email sales flyer per month while at the same time noting that our big-box competitors email them weekly.

On a final note I also showed many of the 25-35 age buyers my catalog cover choices for 2011 because I wanted to see what they specifically found attractive.  100% said they didn’t like covers with ‘people’ on them.  100% didn’t like covers with a cartoon because they said the cartoon is only funny once.  95% didn’t like covers with animals/pets because they didn’t think it was professional.  One cover selection I personally liked (and was my #1 choice) because it looked like a magazine cover was turned down by 99% of those polled.  Why, I asked.  Their reply?  We don’t read magazines and it looks like a magazine. I was disappointed, but enlightened.

There were other questions and replies of which I made many notes and I’ve made some changes to my plans for next year based on these replies.  I’m still hedging on the social media stuff like Twitter and Facebook but I’m busy studying up on how these channels can improve our business.  The point is to actively engage your customers in whatever means appeals to them.  Not one single customer refused to talk to me and all of them were delighted to be a part of the process.  I took the time to explain what I was doing and why and I encouraged them to speak their mind, there was no right or wrong answer.  I found the time to be well spent and extremely valuable.  I encourage you to do the same, to actively engage in surveys and polls to your customers and I can assure you that it will be a learning experience. 

The last word: “Life’s up’s and downs provide windows of opportunity to determine your values and goals.  Think of using all obstacles as stepping stones to build the life you want” -Marsha Sinetar