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

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

Five Selling Skills for a Down Economy

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training, The Competition) by Don on 22-06-2010

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Greetings!  First off, let me apologize for my absence these past few months.  Work has been hectic, frustrating, sometimes rewarding and always challenging. 

Our big box competitors have turned up the heat on the independent dealers trying to capture new business in this down economy.  The result has been margin depletion’s and buyers are using multiple vendors in an effort to get the best price on every product they procure.  Service seems less important to many buyers and price is the driving force behind where and from whom customers make their purchases.  I’ve been spending more time out in the field with reps making cold calls and spending time with long time customers.  I’m finding that the long-time customer/buyer that has been loyal to you is now being directed, and sometimes forced, by management to base their buying decision solely on price.  Even when the loyal buyer wants to continue to buy from you their managers are holding them accountable for finding and procuring the cheapest price.  Don’t take the loyal customer for granted.  They are being pressured to buy on price, not service.

Getting in the office to see new prospects is even more difficult.  Cutbacks in personnel is causing employees to do the jobs of two, three and even four people.  Tensions are high in many offices and a cold-calling sales rep walking into the office is not welcomed.  Here are my suggestions for selling in 2010 and beyond. 

Pre-Call Permission- Don’t walk in unannounced off the street.  Spend a day in the office and make your prospecting calls and ask permission to stop by the prospects office at a convenient time to leave your information.  This breaks the ice when you walk in and gives you a name to ask for in the prospects office.  You can gather more information while you’re there.  Be brief and respectful and make an appointment for your next call after you determine the decision makers identity.

Patient Persistence – It is a rare thing to open a new account on the first or second call.  Where it used to take five calls on average to open a new account it now takes eight or ten calls or more.   Nearly 80% of reps quit after the fourth call.  Persistence pays dividends in the form of new business but it is the persistence that wins the business.  Don’t be a quitter, be the winner! 

Network the Customer – It is increasingly important that you network within your customers office.  When you call on your customer(s), greet and introduce yourself to everyone in the office.  From the front office to the warehouse be on a first name basis with everyone.  Not only will you gain more sales but you will create a rock solid relationship with the people that will give you insight into their business and keep you in-the-know when your competitors come knocking at the door.  The cost? Minimal.  The result? Priceless!

Survey your customer – Easy to use products such as Constant Contact make it simple and affordable to survey your customers.  Your customers are a wealth of information.  Information you need to know to be more successful.  They can tell you about changing buying habits, preferences, and other valuable information.  Keep your survey limited to ten or fifteen questions (to keep your survey brief) and be certain to include a comments field on every question.  This is very important because not all questions are so cut and dry “yes or no”.  We all love to share our opinion and you will be surprised at the depth  of information you will get with this simple add-on.  I can bet some of the replies you receive will surprise you!

Know your customer- If you can’t tell me in one minute what your customers business is, then you are going to fail.  Be specific, such as if your customer is a law firm don’t just tell me they are lawyers.  What kind of lawyers are they? Civil, litigation, divorce, children’s, criminal, traffic, insurance, what kind of practice is their firm?  Why?  Because each of these have common items and also unique items based on their type of practice.  Same thing for a doctor’s office or and accounting firm.  This depth of knowledge will tell you what kinds of products they use or may provide a solution to a problem they have.  For example we recently visited an accounting firm that used open file storage and I noticed that many of their files were beyond their capacity and falling out of the file folders.  Although they used box bottom files they used a crude form of end-tab filing that didn’t perform.  So I suggested a Smead End Tab Expanding File Pocket.  I volunteered a  few samples for them to try.  As a result they loved the product and it was a considerable upsell from their previous failing folders.  Be observant, ask questions and provide solutions.  Stop being an order taker and be an order maker!

There’s my nickels worth and I hope you get at least one good take-away point.  How about you?  What has changed in your market and what works for you?

The last word:  “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, and expect to win!” -Zig Ziglar

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