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

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

Ask and Ye Shall Receive!

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 30-07-2010

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I am still amazed that one of the biggest issues with sales reps is the fact they still don’t ask for the prospects usage/favorites/top 10 or 20 items list when prospecting.  I asked a rep one day why she hasn’t been able to quote a prospect on any products after calling on them multiple times.  The answer I got was “I’ve given them our flyer and catalogs”.  I asked, “Did you ask for their favorites list?” obviously the answer was no.  I would wager that the flyer or catalog she left the prospect went straight to the circular file without a second thought.  One of my loyal customers tells me that when my competition calls they always ask for a favorites list or a usage report.  ALWAYS! 

You will never get to first base if you don’t step up to the plate.  Asking for a list is just as important as asking who the decision maker is.  Why waste time handing out expensive catalogs when you don’t know what your customer is buying!?  It isn’t rocket science but you have to at least make an effort.  The next step in the “Asking” process is to ASK for the order.  You’ve gotten past the introduction, you have their list and given them your quote.  Do you really think they are going to order from you if you don’t have the guts to ask for the order?  I remember a call I made many years ago and the price I quoted for the product was higher than what the prospect was paying.  He told me up front that my price was higher than his current supplier.  This prospect had inferred earlier that his current supplier was slow to deliver.  I didn’t have anything to lose at this point so I told him that  it was worth a few dollars more to know that he would always get his order the next day, even if I had to deliver it myself.  So, could I have his business and the order?  After a long look from him he said yes.  Some time later in our business relationship he told me that the only reason I got his business that first time was because I wasn’t afraid to admit my price was higher and still ask for the business.

Point is folks, you will not get the information you need and you certainly won’t get the business if you don’t ask!  Conversation is a two-way street and you have to engage people in conversation.  You do that by asking open-ended questions.  In case you don’t know what that is, an open-ended question is one that requires a reply other than a yes or no answer.  Engage your customer in conversation and ask for their list.  This is a critical part of your selling process.  Without it, you fail.  Never give up and never give in, the business is out there if you will simply ask for it!  Good luck!

The last word: “There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” -Denis Waitley

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