Is Your Growth Pigeonholed?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Are You Selling Solutions or Products?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Tips to Grow Your Business

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

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

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

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

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

Your Success Depends on the Choices YOU Make

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

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

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

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

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

The Southern Gentleman – Lost Tradition or a Needed Revival

Filed Under (First Impressions) by Don on 11-08-2011

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This post is a little off my usual topics but I think you will recognize it’s value.  I remember my mother handing me Amy Vanderbilt’s Book of Etquette and told me to learn it if I wanted to present myself as a polished young man when I went out into the world.  I always considered good manners to be ‘expected’ of me as I grew up and I still expect them even though they have nearly disappeared in today’s baggy pants society.  What makes up the classic southern gentleman?  His attire for one thing, but let’s go past those specifics and think about some other traits that are nearly lost.

As a fan of the attire worn back in the 1930′s and ’40′s I wish the hat style of that period were back in vogue.  A man never left his office or home without his hat on.  He didn’t wear it backwards or sideways and it was always neat and matched his suit.  His clothes were always properly pressed and perfectly fit.  He would always tip his hat to the ladies with a polite “Howdy” or “Morning, ma’am.” He would always open the door for the lady and kept her on the far side of the sidewalk when they were out so she wouldn’t be the first to get hit by a vehicle. The gentleman would pull out the chair for the lady to sit and would always stand up if seated when a lady approached the table or his desk.  He was well mannered while eating never opening his mouth when full of food or talking with his mouth full.  His napkin was always properly fashioned in his lap and no matter how bad the meal was he was always complimentary to the lady and cook.  The southern gentleman would offer to carry parcels and packages for the lady and would always, always greet and thank her with a smile.  The southern gentleman is a shameless flirt at all times yet always charming, never demeaning or crude.  The southern lady never took the flirting wrongly and with class and dignity knew how to be gracious but firm.  He knew how and when to send flowers to his lady or his office assistant, or even his client and make the right impression.  The southern gentleman always said thank you…always. 

Why can’t we practice this practical form of good manners today? Do you think people today will think you old fashioned or silly?  Or, do you think you will make a valuable first impression?  Remember, you don’t get a second chance a first impressions.  Perhaps it’s time to remember our southern heritage or perhaps adopt a little southern charm to your own daily practices.  It’s simple things like this that make lasting impressions.  Yes, I still open the door for the ladies and I do send flowers.  (My hobby used to be growing roses) I have walked across the parking lot to help a lady put her purchases in her car and my wife will tell you that I am a shameless flirt.  I love the south!

The last word:  “If you could get up enough courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed.”– David Viscott

Win More Business with These Simple Tips

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 29-10-2009

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key to successDuring my 25 years of selling in the business-to-business environment I’ve managed to be successful during the slow or sour economies of the ’80′s, the fall of 2001 and the crash of 2008.  Surviving these bad times required me to be more creative, insightful and diligent.  Here is my list of five things you need to master to be successful and grow your business during a bad (or good) economy.

1) One More Call- When you think your day is done, STOP and make one more call before you call it quits for the day.  That makes for 250 more calls in a year!

2) Pay Attention & LISTEN – I constantly observe reps who are so focused on what they want to accomplish, or say on the call that they are not listening effectively.  They overlook body language, ignore buying signals and experience missed opportunities because they are to busy doing all the talking and none of the listening!  If you’re going to ask a question, please shut-up and listen to the answer!

3) Observe – For heaven’s sake people, open your eyes!  Call after call I make with reps who have called on the same customer and/or prospect for months and can’t tell me what kind of office machine the customer has on their desk or at their work place.  We will walk out after the call and I’ll ask, “What kind of printer was that on their desk?” or “What  brand of fax machine was that at the reception desk?” only to get blank stares or the cursory “I don’t know”, reply.  How can you ask for the business if you don’t even know what kind of equipment or supplies they need or use?  When I leave their office I can tell you how many plants they had, what kind of pen was on the desk, the types and brands of office equipment I see, pictures on the desk, file folders used, labels, paper…you get the idea?  I actually had a rep that didn’t even notice the floor-to-ceiling windows in a prospects office on the 35th floor in an office tower when we made a call.  How can you not notice that?!  I’ve noted reps who didn’t know their customer had a warehouse (warehouse supplies), or did mass mailings (envelopes, printing, labels) or sponsored trade shows or training classes (Promotional products, pens & pads).  Open your eyes and see all the business you are missing!

4) Cure the “Order Taker Disease” – Be a “order maker” not an “order taker”.  I know I harp on this all the time but I see it almost every day and it is a real sore spot for me.  Your job is to create more business (account penetration) and bring in new business not ‘drop-in’ to see if they ‘need anything’.  If 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers why are you spending 80% of your valuable selling time seeing current customers to take their order?  Customers can order online or call customer service to place orders.  That is why we pay for these services so you can go out and bring in new business!  Don’t fall into this trap of seeing your regular customers because you fear the rejection that comes with the job of prospecting.  This “order taker disease” is easily identified if you take the time to effectively analyze your daily activities.  The cure is easy and doesn’t even require a doctors visit. :)  I challenge you to make no less than 20 prospecting calls every week, and don’t forget to ask for those referrals!

5) Market Yourself Creatively- Break the mold of being like all the rest of the ‘ normal’ office supply reps.  Dare to be different, offer value with every visit.  By offering a unique value to your customers and prospects you set yourself apart from the competition.  By providing useful and helpful information on each call you bring more to the customers table than the ordinary rep.  This can be demonstrated on many levels.  Here are some examples;  My clients know that I love to cook and I regularly share my recipes.  I even write a monthly e-newsletter with recipes.  Outdoor cooking/grilling is my specialty, that’s why I own seven grills!  I’m always sharing my skills and techniques with my customers.  Many of them know I enjoy growing roses and at one time had over one hundred shrubs.  I used to bring fresh cut long stems in many colors to clients when I made my calls and even taught a rose growing class for a customers office staff that wanted to learn how to grow them.  I was always the “go-to-guy” for supplies and equipment help and recommendations.  I made a habit of asking questions about the equipment and supplies people used and actively encouraged their feedback so I could share this knowledge with others in an unbiased fashion.  Lastly, my customers knew I cared about their business and about them personally.  Some years ago I had a customer that was starting a warehouse and fulfillment operation and needed some recommendations on supplies and packaging needs.  I came in and spent a day working in their warehouse at no charge or expense to them so I could learn their processes, products, and operation so I could have a better understanding of their needs.  The customer was shocked that I would spend an entire day as their employee working for no pay just so I could understand their business.  That one day eventually grew this from a $2K/month account  into a $10K/month account.    I encourage you to be creative and offer value on every visit.

These are some of the skills I used effectively and consistently during good times and bad.  Quit making excuses and start making a difference!  If I can do it so can you.

The last word: “There’s no security on this earth, only opportunity.” Douglas MacArthur