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

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

Challenges, Disappointments, Opportunities

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 09-03-2011

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Such is life in sales.  Although the economy seems to be the biggest disappointment, we as sales people are our own biggest challenge.  With gas approaching four dollars a gallon it is easy to make the excuse “I can’t afford to go out and make sales calls”.  But sitting at home making excuses doesn’t bring in any new business, grow your existing business or continue to build your business relationships.  You need to work smarter, get better organized and remain focused on your goals.

Thinking of working smarter, we rolled out to our group not long ago a data mining program that I am truly impressed with.  If I would have had such a program years ago when I was an outside rep it would have made my life and job so much more productive and easier.  After many months of discussion and consideration we added the Sales-i program to our back-end system.  Sales-i sorts and extracts customer and product information from our system we could never access before.  We always knew this information was there but didn’t have a way to extract it, Sales-i does that and much more.  It is more than a usage report, it categorizes the product categories and tells you how much business potential you are getting or missing in each account.  It shows you your margins on products and you can set up alerts that will email you when your customer hasn’t made a recent purchase, or about anything else you can imagine.  If you have a sales team I highly recommend that you take a look at Sales-i.

I would also like to give two thumbs up to our Salels-i trainer, Jeff Gardner from Maximum Performance Group. I had Jeff come to our office for hands-on training for our team and it made a huge difference.  Jeff is more than a trainer, he is also a sales person at heart and understand the challenges the OP sales rep has.  Jeff was a worthy investment and a fine person to have support your team.

There are many opportunities out there as there are challenges to meet them.  Disappointments, well we all have some.  Customers don’t seem to have loyalties much any more, sales people want all the commissions without doing the work, and I still hate selling copy paper.  However, I’m spending more time coaching and field training our reps which I love to do.  It gets me out of this miserable office (I hate being tied to a desk!) and I love to meet new people and help the reps with prospecting and developing new business within existing accounts. Remember, work smarter not harder and utilize the tools available to help you get new business and remain at the top!

The last word: “You are the only person on earth who can use your ability.”Zig Ziglar

Are You Suffering From Margin Creep?

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 08-09-2010

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I suppose you are familiar with price creep.  This is when a retailer takes a product and places it on sale and when it comes off sale the price has ‘creeped’ up higher than the original selling price.  For example if the product originally sold for $14.99 and the sale price was $10.99, when the item comes off sale the new selling price is now $15.49.  This is the most subtle way stores increase selling prices to an unwary buyer.  This type of price increase is especially popular in grocery stores.  So price creep is when the price gradually ‘creeps’ up at a rate nearly undetectable.

Margin Creep is similar.  For my definition: Margin Creep is a gradual downward trend in profit margins due to several causes.  Margins are gradually creeping downward as reps try to be more competitive and gain new business, or the marketplace has become much more competitive and margins have creeped down as a dealer attempts to hold selling prices while his costs (direct or indirect) are rising.  The danger in this is obvious in most ways but what I’m beginning to see is reps are selling products at lower margins for no justifiable reason.  I discovered a rep actually lower an already quoted price that had been accepted by the buyer simply because they discovered that the manufacturer had a ‘special’ deal on that item for the period.  What could have resulted in a 40%GPM unfortunately wound up with a 21%GPM.  I don’t know about you but when I was a commissioned rep I would much rather have commission on a 40 margin than I would a 21 margin!  When I asked  “Why?” there wasn’t a valid reason but it was too late to back out because the customer had already been informed of the price change.

In this case special pricing from manufacturers are designed to help gain new business, introduce new products and obviously support and drive up new sales.  So as managers and owners, how are we supposed to deal with these kinds of issues?  Do we not inform the reps until after the billing is done and then show them the extra dollars they made or do we take advantage of how special pricing deals are designed to work?  I did a little experiment, I let a rep quote and win a furniture job that had an extra margin discount from the manufacturer and I intentionally did not tell the rep of this extra margin that was available.  The rep did a good job selling the customer and won the business.  The job was quoted at an 18%GPM.  The customer was satisfied with the quote and the work after the install was completed.  When the billing was generated the result was a 35%GPM.  More money for the rep and for the dealer.  So, what does the future decide?  You make the call.

The last word: “Don’t lower our expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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