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

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 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

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

Buying Decisions: What Happens Behind-the-Scenes

Filed Under (OP Sales Training, Suggested Reading) by Don on 06-10-2009

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I spent some time on the phone today with writer, blogger and professional sales trainer & coach Sharon Drew Morgen.  Her new book, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what to do about it hits the stores October 15th.  Sharon Drew breaks the mold on how we should be selling by thinking about the process from the buyers perspective.  She was gracious to offer us the following guest post for the blog.  I’d like to thank Sharon Drew for her time and I encourage you to purchase her new book early.  Read on and enjoy!

SDMorgan

For some reason, it’s very difficult for sales people to think beyond ‘need’ and ’solution:’  We tend to think that because the buyer’s need matches our solution, and because we’re professionals who ‘care,’  the only thing buyers need to do is choose our solution.

But if it were that easy, buying decisions would get made more often in our favor. We certainly would not lose as many sales as we do. The problem is that the buying decision is so, so much more complex than we can imagine as we stand on the outside looking in.

Sales mysteriously treats an Identified Problem (my word for ‘need’) as if it were an isolated event. But it’s not. There are ramifications to any change, and the ramifications are ones only buyers can see from the inside and we will never be privy to.

WHEN DO BUYERS START FIGURING OUT STUFF?

Buyers don’t start figuring out their behind-the-scenes issues until after we’ve met them, except in cases when buyers call us and buy… in which case they’ve made all of the behind-the-scenes buying decisions before they contacted us and we are just lucky.

We come in at the wrong time, pitching a solution to a small portion of the ultimate Buying Decision Team, and have no tools to help buyers do what they must do first: manage all of the off-line buying decisions that need to happen for them to get buy-in for change.

I have said this over and over: the time it takes buyers to come up with their own answers is the length of the sales cycle. Before they can buy anything they first look into their current teams, partners groups, rules, historic decisions for a simple resolution to a business problem. They come to us by default, and even then end up going back inside (to their old vendors, or the other department heads, or the tech team) to do an internal check on resources before placing an order.

WHAT IS BEHIND THE SCENES?

I’ve fully described the actual steps that happen behind-the-scenes in my new book coming out soon (Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what to do about it). To think about this, let’s start with this question: How did a buyer’s ‘need’ get there? It didn’t arise overnight, and people and policies inside agreed to allow it to happen. So the ‘need’ got created behind-the-scenes.

Not only that, the system and rules and people and policies have allowed it to remain as it is – or they would have changed it already.

Before a buyer will buy or choose any solution at all, they must first figure out and manage the very idiosyncratic and mysterious ramifications of change. What will a solution change internally? How will the people and policies interact differently if/when they decide to resolve an Identified Problem and bring in something… something different that isn’t already there? Obviously, the sales model doesn’t equip us with the tools to help buyers manage these issues, and we cannot do it for them.

And no solution will be purchased if there is any possibility that the client can resolve their problem on their own.

As we think about sales, and wonder how to close more sales, quicker, we must realize that by merely focusing on the solution-placement area, and we do our ’understanding’ – understanding need, understanding the decision making, understanding the requirements, helping buyers understand our the judiciousness of our offering - we are not helping the buyer do the behind-the-scenes work they must accomplish before making a buying decision. That work is private, idiosyncratic, personal, unique, and not open to outsiders. And, unfortunately, buyers don’t know how to do this work easily because it’s new to them. But we can help – with a different set of skills.

 
We can help them by being true servant leaders, true trusted advisors and relationship managers, and guide them through their systemic, off-line, buying decision issues. But it’s not sales. In this time of economic uncertainty, add Buying Facilitation® and differentiate from your competition – and truly help your buyer buy. And, stop selling.
sd

Field Coaching, Part 3 – Ask Yourself

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 22-06-2009

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 In the previous two posts we discussed some do’s and dont’s for Field Coaching your sales reps to help them achieve greater success.  Your role as a field coach is that of an observer who after each calls gives positive feedback and re-enforcement for actions to improve the reps success in closing or building business in new and existing accounts.  When analyzing the reps for the after-call conference ask yourself questions like this:

  • Did the rep demonstrate effective listening skills?
  • Was the rep honest with the customer?
  • Did the rep cover/discuss important sales information?
  • Did the rep demonstrate concern for the customers needs and wants?
  • Is the rep too wordy?
  • Was the rep impatient or irritated?
  • Did the rep mention or discuss any particular products or services?
  • Was the rep focused on the call’s objective?
  • Can you learn anything from the rep? (Technique, approach, product info)
  • Did the rep offer a solution(s) to the customers problems?
  • Did the rep recognize any sales opportunities?  
  • Was the rep observant?
  • Did the rep identify the appropriate decision maker(s)?
  • Does the rep understand their expectations and/or goals?

Always hold your post call discussion prior to the next call but keep it brief and to the point.  Always find the positive attributes of the call first and then ask if the rep thinks the call would have gone better if they had done the items in question.  Give the rep the opportunity to learn from their experience and your observations, give them the first chance at discovery.  Ask the rep to rate their performance and see if they picked up on what you observed.  Don’t beat on the rep with any errors, actual or perceived.  You do not want to be confrontational.  Positive feedback will return positive results. 

At the end of your day have a wrap-up session and discuss the day in a relaxed environment, not in your office, if possible.  Agree on what changes should be made to achieve greater success.  Suggest solutions and help your rep make a commitment to a goal that is attainable and realistic.  If the rep needs further sales training or product knowledge make that commitment to them and follow through with your promises.  Monitor your progress for proof that your coaching is successful.  This isn’t a complete listing of everything you need to do.  But rather some suggestions to help you think about what you want to achieve.  The best coach will always get the most from their team.

 The last word: “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”– Anthony Robbins

Field Coaching, Part 2

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 16-06-2009

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In the previous post we discussed some things to do prior to spending the day field coaching your sales reps.  Unlike the fellow in the image above shouting and finger pointing doesn’t accomplish anything.  Items such as listening on your part as a coach is very important.  Prior to walking through the customer/prospects door you have agreed to what your role is and laid the ground rules so each of you are on the same page.  You should have discussed the customers’ present status such as: problems or issues, current purchasing habits, needs, wants, decision makers, account stability, etc.  You should watch the body language of the rep and the customer and listen closely to their verbal exchanges for later discussion.  No matter what the outcome be willing to sacrifice the sales and let the rep leave without the order.  Even if you’re confident you could have gotten the order and saved the call there is more at stake than just the order.  The rep will resent your presence and the customer will think less of your company and your rep if you intervene.  Use your time after the call to demonstrate to the rep what ideally should take place and how to handle the issues next time.  Building self confidence in your rep is more valuable than the sale.  This strategy has a long term effect and will strengthen the relationship with your reps.

Some things I suggest you avoid, such as talking to much with the customer (being chatty) which makes your rep feel inferior.  Unless the rep asks you in the presence of the customer, never correct them in front of a customer.  Don’t offer any concessions to deal with problems unless you have been dispatched for that purpose.  Even then, let your rep save the account and you tag along for support.  You want to avoid taking sides for any reason which can turn a situation ugly quickly.  Don’t take notes, it’s rude and inconsiderate.  Don’t let your body language give away your personal discomfort if the rep is making a mess of the call.  Always make the rep and the customer the center of attention.  Don’t become distracted with looking outside and watching the television in the waiting room for the latest news blurb.  Never, ever do anything that could or would embarrass your rep.

I love to watch old movies, especially from the 1930′s and 1940′s.  People displayed a high degree of class and integrity.  They had high moral values and were not intimidated, or afraid of offending others to mention God or Jesus or their faith either at work or at play.  Things that we consider socially acceptable now were taboo then.  Women were treated with respect and men always, always demonstrated manners and proper etiquette.  Clothing was revealing enough to make you wonder, but no so to make you wonder how much.  We have strayed far from treating people with the same dignity, respect and purposely practicing good etiquette in today’s environment.  There is a time and place for everything and now is the time to be gracious, kind, polite and well mannered.  Take a moment to open the door for others, chew your food with your mouth closed and don’t talk with your mouth full, say a kind word and be complimentary toward others.  It’s the little things that bring big rewards down the road to success.  People will remember a kind word and deed longer than they will today’s special “deal”.

On the next post we’ll discuss a few things to ask yourself when evaluating your rep for the after call discussion.  Have you an interesting coaching story to tell?

The last word: “When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”– William Arthur Ward