By Bridget McCrea
Here are some easy ways to eke the most benefit out of the precious “face time” that you have with your customers in today's hectic business world.
A top-of-mind priority for all sales managers, the sales call has always been considered a key part of the distributor sales process. In today's business world, where everyone is strapped for time and customers are being pummeled from all sides by new offers, getting the “face time” you need to actually orchestrate a sales call is challenging. And when those stars do align and everyone gets into the same room at the same time, sales reps need to be at top of their games, know what to say, understand how to deliver that message, and—ultimately—close the deal.
Achieving these goals requires a definitive framework and process, both of which should be established early in the game and then honed over time (i.e., as the wins and losses begin to accumulate). This will not only help reps make the most of the precious face time that they do have with customers, but it also ensures that they hit on the right points and close the highest number of sales. Here are six ways to make that happen:
- Start with a good sales-marketing balance. John Lorince, an outside sales representative with Leff Electric, is in the unique position of having both sales and marketing experience. From this vantage point, he understands both the “sales” and the “branding” mindsets that distributors need in order to properly position themselves in the marketplace. In other words, it's not enough to be a rogue salesperson who heads out onto the road and meets with customers without factoring in the distributorship's overall brand, messaging, and mission. On the other side of the coin, that brand and mission won't ever get off of the ground without the hard work of dedicated, independent sales reps. So how do you achieve a good balance between the two? In most cases, it starts with the sales meeting. “Use the sales meeting to set directives for your sales reps,” says Lorince, “and to ensure that everyone is using the same playbook and working under the guiding principles of your company's overall brand.”
- Customize the sales pitch to the specific customer. The days when companies could use a homogenized, plain vanilla approach to sales are long gone. Electrical contractors have individual needs and wants, and they expect to their top suppliers to be able to accommodate those demands. “When you're going out on a sales call, every customer requires a personalized message,” Lorince advises. So before you even leave your office, make sure you've done your homework on the customers, figure out what their top pain points are, and get familiar with their businesses (and the customers that they serve). “The more you know and the better prepared you are,” says Lorince, “the more effective your sales call will be.”
- Know exactly what makes your distributorship unique. Customers are getting slammed from all sides—and both online and offline—by companies that want to sell them stuff. The better prepared your reps are to get in there and sell them on your distributorship's uniqueness, the more sales they will close. “In our market, there are tons of distributors and the selling environment is highly competitive,” Lorince points out. “We can basically all sell the same products, but outside of that, the question is: what does the customer really want?” An electrical contractor working on a job site and under project deadline pressure, for instance, will probably put the highest priority on quick delivery times. In this case, the rep should weave that capability (same-day service, early-morning delivery of critical items, onsite stocking of the most frequently-purchased items, etc.) right into the sales pitch. “As distributors, most of us can get within striking range of the same price point,” Lorince says. “Going beyond price, figure out your distributorship's competitive advantage—what really makes it different—and why would anyone want to buy from your company versus another distributor.”
- Work with top management to present a united front. Despite popular belief, sales reps aren't “lone wolfs” who roam their territories in search of customers and/or orders. They are, in fact, critical team members who need support, training, assistance, and guidance. And while not every sales call may warrant a ride-along with a sales manager, the latter should play an important role in the day-to-day success of his or her reps. One way to ensure that those reps are delivering the right, company-aligned messages to customers, for example, is by “shadowing” them on sales calls. If, for example, your distributorship is interested in funneling more orders to its new e-commerce site, then reps should be talking to customers about how they can “download our app so that you can start placing orders online from the jobsite.” When senior management team members participate in sales calls it also helps to present a “united front” for your distributorship, and makes customers feel valued and important. “When your company's top management takes the time out to visit and meet with customers,” says Lorince, “it shows them that you appreciate them and their businesses.”
- Let customers know that you're on their teams. Belly up to a busy bar and wait long enough for a bartender to make eye contact and it won't be long before your mind starts considering a new bar. The same rules apply in distribution, where that “eye contact” should come in the form of a phone call, email, text message or some other form of communication that lets customers “know that you're there” for them. “Even if you can't answer a specific question, solve a problem, or find the perfect solution for an application,” says Lorince, “make sure you're always communicating and letting them know that you're there for them, and that you're on their side.” Ignore a customer long enough and—like the bar patron that gets frustrated with the amount of time that it takes to get a drink at a busy establishment—your thirsty clients will start looking elsewhere for their electrical products, equipment, and services.
- Don't forget the all-important follow-up. Forty-four percent of salespeople give up after one follow-up and the average sales person only makes two attempts to reach a prospect, yet 80% of sales require five follow-up phone calls after the meeting. Add in the fact that 30-50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first, and it's easy to see that sales reps with poor follow-up procedures are missing out on a big chunk of business. “Perhaps the single biggest mistake reps make is not establishing a specific date and time for the follow up call at the end of their initial call,” Robert Terson writes in 8 Ways To Make The Perfect Follow Up. “Vague commitments from the prospects (“call me next week”) or the sales rep (“I'll send the proposal and follow up in a couple of days”) result in missed calls, voice mail messages and ultimately a longer sales cycle.” Lorince concurs, and says that he follows up with customers regularly, and asks questions like: Did you ever land job ABC? Are you still bidding on that project? Is there anything else that we can do to help you win that project? “These are good conversation starters because in some cases my customers have forgotten about those projects, and it triggers the need for them to also follow up,” says Lorince. And if the customer did win the bid, and if its working with another electrical distributor, then Lorince can find out why that happened, what key selection criteria was used, and what can be done differently the next time around. “This gives me the chance to see how I can work more closely with my customer to say, help manage their jobs (versus just the products),” Lorince says, “and get involved with other future opportunities.”
When in Doubt…Take 'Em on a Trip!
In today's hyper-competitive selling environment—where everyone from your local competitors to big box stores to online e-tailers are vying for your customers' business— sometimes you need to do something a little different to show your loyal clients just how much you appreciate them.
And we're not talking about the occasional gift basket or an invitation to your distributorship's holiday party here; we're talking about a substantial investment that creates meaningful, lasting impact. For example, every year Leff Electric holds a trip promotion that has produced some very positive results. The company has done this for the last nine years, with destinations including highly-desirable vacation spots like Maui and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Knowing that an exotic getaway could be in their futures, customers spend all year accumulating “base points.” Earning 3,000 basis points for every $100 in products (from specific, sponsoring manufacturers), they're incentivized to purchase those items from Leff Electric. As an outside sales rep, Lorince uses the trip to incentivize his customers to purchase certain products from those sponsoring manufacturers during a 12- to 16-month period (depending on when the actual trip is scheduled).
“During that time, we're working together to generate the orders that will get them qualified to go,” says Lorince. “It's a great tool not only to encourage customers to place orders, but that also shows them why they should buy from us and what makes us different.”
Then, when the actual trip takes place, Lorince and the rest of the sales team at Leff Electric get the kind of face-time that most reps can only dream of—seven full days of interaction, socializing, and getting to know one another on both a personal and business level.
“Obviously, your distributorship still has to be able to provide the products and services that customers need,” says Lorince. “But all things being equal, who are you really going to buy from? The distributor that offers you a free vacation or the one that doesn't?”
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
Tagged with customers, marketing, sales, tED