Selling has always been in my blood, and I became a sales rep for the first time in 1999. Since then, I have learned a “couple” lessons along the way performing several different roles. Sales reps sell products and/or services, and can make a good living. In addition to the standard responsibilities, true sales professionals achieve more success by taking their game to another level and have long, prosperous careers. Which one do you want to be?
Having a complete understanding of sales cycles, and mastering product knowledge is imperative for success. Most companies only focus on product training, because that is what everyone does. While others also give insight on sales processes from first greeting/meeting all the way through closing the sale.
That is where things get scary! Many reps get a false sense of security that this is all they need to know to become successful. In reality, this knowledge only equips them to be “run-of-the-mill” sales reps. The world is full of “status quo lovers”. The following information will give you the potential to become a true sales professional and exceed goals for years to come.
#1 Consult, Don’t Regurgitate
Your job is to sell products and/or services, but people don’t like being sold to. How weird is that? The faster you learn that listening during a customer/prospect interaction is more important than speaking, you will be well ahead of the curve. When you become a consultant providing solutions to their current situation, success will follow shortly. Anyone can regurgitate information and spew it out. Just ask the student who memorized textbooks and got straight A’s, but could not cut it in their chosen profession.
#2 Share, Celebrate and Support
The “relationships” aspect of a sales team is critical to its overall success. You need to give unconditionally, and not be afraid to share ideas and concepts with each other. I always love to share templates for presentations, bulletins that I distribute to customers or various ideas that help improve my territory. If you can make your co-workers lives’ easier, why wouldn’t you? The good karma will come back some day. Celebrate each other’s victories, and don’t you dare get jealous if your colleagues get better results! Put together recovery plans to improve ASAP.
Things don’t always turn out the way that we want them too, so be there to support each other when failure occurs. Keep communication lines open to move past bumps in the road. And last but not least, treat inside sales and support groups with the utmost respect! They are pivotal to the team’s overall success, and are not personal assistants.
#3 Manage Time, Plan and Prioritize
I underestimated the power of being exceptional in this area for a long time, and it affected my results earlier in my career. Planning a schedule as far ahead as a month or more makes things flow better. Putting emphasis on getting out of the office regularly at scheduled times keeps you on track. Paperwork and other less urgent items can be handled before or after prime selling hours. I once worked for a manager who stacked the sales rep’s desks in the warehouse to emphasize that he did not want them in the office for very long in the morning! An extreme action, but he made his point loud and clear.
I always make the disclaimer that priorities over-ride schedules with the following example. If you have a lunch booked with a prospect where the potential is unknown, and your largest customer has a crisis shortly before the appointment, what would you do? You have to understand who your biggest customers are, and the level of service that they need. By the way, do you spend 80% of your time with the 20% of your customers who buy the most? If not, it is time to adjust your schedule and give them the attention they deserve.
#4 Fly Under The Radar, Don’t Be “On It”
Early in my career I had a Sales Manager tell me that one of the best indicators if a rep was doing a good job, is if they rarely heard from the rep’s customers. Be very responsive to your customer’s needs, and take care of them in a timely fashion. If you need help, get it. Never blame others in your organization if they do not respond to you and a customer is left waiting. It is your responsibility to get things taken care of, no excuses!
Keep up to date on everything that your manager requests. It may be weekly call reports, inputting of sales calls and/or opportunities in to a CRM (customer relationship management) program, or general administrative items. Successful sales people always do what is asked of them, even if they don’t like to.
#5 The Path of “Most Resistance” Pays Dividends
Anyone can take the path of least resistance. It is easy to only deal with customers who have great relationships with you and your company, and only sign up prospects that there was little effort involved. But what about handling those difficult customers in your territory, or bringing on prospects where things were more challenging? From those clients, huge growth can occur. In one role I had, the previous sales rep stopped calling on a long-standing account because he was not getting along with the staff. Sales plummeted. From the time I came on board, it only took two years for the account to become the largest in my territory.
Over time, you will acquire “street-smarts” and know when to walk away from business, but more importantly when to move forward when the potential is right before you. Don’t hide behind email or text messaging when problems arise. Face-to-Face is still the best way to communicate, and sometimes you “have to take a punch” to make things right.
#6 Customers And Prospects Are Human Beings Too
It is easy to see through reps whose only agenda is to close sales as quickly as possible, with minimal effort. But the secret is to really get to know customers on a personal level, and make them feel important. It is common knowledge that people like to deal with those they like, know and trust, so take steps to solidify relationships as soon as possible. Get to know special details about customer’s families, their hobbies or even what they take in their coffee. Take notes, keep files and refer back to them before each meeting. I guarantee that they will be impressed with what you remembered, and there is a very good chance that your competitors did not take those lengths to learn about them.
Becoming a true sales professional takes time, and long-term commitment to grow and learn every day. Sales reps tend to be negatively stereotyped, but those that stand out from the crowd, truly care about their customers and can be counted on at a moment’s notice will always be in demand.
Are you in this for just a job, or a long, prosperous career? You make the choice.
Shortly after I started my first outside sales role, I traveled 9 hours from my home office to see a small account. I continued to see them on a semi-regular basis even though growth potential was limited. I made that nasty trip two more times in the first year.
In some warped sense of reality, I thought I would impress my boss by doing the extensive travel.
The two other painfully long trips and lack of growth in the second year gave me an “ah-ha” moment!
I realized that these trips were not productive uses of my time. I ended up dropping them altogether the year after when sales diminished to almost nothing.
I would sign up any account early in my career, because that is how sales people are wired right? When you are on commission, every sale counts, so you have even more incentive to bring on new business. True, but only to a point.
What I soon realized is if negotiations with a prospect are difficult and time-consuming, there is a real possibility that they will continue to give challenges as a customer in the future. This is not true all the time. But I have “broken up” with prospects before we have had our “first date”.
I learned a very valuable lesson from an ex-manager several years ago. He stated,
“The best business deals occur when both parties give something to the deal”
Rarely do business relationships work when one party gives, gives, gives and the other party gladly takes, takes takes.
I have dealt with customers who were always upset and/or angry with myself and the organizations I was working for. Although these occurrences were rare, I ended up letting them go too. There was negative energy, and since they were smaller with respect to revenue, it was an easy decision based on the value of my time.
I serviced the occasional account who did not support my companies at all, but were more than happy to ask for pricing when a customer specifically requested our products. Eventually they were dropped too. Those were very sad relationships!
Selective = Success
Once I realized that every company is not a suitable business partner, I gained much better perspective on my account base and territory in general. Some tough decisions were made, but at the end of the day I focused my attention on the accounts that had the most growth potential.
- When was the last time you looked at your customer base and identified troublesome relationships?
- Can you scale back the time you spend with them, or drop altogether?
- On the flip side… Do you spend enough time with your largest customers?
Recently my son decided that he did not want to play ice hockey this year. He was more interested in Tai Kwon Do and wanted to give it a try. My wife and I had several conversations with him to see if there was another underlying reason he wanted to stop playing “Canada’s National Sport”, but his passions just seemed to lie elsewhere.
Our stomachs initially felt weird thinking about missing all the great friends that we had made over the two winters while Elliot played hockey. I also felt sad about not coaching anymore because I really enjoyed being involved with the kids, and seeing them progress every time they laced about the skates.
My wife and I soon had a reality check. It is NOT about us. It is about our son and his happiness. We are going to support him 100% in whatever he chooses to do in life.
My thoughts quickly turned to the sales profession. So often people get caught up in their own agendas, goals and motivations, that they tend to forget that they are supposed to be acting in the best interests of customers and/or prospects.
- Remember the great quote from Frank Tyger,
“Be a good listener, your ears will never get you in trouble”.
Don’t just “barf” your sales pitch on them.
Find out what they really want to buy!
I would love to hear your thoughts about a time that a sales rep acted in your best interests, or maybe a time that they did not.
How quickly from the start of an interaction did you know if it would be a good experience or not?
Thanks in advance for your contributions!
One last thing… I would love to connect on Facebook (if we are not already) at http://www.facebook.com/SellLeadSucceed
- It’s time-consuming
- It can start a series of telephone tag or long email correspondence
- It may dig up potential issues that you don’t want to deal with; feels like you are becoming a complaint handling department
- Don’t want to bother people
- Don’t know the right amount of time to wait if you need an answer
- Would rather focus your efforts on getting more business if in a sales role, or fulfilling other more enjoyable business activities in general
TOUGH LOVE MOMENT – Suck it up!
Imagine if all of your competitors thought this way! You should be embracing follow-up and becoming your customer (or prospect’s) go to person!
Customers will respect you because your relationship with them is not complete after the purchase order number is given. They have put their hand up and said “treat me special“. Don’t take your current customers for granted and follow-up regularly.
- If you have quoted a prospect, be sure to follow-up. Don’t expect that they will magically call you and give their decision either way. It may only take a brief clarification to secure the business
- If you are following up to check on a previous issue, it may help prevent future issues
- If it is follow-up after a sale, it may take care of minor issues before they escalate in to bigger ones
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a project stalls with somebody in the organization, due to the fact that others have not responded to them. That is always unacceptable. If you need to follow-up frequently via email, phone, or in person, get the answers that you need to move things forward. Never use others as scape goats for things being held up by you.
Successful sales and business people do things that they do not like to do every day to continue to grow and achieve a cut above the rest.
If you are not ready to “get your hands dirty” the time to change is now. If you are already a master of the “circle of follow-up“, congratulations!
I stumbled across a cool company on YouTube today called Second City Communications. They are doing very cool things about video training with a humorous twist in the workplace.
This trailer discusses connecting with your customers.
You can check them out at :
Have a great weekend!
As I attempted to write this post over several days, I struggled to make it interesting. On the surface, “how well do you know your customers” can be dismissed as a generic topic that does not peak people’s curiosity.
“Of course I know my customers Tim. What are you talking about?”
I can hear you making silly comments to your computer screen now!
In all seriousness, what I am about to say will have tremendous value for you long-term with your current customers and prospects. Be honest with yourselves. How well do you really know your customers?
I went on joint calls with one of my Sales Manager quite often. After one particular call (visiting Bob and John), he asked me what I learned about the two associates. I drew a blank for a minute and said that I did not know. His reply,
“Bob loves to golf, and has twin daughters who are 12 years old. The family likes going to Mexico every winter”.
“John is single, enjoys playing recreational sports, and has two dogs”
I asked him why knowing this would matter. He responded by saying that now that I knew some information about each of their personal lives, it would be easier to keep discussions going in the future. Speaking to them about business was always the primary goal, but when it was time to have casual conversations, personal topics would really get them engaged. One word answers like “yes”, “no” & “inaudible mumbles” would not be an issue then.
They might like to talk about their kids, their golf game, current sports stories, upcoming holidays, or hobbies. I always stayed away from touchy subjects like religion and politics. It was not worth the hassle if a nerve was struck with someone. Previously I would often go in to calls and talk about the weather, or something that was in the news. But it was not personal to them.
How awesome would it be for you to look into a customer’s eyes and remember any of the above details (even what they take in their coffee), by only asking once? Better yet, how awesome would it be for them to know that you cared enough to remember?
The key to keeping details straight (and not confusing Bob and John) is to record them as soon as possible. Take a few minutes after a call, sit in your car and write things down. Test yourself – can you remember three things you learned about your account today? And don’t expect that you’ll remember all of this at the end of the day. A few minutes early on will pay off in the long run.
You can also dig deeper, in terms of the “rules of communication” with the account contacts:
- Do they want you to make an appointment first, or is it ok to just drop in unannounced?Do they like to be contacted by email, text, cell phone or land line?
- Is there a best time of day to drop by if just stopping in?
- How often do they want to be visited?
The earlier you make notes on each account, the sooner you will understand the level of engagement they want. You may want to engage them face to face more than they want to be engaged, so you have to find that balance and not be a nuisance.
Oh yeah, work your butt off to remember their names as soon as possible. That is a must! Statistics prove that people respond better to what you are saying when their names are used during conversations. I had documents that I would refer to before going in to each call.
I don’t care how you record this information, as long as you do it. It could be through CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software, task lists on email programs, iPhones, Blackberries etc. Heck, good old-fashioned notebooks still worked last time I checked! But it is imperative that you have separate files for each account to avoid confusion and disorganization.
Showing interest in customer’s personal lives, and remembering minor details that nobody else takes the time to, will strengthen relationships more often than not. The primary goal in sales is to obviously sell stuff; but the ones who show genuine interest in their customers and CARE will win in the long run.