Are Your Salespeople “Growing a Market”…Or Working a” Bread Route”?

Are Your Salespeople “Growing a Market”…Or Working a” Bread Route”?

A common concern I hear from business owners is their salespeople are not effective at selling net new customers. New customers, if serviced properly become lifetime customers with current and future revenue opportunities and contribute to creating sales velocity. In addition, they make up for account attrition, you know …customers who go out of business or just go away. (another future blog needed as customers do not “just go away”) New customers result in additional commissions for the salesperson right? Since new customers are so key to every businesses current and future sales revenue goals and can add additional commissions then why are sales people not closing new customers?

One of the leading reasons I have personally experienced why salespeople are not growing their markets is ; they are working a bread route.

As I have shared before one of my first jobs was a route salesman with Frito-lay. Fresh out of college I drove an 18 foot step van full of Frito-lay products to my grocery stores, convenience stores, bars, and anyone else I could open. Frito-lay made the sale of new accounts one of my key indicators along with selling additional store placement displays and gaining shelf space. The one route sales guy who would beat me to my grocery store accounts was the bread route delivery person. They would always amaze me at how fast they could get in and out of a grocery store and move on to the next account. They started very early in the morning like me, but were often done with their route by 2:00 pm. The bread route driver was focused on visiting his current accounts, accounts he and his company have relationships with, finding out what they needed and filling the shelves. They had very specific routes and timelines and if the driver executed his or her route effectively they made a good living. The bread route driver made enough income serving his current customers that he did not need to open new customers.

Fast forward to today and I see bread route drivers in all kinds of businesses. These are salespeople who call on a bank of current customers who should need additional products and or services and if they work their route they should meet their personal income goals. Current customers are the easiest to deliver products to because you and your company have a relationship with them. They welcome you in, if you ask for an appointment they make themselves available…heck, they even reply to voice mail and emails!

Selling new customers requires connecting with new people you do not know, new companies you may not be failure with and risk. No salesperson likes rejection and every time you attempt to start a discussion with a potential customer, (someone you could sell but you are not currently selling) you risk rejection. In addition, since you do not have a relationship you often experience frustration through a lack of returned phone calls and emails, trying to get past the gate keeper, trying to determine the buyer’s process and criteria and so on… all the while needing to make your sales objectives (and commissions).

So how do you know if your salespeople are growing their market or working a bread route? I have a few questions…

  1. How many net new clients have they added in the last 6 months, last 12 months?
  2. What % of their monthly commissions is the result of net new customers over the past 6-12 months?
  3. If your salespeople report on sales calls, what % of calls are net new potential customers?
  4. Do your salespeople have “everyone” in a particular market that has ever bought from you? Or do they have a fraction of the total number of accounts?
  5. When you conduct four-legged sales calls with your sales people, do they take you around to current customers and drive by a number of potential new clients, or do they add net new targets along the way?

So what’s your gut telling you right now? Are your salespeople working a bread route or growing your market? How did your team score with the above questions? Below is how I have viewed the responses to the above questions when I have helped clients.

How many net new clients have they added in the last 6 months, last 12 months?

I monitor the number of net new clients. As a general rule and can vary based on the maturity of your industry and the frequency with which your team introduces new products….if a salesperson is not adding at least 5% of their total number of customers every six months, ….they are working a bread route.

What % of their monthly commission is the result of net new customers over the past 6-12 months?

In addition to the number of new accounts I look at the revenue those accounts contributed and also how that revenue grew the salesperson’s commission. Again whether or not you have a history of launching exciting new products designed to solve the markets unresolved problems or new product flops , the maturity of your industry, the experience and training of the salesperson…I look for at least 5-7% (ideally 10 %+) of commissions coming from customers they have opened in the last 12 months…if they have little or no commission from new customers…they are working a bread route.

If your salespeople report on sales calls, what % of calls are net new potential customers?

Winning new customers requires a great deal of activity. I am not however advocationg activity without focus as I have discussed prior as another problem salespeople often encounter.  The rule I have used in multiple industries is 20 unqualified prospects should turn into 10 potentials, and from that 10, 2-3 proposals and 1 new customer. If your salespeople are not trying to connect with at least 20 new accounts per month ( 5 per week) ….they are working a bread route.

Do your salespeople have “everyone” in a particular market that has ever bought from you? Or do they have a fraction of the total number of accounts?

If all your customers are lumped into one group and not segmented based on key accounts, targeted growth accounts and you have not identified targeted net new accounts… they are working a bread route.

When you conduct four-legged sales calls with your sales people, do they take you around to current customers and drive by a number of potential new clients, or do they add net new targets along the way?

I enjoy working with salespeople in the market. I enjoy interacting with salespeople, their customers and potential new customers. If you work with your salespeople and they take you only to happy customers and drive by potential net new clients and have not started or attempted to start discussions with them…they are working a bread route.

So how did your sales team fair? Are they growing a market or working a bread route?

As long as they hit their sales numbers do you care? Should you care?

If your salespeople frustrate you by poor execution in closing new business, it could be because they are working a bread route. In my next post I will discuss how to change that behavior and drive net new customer revenues for your sales team.

Are Your Salespeople Playing “Feature and Benefit BINGO?”

Are your salespeople costing you revenue you should be winning by playing “feature and benefit BINGO?” The only way you truly know is if you or your VP of sales is traveling and working in the market with your sales team.

Feature and benefit BINGO is a game untrained salespeople play far too often. They “show up and then they throw up” and they spew all the features and benefits they can think of waiting for your buyer to jump up and yell”…BINGO….I get it….I figured out what problems you can solve for me…”

Market leading salespeople ask questions and take the time to listen and understand the problems, the pain their buyers are experiencing and they position their product and or services as solutions to those problems.

As a quick litmus test, ask yourself who talked more in the meeting? Your buyer… or your salesperson? If it was your salesperson I promise you they are showing up and throwing up and it’s costing you sales revenues you could have won.

Are you playing feature and benefit BINGO in other areas?

Your website?

Brochures?

Your sales training?

Don’t Kick Your Salesperson’s ASS, …Help Them Find Their Number….

 

One of the easiest things a sales manager, (business leader) can do is resort to a; “boot on the throat”…” a throat to choke” ….and “Ass Kicking “mode. After all it takes very little effort, knowledge or skill to be a critic and a bully.

True leaders help train and motivate their teams.

 If your desire is to hit and surpass your sales objectives….Help your salespeople “find their number”.

I see it all the time, a new product launches or a new sales goal is distributed to a sales team and the key performance measurement: Sales to plan is not met. The easy route is to start “Ass Kicking”. You know …the weekly and by weekly conference call thrashings in front of their  peers. The sales update calls at 5pm on Fridays that last until 7pm. The “contemplation of your navel” market reports on why they can’t hit their sales numbers and their future action plan to change the results.

Yes this may drive some momentary, fear driven results, but this is not how you create sales velocity. In 99% of the cases I have been asked to help figure out why sales objectives were being missed it was not lazy salespeople who needed their butt’s kicked. A frequent cause was poor (or a total lack of) sales training. In these cases struggling salespeople are told to “stop making excuses and just make it happen, figure it out”. However the reality is the reason your team is missing numbers can be traced back to your understanding (yes you) of your market and buyers problems, buying criteria, and buying process.

Sales velocity is sales increases with direction and momentum and it is never driven by fear.

If your salespeople are struggling with sales, particularly new product sales and or new business sales my advice is to stop… the beatings as the morale is not improving and “help your salespeople find their number”. Their number is how many rejections they have to experience to have a win.

For example at one time in my career I ran business development for an ad firm. After tracking my calls I found my number was 18. If I made 18 calls I would get 2 appointments and from those two appoints I would close 1 new account. Instead of dreading the call process it became a game. Each rejection meant I was one step closer to a yes. Over time I also tried to improve that number.

A couple of funny things happen when you track how many rejections your team receives;

First, they make more calls. More calls mean more opportunities to win, more opportunities to start conversations.

Secondly, if your sales team has been properly trained on how to listen to buyers, determine their unresolved problems, and they understand the problems your product solves….you will have a number of net new potential clients dropping into your marketing funnel. Some of these accounts may not buy for 12-14 months, but if you compliment your calls with a lead nurturing campaign you have a high probability of closing them when their problems, (their pains) become unbearable.

As the leader you must listen to your team and look for diamonds as far as what is working and share it with your entire team. In addition you must look for common reasons sales do not occur and work with marketing to create sales tools for these common roadblocks in the flow of the sales process.

So do me (and your sales numbers) a favor …

Track number of rejections for each team member for 60 days. Gain an intimate knowledge of common reasons buyers are rejecting your salespeople.

 

Have your salespeople report on their number of rejections each week and you will see more net new sales and your marketing funnel will increase exponentially to help your future sales numbers.

Or go ahead and Kick Some Ass….it sure worked when you were a salesperson right? …Oh it didn’t? It actually made you feel like a number, and you lacked a loyalty to that manager and or company? Or you left that team, that idiot boss and now you lead the competitor’s sales team?  Interesting…did the ass kicking make you seem desperate to your accounts at the time and the deals you did close were below your targeted profit margin? Hmmm…so what makes you think “Ass kicking” makes your team feel any different?

Does your team track number of rejections?

 

Does each of your salespeople know their number?

 

Does your organization use those individual rejection numbers to identify team member who need training?

 

If you are in sales, do you know your number?

 

Do you find when the pressure is on salespeople chase new business differently? Are they making things up on their own? Making promises your product or service can never achieve?

You always have a choice.

You can “let the beatings continue until the sales and morale improves”….’let the Sh@t flow down hill…”or you can chose to lead your team. You can help them, motivate them to make more calls, and clearly understand your market, buyers, and have a record setting year.

Is Sales an Art or a Science….it Depends on Your Marketing

 

 

Is Sales an “Art” or a “Science”?

 

There is no general answer that applies to all organizations as it depends…..it depends on your team’s demonstrated competency in marketing. (Believe it or not)

An “Art “implies creativity as well as varietability and” science“is about process, method and constantly assessing and experimenting with process, and managing  the process.

A number of clients over the years have stated their needs as; “I need you to create a repeatable sales process for our team”. However, in most cases they lacked a clear understanding of their market, buyers, buyer needs, probelms, and the buying process. They wanted me to study their “sales super star” and replicate them throughout their team. However sales processes built from the inside out produce marginal sales increases and often increase the gap between your team’s “sales speak” and “the buying process”. What you need to do  is create Sales Velocity.

So what sould  teams desiring  to be market leaders to do?

I was asked to speak at a conference recently for business owners and their senior teams. Prior to my presentation, I reached out to the organization’s members and asked;

“In the areas of marketing and sales what topic would you like me to discuss?”

I could have discussed a number of topics, but I wanted to provide their members the maximum return based on their needs.  I was interested to see if the recent and current economic environment in any way changed what I typically here when I ask this question.

The responses varied from;

How do we get our salespeople to sell new products?

 

How do we motivate our salespeople to focus on opening new accounts?

 

What is the best way to measure the ROI of marketing?

 

How do we align sales and marketing to reduce waste and increase productivity?

 

What is the best marketing vehicle to drive sales now? Quickly?

What is my take on “social media” and it’s ROI?

 

How can I be assured my next investment in a new product launch meets goal ?

 

I felt I could speak for a week and not do justice to all the  questions independently,  so I grouped the responses into two buckets;

What is marketing and how can it impact sales in a way that produces the greatest overall return?

 

How do we create a repeatable sales process that works, has an immediate and long term impact?

 

I shared my findings with the event coordinator to insure the direction I was taking would serve his association and his goals. He shared that the two topics I chose were like thorns in the side of his membership as they keep bubbling to the top of discussions. So I asked questions to better understand past discussions and he shared two comments his owners and senior leaders shared in private;

“Our salespeople are just not working hard enough, I know times are tough, but for what I pay them they need to sell through those objections”

 

“I think a large % of our overall marketing spend is a waste, fluff, and does not provide the return any other expenditure would be required to produce.”

 

Interesting…..

So I decided to open this presentation with a question for the room;

Is Sales an Art or a science?

 

Before I share where this discussion went….

What do you think?

Is sales in your organization an Art or Science? Why?

 

If you could pick Art or Science, what would you prefer sales to be in your organization? Why?

 

I will share in my next post the results I observed and any feedback and comments on this post. I will also share the desired state and my answer to this question.

Are You a Sales “Stallion” or an “Order Taking Gelding” Headed For the Glue Factory?

 

When I wrote my post: Are you enabling your Sales Force or emasculating them? I discussed comments made by salespeople selling in today’s economic climate. In addition I shared other leader’s comments about their view of salespeople and my preference to hire sales Stallions over order taking geldings.

 

I had a couple of salespeople contact me concerned if they were sales Stallions or order taking geldings. So I decided to share some of the questions I asked them on the telephone in hopes it helps others determine where they fall. But before you answer these questions please understand that teams require all types of people with varying degrees of gifts and experience. If you are an order taker, then be the best order taker with the greatest accuracy to detail in your company…just do not call yourself a salesman nor expect to be paid like a sales stallion.

 

1. In the last 6 months have you identified a change in your buyer’s buying process that requires a new sales tool?

2. In the last 6 months, have you challenged a corporate norm that is self serving to your organization and not customer serving?

3. Would you describe your role as “fighting for your clients?”

4. In the last 3 months have you experienced conflict with key influencers in other departments in your organization in your efforts to better serve your clients?

5. Has an account thanked you for your quick follow up in the last month?

6. In the last 30 days have you taken a bold action to serve your client without seeking your manager’s permission?

7. Are you in the top 10% of performance to goal in your sales team?

8. Are your accounts in the top 20% of most profitable accounts for your organization?

9. In the past week have you presented your management clients needs for approval?

10. In the last 24 hours have you asked for a clients oder?

 

If you said “No” 2-3 times be careful as you are on the verge of becoming an order taking gelding.

 

If you said “No” 4-6 times, don’t look now but you have become an order taking gelding. If that is who you want to be, then be the best you can.

 

If you said “No” to 7 or more of the above questions not only have you become a order taking gelding, but you are headed for the glue factory if you do not change quickly.

 

Sales Stallions spend 2/3 of their time listening and understanding the needs of their clients. Stallions understand the needs of their clients and solve those needs with the products and or services they represent. They become internal champions who fight for the needs of their clients. Sales Stallions consistently produce profitable sales revenue. Sales stallions are experts in their client’s buying process. Sales stallions are in the top 10% of sales to quota performance.

How about your company….

 

How well does your organization embrace client needs?

 

Does your company welcome your fighting for the needs of your clients? Or do your actions politically hurt you?

 

Have you been told to “sell through your client’s objections” when you share your clients’ needs?

 

Are your companies ‘policies and procedures written to better serve your clients, or your own organization?

 

If you have challenged one of those; “how we do things around here” rules how was it received?

 

The role of salespeople today is to help guide clients to a sale. Salespeople must become internal advocates for their clients and help their buyers buy, versus selling them. If you are a stallion in line to become a gelding to survive in your organization, you need to ask yourself if you will be happy making that compromise for a company that is disconnected to the needs of its market.

It’s never too late to jump the fence before you get your… “Values”…. snipped.

Are you Enabling your Sales Force or Emasculating them?

 

Market leading Sales forces are singularly focused: to sell stuff.

Sales are one of the most accountable areas of the organization and often are unde2 hoursesr the constant microscope of senior leaders as they have a significant, immediate, and direct impact on the bottom line. Companies must enable their salespeople and not  emasculate them. Over the past 25 years I have always preferred to hire the sales stallions over order taking geldings. Stallions require you to have a high emotional intelligence, and they will often try to get your goat, however they consistently produce and add value. While geldings wait to be told what to do, how to say it, and where to go. Stallions are saying get out of my way or I will run over you.

 

Market losing organizations myopically manage every sales activity and create approval thresholds that slow the sales cycle when the heat is on and the market dries up.

 

I thought it would be helpful to get inside the mind of a salesperson today, in this economy…so I interviewed a few and below is a summary is what I heard…

It’s simple really, as a salesperson our job is to; Sell. Yes you ask me to do all kinds of little side projects, write reports, and conduct market investigations gathering data to insure what marketing is telling the CEO is actually what’s going on out here in this mystical place called “our market.” However at the end of the day my compensation is specifically tied to: selling stuff. The more stuff I sell the more money I make. My job is to “make it happen” with whatever you folks at corporate throw over the wall.

I tried telling you the reason that last product launch failed was because you created a product because you could and not because you should…but you said I was just making excuses and I needed to “sell through objections…and hit my numbers”

My pay, my commission rice bowl if you will, is about selling as much as I can, as quick as I can, and building relationships that plant seeds for future sales. With the internet my customers are more knowledgeable than they have ever been before about our products and services, (they often know things about our company before I do these days and this really makes me look bad in my market) so my job is really to help buyers solve their problems with the stuff I sell, and help them buy from us. I don’t like to discount our product unless I have to because my commission is based on the selling price, and the more I discount the more units I will need to sell to hit my targeted compensation.

My buyers are really it playing close to the vest right now;

· My buyers have to justify every expenditure to the “higher ups” who they do not have relationships with

· C-level executives need to sign off on all orders

· I have to speak with all kinds of people I never had to sell before; CTO, CMO, CEO, CFO…

· Customers are not stocking up and they are taking much longer to buy, our programs give customers the incentive to buy volume, but they want Just In Time

· My buyers have the C-suite recommending all these competing vendors to our products and my buyers are spending time chasing these leads the C-suite read about or heard about at the country club…versus keeping a close eye on my inventory…so now I am checking our inventory for our customers

· Since you have changed my compensation, I am working twice as hard, twice as long and struggling to make what I made last year

· After the headcount reductions we had at corporate, we have dropped the ball a number of times over the last six months and I am being pulled to fix past sales issues in ;customer service, billing and quality issues ( you see I am out here, I have to stand belly to belly with these folks called “customers” and I can’t hide behind voice mail, email, or transfer them to someone else, if I do not solve these past sales issues they will not buy until the problem is fixed.

· My family life is strained, you see we established a lifestyle based on my past compensation, and when you changed it, it not only affects me, but it touches my entire family. My wife and kids felt I spent too much time working as it was however they justified it because I am a work-a –holic and we were making good money, but now they pressure me..” why work so hard after what they did with your pay..You need to go someplace where you are appreciated like XXXX used to.”

· About 70% of what marketing gives me I do not use. I know it will piss you off, but what I have been doing is writing my own stuff and using some of what Mike also created up in the North West region, you see it is old, but it works!

· I lost another customer last week because we out sourced XXXX to china. I know you said we make more profit and their cost is 1/3 of what it would cost us to make it, but if it’s junk what’s the point. Besides, I have been selling him a lot of other products and now I lost the entire account over the stuff we outsourced?…I know sell through it…

· The young “Hitler youth” you hired in accounts receivables has pissed off a number of my key accounts. I hear the CFO told him to trim 15 days off the receivables aging? Well if he keeps threatening my customers, you won’t have to worry about receivables much longer! Is it true you have him on a commission of what he collects? No wonder he put my largest account on hold for $3500 12 days past due…it’s hard enough out here guys!

· That launch of xxxxx was great, but now we are on back order and my buyers are calling to check on their orders versus buying more.

 

So for all of the leaders out there who never have carried a sales bag, I hope the above was enlightening.

(do you still think a monkey could do it?)

Having led salespeople for 25 years, what they said did not surprise me, but what took me back was the energy, anger even, in the way they said it. Are you listening and observing the challenges your salespeople are experiencing? Are you creating sales enablement tools to help keep conversations flowing to a sale? Or are you telling them to stop making excuses and “just make it happen”?

I was also taken back by the disconnect that seems to have grown wider when the teams became challenged by current economic conditions.

Market leaders grow closer through challenges and emerge stronger.

Market losers conduct Blame-storming that adds no value and if left unchecked cripples a team.

This disconnect should not surprise me really because I frequently speak with business owners and senior leaders who say things like;

· “I make sales come to me personally with each “deal” they want to give away “Why? “Well because, if I told them upfront the range I am willing to work in they would all sell at the lowest price, and give away the farm” [for what it’s worth this is a trust and respect issue not a pricing issue gang] 

· “Saying the economy is tough is just an excuse, when I carried a bag….” (he carried one 20 years ago)

· Marketing ; “ we just spent six figures on the re-launch of xxxx and sales is not using any of the tools we developed, we need to hold them more accountable”[ no, how about understanding the market and the buying process and creating tools to keep conversations flowing?]

· I heard a marketing executive say; “sales is like water, they take the path of least resistance to a sale” [how would that make you feel if you were in sales? Does this sound respectful to you?] 

· A CFO said recently; “with what we are paying them they should be working 18 hours a day.”[Really? In most organizations sales is compensated with a base and a commission. Most commission rates vary from 5% to 15%. So Mr. CFO , you should look forward to cutting those commission checks because for every nickel you pay, you get ninety-five cents]

Tough times cause the true nature of people and teams to emerge. Market leading teams use adversity to become stronger.

 

Market losing organizations “eat their young”.

 

How about your organization?

 

What behaviors are you seeing when your team becomes stressed?

 

What other comments have salespeople heard that show a lack of respect for sales?

 

What comments have salespeople made that show a lack of respect for other departments?

 

Do you feel silos (kingdoms) are healthy, or negatively impact bottom line results?

 

Market leading teams tear down silos and align their entire team to a specific mission and establish key performance indicators that measure what matters. Market leading teams reward cross functional behavior and crush kingdom building.

 

What kind of a company do you work for?

What are we supposed to do when the Heat is on and our market dries up?…SOW!

 

The bible is very clear that we are to SOW in the dry spells, in the time our business hits a dry spell, yet so many market losers do the oppofamily pics 069site.

It was 114 degrees yesterday, here in the Arizona, and I know people say it’s a “dry heat” but that does not seem to console me…it’s hot. Simple errands seem to drain you, suck the life out of you even. For example in this time of the year all the trees are dropping their pods full of seeds. Although the animals welcome the food, they quickly make quite a mess. So there I was at 6:00 am (102 degrees) picking up pods in my yard before it got hot. How ironic that the trees are dropping seeds when we are in the hottest part of the summer, where’s natures wisdom in that? Actually it is smart because when the pods fall they are baked in the desert sun and they crack open allowing their seeds to fall into the earth. When the rains return, the seed is now in an environment to take root and grow.

I was thinking about the wisdom in this as it relates to what we as business people must do when our market becomes dry and the heat is on to hit our numbers. The Bible is very clear we are to “SOW” in these times. What does it mean to “SOW”? At Dictionary.com the definition is;

1. to scatter (seed) over land, earth, etc., for growth; plant.
2. to plant seed for: to sow a crop.
3. to scatter seed over (land, earth, etc.) for the purpose of growth.
4. to implant, introduce, or promulgate; seek to propagate or extend; disseminate: to sow distrust or dissension.
5. to strew or sprinkle with anything.

 

The Bible has a number of lessons about sowing. It is very clear we are to;

 

“Sow in the midst of suffering”

“There may be no fruit now, but the grains of love and faithfulness you have scattered will produce a rich harvest”

“Let your eyes be on the field which you reap”

“Each will receive what he has earned.”

 

If you feel your market has dried up, it’s time to start sowing. Ironic however that I see a number of companies doing just the opposite; cutting back on marketing and sales travel. Market leaders are taking this time to sow.

As I explore this deeper it is often the result of not having and understanding of what marketing and sales activities actually produce fruit and what are just “ Activities”. To ensure you are sowing to produce the greatest harvest the first thing you must do is understand how your buyers buy. What makes their soil fertile, and what causes the seeds you plant to be washed away? What marketing initiatives are you doing today that are falling among the rocks and will never take root? What marketing and sales activities are you doing today that are falling among the thorns only to have sales spend time on them as “good leads” only to have the life choked out of them before they produce fruit?

 

The key is to know your market and more specifically your buyers.

 

How about your company…

 

How well do you know how your customers shop for your product?

What do your buyers use as buying criteria?

Where do your buyers go when they have a problem they need solved?

Who are the key influencers that impact your buyer’s ability to purchase today?

Answer the above and compare the answers to what your team is currently doing and you will be well on your way to a bountiful future harvest.

“Our Competition Sucks Selling”, one of the signs of a Market Loser versus a Market Leader

 

One of the things that used to drive me nuts as a VP of Sales and Marketing was if one of my regional managers or a independent representatives used “Why or competition sucks” selling. You know the guy, he talks about the competition more than his own product. He shares “horror stories he heard from other customersimages thumb about your competitoin that may or may not be true.

This out-dated style never impressed me, and today with a sales enablement 2.0 environment, it actually creates an interruption. Interruptions  turn customers and possible customers into shoppers. The internet has given buyers the ability to see behind the black curtain of sales product information and they can conduct research without talking to a salesman. When your rep challenges a competitor, particularly when that competitor is a current vendor of that buyer, he is actually challenging the buyer. Do you want your sales rep saying “Hey, what are you an idiot or what for buying ______?” no, I didn’t think so.

The recently published Razor Fish report indicates what influences buyers; “Trust plays a key role in influencing a consumer’s interest in purchasing a product” Peer networks and influencers play a major role in the buying process today. So when your rep is selling against a particular vendor, he is not only challenging the buyer’s decision making, he is also “calling out” that buyer’s peer and influencer network who he went to before he made the purchase.

If you have rep(s) using the “why our competition sucks” method it must end. To turn these reps around use the following guidelines;

· Product knowledge– make sure your salesperson understands your product and more importantly the problems it solves for buyers as well as the process buyers use to buy your type of product

· Listening, as I wrote in warning….. Buyers share why they don’t buy, reps who do not listen was the #1 reason buyers do not buy, NOT PRICE

· Conversation distribution – they say there’s a reason the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth. If you are talking you are not listening. Monitor buyer meetings with particular focus on the amount of time your rep talks in relation to the buyer. A good rep will have no more than 30% of the conversation time

· Echo – when you learn customer pain, echo back what you heard. This does two things; first it tells the buyer you are not like the 90% of other reps calling on him as you are listening. Secondly, it will help clarify your understanding if the buyer corrects your echo of what you heard.

Besides, market leaders are focused on serving their market. They do not focus on what the competition is doing as much as solving customer problems. After all, if you focus on beating your competitor, you are limiting your success based on how good your competitor is. Companies who obsessively focus on competitors assume their competitors are smarter than they are. What if your competitor is also launching products that no one is buying? Following competitors often results in a “follow the leader death spiral” that becomes very difficult to pull out of.

Understand your buyers, their needs, and how they buy and you will quickly outpace your competition.

Let your competition spend time studying and criticizing you instead of listening to your buyers and understanding their needs.

Let your competitor salespeople keep using : “Our Competition Sucks Selling”, while your team listens and solves customer problems…..while breaking sales and profit records for your team.

“Wet your sales team’s shields”… before they go into battle in your marketplace

 

Back in the days of the Roman Empire the warriors would prepare to go to battle by placing on their armor, gathering their weapons, and most importantly carry their shields. Their shields were obviously a tool to protect them in hand-to-hand combat, but also for  arrows shot from far distances where they often did not see the opponent who fired them.

Shields originally were made of wood wrapped tightly with animal hides. Some enemies however understood that shooting flaming arrows into opponents troupes long before hand-to-hand combat was a strong tactic as the outcome was often the destruction of the opponent’s shields. Without a shield the warrior was at a significant disadvantage in combat, and more likely to fall to random arrows fired from afar.

Experienced warriors would wet their shields prior to battle in anticipation of the flaming arrows. In today’s economy, salespeople are now receiving a number of flaming arrows that were not a part of the sales process in prior years.

round_shield_preview

· Longer sales cycles

 

· More people involved in the buying decision

 

· Need to have a stronger ROI to support the purchase

 

· Higher level executives within the customer’s team now must approve purchases

 

· Headcount reductions , so buyers are busier and more difficult to reach

 

· The internet, buyers now Google for solutions instead of calling their sales rep

 

 

My challenge is what are you doing to help your sales warriors go to battle in this marketplace? Have you created new sales tools to help them “wet their shields” before battle? Some of your competitors may even be equipping their teams with metal shields that not only defend against flaming arrows but also are much more efficient in the day to day hand-to –hand engagements.

 

The reality of today is just hoping the flaming arrows do not connect is not a strategy for success.

 

What new tools has your team created to help your salespeople win?

 

Have you identified the flaming arrows being shot at your sales team today?

 

Do you plan to use this time to move to more efficient tools and processes?

13 “old school” steps to hiring the right independent sales representative

I have worked with independent sales representative firms throughout my career and wanted to share how I found firms that produce rapid results. These results include increased sales revenues, market share, and rapid strategic account product placements. As I discussed in my previous post “Should you hire Independent Sales Representatives?” before you hire an independent sales representative (ISR) you must understand the role they play as well as the role you will play supporting their efforts. For example, good ISR’s have a close network of buyer relationships and lines of complimentary products. Their goal is to sell as many of their product lines to the buyers they have built trusted relationships with over the years. ISR’s rapidly increase your speed to market and placement. At the same time they are “independent” if they wanted to be “managed” they would not own their own business.

So how do you hire the right ISR for you? Today there are many online tools to help you find ISR’s, from online rep finders to blogs and legal sites that even provide templates for ISR contracts. However sometimes the ways we did things prior to the internet, prior to the availability of so many tech based tools is still the best way. Below are the ten steps I learned to use over 15 years of experience on how to find top producing ISR’s.

1. Identify the accounts you want to sell in a region

 

2. Determine the appropriate buyers who purchase your product category at each account

 

3. Call each buyer, explain you are planning on hiring a independent representative and ask what are the top three firms you would recommend

 

4. Review your current markets where you have independent representatives and what complimentary product lines do your high performing firms have?

 

5. Call the sales managers at these complimentary firms. Ask them who they hired in the market(s) you plan on developing, and who they would not recommend and why

6. Take the lists you now have and prepare a letter of inquiry to introduce your company, your products, and the sales opportunity to the various ISR’s. Ask them to respond by a specific date with a presentation of their firm, the lines they currently carry and any other information you require.

 

7. Note the firms that called to confirm you received their information and asked if you had any questions. Weight them higher than those that do not follow up.

 

8. Sort all the responses and weight them with buyer and other manufacturer referrals. Review the lines they represent. Do not quickly dismiss firms that have competing products to yours as good independent firms will drop poor performing lines for product lines with bigger revenue opportunity or bring with them entrance into other strategic accounts within their territory. You may already have a relationship with an account in their market they have not opened, so representing you may open a door to a new relationship and sales opportunity for all their other lines as well.

 

9. Call the firms you are interested in working with and get a feel for their professionalism and phone presence

 

10. Book a Hotel room with an attached meeting room in the desired market and meet with all your top candidates. Request that not only firm principals attend but also some of their salespeople. A mistake many firms make is hiring an ISR based on meeting the principal of the firm, and they actually work with a team of different people.

 

11. How well did the firms you met with sell their firm and the value they can add to your organization?

 

12. Listen to your gut. Ask yourself honestly: How well does this firm match our team’s culture?

 

13. You also need to insure your product line will not get lost in their portfolio of products. How important will your product line be to this firm? Will your line provide 10%-20% of their overall commissions or will you “just pay their light bill?”

 

The above steps consistently produced high performing ISR’s in the markets I have served. It may seem like a lot of upfront work, however I have found the time you spend upfront finding the right firm for you will pay multiple dividends over the years, result in explosive growth quickly and a strategic partner to help your company grow year over year.

 

How about you…do you have a technique you use to find independent sales representatives?

 

Are you an independent sales representative? What do you want manufactures to know?

 

How do you know when it’s time to hire a new firm?

 

What do you do if a key account says they do not want to work with one of your ISR’s?

 

What is your policy on “house accounts” in the ISR’s market that you do not pay commissions on?

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