Entry #4: Transitioning from Sales Rep to Partner

Supplier-Connection: The Supplier Spotlight Contest

The average length of a relationship between a vendor and customer in the industrial trades is 7 years and much longer in our particular industry – employee benefits consulting/brokerage. In other words, if you’re not the current vendor, you could be waiting a VERY long time for a chance to unseat the incumbent, especially when the incumbent and the decision maker may be golfing buddies or may coach each other’s kids.

So, how are you going to break up that relationship and make it your own?

Figuring out how to disrupt an existing relationship is one of the most difficult sales strategies to teach, whether you’re training rookies or refreshing your senior sales staff’s skills. Yet, the answer can be taught by highlighting a simple sales process:

1.     Know the Products and Services You Represent

Make sure you know your own product line/suite of services, inside and out.  Your company has a story, a history….tell it with enthusiasm!  Study and read your company’s catalogs and website. Google your own company and find out what the market and your competitors are saying about what you have to offer.  Know more about your company than your competition knows about theirs.

You also need to understand your competitor’s products/services so you can differentiate yourself.

Believe in the products and services you’re representing.  If you don’t, you’re wasting your time.  Be true to yourself and all else will follow.  Remember; you only see what you know.

2.     Research the Customer and Identify Their Needs.

Research your target.  The time and effort you put into research will pay off a hundred fold – saving you countless hours of driving, calling, and coming away empty handed.  Use available tools such as your company’s CRM database, trade publications, and the internet. Don’t underestimate the power of Google and your target’s own website!  Most companies not only provide contact info on their sites; but, they also like to brag about their upcoming projects and often include the names of those who are in charge.  Also, look for industry relevant trade shows.  Sometimes the show’s website lists attendees and their contact info.

Dig into what they do.  Again, it’s critical to do your homework BEFORE calling on the customer. For example, if you’re selling an intangible product and/or service to a manufacturer of widgets, do your research before making an appointment.  Learn and understand the four fundamental processes of making widgets:

  1. Production.  What does the customer produce; and how do they produce it?

It’s your job to understand their product and how they make it.  How else are you going to sell your solution if you don’t know what they make and how they make it?  Understand their entire process.

  1. Distribution.  How are the widgets distributed?

Where do all those widgets go?  Is there a way for you to help streamline the distribution process?  Is that another contact in XYZ Co.?  Ask the question and follow the process.  Can you say lead?  Follow the products and use the success with XYZ Co. to leverage yourself within the distribution chain.

  1. Maintenance.  How does XYZ Co. maintain their facilities?

Do they work on their own plant, property, and equipment, (PPE); or, do they use a subcontractor?  If XYZ Co. performs their own PPE maintenance, who’s the manager or process owner?  If it’s a subcontractor, get a contact name.

  1. Regulatory Compliance.  What kind of regulatory framework surrounds XYZ Co.?

This topic can be very sensitive; so, proceed with care. Every industry has some sort of regulatory framework.  It’s your job as a partner in business and as a solutions provider to know their compliance challenges. If you can provide a solution to ease their compliance burden, you are golden!  So again, turn to relevant trade publications, the internet, and your original research.  With the plethora of information available, you can be assured that somewhere, someone is writing and discussing the challenges.  Even if you can’t offer an immediate solution (if you can offer one at all), at least you can discuss the issue intelligently and demonstrate a further level of expertise.

3.     Develop Your Intent.

How many times have you heard your manager tell you that you have to have “intent” when you make a sales call?  Intent – you ask?

Since, by this point, you’ve already taken the time to study and learn your product line, you have researched and identified your target customers, and you have learned the ins and outs of their processes…you already OWN your intent!  Now, all you have to do is connect the dots between what XYZ Co. needs and what you provide.  It’s that simple.  How many of the other sales “professionals” calling on XYZ Co. did as much homework as you?

You have the great story of why your company is great.  You know what XYZ Co. needs! You’re going in pumped up and enthusiastic!  Your enthusiasm is infectious to your customer.  They want to hear more.  The 10 minute appointment is now an hour or longer!

4.     Listen. Listen. Listen.

With preparation and discipline, you’ll get the opportunity to get in front of the decision maker.  If this is an initial appointment, you probably have 10 minutes to make a point; so, make the point well and quickly.  This moment is the one when it will all come together for you because you did your homework. You’re fully knowledgeable of your product(s) and your competitions’ product(s).  You know your strengths and your competitions weaknesses.  You know what the customer’s needs are; and, you already have a few solutions in mind.

You also know a few strategic questions to ask to move the ball forward; and, you take the time to listen intently to the answers.  Active listening is critical to success, which is contrary to the very nature of sales people (i.e., born to talk).  One of our greatest challenges is to let the other person talk.  It won’t take long for the decision maker to realize you’re a professional; and, that’s when the fun really starts.  Suddenly, the decision maker isn’t so abrasive and his/her body language starts to loosen.  It’s likely s/he will start to give you information, contacts, and might even offer to introduce you to relevant colleagues.  The 10 minutes originally set aside for you, just became an hour.  Let the sales begin! 

Is this Process Crazy?

I know what you may be thinking.  All that time spent doing all that research and not calling on a customer is crazy; however, this system works.  If you’re prepared and can offer creative solutions, the decision maker will like you and come to think of you as a partner who provides solutions.  The reason it works is people buy from people they like.

Work hard, be disciplined, and have faith in yourself.  Know when someone says to you, “Wow, you sure were lucky to get that deal,” there was no luck involved.  Remember the definition of luck:  where preparedness and opportunity intersect. You were prepared and were able to respond to the opportunity when it arrived.

Lynne Noel
VP, Underwriting and Technical Services
Havens & Company, Inc.
3 Front St., Lower Mill, Ste. 321
PO Box 566
Rollinsford, NH 03869
(C):   (207) 252-5738
(O):   (603) 749-6100
(F):    (508) 749-6103
(E):    lnoel@havensandcompany.com

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About Dan Gallo

I'm a small business lifer, starting/running businesses since I sold seeds door-to-door as a kid in The Bronx. I've played guitar and enjoyed baseball since I was 5 (born a NY Yankees fan). Just prior to marrying Kim in 1983 I became a Christian. We have two sons; Daniel's a musician & social media expert with a smart, insightful sense of humor, and Adam who recently graduated from Brooklyn College double majoring in Creative Writing/Literature and Anthropology. Adam now works in the non-profit sector. Since 2002 one thing we love to do together is go on service/missions trips to Belize. We've collectively spent 60+ weeks in Belize with this missions organization http://twaw.org. I started my 1st company in January 1985, and been self-employed ever since. I sold my last company, Mentor Communications Group, in '04. After 2 years w/ the acquiring company I started The Allasso Group, LLC doing Small Business Consulting, Fund Raising/Capital Raise-up Campaigns, Sales Strategy, Outsourced Sales Agency work, & Digital Marketing Programs (Social Media, SEM, etc.) since April 2006. Notable projects: Hired as Small Business Advocate and Social Media Director for IBM's "Supplier-Connection" - Feb '11-Dec '13. Hired as COO to help turn-around late stage start-up software company myVRM. Jul12-Dec '13 Hired as CEO of CoupleWise.com, a Digital Health2.0 app, to write business plan, raise seed capital, & completely redesign and relaunch the app. Aug '16 I won a Finalist spot for MassChallenge UK's 2016 fall cohort in London from Sept thru Nov. Started Oct15 - Current. I enjoy helping turn-around struggling small businesses, and launching new business ventures. Feel free to contact me with opportunities.
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