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The Sales Rep I Fired and the Sales Rep I Wanted

I used to be on the receiving end of sales calls and pitches. Now, as a business consultant (and also in my new role as a salesman selling logo merchandise and apparel*), I’m on the giving end. As you know, I like to look at every interaction from the other person’s point of view to make sure I meet, then exceed, their expectations. My experience on the receiving end of this role reversal will help me tremendously.

I’ve only ever asked one person to leave the Toy House in my twenty three years as a buyer. It was a sales rep. He sold a couple higher-end furniture and gear lines for the baby product industry that I was interested in bringing in. Here is the opening conversation …

Sales rep: Hey. Sorry I’m late. Had to make a phone call.

Me: Hey. You must be Tim. I’m Phil. Welcome to Toy House.

Sales rep: No wonder you don’t sell any gliders. Your department is a holy mess!

Me: We just had a customer in trying all the chairs and moving them around so that she could see different ones side-by-side.

Sales rep: Here. Let me show you the order I just wrote for (a competitor to the east). See how many chairs they ordered? Now that’s a baby store! You know, I used to call on your father years ago. He was a real asshole.

Me: I think we’re done here. You need to leave. Now. You’ve just insulted my store, my father, and my sensabilities. Thank you for stopping by but I will not be needing your services.

I’m pretty sure he walked away thinking “like-father-like-son.” I’m okay with that.

Here is what I liked in a salesperson:

  • Someone who called or emailed to make an appointment when he had something new to show or special terms to offer.
  • Someone who made it clear why the appointment was necessary, what we would discuss, and how long it would likely take so that I could plan accordingly.
  • Someone who showed up on time and was friendly and polite.
  • Someone who showed up completely prepared with catalogs, prices, order forms, a charged computer (if necessary), and answers to the most frequently asked questions.
  • Someone who followed through with the order giving me updates on the processing and shipping of the order.
  • Someone who called me after the order was shipped to make sure I got it and that everything came in properly without problems.

I didn’t always get that—especially those last two—but when I did, it was magical. Those are the sales reps I trusted. Those are the sales reps who got my business whenever possible. Those are the sales reps I most enjoyed seeing in my store. Those are the sales reps I think about when I’m making pitches.

Sure, building a relationship is an important part of selling, maybe even the most important part. I can promise you this, though. Those six bullet points above will help you build a relationship with your client that will be as rock solid as if you were high school besties.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I’m talking about sales reps to a bunch of retailers, here are four reasons:

  • I have plenty of sales reps who read this blog.
  • You have the chance to “train” your sales reps to do their job the way you want it done.
  • In many ways, this applies to your salespeople on your sales floor, too.
  • To show you one more example why you should always look at everything from your customer’s point of view. Then try to meet and exceed their expectations. Can’t hammer that point home hard enough.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I had several salespeople I truly liked. Yes, we had fun talking shop. Yes, we went out for lunch or got Hinkley’s doughnuts. Yes, we talked about family. But if they didn’t show up prepared, if they screwed up orders, or if they disappeared when there were problems, all that other stuff was for naught.

*If you want your logo imprinted on pens, notepads, water bottles, mugs, blankets, shirts, caps, even pizza cutters, shoot me an email before you order. At the very least, I’ll make sure you’re getting a good deal wherever you might be buying your stuff. If you order through me, you know I’ll follow through to the end to make sure you’re satisfied because I know that’s what you want.

Hinkley Donuts, Or How to Go Above and Beyond

I had a Hinkley Donut this morning. My favorite is chocolate frosted cinnamon, but I could eat any of about a dozen of their different donuts with equal pleasure. Those of you in Jackson know what I mean. In a statewide competition Hinkley’s Bakery won Best Donuts in Michigan (if they hadn’t there might have been an uproar – or at least a road trip to see if it was true that there existed something better).

When I eat Hinkley Donuts I often think about Ernie.

Hinkley’s Donuts – Best in Michigan!

Ernie sells chairs. Not just any chairs, but fully customizable, fits everyone, incredibly comfortable, office chairs. I put Ernie in the hot seat and asked him about his sales process. He led me through the cold calls, the visits, the dog-and-pony shows, the follow-ups, the closing of the sale and the delivery.

At each point of contact I asked Ernie what his staff was instructed to do. Then I stopped him, and everyone else in the class, and asked, “What does the customer expect out of you at this point?”

This was an eye-opener for everyone in the class. We know what we do, but we rarely stop to think about what our customers actually expect and want. Yet, that is the secret to great customer service – meet your customer’s expectations. In fact, that is critical in today’s connected world where if you fail to meet their expectation, all 962 of their friends on Facebook will know by tonight, and visitors to Yelp and Google will read about it for years.

If you aren’t doing this exercise, you might be missing a critical problem in what you thought was your awesome customer service that has been holding you back.

Once we established the customer’s expectations I asked Ernie a second question. “What would it look like to exceed your customer’s expectations?” If you want to take your customer service to the level where it generates Word-of-Mouth, you have to exceed your customer’s expectations. 

Ernie’s sales team did early morning or early afternoon visits to show off his chairs. We wondered what would happen if the sales people showed up with Hinkley Donuts (well, okay, the equivalent in that town) for morning meetings or Klavon’s Pizza for afternoon meetings. All it would take is a simple call to the local Chamber of Commerce to find out which local bakery or pizza joint is best known in town. A good salesman could probably find a way to get that info in a conversation. I told Ernie, don’t announce you’re bringing the yummies. Make it a surprise. As Roy H. Williams says, “Surprise is the foundation of delight.” It was a simple change, an inexpensive change, but one that would pay high dividends.

By the time Ernie was out of the hot seat he had several ideas of how to meet and exceed what his customers expected. I’m pretty sure he’s been doing that ever since.

When you go above and beyond what your customer expects, you will delight her and win her as a customer. No matter what competition you face, no matter what technology disrupts your future, that will always be true.

That’s what I think about when I eat a Hinkley Donut.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I can be bought with food. But it isn’t so much the food itself as it is the gesture. You went above and beyond because you found the local source and made the effort to ply me with something unique, not generic or mass-produced. That’s a powerful statement that earns a lot of trust.

Treat Your Sales Reps as Partners

The dreaded sales rep. We all have one. Maybe more than one. The rep that just doesn’t get you or your business. The rep you wish didn’t get all the good lines. The rep who makes you wonder if they even care. The rep that makes you roll your eyes just setting the appointment.

Then there is the good rep. The one who gets it. Who gets you. Who anticipates your needs. Who knows your style, your store’s style, your store’s goals. Who you can’t wait to work with again.

My buddy Tim Miles illustrated the difference between those two reps – the order taker and the true partner.
Much of the burden on becoming that good rep belongs to the rep himself. He has to want to be your partner.

But I wonder if there is not also some burden on us.

Do you treat your rep as a partner or an order taker?
Do you share your goals for the store – especially for that line of products or services – with the rep?
Do you share your visions and philosophies with your rep?
Do you share the responsibility of all the work with your rep – or do you expect them to do all the heavy lifting?
Do you take them out to lunch instead of expecting them to always buy?
Do you listen to their suggestions?
Do you even ask for their suggestions?
Do you consider them to be part of your team?
Do you offer them the some of the same benefits you offer your own employees?

There is an anonymous quote that says, “Your customers will get better when you do.”

I think the same applies to our reps.

-Phil Wrzesinski
PS I offer all my product sales reps the same employee discount my staff gets. It is just one way to make sure they understand they are part of my team.

Is it a Win-Win?

Do you ever look for the Win-Win scenario?

You win, the customer wins?

They got their problems solved and the product they needed at a fair price, you got the sale and the smile and the long-term relationship.

You win, the vendor wins?

You got the product you needed at a margin you can afford, they got the sale, the smile and the long-term relationship.

Wait? You didn’t promise your vendor anything other than this order. If it doesn’t sell or someone else comes at you with a better offer, you’re moving on. Right? And they better give you a decent show special, and good terms, and an extra discount, and channel protection, and exclusivity, and price protection, and free training, and a free display, and samples, and literature, and point-of-purchase signs, and seasonal promotions, and guaranteed sales, and immediate shipping, and drop-shipping, and touch-up paint, and brochures, and advertising co-op, and markdown money, and web support, and…

Hmmm…

I admit. I am guilty of it. I want all of that from my vendors. I want the whole nine yards, the whole kit and kaboodle, the whole enchilada.  Yet when my own customers come at me with those kinds of demands, I never feel like the winner. Yeah, I got the sale, but I sold my soul to get it.

Don’t put your vendors into that same position. Treat them like partners. Find the win-win for you and your vendor. Understand that they have expenses, too. Amazingly high expenses. They have to invest a lot of money into research and develop of new products before they know if the product has a chance at selling. They have to buy up front without terms.

The smart vendors often have built all those goodies you demand into their profit margins, just like the smart retailers have done with their extras. But if it is going to be a good long-term relationship, the vendors need you to give a little, too. Go back to the list of demands. Which do you need? Which can you live without? Which are deal killers? Which are merely nuisances? Which ones move the needle?

When you enter a relationship with a vendor (and all purchases should be looked at as relationship-building), make sure you are clear up front of what you want and what you can live without. Make as many concessions as you make demands. Make sure you and the vendor are on the same page. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Make it about the long-term relationship.

There is always a win-win scenario. That’s where you’ll find the profit.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sure, when you’re small and just starting out there will be vendors who don’t care enough about you to look at it that way. Some of that is because they have been burnt by too many retailers who don’t look for the win-win. That’s okay. You’re not them. Do it the right way and if nothing else, you’ll sleep better at night. More likely, however, is that when you treat your vendor – no matter how big or small – as a partner, they will often come through for you when you need them most.

Sit in the Hot Seat for a Bit if You Want to Improve

I made Ernie sit in the Hot Seat.

Ernie knows a lot about sitting in comfortable seats. His company makes the best, custom-built, ergonomically correct office chairs you’ll ever take for a spin. You just haven’t heard of him. Yet.

Ernie knows that his product is amazing. He wants his customer service to be amazing, too. So he spent two days with Tim Miles and me at Wizard Academy. He jumped at the chance to sit in the Hot Seat.

Ernie and I broke down all of the touch points, all of the interactions his company has with his customers. We identified seven steps…

  1. Sales Rep Calls Customer
  2. Sales Rep Makes Appointment for Demonstration
  3. Sales Rep Does Demonstration
  4. Sales Rep Asks for Sale
  5. Company Confirms Sale
  6. Company Delivers Product
  7. Sales Rep Follows Up

We then went through each of those steps and scrutinized what his company was doing and where they could improve. We looked at it from different perspectives.

  • What are you currently doing?
  • What would the customer prefer you to be doing?
  • What would be above and beyond the customer’s expectations?
That middle question is the key. The biggest breakdown that gets in the way of offering amazing, shareworthy (Tim’s really cool word) customer service is when your sales staff does what they want instead of what the customer wants.
First you have to figure out what the customer expects. Then you have to meet it. Then you have to exceed it. Ernie squirmed a little when we found a few areas needing attention. But now he knows how to exceed customer expectations on a consistent basis.
I have no doubt Ernie’s company is gonna catch his competitors. No, check that. He’s gonna blow right by them. You’ll probably be sitting in one of Ernie’s chairs long before you claim your gold watch.
Are you willing to sit in the Hot Seat first to see where you need to improve?
-Phil Wrzesinski
PS Ernie, if you’re reading this, I had another thought about Step #3. When your rep shows up, have him or her bring food. If it’s a morning demonstration, bring doughnuts from the LOCAL bakery that everyone loves. If it’s an afternoon demo, bring pizza from the hottest pizza spot in town. Don’t tell them you’re bringing it, just do it. Covers that Over-the-Top Generosity thing we discussed. Also covers the “above-and-beyond”. Just make sure you have the right brand of doughnuts or pizza. It says a lot about you when you get that right.
PPS Most of you reading this just imagined what it would be like if your sales rep showed up with your favorite food, didn’t you? Bet you would be thinking… Yeah, this rep gets me. He knows my business. I bet you end up doing more business with him, too.

Sales Reps are People Too

Christmas is over. The dust has settled. The inventory is counted. The phones are ringing. Sales Reps are invading, loaded down with 2013 catalogs, samples, and stories.

Some of us dread this. Some of us look upon our sales reps as a whole different breed of creature designed to suck the life out of us (not to mention every penny). Every page of every catalog needs your full attention. Every product is a home run. Every product is a destined best-seller. Every product should be bought deeper, every company bought wider. There is so much hype, you need to wear waders just to get out of the office.

Ugh! When will this plague end?

It ends when you get better. It ends when you realize that your sales reps are people, too. In fact, they are more than just people, they are YOUR employees. They work for YOU. They help you fill your store with products that make you money. They help you find hidden gems and stay clear of sure-fire dogs. They help you keep your look, your philosophy, your reputation intact. They make money for you and you don’t even have to pay them.

What? You say your reps don’t do this? That is because you haven’t trained them.

Yes, you need to train your sales reps. You need to train them just as you would any other employee. Teach them your core values, your philosophy. Teach them what products you want or don’t want. Teach them how you want to receive information, what information you want, and when you want it. Teach them how you place orders, when you place orders, why you place orders. Teach them how you handle mis-ships, defects, back orders. Teach them what you expect from them and you will be surprised how much better they will become.

Your reps take you out to lunch to try to buy your favor and buy an order. Have you ever taken your rep out to lunch to thank them for the job they do for you?

Your reps send you gifts to thank you for your orders and the commissions they have received. Have you ever sent your rep a gift for helping you find the products that made you money?

Treat your reps as good or better than your employees and they will work incredibly hard for your business.

Your reps will get better the moment you do.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I was at a conference years ago when one session turned into a bitch-session about reps. I watched with amusement because for the most part, my reps are wonderful. Treat them well and you will see a huge improvement.

How Good are Your Sales Reps?

Maybe I am biased.  My sales reps are for the most part pretty good.  Maybe it is because I am a big account in this territory.  Maybe it is because we just have good reps in our area.  Maybe I am just lucky.  But I get frustrated when I hear other retailers complaining about their reps.

Sure, there are some bad reps in my industry, probably in your industry, too.  But I believe they are only bad because you have not trained them well.

What?

Yes, it is your job to train your sales reps to do exactly what you want them to do.  Do you want them to straighten the department?  Do an inventory for you?  Make suggestions of best sellers?  Steer you away from duds?  Communicate quickly and efficiently?  Accurately place orders and follow up on them?  Handle problems with shipments, problems with defects, problems with billing errors?

Let me ask you.  Do you…

Explain in detail your expectations of your reps?  Reply to every one of their emails even if just to say, “Thanks, I got it.”?  Show them how you want inventory or merchandising to be done?  Explain your product philosophy in detail so that they know what products will and won’t pass your scrutiny?  Keep them informed of how their products are (or are not) selling?  Give them details of what you expect once an order is placed (confirmation of order? confirmation of shipping?)?  Keep them in the loop when there are problems by cc’ing them all emails to the company?  Make sure they get commissions on your show order when they stop in but you would rather drop off the order at the booth to get the special?

I work with rep groups, independent reps, and in-house reps.  For the most part I know our reps well.  We talk about family and life sometimes more than we talk about business.  And even though they may get paid by the vendors, I consider them to be employees of my store.  And since I am responsible for training my sales staff to do their job the way I want it done, I am also responsible for training my sales reps to do their job the way I want it done.

If you are not getting the kind of sales representation you want, you have every right responsibility to train your reps to do it the right way, your way.  After all, you are the customer.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS  I challenge you to re-read this blog, only replace “sales reps” with your sales staff and consider “you” to be your customers.  Food for thought…  Are you doing things the way your customers want it done?

Are Your Reps Coming to You for Training?

Favorite phone call. A rep just picked up a new line of products. He knows we sell them. He calls me to set up a time to have us show him the line.

He knows he will learn more about how to sell the line to other stores by talking to me than by going to the company. He knows this because he will learn from me why we bought it in the first place. And he knows that the reasons I bought it are the same reasons he will need to use to get other stores to buy it.

Two quick lessons in that paragraph.

First, we can do the same. Ask your best customers why they bought what they bought. The reasoning they use will give you incredible insight into the reasoning you should use to sell your products. Now you are thinking like the customer will think and selling to her needs, not to yours.

Second, are you that important to your sales rep?

My reps are my lifeblood, at least my great reps are. They make sure I get the right products and steer me clear of the wrong ones. They never try to oversell me. They never push me into products they know won’t work for me or my market. And I have a lot of great reps!

But I had a hand in making them great reps by cultivating a relationship where they gain as much from it as I do. For many of my reps, we are nowhere near their top account monetarily, but because we bring more than just dollar-value to the table, we get their very best in return.

You can do that, too. Treat your rep like an extension of your family. Make the relationship beneficial to both of you. The return on that investment will often end up in your favor.

-Phil Wrzesinski

www.PhilsForum.com

PS The principals to building relationships with your sales reps is the same as building relationships with your customers. Treat ’em like your new best friends. Share with them. A quote I use in my Customer Service live presentation is “Your customers will get better when you do.” The same applies to your sales reps.