Distributor sales reps have no shortage of items on their To-Do list. It might surprise you, but some of those items should be on a Don’t-Do list instead.
We tapped sales experts and distributors for their suggestions on what not to do when reaching out to prospects and clients, closing a sale or just going about your daily routine.
Their suggestions run the gamut from tiny timewasters that should be cut from a salesperson’s day to overarching attitudes that can derail results.
DON’T CHECK E-MAIL IN THE MORNING.
It might seem counterintuitive, since seeing if any e-mails have been received is often the first thing a salesperson does in the morning (not to mention the last thing they do before bed). But doing so can be problematic for several reasons.
“E-mail sucks you into all sorts of things that aren’t crucial – you open your inbox, see 50 new messages, and boom – an hour is gone,” says Jill Konrath, a sales expert and the author of SNAP Selling. “You’re responding to what other people say, reading an article someone sent, or looking at LinkedIn because one of your connections got a new job.”
Instead of letting these new messages dictate how his or her day begins, a sales rep should dedicate their first hours in the morning to what they deem to be their highest priorities. This gives the salesperson a greater say in how the day unfolds and what gets done.
Konrath offers an additional reason why checking e-mail can be the wrong activity in the morning: it’s the best time to reach a prospect. An Inside Sales study found 9 a.m. to be the best time for getting someone on the phone.
Similar to checking e-mail first thing in the morning, doing a number of activities at once may give a sales rep the sense that they are getting things done when they are actually slowing themselves down. Konrath estimates that by multitasking, salespeople add as much as 40% more time to each activity than they would spend if they just focused on one effort at a time.
“Your brain really can’t do two things at the same time,” she says. “It slows things down and causes degradation in every activity.”
It’s all about flow. The goal is to get into a rhythm on a project where a salesperson almost loses himself in the work, whether it’s making client calls or drafting a presentation. Getting into this “flow state” is impossible when every few minutes the rep is pausing to answer the phone or check a text message. Even stopping to confirm a statistic or look up a name might best be postponed until the task at hand is complete.
Better instead to group tasks – making phone calls for a certain hour, answering e-mails the second hour and so on.
“Do all your research at once,” says Konrath. “Then you can enter the calling stage, and by the time you’re done with that, you may say, ‘the second person I called asked for a proposal,’ so you can put that together, but fully focus on one of those tasks at a time.”
DON’T KEEP ALL INFORMATION TO YOURSELF.
Sales is a competitive business and it makes sense for those in the industry to worry about broadcasting sensitive client information and details about orders they have in the pipeline. But while a level of discretion is important for maintaining business, paranoia about discussing sales tactics isn’t merited.
Particularly with members of their own team, sales reps should keep in mind that sharing ideas or tips can benefit the organization as a whole, and help their own sales. Midwest Single Source (asi/327845) has seen the value of this firsthand among the 12 members of its sales team.
“Our sales staff members do a great job talking to each other,” says Kevin Ulwelling, president of the company. “We tell horror stories as well as success stories.”
He gives this recent example: A sales rep sold a promotional pinwheel to a health-care client. “It could have been used for any industry, but we’d never thought to use anything like that,” says Ulwelling. Each part of the pinwheel had contact info for a different department.By making the connection to the health-care industry, and sharing the story at the weekly sales meeting, the rep inspired another member of the team to pitch the product to one of his own health-care clients. They jumped on the idea.
It’s now become an automatic pitch when speaking with health-care prospects, and with a sample of the product and a case study, the reps are able to show the tangible value.
Howard Schwartz, founder and CEO of HDS Marketing (asi/216807), agrees that sharing information between sales reps and members of the company more generally has a net positive benefit for a distributor. This can be particularly valuable when tapping the insight of team members from different demographics.
“With pretty much everything we do, we try to make a collaborative effort,” says Schwartz. “We might look at a trade show that’s in the construction industry where the target market skews a little older, and the reps in their 40s or 50s can suggest what would work to the younger team members.”
He contrasts that with a more tech-focused event where the audience would be younger, in which the roles would be reversed. The dynamic and desired outcome is the same: Members of the team are willing to discuss their successes and difficulties for the benefit of the rest of the company.
DON’T FOCUS ON THE DECISION-MAKER.
A sales rep obviously must put his attention on appealing to the decision-maker, but a laser-like focus on the top executive can often sabotage a distributor’s efforts.
Chris Patton, director of sales enablement for SAVO, a sales consultancy, gives the example of a client who had a very competitive deal they were trying to strike. The customer’s evaluation team reported to a new CFO who had purchased their software at a previous company.
“When the sales team tailored the final presentation, they focused on the benefits that the CFO would again receive from that solution, which had worked so well for him in the past,” says Patton “Unfortunately, they lost. The evaluation team felt that the sales team focused too much on the CFO and not enough on how they would administer the product, and the CFO felt he was too new to override the team’s decision.”
Making a connection with the decision-maker’s whole team in a product pitch increases the likelihood of a sale. Appealing to these influencers has additional benefits as well, as more advocates within the organization increases the likelihood of getting business from other departments, and means if one contact leaves the company, the distributor does not have to lose the business.
But Schwartz adds that while getting more members of the client’s team on-board with your ideas is valuable, sales reps shouldn’t try to please everyone every time.
“You want to give the client an idea that you think will work for a mass audience, including his or her own team,” says Schwartz. “But at the end of the day, my job is to make that decision-maker happy.”
DON’T FOCUS ON THE SALE.
After years in the industry, a sales rep’s antennae are carefully attuned to what offering would be a good fit for a particular prospect. Just knowing the potential client’s industry and company size is enough for a distributor to generate a dozen ideas that might be a good fit. But when it comes to building a long-term relationship, it is better not to give in to those instincts immediately.
“Our approach is really not to try to make a sale right away, but to understand the customer’s needs,” says Vu Chan, manager of collegiate sales for Club Colors (asi/163432). “I always tell the team to ask more and talk less.”
Konrath agrees, urging distributors to put their focus on drawing customers out. “Don’t focus on your project, but on the business issues driving their needs,” she says. “What is the client trying to accomplish? It could be about their safety program. Ask what they’ve done in the past and how promotional products fit into that, why they are considering promotional products and the business outcomes they are hoping to achieve.”
DON’T THINK ON A PER-PROJECT BASIS.
Another trap that sales reps can fall into is looking only to their client’s next event, project or assignment. Since promotional products are often dependent on the season or particular month or event, it makes sense to focus on the present when working with clients – but be sure this doesn’t happen at the expense of creating a more long-term arrangement.
“We’re on the constant lookout for samples and solutions for our clients throughout the year, and not just when a deadline is crunching,” says Ulwelling. “We try to stay away from the ‘do a job, get it done, what’s the next one?’ approach.”
For Ulwelling, this has meant contacting clients even when there is not a specific project to pitch or timeframe, just chatting to see what might be on their mind and letting the client do the talking.
“We keep an open-ended relationship with customers year round, seeing it as bringing constant ideas to them,” he says.
DON’T “CHECK IN.”
Here’s a situation: You had a great conversation with a prospect and they expressed interest in doing business with you, but two weeks pass and you don’t hear from them. You decide to send them an e-mail. What’s the first sentence you write?
Chances are it would include a phrase like “just checking in,” “circling back” or “touching base.” While that may be precisely why you are writing, beginning a correspondence that way will put the prospect on the defensive. Even if they had intended to call you back, they will feel apologetic at best for not getting back earlier. At worst, “it gets your e-mail deleted in a nanosecond,” says Konrath.
Better instead to frame your e-mail as a continuation of your original conversation, offering a new piece of information, research, or otherwise.
“You can say, ‘I was thinking about your upcoming trade show, and I know it’s important for you to get a lot of people signed up for demos and here are some ways you might be able to do that,’” says Konrath. “Get back to the business value and put them in that frame of mind.”
DON’T GIVE PROSPECTS TONS OF INFO.
It may seem that providing prospects or customers with as much information and samples as possible will help them make a purchase decision. But in truth, this glut of content can have the opposite effect.
“You need to do more than provide data sheets and other information,” says Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer for Corporate Visions, a sales and marketing messaging company. “Instead, create engaging content that utilizes contrasting visuals and appeals to the decision-making part of the brain – which lacks the ability to process words.”
He adds that the sales rep’s content and story must illustrate how they can help the customer avoid the risks at hand or take advantage of existing opportunities.
Paul Schweitzer, president of Complete Source (asi/525011), recommends making the first meeting with a prospect more about asking them for information rather than flooding them with products and solutions.
“Don’t go in with a bunch of stuff,” he urges. Information overload will leave you with a prospect who has checked out.
DON’T DO WHAT THE CUSTOMER ASKS.
While you want to fulfill the order and leave a client happy, busy sales reps can unknowingly leave business on the table when they stop there.
Chan recalls a college client that placed a large order for T-shirts. Instead of just chalking that up as another order on the board, he urged his rep, “to get more information – is it for a charity, a giveaway, retail?” The customer was planning an all-night reunion.
“They’re having this whole event where they’re doing dinner and an awards night and cocktail hour,” says Chan. “We start painting that picture of what’s going to take place and soon we’re talking about a lot more than T-shirts: table throws, pens, flyers, apparel, sweaters, everything else.”
While the client was otherwise planning to just buy the T-shirts and seek the other products from different suppliers, by working out a more comprehensive package and billing scheme, everyone got a better value out of the deal.
“To be successful today, you need to go beyond simply discussing the already considered needs of prospects and customers,” says Riesterer. “You must be prepared to raise previously unconsidered needs.”
DON’T FORGET ABOUT LINKEDIN.
Any time you are calling someone for the first time – or if you have not spoken with an old contact in awhile – a necessary step in this interconnected time is to take a look at their LinkedIn profile. For one thing, it will help you understand their business priorities and get to how your company can help them much faster. In most cases, the contact will be impressed that you did your research.
“I’ve been the target of prospecting calls and have accepted meetings with salespeople who ended up asking if I understand the challenges of ‘enabling salespeople’ or ‘creating high-impact training’ when my LinkedIn profile clearly shows that I’ve been engaged in this function for a long time,” says Patton.
Beyond the knowledge you can gain from LinkedIn about someone’s business connections, it also allows you to find arguably more important personal connections. That can be that you and the contact both went to the same college, share a hobby or are members of the same interest groups.
“You can say, ‘I see you’re a member of the Fresh Sales Strategies group’ and you have a higher chance of having a conversation by having that commonality – if you’re not in that group, you can just join it and then say ‘I see we’re in a common group,’ ” says Konrath. “Anything to keep you from saying, ‘I’m someone from out of the blue contacting you.’ ”