Friday, May 3, 2013

The New Salesman: The Joint Call

The Joint Call – A powerful tool for the Sales Repertoire

Don't underestimate the power of a Joint Call
There are few things in the world of distributor sales that pack the explosively powerful impact of a joint call.  These come in several flavors: calls with Specialists, Sales Managers, fellow salespeople, and with a person from a key manufacturer.  We’ll address joint calls with the distributor’s internal folks later.  But for now, let hit on calls with a manufacturer.

Strangely, this powerful tool has been undocumented, improperly benchmarked and ignored by many sales managers.  Whether they take it for granted or simply assume everyone knows how to drive the process forward, there is precious little outlining the best way to make one of these things happen.  While the old saying reads, “S… happens”, we don’t believe good stuff happens by miraculous accident.

It’s gigantic mistake to leave joint calls to happenstance because the joint call fills two very important needs in the distributor-manufacturer selling relationship. 

First, a well done joint call serves as a training platform for advanced solution selling (and everybody wants to be a solution provider these days).  Instead of devising a nebulous conference room discussion, the joint call allows the manufacturer’s expert salesperson to demonstrate how problems are discovered and solutions are proposed - firsthand.  When several joint calls are conducted on the same day, it provides the manufacturer sales rep to literally “hand off” portions of the presentation as the day progresses.  This practice builds confidence and creates numerous coaching opportunities. 

Secondly, and also of great importance, joint calls cement the relationship between the distributor and supplier.  Instead of working in adversarial (“cross purpose”) relationship, the two salespeople work together to address central customer issues.  A message is sent to the customer enhancing the value of the distributor and reinforcing the distributor’s role in assisting the customer in applying the manufacturer’s product.  Simply stated-it’s a win-win for everyone.

When joint calls are improperly handled, they create a chasm between the distributor and supply partners.  What’s worse poorly planned and terribly executed joint calls send a terrible message to the customer.  Let’s explore a few of the trouble spots.

Distributor salespeople create issues with their supply partners doing a poor job of scheduling joint calls.  When the costly sales resources of two companies come together, a well-defined set of appointments is a must.  Failure to use appointments wastes time, costs money and reflects poorly on the distributor organization.  Unfortunately, many times joint calls turn in to “ride-a-rounds” where the only connection is the use of a common car.  In the old days, the salespeople got to know one another.  These days, one guy drives while the other does email on their I-pad.   Joint calls should be/must be based on solid appointments and defined plans.

On the topic of planning, a plan should exist for the sample/demos used, the proper product literature carried, and other collateral required.  Furthermore, the call plan call should have an objective, which includes customer needs, the contact approached and the customer reaction.  It makes no sense to lay down a plan without a joint understanding of the customer’s environment and operating conditions.

Laying out a clear objective of the call is a must.  For example, if the objective is to move the distributor’s position forward a small notch, it should be spelled out.  If the objective is to convince the customer to add you and your product to their specification list, that should be defined, too. 

Sometimes, the objective might be to simply show the customer you are the authorized distributor for a specific product.  If this is the case, careful communications with the supply partner’s salesperson must be made ahead of time.  This is sometimes identified as a problem spot because manufacturers often have multiple distributors.  It does them no good to make a call with you if they already enjoy the business through your competitor.   

This this way: If the call has no real benefit for the manufacturer’s guy, the story won’t have a happy ending.  Whether you are a nice guy or not, both sales teams are charged with growing their business and making money – it has to be win-win.  Or everyone loses. 

But, wait there’s more.  My favorite line from late, great, TV pitchman Billy May. If you take a vendor salesperson on a joint call, you have just reduced the chances of them visiting the account with that competitive sales guy down the street.  When properly framed, you now own exclusive rights to the account (at least for a while).

Sorry for the interruption, now back to the message already in progress….  
Rules of engagement are important.  Ask who does the talking, how are introductions made and what logistical details may be important?  If a quotation is to be made customer based on the sales call, a timeframe should be set.  Commitments to the customer must be well documented and understood by both sellers.  For example, if the manufacturer’s salesperson makes a commitment for returning some technical information to the customer in the next week, that timeframe reflects on distributor and manufacturer alike.  Discuss these points before and after the sales call.

Trust is one of the unspoken issues with manufacturer’s sales agency reps.  I am not reflecting on any one company, just summing up the anecdotal stories from the past three decades. 

Sometimes the rep agency has product lines outside the offerings of the distributor.  When this situation exists, create a “gentleman’s agreement” well ahead of the sales call.

For manufacturer’s reps, returning to the customer a few days after the sales call with an offering competitive to the distributor is a good way of blackballing yourself from future distributor customer activities.  (Mr. Rep Salesman, if you have been accidental offender, apologize soon. If you are a habitual offender, be glad dueling is outlawed in all 50 states.  Otherwise some distributor would have already thrown down the gantlet of honor.)  Manufactures be sensitive to this issue and deliver a solid message to your rep as to the consequences of breaking this type of trust spill over to you as well.

So how do we fix these areas of concern?  I believe forward communication does much for establishing solid and high quality joint calls.  I recommend distributors establish a joint call policy for their supply partners.  Conversely, distributors must hold their sales teams accountable for making a measurable quantity of joint calls with prescribed supply partners each month.  In addition, the quality of those calls should be measured and tested – with both the distributor and manufacturer’s seller.   

A final word for sales managers
Returning to our very first though, joint calls are dynamite; applied properly they move mountains.  But, if mishandled, they can blow up in your face.  Sales people aren’t born, they are created.  They must be taught to make the right kind of joint calls.

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