Thursday, May 9, 2013

The New Salesman: Junk in the Trunk

Being Prepared-  The Salesperson’s Trunk, a Modern Version of an Old Vaudeville Act

Adolph Proper (stage name A. Robins) aka "The Banana Man" worked the Vaudeville circuit for over 40 years.  His clown act, unfortunately, lives on.  But instead of showing at ram shackled playhouses at the edge of downtown, it has moved to the front line of distributor sales.

Adolph’s act went something like this: dressed in a loosely fitting clown outfit, the Banana Man would walk on stage and ask the audience to call out random items.  He would sing a little song and dance around a bit while ceremoniously reaching in to his coat pocket.  Eureka!  Out came the item mentioned.  He produced guitars, violins, giant magnets, eggs, can openers, shovels—you name it.  The crowning touch typically came when the audience asked for a banana.  Instead of producing a single yellow fruit, Mr. Proper produced giant bunch after bunch, enough to fill an entire shopping cart.

How does this amazing anecdote apply to salespeople?

Today many salespeople confuse a well-stocked trunk with being proactive.  They carry reams of product literature, samples, demos and tons of support materials as ballast in the back of their company car.  Being prepared is a good thing, but I suspect it is a practice ripe for abuse.

Many salespeople substitute this trunk full of stuff for call planning.  Over the course of my career, I have been on dozens of calls where the sales guy opened his truck and said, “now, what should I bring on this call?”  Really…  Standing and staring down a semi-organized stack of stuff was their version of planning the sales call.  Within minutes, they would be standing face to face with the customer and the extent of their plan entailed pulling two or three samples and handful of literature from a shopworn liquor box nestled in their trunk.  What’s worse; they did nothing to customize the literature for the call or ensure that the sample was in good working order.

This is a bad habit.  And, we must steer new sellers away from the practice.  Let’s face the fact a good many veterans see this trunk full of junk as a point of pride.  They may even “sell” the idea to our new sales guys as a fool proof plan for working a territory.  In reality, many use it as a crutch for not taking the time to engineer a call plan.  Proactive planning is a fragile thing.

Aside from substituting immediate for planning, other issues abound.  The literature and samples become outdated.  The literature bares the mark of riding (for months or years) in the trunk of the car.  As golf clubs and camping gear from the previous weekend are tossed on top, sales materials get beat up.  Sometimes, samples are damaged by heat, moisture and dust.  Some may brush aside these seemingly minor points.  But bear in mind that today’s typical sales call comes with a $400 price tag.  When tossing around this type of money, why not maximize chances of success.

Nothing beats a call plan.  Sales managers need to ask their new salespeople (if not the entire team) to provide them with a list of sales calls planned for the coming week.  This encourages thought on topics begging to be discussed and provides the salesperson a few days to subconsciously tune their approach at the call.  On top of all that, the practice encourages appointment making skills, territory and calendar management, as well as greater efficiency.

In our industry, sales calls are not stand alone events.  Instead, the sales process is a series of activities intended to move the customer forward with the solutions we provide.  Call planning, when properly done, allows the salespersons to see previous events as integral to the needs off the current sales call and as a potential piece of future interactions.  Thinking this way improves other processes – like targeting.

I believe in targeting and hope you do too.  Targeting matches customer needs to (product-based) solutions we provide.  Simply stated, we look for ways to help our customer by introducing them to technologies delivering a payback.  This isn’t done while standing over an open trunk lid contemplating available literature on a snowy day in Iowa or a burning hot day in Arizona. 

As a salesperson lays out their call plan for a coming week, they think of products with the best payback for their customer.   Investing a short blast of brain bounce improves not only the quality of their choices for products shown to a customer, but also improves the customer’s response.  They can tell you were thinking about them.  It is nearly impossible to say “I selected this product form the thousands available in my catalog,” especially for you, without at least developing a couple of good reasons for making that statement.

Let’s return for a moment to The Banana Man.  There is a place for a well-organized traveling stash of literature.  Many times sales calls provide instant and unexpected opportunities and success does in fact, favor the prepared mind.  With this in mind, here are a few pointers for that roving round house for selling stuff:

1.      Be sure the literature is fresh and well protected.  We have found that hard plastic cases which protect against dirt, dust, and moisture work most effectively.

2.      Make plans for regularly reviewing what you carry.  New literature must be inventoried and replenished as used.  Without a plan for handling that specific task, it’s easy for you to miss opportunities.

3.      In the world of electronics, storing information on your hard drive or tablet can be handy and most likely allow for easier sharing of data.  However, this data must also be occasionally reviewed and refreshed.

4.      Think about a plan- if the selling opportunity is not urgent- to turn it into a two-step process.  Volunteering to return soon with a better prepared answer to the customer needs often brings more results than an immediate and impromptu handoff of literature.

For you sales managers, I encourage you to ask your sales team to provide you with a proposed call plan.  Routinely ask them to show you their trunk.  What are they carrying besides the remnants of their last camping trip?  Are they prepared?  And finally, never confuse a full trunk with a well-planned sales call.

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