Thursday, July 25, 2013

The New Salesman: Personal Marketing

Marketing is not just a department down the hall

Here’s a story. A couple of weeks ago I was working in Eugene, Oregon. It was lunch time and rather than eat at the hotel, I decided to let “Yelp” (a great free app for your iPhone) do the deciding. I plugged in restaurants and took off for a hole in the wall joint with great gyros.

The directions took me to a “locals only” joint with a walk up counter and a few seats out on the sidewalk. I placed my order and started taking in the ambiance. One side was plastered with pictures of Chicago, an Albanian flag and dozens of grease drenched documents produced by local patrons who had consumed mass quantities of the lamb specialty. The opposite wall displayed posters announcing local festivals, concerts and Independence Day events. A table in the corner held a collection of business cards; everything from termite terminators to tae kwon do masters – and one very special card.


Photo: www.NathanWallner.com
The card carried this message: KnuckleSandwich Distribution.

I am a distributor guy. I have worked for, consulted with, or known distributors from nearly every one of the National Association of Wholesalers’ 300-plus lines of trade. KnuckleSandwich Distribution was intriguing. It caught my eye and moved me to grab the card. I had to know more.


The guy behind the card is Nathan Wallner he is a veteran, recent graduate from the University of Oregon, a Mixed Martial Arts combatant, and fitness instructor. He understands marketing and is creating a brand around – himself.

There’s a lesson here. I believe it’s time distributor salespeople take a quick look at “marketing themselves”. Here are four things to get you thinking.

What do you want to be known for?
Are you the local expert or the lowdown discount guy? I sincerely hope you are providing your customers with more than a price. Deep discount guys always tell me they are the last of the big time deal makers always looking to save their customers money. While I believe negotiation and aggressive pricing have a place in the distributor sales world, the best customer value comes in other ways. Innovative ideas which increase uptime and personnel productivity provide way more value than cutting 5 points off the buy price. Plans for decreasing rejects, energy consumption and financial risk make your customers thousands. Improvements in the way they do business provide an ongoing steam of revenue. Cutting price saves them a measly handful of dollars. And, it’s a one-time deal.

Don’t confuse your company’s tag line for personal marketing. Distributor organizations with mottos like “our service is the customer’s competitive edge” have salespeople who market themselves as “dirty deals done dirt cheap”. If you want to provide value-creating solutions, talk about value not price.

Who is your target?
Marketing professionals call this the Perfect Prospect Profile (3P). This one is a little tricky because we sales types like to think of the world as our oyster. The truth is, we do better if we invest just a bit of time into determining which customers benefit most from our work. Selfishly, we need to determine who will be willing to pay for our efforts. If you create customer value, the customer must be both willing and able to afford your offering.

This little factoid may rule out accounts which are very small. Customer organizations with overly aggressive procurement groups may not deserve the same attention as those who appreciate your work. Developing a tiny account may make you feel good all over, but the commission check may lead to a life of poverty. We’re investing our most precious commodity – time. Stack the deck in your favor by selecting the best opportunities.

Segmenting: Different Customers - Different Needs
Rookie sales guys make the mistake of thinking of customers as, well, customers. We live in a customer world, but some salespeople still trot around with “product of the week” demo units. Let’s see, it’s the week of January 23rd so every customer gets treated to a product pitch on the double left handed widget; regardless of interest or need.

The customer’s time is valuable. Your time is limited. If you match product needs to specific customers or groups of customers, your presentations will be more successful. And, your customers will put a higher value on the time they spend with you.

Further, segmenting allows for higher margins. One of the first things Pricing Expert David Bauders instructs distributor clients to do is review the pricing offered to tiny and small customers. Typically, the small customer pays more than the gigantic guy down the street. Taking advantage of this market phenomenon allows you to create a better mechanism for getting paid for your work.

The Touch
Marketing professionals call customer contacts a “touch”. For instance, each email sent to a customer is a touch; so too are phone calls, mass mailings, and finally, your sales calls which are the ultimate touch.
Each touch causes the customer to momentarily think of you, your company and your products.

Customer relationships are constructed over a period of time. Each properly executed touch is a building block in that relationship. Think of your personal friendships. Many of our closest friendships involve a period of time where you interacted with your friend on a regular basis.

For example, some of my closest friends are classmates from school. We saw one another on a daily basis for years. The friendship was cemented. Now let’s think about a customer we call on once a month. How long does it take for you to build a friendship? It could be a year, a couple of years, or longer. We can use other touches to accelerate the time required to build the rapport.

Touches can come via phone calls during the period between call. The words might sound like this:
“John, I was driving down Highway 61 and was thinking about you. Did the literature I dropped off last week give you everything you needed?” Even if you just leave a message in the customer’s voicemail, you have left the impression that you’re not just thinking about them during the sales call.

Touches can come via a hand written note on a magazine article. Here’s how this one works. John’s company was talked about in Widget Times. You make a copy of the page and mail it to John with this inscription on a Post-it Note: “John, I saw this and thought you might like to review it.” If
the magazine article covers a personal interest rather than business, it’s even better. Early in my career, I had a customer who shared his love for antique air rifles (BB Guns). A couple of weeks later, I saw a story in the Des Moines Register (my local newspaper) about the surging popularity of BB guns. I tore it out and sent it along with a note. From that day forward, I was treated like royalty in his office. My knowledge of the infamous Daisy Red Rider had nothing to do with business, but the message rang true; I was thinking about John even while not seated across the desk from him.

Touches can come from emails too. But beware, many people hate email spam. Bulk email blasts with generic impersonal messages aren’t really a touch. In fact, they often have an opposite effect. If you email someone, make it personal and specific.

The End, but not really
Create a brand, be unique, and understand your customers. Treat customers as individuals with specific needs – this applies to companies, departments and individuals. Ponder their reason for buying from you. Accelerate your relationships by letting customers know you think about them when you’re not making sales calls via alternative touches.

And just in case you're in doubt about the Knucklesandwich card, here is what it looks like.  A bit worn from being a the restaurant, but it sure packed a punch with me.  
Think about being a Knucklesandwich Distributor. Nathan Wallner has it right. He has a message.

Have an interesting card that draws attention?  Send us a picture and you may see it right here some day!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The New Salesman: Solution Seller vs. Problem Finder

Getting There First and Don’t Be a Problem Solver

Special Note:
While this method solves the problem,
it requires little skill or forward thinking.
This story takes 3 minutes to read. If you are in a time crunch, skip the story and jump to the moral of the story.

A few years ago we studied the Mechatronics Industry, which is the marriage of mechanical systems (gears, belts, electric motors and hydraulics) and electronic systems (computers,

PLC’s, sensors and digital screens). Along the way, our work discovered mechanical distributors were almost always the first to learn of customer projects. Why? Customers designed mechanical portions of their system ahead of the electronic portion.

In all but a few situations, the mechanics were engineered 60-90 days ahead of electronic controls.

We believed this gave the person selling both the mechanical components and electronic controls a competitive advantage over a “controls only” seller. Knowing about and working on solutions for the customer 90 days ahead of the competition should allow for better positioning (no pun intended) of products and unique solutions.

We were wrong. After discussions with dozens of sellers, we discovered only a few were able to capitalize on the time advantage.

The vast majority of the sellers were addressing customer problems as they surfaced. It was a serial sequence. Issues solved one at a time over a period of a few weeks. For instance, on day one the customer needed a couple of gears and the salesperson quickly identified the proper catalog number for the application. The next day, the customer needed a timing belt to connect to one of the gears. Again, the salesperson identified the proper belt.

It was as if each situation was a stand-alone event. The customer identified the problem and the salesperson found a solution to the problem. Many even referred to their practice as solution selling. And, in a purely linguistic way, they were correct. But, I think they were missing a point.

The best sellers (and small group were did use the competitive advantage) are more than problem solvers. They are problem finders and forecasters of future issues. Let’s take a look at how this same story works out for salespeople who work the “Problem Finder Beat.”
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Again, we dig into the same situation: Mechatronic applications. The salesperson talking about the mechanics realizes some aspects of the design need special consideration in the electronic controls. They temporarily stop forward momentum and present anticipated problems to the customer.

A conversation might go like this:
“Ms. Customer, if you go in this direction with your mechanical design, you will need to be prepared for an oversized control box. I can look into the deliveries now, because some of them require 12-week lead times.”


The salesperson anticipated a problem (before the customer recognized they had one) and set herself up for future success. The customer feels lucky that an unanticipated issue was avoided. A bullet was dodged. Future risk on this project was averted. And, most importantly, the customer views the seller as a valuable ally in future designs.




And Finally
A question from the author. Did you read the story or skip straight to the moral?

Frank has one of the most expensive USED books on Amazon.com.  Check out the NAW (National Association of Wholesaler Distributors) site and catch a deal!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Let Freedom Ping




Independence, Freedom and Adios Autonomy

It’s Fourth of July Week in the United States.  Independence Day, America Day and the Fourth of July are all names marking American Freedom.  The distant beat of John Philip Souza patriotic melodies mingle with the steel gray smoke of fireworks in the distance.  Folks, kids and cousins gather at the local park, braving the summer heat, grass stains and mosquitoes.

To steal a phrase from my pal, Tom; “That’s the way we roll in America.  We’re celebrating Freedom and if you don’t like it-- tough.”  Under this great backdrop of Freedom, Independence and Liberty, I would like to raise a discussion.   

Electronic Privacy in the Sales Department
The word is out.  The government has accessed the phone records and electronic data of all of us.  Deep within some top-secret vault in a non-descript suburb of Washington DC, they have our text messages, our emails, and other goodies.  They know precisely how much time you spend reading this blog (Pretty scary, huh?).  Along with this information, they have your location coordinates.  If you’re sporting a fancy phone with GPS built in, they know your location to within 15 feet on the vertical and horizontal axis.

Simply stated, some analyst at the National Security Agency in Washington, DC knows if you are making sales calls or hacking the ball around the back nine. 

Nope, I’m not spouting the latest conspiracy theory.  For the record, I haven’t seen any jet-black helicopters hovering over the River Heights cottage.  I believe the hummingbird I saw yesterday was real and not an NSA drone learning about channel issues. 

I do believe we are entering a new world of data combinations.  And the Fourth of July, a day marking freedom and independence is an especially good time to broach the subject.

How much freedom does a salesperson deserve?
A few days ago, A Midwestern Distributor asked me to be part of a sales force evaluation process.  As we worked our way around the conference table, it appeared each sales manage had a couple of sellers with questionable numbers.  What’s worse, the reporting tools available (call reports and opportunity/funnel reports) made their managers wonder just how hard the salespeople in question were working.

The conversation took a turn.  The Vice President of Sales quacked, “We should put a GPS on their cars.  I’d bet you J.R. (name changed to protect the guilty) doesn’t make four calls a week.  One of my friends lives in his neighborhood and sees him playing tennis every morning at 9:00.”

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One of the younger managers commented cell phones have tracking capability built in… just in case anyone was serious about using it.  I think the group was ready to pounce on the idea.  Fortunately for “J.R”, they decided some of the sellers owned their own phones and turning on tracking required settings on the phone.  And, maybe they needed to think about a policy before they ran down that particular path. 

A few facts on GPS tracking
According to at least one supplier of GPS trackers for corporate fleets, the average fleet client sees a 20% improvement in gas mileage when monitors are added to vehicles.  They chalk this up to better driving and less idling time.  Vehicle maintenance goes down.  And accidents see a similar decrease. 

From a purely theoretical standpoint, the GPS system would give managers some interesting data.

1)      Managers can set a GPS Monitoring System to automatically generate an email when a salesperson’s vehicle/phone or other device leaves a “normal territory”.  This is pretty handy for monitoring those summertime trips to the beach during selling hours.

2)      Managers can set the system to receive a report of places the car/phone or other device stops along the day.  This might be translated into sales calls, activity reports or stops at the local golf club. 

3)      Data on start time and office time is very easy to follow.

With an increasing number untested salespeople working from home offices, sales managers are asking themselves the question, “The clock is striking 3:00.  Do you know where your salespeople are?”

Spy in the Sky
To many the GPS/electronic tracking stuff smacks of an Orwellian Big Brother.  This runs counter to the sales stereotype of the “Lone Ranger’ salesperson.

Stoic, independent, and free the Lone Ranger roams his/her territory fighting for truth justice and the American way.  In this group’s mind, any management ends at the edge of the parking lot.  They follow their own process, doing exactly as they please and justifying their actions on myths of the past.

Putting an electronic monitor on the sales team sounds a lot like ripping the mask off the Lone Ranger.

Reason, Common Sense and Civil Discourse
Quite honestly, I can convince myself to go either way on this topic.  For the last several days, I’ve felt like I had an angel on one shoulder, and the devil on the other.  Here’s what they’ve been whispering in my ear.



Angel

Assume positive intent Frank, most sales guys are hard-working, honest and loyal to their companies.  How would they feel if suddenly their managers decided to spy on them?

Devil

Frank, don’t be a sap.  If the salesperson isn’t doing anything wrong, why would they care if the boss knew precisely where they were at any given time?

Angel

Being a salesperson requires lots of flexibility: sometimes sellers start late, sometimes they work into the wee hours of the night.  Most put in long hours in a super stressful environment.  Do they need the stress of explaining every second of every day?

Devil

Frank, you’ve got to be kidding me.  The hard working guys work hard constantly.  Every move they make is to generate business.  The slackers talk big stories but you know they’re goofing off.

Angel

This whole thing raises massive questions about work place privacy.  What is a salesperson has to stop during the day for personal reasons?  Should they be required to explain deeply private matters with their boss just because he knows they stopped off during the day?

Devil

Now I know you’re joking!  Everybody else in the office has to ask for personal time and those “prima donnas” in the outside sales group can just buzz around town like they own the company.  What makes them so special?

Ok you get the idea.  This could be controversial.  I am still making my mind up on the potential of electronic monitoring.  What say you?


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