Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Time Bandit Strikes Again

Hey Buddy, you just stole an hour of my life:
The Worst Sales Meeting in Years

If only the real Bandit came with this shirt.
Courtesy of Zazzle.com

Hey Buddy, you just stole an hour of my life. It’s not that I don’t have a few to spare, I plan to be around for a few more years, but… they say that time is money and you just called me to throw a handful of twenties down the drain.

What’s got me hot? I just sat through the worst sales meeting of my life.
Here’s the scoop:

I was working with a distributor client and wanted to get a flavor for their company culture. I decided to sit in one of their sales meetings.

I like to do this because I’m a product junkie. I enjoy learning about new stuff and the markets served by the product. I especially enjoy hearing how the products are targeted to customer groups/segments.

As is typically the case with distributor sales meetings, the day was divided into one-hour segments with new suppliers being given the opportunity to introduce their company and generate sales through a very progressive (and technically savvy) distributor.

Twenty-some salespeople took their places in the conference room. As the introduction was made by one of the company’s sales managers, laptops were closed, cell phones set to vibrate, and all attention was focused front and center.

The speaker was a regional sales guy from what looked to be a pretty cool company. And, the first two minutes were pretty typical: Name, rank, serial number, location and a quick story about how he first discovered the distributor. Not fantastic, but not bad either. Then things took a turn- down the twisted path of tedium.

This guy’s quick introduction of his company droned on and on. Leading our group on a mind-numbing tour of manufacturing philosophy minutia, the presentation seemed bogged down in stuff with absolutely no sales value.

After over twenty minutes, we were still getting play-by-plays of the last “Kaizen” event. Finally, the Sales Manager suggested switching to a product overview topic. In spite of “losing his audience” earlier, the salespeople put down their text messaging and refocused. Perhaps something good was about to happen.

No such luck.

The next ten minutes were devoted to generic conversations on products focused on the auto industry. Unfortunately, the nearest auto plant fell 450 miles outside the territory. Again, the Sales Manager made a noble attempt to salvage the remaining half hour.

A quick glance around the room was revealing. Emails were being written, iPads were upgraded and the company’s top producing salesman was playing a quick round of Solitaire. Ouch. At least he had a diversion. I had to be on my best behavior, which was difficult, as it was a painful experience. I could almost feel
my life dripping by one painful minute after another.

Here’s my biggest anguish: the group. Twenty-two Sales Engineers were frittering away an hour of otherwise productive time. Using even conservative estimates, it was four grand swirling down the drain. If we apply my gross margin per call calculator, the time was worth well into the triple digits.

The whole exhausting, expensive ordeal could have been avoided. There were two ways to avoid this train wreck.

What could the distributor have done?
Distributor Managers must put a value on their salespeople’s time. I estimated this hour long fiasco was worth about $4,000 in burdened labor, not counting lost opportunities. Would anyone spend $4,000 on a product sight unseen, no description, no label, no guarantees? I would guess not. But it happens in distribution all the time.

What would have happened if the distributor would have asked to review the presentation ahead of time? What if the distributor would have shared theses eight requirements?
1. No more than five minutes of the presentation should be devoted to company history and philosophies. We know your company is cool and unique, but how can we work together to make money for both of our organizations?

2. Talk about industries important to our territory. We’re impressed that you are the standard of excellence in the Bosnian Bull Whip industry, but there hasn’t been a bull whip manufacturer around here for 100 years. If the supplier doesn’t know the industries critical to your business, brief them ahead of time.

3. We want to learn how to sell your product; the best applications. The right person to talk to the product about, the competitive strategy and why your product is better are all great topics.

4. Are there any sales aids available online or otherwise? These are good things to know and will help our salespeople get instant leverage.

5. Who can we call in the case of commercial situations like delivery and pricing issues? A printed handout works wonderfully

6. Are there other distributors serving our territory? If so, how can we avoid distributor-to-distributor channel conflict? Most distributors are used to sharing some of their lines with other distributors. Let’s get this out in the open early to avoid misunderstandings and wasted time down the road.

7. What is the best way to set up joint calls? Sometimes a manufacturer – distributor joint call does wonders to move a sale forward.

8. The most important point. Adult education experts indicate training has a short half-life. The best time for our sales people to begin the selling process for your products comes during the week or so immediately following your presentation. If you don’t bring a supply of brochures, samples, demos and other materials required to start the process, we both lose. Don’t do the sales training then send the materials later. Hand them out immediately following the presentation.

9. Bonus. Distributors and manufacturers who invest in setting target accounts for their products, services and solutions are 47% more effective in meeting their financial goals. Hang around after the sales meeting and invest the time required to assist every salesperson in establishing their best 4-6 targets for your product. You will be glad you did.

For Manufacturers and Sales Reps
A long time ago, we wrote an article on how to get the best bang from your time in front of distributor sales people. We’ve sold dozens of copies on lulu.com but if you shoot us an email, it’s your FREE. How’s that for a deal?

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