Friday, March 14, 2014

I Have Something to Say!

American Music Icon Willie Nelson is turning 81.  While most octogenarians enjoy hanging out at home and occasionally doting over grandkids, Willie is still way out there; touring, “toking,” and writing songs.  For those of you who happen to be near Austin, Texas, Willie has a big shindig lined up on April 29th to celebrate his birthday.  True Confession:  I love Willie’s music, it comes with growing up in a Texaco Station.  But this isn’t about Mr. Nelson, it’s about you.

Some time ago, I read an interview where Willie said his songs rang true because he really had something to say.  The same concept might be applied to individual sales effort.

If we don’t have something to say, why visit the customer?  This sounds sort of strange.  But, “having something to say” might mean having a plan for the sales call; better still, a strategy for the next three or four calls. 

Why am I writing this?  A couple of days ago, I heard the following two back to back comments.  The first from the head of a customer’s engineering group, the other from a sales person.

Comment One (Engineering Group Manager):
“Sales people have the easiest job on the planet.  Most don’t do much these days.  It seems like they are just dropping by to say, 'don’t forget to call me if you want to buy something.'”

Comment Two (Salesperson with 2 years of experience):
“We are just stopping in to see this customer as a way of showing the flag and letting them know we want their business.”

We have a failure to communicate.  The two statements bounce off one another.  Certainly, the Engineering Group manager’s thoughts were confirmed.  Seemingly many sales types don’t have much to say.  I want to explore why this might be the case.

Back to the Engineering Manager.  During our short time together, he shared the biggest concerns in meeting his departmental goals.  Lack of qualified people, issues with maintaining the proper software to commission his equipment, and understanding the lead time of purchased components weighed heavy on his mind.  What’s more, he told me these juicy details during a 40 minute conversation which was originally scheduled to cover his views on 3-D printing.  I wasn’t selling anything, but if I were a distributor salesperson, all of these could have and would have fallen straight to my wheel house.

On to the sales guy.  Wouldn’t it be nice if he had something to say?  I know some new salespeople struggle for topics.   Creating a list of topics is easy but it does require some thought and planning.  I could spew forth on this topic for hours.  But since I have a self-imposed limit of 750 words, let me give you three often overlooked topics for discussion:

What trade publications does your customer read?
Every lobby in America has a stack of trade publications thrown around the waiting area.  National Hog Farmer, Bulk Transporter and Aviation Week join Foundry Magazine and Coal Prep Magazine on the side tables of mismatched naugahyde chairs throughout our territories.  If your customer advertises in these publications, you have double discussion points.

Has the customer been in the news recently?
The CEOs of companies large and small are often quoted in the press.  Using Google Alerts via you can receive an email (for free) every time your customer is mentioned in any news publication on the planet.  Try following your customer via social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.  Some even do product demonstrations on their own YouTube channel.  Let them know you pay attention and want to know more about their business.  

Warranty follow-ups might be a good thing to talk about.
If your customer uses any product on your line card, discussing warranty periods is a natural ice breaker.  You’re not selling, you are servicing.  For some products, the warranty periods are expanding.  Case in point, some sensors and drives have gone from one year to three year warranty periods.  Bringing in this information gives you something important to say.

Finally, last week one rookie sales friend asked me if there was a question I would never use.  The answer is yes.  And, this is a true story.  Way back, during the Regan Administration, I was forced to make calls with a pipe smoking guy who launched every call with the same question:

“You don’t have anything you want to buy this week, do you?”

Mostly…. the answer was no.

No comments: