Monday, June 20, 2016

We need more sales calls, but it’s not happening!

Business levels are flat (at best) and sales managers are clamoring for more sales calls.  All across distributor-land, sales managers are pushing their teams for more productivity.  They reason more sales calls equates to more discovery, more opportunities to quote and greater visibility with customers who for some reason or another share their business with several suppliers.

The pressure is on.  Ranging from kind requests to outright threats, sales managers are pushing for more calls.  In cases where the distributor uses some form of call reporting (CRM or otherwise), the reports are getting greater scrutiny and results aren’t pretty. 

Under pressure to create a better looking report, salespeople are counting drop by visits with no actual customer contact as a “sales call.”  Under the heading of a good example of terrible selling behavior, one reported sales call consisted of driving up to the guard shack of the customer and asking for the head of maintenance.  Since the seller had no appointment and lacked the name of the individual, they were summarily turned away.  Another slightly more credible example of a sales call involved the sales person making a delivery to the customer’s facility where the only contact came with the receiving clerk.  Clearly, this type of behavior does little to impact the bottom line.

Why aren’t we seeing more people?
I believe there are a number of reasons that our salespeople are not seeing more people.  But before I rattle off the reasons, allow me to say I don’t believe sloth has anything to do with the situation.  Lack of skill, sometimes.  Bad habits, probably.  Deliberate laziness, no way. 

Finally, here is my list for why salespeople can’t improve their number of calls:
  • They fail to plan their time.  As sad as it seems, on any given Friday afternoon many can’t tell you what they are doing next Wednesday afternoon, unless that day happens to be vacation or the next sales meeting.  Planning is both a skill and a habit, both of which can be improved.
  • They fail to optimize travel times.  Only a few of the sellers we know have territories compact enough to ignore travel times.  The guys in secondary markets drive 50 miles to make a sales call without considering stops along the way.  Folks in big cities cover less distance, but the effect is the same.  Only a rare few plot their day in a way that offers maximum time with customers.
  • They fail to make appointments.  Could be a habit, could be a skill or it could be their customers just plain don’t want to see them.  Getting appointments are hard (not impossible) to make these days.  A lot of folks have just plain given up on making them.
  • They get sucked into mundane tasks.  Some return to the office to follow-up on trivial orders, others drop what they are doing to immediately respond to a quotation and others get hung up on “baby sitting” customer orders.  A few simply don’t trust their support team enough to carry out even small tasks.  A good many are control freaks who feel good about controlling more than they should.  While all of these might be important, they need to maximize team involvement.
  • They spend too much time to responding to customer emergencies. 
    Technically oriented sellers often fall into a purely
    reactive mode of operation.  They get personal satisfaction from solving customer emergencies and customers love them for the work they do.  Sounds great, except that when times are slow, they spend more time instead of less time with each emergency.  Further, some salespeople don’t measure their value.  They spend inordinate amounts of time with low volume, small potential customers.
  • The situation is complex and requires individual coaching…Reviewing the list, it’s pretty clear there is no one magic bullet fix.  Out of a half dozen sellers there may be four or five different situations.  This is where the sales manager earns their keep as a manager and coach.

Over the years we have devised a plan for assisting sales managers understand and respond to individual weaknesses effectively.   As with any type of long-term improvement, it takes time and a bit of effort.  

Here is the simplified version of the plan:
  • For the next 6-8 weeks set aside a time on either Friday afternoon or Monday morning to review each seller’s activities planned for the next week.  Experience shows this takes about 20 minutes per salesperson.  Let them know this is not a permanent procedure but a 6-8 week coaching assignment for the manager.
  • Specifically log the data as to where they plan to go, who they want to meet, what they plan to discuss, whether an appointment will be set and the proposed date of the call.
  • During the same meeting, review the results/details of the last week of calls.  When possible match the planned week to the actual results (a week later).
  • Look for the following:
    • Issues with scheduling.  Are they really planning ahead?
    • Issues with setting appointments.  Do they need some coaching here?
    • Emergencies which took them out of the field.  Are they justified or just control issues?
    • The products, services, issues discussed.  Customers don’t want their time wasted.  Are the products properly selected?  Are they bringing the right sales materials?
  • Identify individual issues which need skills training, coaching or management.

Coaching works better when individualized…
They say it takes 30 days to break a habit and longer to develop a new skill.  Don’t expect instant perfection.  In fact, you should expect improvement sandwiched between in a bunch of returns to the old habit.  But, don’t let your team wear you down.  Improvement will come.  It takes a while but our work indicates a couple of months spent today can change things for a long time.

Finally, we would love to chat about your unique situation…

Drop us a line or give a call.  We would love to hear about your situation.  We have plenty of resources available and a good many of them are… free.

1 comment:

Sue Moss said...

Excellent advice. Hits home.