Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Few Thoughts on The Reactionary Sales Model

Talk to any sales manager and they will tell you they want their team to be proactive.  Proactive as in sales calls, targeting, prospecting and product introductions.  Planning and setting detailed customer-centric goals is also viewed as proactive.  Sales managers preach proactivity.  Detailed studies of distributor salespeople, however, reveal a lot of folks who are anything but proactive.  In spite of the directives from their managers, a lot of these guys seem happy in their roles.

Defining Reactionary Sales…
A good many knowledge-based distributor salespeople have quietly slipped into what I call the reactionary sales model.  Here is the premise of their system:
·         The seller becomes engaged with the customer.  Sometimes this is an inherited relationship, other times, it builds gradually over time as the seller proves their worth as a provider of sound advice, support and technical assistance. The seller builds a level of trust and becomes one of those called in to assist in problem solving and solution building.
·         The seller becomes available on demand.  The deeper the relationship, the more available the seller becomes as a source of advice and assistance. It is not uncommon for sellers working in this mode to drop whatever proactive plans they may have developed to run to their customer’s location at a moment’s notice.  This activity is typically rewarded emotionally with appreciative words and with a regular stream of orders.
·         The seller develops deep loyalties with customers.   As loyalty builds, the customer begins moving business to the salesperson’s company and business grows.

Sounds pretty good so far….
But there is more, maybe even vindication.  A recent study of engineers in the OEM side of our business reveals much about the way our industry sells.  Three things are made clear in the study:
1.      Engineers prefer to request information – “don’t call us we’ll call you”.
2.      Once a salesperson is established as a source of information – they call often.
3.      Local and Regional Distributors are viewed as better sources of information than National Chains (something we have always known but didn’t have the data to prove.)

But there are problems…
The story doesn’t end with “they all lived happily ever after” because there are some issues standing in the way of great business.  While time and the nature of this post don’t lend themselves for a detailed study, we should touch on the issues.

·         This model takes time.  Engaging with customers, proving yourself and building trust take time; probably measured in years.  How long can a salesperson wait for business to come? 
·         Distributors lose customers by attrition.  Depending on the expert, between five and ten percent of our customers drop off each year.  We’re not speaking of business lost to competitors; instead customers go out of business, are purchased by another organization or move to another location.  When this happens, it takes a long time for a reactive guy to replenish their customer base.
·         Reactive salespeople are slow to introduce new products and technologies.  When salespeople operate in the reactive mode, they wait for the customer to request information.  Since the customer has someone else providing assistance with the new line of technology, the time to introduce new products is painfully slow (years.)
·         Reactive salespeople struggle to justify which account receives their high quality reactive service.  Oftentimes, reactive salespeople peak out early.  One of the main causes is they run out of time.  This level of service takes time.  If they don’t “justify” their time against customer potential or business volumes, they get consumed by helping accounts which cannot provide the necessary volume to fuel their business.  Since the emotional reward can be high from small accounts, who thank them profusely for their assistance, they struggle to prioritize their time. 

By now the point should be clear, the reactive model works but does not align itself with the goals of most distributors.  Expansion into new product technologies is hampered and organic growth is slow (even if arguably steady.)

Improving the situation…
If your team is overloaded with reactive mode sellers, you must answer this lucky seven list of questions:

1.      How can we speed up the relationship process?  We’ve determined the reactive seller is good once a relationship is built.  But, they need help with jump starting the relationship.
2.      How can we help focus their efforts?  Most sellers don’t track their time, even though CRM Systems are good tools.  If we can help them understand the value of their time, they may refocus energies on accounts with greater potential.
3.      Can we develop tools for introducing new products?  Training is the new marketing.  Are you exploring all the opportunities to increase your training portfolio?
4.      Are add on products well understood?  If the salesperson is assisting the customer with a solution, do they understand the nuances of expanding the products by providing a bigger piece of the solution?
5.      Does the reactive seller know how to leverage existing contacts to expand their customer contact base?  Since the time to build trust and establish a relationship is long, we need to find ways to leverage the relationship.  Does the seller ask his contacts for referrals within their company?  Does the reactive guy understand the importance of knowing everyone within their account?
6.      Are negotiation tools part of the reactive seller’s skillset?  Long sales cycle… check.  High service… yep.  Products customized to the customer’s needs… inherently clear.  If the seller has not been trained on negotiation tactics, there is a very good chance you are missing out.  Research indicates negotiation training is not part of the distributor vocabulary.  I have seen SPASigma’s training and believe the reactive salesperson needs all of the advantages offered.
7.      Should a reactive seller be paid the same commission as a “rain making” sales guy?  This one is a lightning rod, but I am convinced there is a difference.  Plus, reactive sellers don’t bring the same level of value to the business. 

I’ve made some pretty brash comments.  I am sure some will disagree.  If I’ve upset you, send me a note.  Heck, post it right hear for everyone to read.  I look forward to hearing back from you.  Who knows, you might receive the River Heights Consulting Grand Prize: a postcard from Iowa.

By the way… I made reference to SPASigma’s fabulous distributor-centric Negotiation Training.  Founded by Distributor Pricing Expert David Bauders of Strategic Pricing Associates.  David has helped 500 distributors grow their gross margin (typically around 2 points) through a scientific analysis of price sensitivity and customer type.  SPASigma moves the needle forward again.  There’s a five minute video at  

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