Rep finds support for his value-add….
Given the Steelers’ run through the playoffs and ultimate victory in this year’s Super Bowl game, it’s appropriate that a manufacturers’ rep in the Pittsburgh area would employ a strategy of a “good defense is a good offense” when going face-to-face with a customer intent on squeezing him out of his commission. That’s exactly what P.J. Simpson, Repsource, Inc., Greensburg, Pennsylvania, did last year. Part of the defense he employed to ensure a favorable turnout (for now) included contacting MANA and his principal to support the telling of his “value-add” story.
Here’s how things unfolded for Simpson. Repsource had a long-standing relationship with one of its customers. This relationship dated back 12–15 years when Simpson’s father-in-law owned the agency. In general terms, Simpson explained the customer has had a rather disorganized purchasing process for a number of years. But they always knew they could depend upon the rep to get whatever they needed in order to continue operations. Then last year when a purchasing decision arrived, a middle-manager not normally involved in purchasing was brought in to oversee the purchase. His stated goal, according to Simpson, was to “save money on this purchase. My goal is to squeeze everything out of this deal, including any representation costs.”
While that approach obviously got Simpson’s attention, rather than just accept it, he contacted both MANA headquarters and his principal. “When I contacted MANA, they provided me with articles, publications and other information that would support my premise that I was actually saving the customer money in the buying process. After I contacted the principal, he responded by telling the customer, ‘We sell this product through Repsource, and we aren’t willing to part with the sales function that he provides. We’re not willing to take on the task of personally servicing customers. He is a valuable asset, and that’s the way it is.’”
Simpson continues that he departed from a meeting with the customer and the principal, with the latter apparently letting the matter drop — but he wasn’t convinced it was going to stay dropped. Sure enough, “The customer took another pass at it. When I wasn’t present to defend myself, the president of the company approached the principal once again. To my principal’s credit, he told the customer that they stood behind us, were confident in us, our price was competitive, and this is just the way it is.” The long story made short is that Simpson and his agency got the order — although the customer announced shortly afterwards that it was moving its operations to Mexico. For the time being, however, things remained as they were.
As he considers the ramifications of this scenario, Simpson explains that it served as a learning experience, and he certainly took something away from it. “As the customer grew larger in their operations, I think they began to take a different view of purchasing decisions. And in doing that they put someone in charge of making the ultimate decision who was removed from the situation and completely unemotional. Looking back at the circumstances, I don’t know if there was anything different I could have done to avoid what happened.
“This has gone a long way toward making this principal my ‘emotional favorite.’ If anything, I’ll want to perform at a higher level for him in the future. What happened let me know that the relationship between my agency and the manufacturer was everything; they appreciate what I’ve done for them over the years.
“And then there’s MANA. The association was fantastic in terms of the support and information they provided me. I couldn’t have asked any more from them. If nothing else, I’d encourage any other reps going through similar situations to contact MANA. The people there have been through this before and know exactly the type of advice to provide.”
Lessons learned by getting in the slow lane….
After reading an article in a trade magazine on the importance of honing listening skills, we were reminded of a conversation with a rep who solved the majority of his communication problems by taking one simple step: slowing down. “Looking back at the beginning of my sales career, if I had any one bad habit, it was speaking too quickly. I don’t know whether it was some sort of insecurity or feeling that I had to make the most out of my time in front of the customer, but I just never stopped talking. Over the years, I’d bet I’ve slowed down by a third to a half, and the results have been measurable. When I say measurable, that’s not only in increased sales but in how much more confident I feel.
“Here’s how I’ve made the slower approach work for me. I do a lot of pre-planning. As a result, I’ve become pretty adept at editing out things that don’t have to be said. When I get in front of the customer, I concentrate on the key points of my presentation and deliver my message. All along, however, my slower approach seems to encourage the customer to ask questions and get the answers he needs. At the same time, I find that I’ve become more accomplished at reading the customer’s body language and can adjust my presentations accordingly. If I have any advice to offer other reps, it’s that slower is better.”
Some evidence on behalf of CSP….
When we asked a rep what he felt he and his organization gained from a recent investment in terms of time and money on the MRERF-administered Certified Sales Professional program, we found how well qualified he was to speak on the matter. It appears he had done his homework before having his people go through the program. “Before we did anything, we asked what others felt they had gained, and we found that there was some data out there that validated our investment. For instance:
- Close to two-thirds of the individuals who completed the program maintain that having the CSP designation affixed to their names increased their sales by 15 percent.
- Another two-thirds maintain those three letters provide them with added prestige in the eyes of their customers and prospects. As a matter of fact, several salespeople were asked what the initials meant. It was their feeling that it served as a good conversation starter and it made a favorable impression on customers.
- More than 70 percent of those who have completed the program report that they rank in the top 25 percent of their respective agencies.
- And if any other endorsement was needed, more than 90 percent of the graduates of the program recommend it to others.”
Detailed information concerning the program may be found at www.mrerf.org.
An international checklist….
After a meeting with several of his peers, one rep who was interested in putting his toe in international business waters walked away praising the benefits of networking. “I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’d certainly recommend that reps meet with others who have common interests before they undertake anything major. For instance, based on just one morning meeting with four other reps who have international experience, I came away with a list of questions I had better get answers to before I do anything. Here are some of the things I have to come to terms with:
- I’ve got to think long-term. Nothing I do internationally is going to benefit me immediately.
- Should I make sure I have some internationally based partners?
- Should I be looking at commission only or perhaps have a mix with buy-sell trading status?
- Am I comfortable with the level of risk I’ll have to undertake?
- Will I be comfortable with guarantees and warrantees from foreign companies?
All this is just the beginning. But I wouldn’t even be at the beginning if it wasn’t for these other reps who offered me their input.”