Tips & Tactics

This trade show “early bird” got the worm….

A rep we spoke with let us in on his little secret on how to maximize his time spent at trade shows. “I always begrudge the time spent out of the territory at trade shows — especially those that take us out of our territory — but when one of my very best principals asked for some help, I knew I couldn’t refuse. Since I knew I had to attend, I thought I had better come up with a good way to maximize my time there.”

Knowing that he had to arrive a day early to assist with some of the set-up of the principal’s booth, the rep figured that was the best time to make the most of his time there. “It wasn’t going to take all day to set up, so I planned ahead of time to walk the show floor while others were working on their booths. I knew many of the exhibitors at the show included a few of my other principals as well as some companies I was looking to make contact with. So, when I finished my work at the booth, I walked the floor and was able to spend some quality time with a number of the other manufacturers who were there. They were free to speak with me in a relaxed manner because none of their customers who were attendees at the show were let in until the next day.”

He continued that he was able to achieve several goals through his attendance and participation at the show. “First and foremost, I know I scored some points with the principal who asked me to attend in the first place. Second, I was able to contact three important prospects and have a follow-up meeting scheduled with one of them. And finally, I was free during the two days of the show to spend the majority of my time in my principal’s booth speaking with customers and developing leads — after all, that was the major reason for me going there in the first place. I count this as a checkmark in the win column for all involved.”

The benefits of taking notes….

According to one rep, “Customers know right away when you’re going over the same information, and when you do that, you’re wasting their time. When our salespeople make a call, we plan ahead so that it’s obvious they have an agenda for the sales call. That’s why I have all of our salespeople religiously take notes during their calls. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it shows the customer you’re truly paying attention to what they have to say and that you’re prepared for the sales call. Second, the discipline of taking notes allows you to be more effective in your sales calls. It provides you with a strategy and beats a path to better serve the customer.”

What to avoid with customers….

Speaking of effective sales calls, another rep offered some guidance on what to avoid when it comes to dealing with customers. He noted that customers don’t like it when:

  • “We call on them too much.
  • We just ‘check in’ with them.
  • We’re too pushy.
  • We’re unprepared.
  • We’re disrespectful of their time.
  • We keep on calling after they say they’re not interested.
  • We seem to be just trying to sell them something — not providing solutions for their problems.”

The importance of the value proposition….

Author Jeff Thull, who has appeared many times in the pages of Agency Sales, has some interesting comments on the subject of value in his new book Exceptional Selling. He leads up to his comments by reflecting on the complaint many reps voice when their customers don’t respond well to the value-add argument. According to Thull, “The ‘V’ word is overused, usually misunderstood, and has been bandied about for years, but it remains top-of-mind in the business-to-business markets. The reality is that if you can’t position yourself and your company as a source of value, prospects will not want to talk with you. If you can’t create and clarify value, your customers will not take any action and are not going to buy. The issue of value is inescapable; every conversation with a customer must be a conversation about value, and every solution provider must remain vitally concerned with value.”

Too many eggs in one basket….

We’ve heard this before, but it’s so important it bears repeating. When a rep called the other day, he was anxious to explain why he was looking for additional lines. “I’m making a good living right now so there’s no real financial need for me to seek out additional lines. However, that’s exactly what I’m doing, and here’s why. My number one and two lines provide me with more than 65 percent of my agency’s income. While I’m satisfied that my relations with each of these principals couldn’t be any better, I do have a concern down the line. What happens to me if they experience a change in management that no longer favors working with reps? Or what if they just change their corporate philosophy and think that direct sales are the way to go? If I lose one of these lines, I’ve got a real problem. So my strategy is not to be doing any less business with either of these companies, but rather to spread my potential liability over a few more lines. I’ve had a couple of rep friends tell me how difficult it was for them to survive the loss of a major line. I don’t want to be in that position. As a matter of fact, one of my friends actually went out of business when he lost a major line. I’m just planning for the future.”

Communication — one size does not fit all….

One rep who is a true believer in proactive communication with his principals learned a lesson recently, and he’s taken immediate corrective action. “I’ve always been the type of person who believes I’m the one who should take action when it comes to letting my principals know what’s happening in the field. As a result, I’ve been sending weekly reports to the five manufacturers I work with. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s not always a lot to report, but my belief is that if I keep them up-to-date on my activities, they’ll appreciate how active I am in the field on their behalf.

“However, recently I’ve heard from two of my principals that they felt I was wasting my time and theirs by just alerting them of my activities. What they really wanted was much more substantive if and when something important was going on. In the meantime, they trusted me in that they were convinced I was out there making the calls I should and conducting the business I should with prospects and customers.

“I’ve altered the way I communicate with them, and I’ve taken the additional step of contacting the other three principals to ask them how I should stay in touch. I believe whatever changes I implement will only make our relationship more solid.”

End of article