It’s easy to think that allocating the same time and effort to each of your clients will generate the best results for you and for them. Unfortunately, some of your clients may not feel the same way. There are clients in your territory that don’t care if you or your organization wins. There are clients that are quietly working against you. In order to avoid wasting time with the wrong clients I recommend categorizing your accounts based on two criteria: 1) their will to be a great partner; 2) their skills and ability to grow with your organization. For example:
You have clients that are excelling and don’t need a lot of assistance. They are self-motivated and results-oriented. Support them with frictionless service and they’ll likely continue to be a great partner. You have clients that are aspiring towards something greater than their current state–more money, simpler processes, market advantages. Invest your time and resources in to these clients in order to generate positive leverage. You have clients that are capable but need you to hold them accountable and to push them in the right direction. Finally, you have clients with neither the will to grow (with you) nor the skill to do so. Spend as little time as possible with these folks.
Highly successful sales reps covet their time. They treat it as a scarcity and measure its use against production or output. Many low performing sales reps inadvertently fall victim to the “clickbait” in their schedule and measure their results in terms of the number of activities they complete rather than the results they deliver. This is a preventable situation.
Try this: Review your schedule over the last quarter. Which clients did you see? How frequently? Why did you visit them? Did you have a development plan for your meetings or were you “shooting from the hip?” Do you see any patters of both good and bad time management? Did your investment generate the right results? What decisions will you make differently in the future?
As the new quarter begins you have an opportunity to re-boot your time management decisions–prioritizing clients based on their willingness to partner with you and their ability to learn. This also means saying “no” to clients who lack the will and skill to grow with you and your organization. These decisions are yours to make and reflect your sales acumen. Remember, activity and output are not the same thing.
By now you’ve realized that not every cold call or new business meeting leads to treasure. I happen to think it’s nearly the opposite. Nonetheless, you’re responsible for adding well-qualified buyers to your territory. I recommend applying a systematic method for gauging potential and the matter-of-fact discipline needed to separate prospects from suspects.
Try this. Write down the names of all of the potential clients in your pipeline. Whittle it down to those with whom you’ve had a least one meeting with.
Considering these potential clients, answer the following questions with either “Yes” or “No.” If the answer to the majority of the questions is “Yes” then treat the potential as a legitimate prospect and continue the conversion. If the answer is “No” then I recommend moving on or at least asking a colleague or sales leader for additional perspective.
Are there problems in their business that they’ve tried to solve before but couldn’t? This indicates that the door may still be open for a solution sales opportunity.
Have they shared proprietary information–the inside scoop? Matt Dixon categorizes these individuals as “Mobilizers” in that they’re willing to share certain information in order to mobilize either their team or yours toward new action and new directions.
Are they dissatisfied with the current solutions or work-arounds to any existing problem? If they’re not willing to disrupt the status quo then they’re not willing to seriously consider your value proposition.
Are they willing to share a critical unmet need? In other words, are they proactively looking for ways to make progress?
Are you able to determine a timeline for a decision to work together?
Do you know how they define a successful vendor partnership?
Do you know what they value? Have you asked them, “How or why have you made decisions like this in the past?” in order to understand their motivation for change?
Are you dealing with the decision maker?
You may be thinking, “I had to answer “No” to every question. That’s ok. It means that you have to work harder to gain deeper insights as to your future clients’ actual potential. You’re not spending time with the right candidates. You may also be thinking, “Based on this criteria every business in my pipeline is a bust.” Also ok. You just saved you and your organization a lot of valuable time. Reboot and start over.
My friend, you have two customers. The first customer is the client–your account per se. The second is your customer’s customer. Your job is to ensure that your products are sold in as favorable and persuasive manner as possible. You need to teach the first customer how to sell your products in order to win business with the second. Additionally:
Train your clients how to sell your products to homeowners, not just why they should buy them from you. Filtration sales are a great example of this shift from supply to demand-side selling. For example, sales reps have been perennially telling their clients about the profit motive from filters (low labor!). Yet, despite on-going performance improvements, filter inclusion rates remain low. The problem is that your clients don’t know how to transform the product in to progress from the consumers perspective. Teach your clients how to sell your products and you will distinguish yourself as a first-rate product and sales expert, further thickening your value proposition.
Want to sell a new truck? Start by convincing potential buyers that a new truck will make them more macho, more fun, more adventurous, less pedestrian, and have better camping trips. Advertise to them, and wait for them to show up. Want to sell lip gloss? Give the product to a Kardashian. Want to sell a filter to a homeowner? Get rid of all the language about static pressure, ionization, microns, and voltage. Are you getting the point? People don’t buy products. They buy how products make them feel. You will have to give your clients the retail language that makes the buyer feel like a better, smarter, more responsible version of their current selves.
Double down on the time you spend training your clients how to sell your products. Changing behaviors isn’t a “set it and forget it” process. One meeting isn’t going to cut it. It takes time, repetition, and focus. Role play scenarios, build product menus, set goals, contests, incentives. You can provide value-added service by training them to bring the product to life while explaining functionality in simple yet desirable terms. .
The scope of your sales cycle is far broader than you probably consider on a daily basis. Ask yourself: “What do I want my clients to say about my products when they’re in front of their customers?” “What have I done to influence an outcome that works in my favor?”
Most of your time is spent in meetings. Your clients’ often try to avoid them. Nonetheless, meetings are the medium for setting goals, training, motivation, and tracking progress. Haphazardly planned meetings are unfortunately common. They increase the likelihood of downward price pressure and disloyalty. Rather than risk underwhelming your clients, ask these three questions when planning your meetings in order to create energetic, high-out-put results:
“How do I want my customer to FEEL when the meeting is over?”
Excited? Intrigued? Grateful? Committed? Focused? Empathetically consider your client’s emotional output as a result of your meeting. Ask yourself: “What or how will I intentionally contribute to the meeting in order to create the desired emotional output?”
“What do I want my customer to THINK when the meeting is over?”
Obviously “Thank goodness that meeting is finished!” isn’t what you’re aiming for. You are, however, responsible for capturing your client’s attention and training them to view your organization’s capabilities and its products preferentially. Think about the training or the material that you want to share during the meeting. How or why will it create preference? How will your client think differently after the meeting and because of your involvement?
“What do I want my customers to DO when the meeting is over?”
Your success depends on your clients’ willingness to buy more of your products and less of the competition’s. This is an act of volunteerism on your clients’ behalf (never forget that). How will the time you spend in a meeting change their behavior afterwards? Do they have the emotional buy-in, the understanding, and the motivation to act on your behalf? How will measure the progress? How will you sustain the results?
I know that you want your clients to view you as a professional who knows how to get things done, doesn’t waste time, and consistently delivers results. There’s nothing accidental about achieving these outcomes. Great sales professionals are intentional and transformational in their thinking, planning, and executing. The best sales people don’t sell the transaction, they sell the transformation.
Remember the perspective that your client shared with you last week? He was honest and to-the-point:
“I never answer my phone when I know it’s a salesperson calling.”
“When I see a flyer from a vendor on my desk it goes right in to the trash.”
“When I see an email from a salesperson that I don’t know I immediately delete it.”
“I don’t need a meeting that lasts more than 15 minutes.”
“I’ve told “Sarah” at the front desk not to schedule any meetings with salespeople unless I approve it first. Other than that I’m always ‘busy.'”
“I do most of my ordering on-line these days because it’s so much easier.”
Don’t take the bluntness personally. The perspective is priceless. Instead, do your job in such a way that you generate high output results in the most concentrated amount of time. Always remember that output and activities are two very different things. Your client’s opinions are an indictment of sales people who have forgotten that distinction. The question is: how can you turn these critiques to your advantage? A couple suggestions:
The customer experience is your new competitive advantage. Most sales reps use a meeting as a delivery system instead of a design system. Design your meetings using four experience modalities: educate your client, improve his output capabilities, show your client how you can help him escape specific problems, and focus on the esthetics that align with your value proposition.
Your brand of service should include an element of scarcity. The only way to decommoditize your service is to provide your client with training and that he’s absolutely not getting from your competition. If you consistently provide high-value content combined with an element of scarcity then you’ll have an easier time generating leverage.
Identify and remove the friction. On-line ordering platforms are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of sales and service. In the next 2-3 years you’ll be competing against AI that will be capable of providing many of the basic “housekeeping” functions that many sales reps rely on to anchor their sales calls. It’ll be very good at this. That means you (and your entire organization) have to relentlessly ask: “How can we be easier to do business with?” and Simple service secures sales and loyalty.
The advantage you’re looking for is embedded in your client’s remarks. Start by disavowing “acceptable” service or merely functional service that can be automated at scale. Right now you have the luxury of deciding to provide immersive customer experiences, brand scarcity, and frictionless service. For the time being these are choices that you can make freely. They won’t be for long.
I want to take some of the guesswork out growing your territory this year. Specifically, by intensely focusing your brand of service on three characteristics that improve client loyalty and sales. As a sales professional, your brand is your business (and your business is your brand). It’s your most valuable professional asset. Even though you can’t easily quantify it (unless you’re using something like a net promoter score) you build brand equity throughout your entire career. Your brand is your “onlyness.” It helps you attract the right clients while protecting your price and market positions.
On an organizational and individual level, many brands took a big hit last year. There’s a growing distrust among many of your customers (and their customers) regarding a brand’s ability to deliver on its promises or offer one-of-a-kind services. That many face-to-face meetings were cancelled last year or that there were inventory problems exacerbated these doubts. Today over 80% of customers refuse to do business with a brand that they don’t trust. 89% of customers expect to disengage from a brand that breeches their trust. That being said, this is a fantastic opportunity if you decide to build your professional brand on three attributes: caring, authenticity, and most importantly–dependability.
I’m sure that you care about your clients. Empathy, warmth, and your commitment to your clients are some of the qualities that make many of you standouts. Caring is good. Authenticity is even better. This means acting in a way that is aligned with your organization’s values–even when things aren’t great. Last year I listened to too many sales reps lambaste their companies when sales calls were shut down and inventory shortages occurred. That’s not authentic. An authentic brand, like an authentic professional, is consistent with its values. It has a “true north.” Finally, if caring is good and authenticity is better, then dependability is the gold standard. Building a professional brand of service that is based on rock solid delivery, follow-through, and ease-of-use will galvanize your clients’ loyalty and and their willingness to further invest in you and your organization.
After a year of uncertainty, many of your customers are unwilling to tolerate unreliability or unpredictable brand delivery. They’re looking for a caring, authentic, and dependable sales rep. Be that person. Your brand equity will skyrocket and your sales will follow.
For sales reps everywhere the 2020 nadir includes fewer in-person meetings, frequently distant or disgruntled clients, the struggle to mitigate the work-from-home distractions, and on-going inventory problems. Healthy, functional teams are stronger and more resilient during a crisis. Yet many sales reps’ inadvertently hurt their teams in one or more of the following ways:
They become Boxer. Healthy disagreement and dissent are an important part of team culture. Sales reps who do their job as if “work harder” is going to improve their situation will, like the workhorse, stop contributing the fresh thinking needed to solve immediate problems. Leadership may recommend new strategies and tactics. Without critical discussion or dissent these “snowflake” directives may increase a sales rep’s stress and tendency to withdraw from the team.
They hoard. Nobody on a team benefits when one person with a great idea decides that hoarding it is better than sharing it.
They detach from the front lines. Under normal circumstances successful sales reps often work closely with branch managers, counter staff, warehouse teams and delivery drivers. These invaluable relationships help sales reps gain a clearer understanding of client needs, market conditions, and emerging opportunities. Ignoring front line friendships weakens the sales rep in terms of collegiality and optics.
They forget their “Why.” Purpose-driven employees are engaged, happier, and more productive. It’s easy to forget Purpose when you’re trying to convince your five year old daughter to do another ABC Mouse during your Zoom meetings. The “Why” devolves in to something along the lines of “get through the day, put out fires, cold call people who don’t want to talk to me, try and walk the dogs, repeat.” Nonetheless, sales reps without a purpose may make short terms decisions that fix a problem but are not in the long term interest of their team or organization.
They focus on weakness. When everything that made you feel confident and successful are gone some sales reps try to strengthen their weaknesses instead of strengthening their strengths. Teams succeed because of their compounded strengths rather than their better-than-average weaknesses.
They try to solve everything themselves. This is impossible. Customer needs have gone from simple to complex in a matter of months. The pace of change has accelerated past the point that one person can solve them on his or her own. It doesn’t matter how much expertise a sales rep has–there aren’t enough hours in the day to meet every customer’s unique needs. Deciding not to collaborate with their team hamstrings a sales reps’ ability to comprehensively serve his clients. Smart sales reps understand that collaboration with team members is the new selling expertise.
They become optimists. From 1965-1973 James Stockdale spent seven and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison. He was savagely tortured. He endured solitary confinement for FOUR YEARS. Think about that the next time you’re having a bad day. Stockdale’s ability to simultaneously accept the reality that he would likely die as a prisoner along with the belief that he would eventually be free is known as The Stockdale Paradox. Sales reps who allow either extreme hopelessness or extreme optimism to influence their outlook are unable to either function in the current, crappy reality or deal with possibility that it may never change. Successful teams that are comprised of stoic individuals will survive the crisis. .
“People rarely buy what the company thinks it’s selling.” I wish I’d said that. I hope you’ll consider the counterintuitive probability that each of your clients works with you for reasons that may not have much to do with the products that you sell.
You’re going to work with colleagues who believe that the/their/your job is about selling The 3 P’s: products, price, and programs. They’re not completely wrong. Those things are the end game but not the opening. Plus, there’s a more important “P” in your clients’ lives: “Progress.” Progress defined on their terms, not yours. The more precisely that you understand the reason that each of your clients voluntarily pull you in to their businesses the closer you get to understanding how they define value. The tricky part is that there’s not one answer. Your customers work with you for reasons that are singular to their goals. It might be the relationship they have with you, your organization’s customer service, the delivery, the IT support, training opportunities. It might be something as obvious as the proximity to a nearby branch. Once you know, however, you can customize your value proposition and use it to your advantage.
You may need to surrender a bit of selling bias. Sales reps are historically conditioned to view their clients from an organizational perspective rather than their clients’. As a new sales rep you’ll also have a trove of new resources at your disposal. Yet there will be days when it feels like your hard work is not improving your sales results. That’s frustrating. Don’t blame the clients when that happens. Don’t blame your organization. Most importantly, don’t convince yourself that there’s a “unicorn” resource out there that will solve all the problems. I’ve heard too many sales reps say “if I only had this then things would be different . . .” That type of thinking wastes your time and your organization’s money. When your clients resist your efforts please know that it has less to do with the quality of your products and more to do with whether or not your products propel your clients forward on their terms–not yours. You will have a stellar career. It will happen as soon as you understand the specific and various reasons that clients volunteer to give you their money.
Remember, you’re not selling products.. You’re selling Progress. Stay true to that ideal even when pitching boxes feels safe and secure. It only feels that way because you’re in the middle of the herd.
Congratulations on your decision to become a Territory Manager. It’s a great job and I know you’ll have a fantastic career. As the astronauts used to say, you’ve got “the right stuff.”
I’ve watched many talented people become sales reps. Most make it. A few flame out. Why? If you don’t mind, here are a few things I’ve noticed over the years that I think can help you avoid the pitfalls.
Sales reps who are unwilling or unable to collaborate or delegate burn out. I know that you hold yourself to a very high professional standard. Under pressure to produce, rookie sales reps try and do it all themselves. They put in long hours and assume too much work on their own. You’ve got to be willing and comfortable collaborating and delegating. You have a team that can help you amplify your efforts. Use them.
Sales reps who don’t ask for help or are afraid to look weak are their own worst enemy. Don’t hide your mistakes. Also, don’t speak too carefully. If you disagree with your managers then let them know.
Substance and form both matter. You may be an expert in your field but if you have a frantic, arrogant, or aloof demeanor it can hurt your career. Running around “with your hair on fire” is not the characteristic of an organized or promotable professional.
Spend as little time as possible fighting fires. Spend a lot more time thinking about why they’re happening in the first place. Sales reps who struggle focus their time on activities when they should be focusing on goals.
Don’t wait to address performance problems–they’ll only snowball. Get ahead of the problems before your quarterly review. Talk to your managers if you know you’re going to miss your numbers or not deliver on your promises. Nothing good happens when you put off tough conversations.
I hope these offer a little bit of guidance as you take the next step in your career. Please let me know how I can help.
“People don’t buy products. They buy progress.” — Clayton Christensen
Business owners want their organizations to succeed on many levels. This includes, but is certainly not exclusive to, products. Additionally, significant shifts in consumer priorities are forcing owners to re-design many of their strategies. The growing interest among consumers in new brands, private labels, as well as a new definition of “value” are obvious examples. Undoubtedly these changes create challenging times for B2B salespeople who have traditionally anchored their value on the 3 P’s (products, programs, price). Attempting to preserve a product-based sales model until the tumult is finished, however, may prove to be an overly optimistic plan. Instead, sales professionals should shift their emphasis toward the progress their clients want to make in order to create broader value and new selling opportunities.
Contractors who intend to survive the crisis will need to push their businesses in new directions, hoping to progress safely and profitably. This is an opportunity for B2B sales professionals with the acumen and awareness to help make these course corrections. Contractors will gladly pull these resources and solutions in to their business in order to accomplish their goals. Sales reps who understand and empathize with their clients’ need for progress can leverage their organizational resources accordingly. This new approach will result in mass customization rather than one-size-fits-all selling. Shifting the emphasis from products to progress may also expose opportunities to sell new or niche products that help themselves and their clients make money.
Learning as much as possible about a clients’ definition of progress begins with an interview:
*What type of progress would a client like to make? How do they intend to measure their results? What are their key objectives and results? What market pressures or competitive moves would they like to respond to? What are their blindspots? Which new or niche markets can they move in to or create? How are they distinguishing themselves in their market? What specific “moves” have they made to appeal to new consumer needs?
Sales reps who allow anxiety and habit to interfere with progress (their. own or their clients’) will have a difficult time accomplishing their goals. The 3 P’s were effective when an expertise gap– between rep and client, client and customer–imbued them with authority while protecting them from radical change. The gap is nearly gone and the market controls the sales cycle. Instead of resisting this reality, sales reps who help help their clients’ business succeed on many levels create new selling opportunities and resilient value. Progress is the. new product.