Getting The Edge In Professional Selling — Terence A. Hockenhull

NEARLY EVERY SALESPERSON I know wants to exceed quota and increase his or her personal income. Fortunate are those salespeople who work on a basic salary with a generous commission. Their daily sales activities in the field gives them the opportunity of achieving both of these two goals. Last week, I wrote an article about the difficulties of finding good people, especially for sales positions. Experience is one thing; so, too, is adequate product knowledge. However, without the drive to achieve; a salesman may as well resign and start to look for alternative employment.

Yet, in my years in sales, I have seen many a salesperson with huge potential fall by the wayside. Take Jim, for example. Jim worked for a company selling a range of industrial tools. His employers have a great reputation in the industry, and their tools can be found in factory workshops, laboratories, repair facilities, and in the hands of specialist engineers.

Jim quickly earned a reputation for enthusiasm and hard work. Invariably the first person out of the office in the morning and the last to return in the afternoon, his call records showed he was seeing more clients per day than anyone else on the sales team. Yet despite his enthusiasm, his selling was without focus.

Jim was spending most of his time visiting purchasing managers to see if reorders were required. His hard work seemed to be paying off; he was able to meet his monthly quota. However, comparing his results with some of his more experienced and senior colleagues (who were seeing considerably fewer clients each month) showed that his hard work was not yielding the results he was clearly hoping for. Indeed, after eight months, Jim submitted his resignation, complaining the products he was handling were hard to sell and expensive. Fortunately, his sales manager intervened and helped Jim refocus his efforts.

The sales manager explained that selling to purchasing managers was a thankless task and unlikely to yield results. Purchasing managers have no right to buy products just because they believe it is a “good idea”; they will only buy if they have a purchase requisition. Their brief is to buy requested products — nothing else — and always the cheapest of three quotes (unless instructed to the contrary).

Jim’s manager rekindled Jim’s enthusiasm by inviting him to do a little more research before venturing into the field. Potential customers should be carefully examined to determine size of company, number of employees, financial capability, nature of business (the product/service lines), and an assessment of which product they might need to buy. Having such a “profile” allowed Jim to make more efficient use of his time seeing clients with potential.

The second thing the manager did was to help Jim categorize his calls into service, maintenance, account development, and sales calls. He explained that there needs to be a good balance between these types of calls. Insufficient account development means no new clients to see; a failure to take care of existing clients, either by making maintenance calls (so they don’t forget who you are) or service calls (to address any problems they might have), leads to dissatisfied customers and a loss of future business. And obviously, sales calls need to be made to make sure revenue comes in!

Lastly, Jim was shown how to set objectives for his sales calls. Instead of blindly meeting a client with no focus on what should be achieved during the sales call, Jim began to think about what he wanted to take away from every call. Sometimes, it was simply collecting specific information; on other occasions, the objective might be to meet someone specific in the organization, to conduct a demonstration or a trial, or to collect the purchase order.

None of this is rocket science. Jim commented to me a couple of years later that this all made terribly good sense. He claimed to work less hard, see fewer clients each day, and yet still bring in results that were laudable.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.