Distributors, reps and manufacturers in the electrical business come in many different stripes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: They employ field salespeople who live to serve customers’ needs and seal the deal.
For many of their co-workers, road warriors have a somewhat glamorous image. They see these salespeople as the sweet-talking men and women with the company cars and expense accounts who are unshackled by nine-to-five desk jobs and free to roam the open road. What these other employees don’t always see is the pressure of a paycheck depending wholly or in part on hitting monthly quotas and the dawn-to-dusk demands of a job requiring salespeople to be assertive, upbeat, knowledgeable and helpful even on those days when they don’t feel like pressuring a customer for an order or dealing with an irate customer going ballistic because someone in the warehouse forgot to pack a critical replacement part in an order.
You may be the “outside guy” for a recent start-up with a handful of employees or a cog in a national sales machine with hundreds of salespeople. Perhaps you are a new outside salesperson who just finished the traditional industry internship of working in the warehouse, making deliveries and working the counter. Even if you are a veteran salesperson who could sell a box of pink locknuts before you roll out of bed in the morning, you can still learn a few new tricks of the trade from the pros.
Over the years, Electrical Wholesaling has published dozens of selling tips from readers who made their living selling electrical supplies. You may remember reading articles on sales from EW authors and electrical sales professionals including John McCarthy, Jim Newton, Bob Finley, Terry Sater, Charley Cohon and Mike Dandridge.
In this article, we picked out some of our favorite tips from these authors that will still work for sales veterans and rookies. We couldn’t fit them all in this issue, but they are available at www.ewweb.com. Just search for "95 Can’t-Miss Sales Tips from the Pros.” Enjoy!
1. Listen when thy customer speaks. You can learn more from customers by listening to what they have to say about applications or problems than by dominating a conversation on a sales call with a product’s features and benefits. If you are doing more talking than listening on a sales call, you are not doing it right. “Leave yourself out of it, and don’t try to mind read by anticipating what the customer is going to say,” says Mike Dandridge of High Voltage Performance . “Pretend as if your livelihood depends upon what your customer says. It does.”
2. Sell thy value. One strategy that helps when a customer asks you to beat or match a quote is to sell him or her on the concept of “least total cost.” To do this, you must be able to prove how the value-added services your company offers actually save the customer money in the long run. Examples of these services might include your company’s credit and return policies, knowledgeable inside salespeople, a 24-hour hotline, emergency delivery, application assistance and expediting.
3. Use more than thy gift of gab to seal a deal. Salespeople too often rely on their silver tongues to sell products and don’t back up their sales pitches with product samples, customized literature, application videos and other sales tools. In sales, seeing is believing, and providing sales support materials or product samples makes it easier for customers to visualize the sales solutions a salesperson offers.
4. Know the difference between a profitable order and a dog. Not all orders are good orders, and salespeople must know when they are making or losing money for their companies. A good salesperson always takes the total cost of a transaction into account before agreeing to a price with customers.
5. Don’t underestimate the value of networking. Electrical distributors’ salespeople should tap into every available resource that can provide insight into a customer. It’s surprising how much you can learn about a company from noncompeting salespeople who sell software, shelving or office supplies to your customer; town officials who deal with the company on business matters; and other contacts in a local community who you meet at civic activities, school or church.
6. Sell thy customer hard as hell. There are no shortcuts to success, and the outside salespeople who can still get by on a smile, joke and a good golf game are few and far between.
7. Don’t talk religion or politics with customers. Although the subjects might be fine when chatting with your clone, no one else will agree with you on all issues. Avoid the subjects of religion and politics in business.
8. Do invite a customer to lunch when you end a sales call at noon and are headed to the restaurant across the street. Although many customers will pass on the offer, it’s polite to extend the invitation. By not extending the offer, you run the risk of offending a customer who may happen to go to the restaurant that day.
9. Think long-term. One new salesman refused to take back surplus lamps from an industrial account. The new salesman’s predecessor had sold the lamps to the customer, and the salesperson thought returning the products would unfairly reduce his commission. Instead of using the return as a chance to build a new relationship, the salesperson lost the account to a competitor.
10. Be positive. People like to be around positive people. “When you come into your customer’s place of business, they don’t want to hear your kids are sick or about your aches and pains,” says Bob Finley, former president of Glasco Electric, St. Louis, and a long-time author for Electrical Wholesaling. “They have plenty of problems themselves. Salespeople should put on a positive front.”
11. Don’t underestimate the profit potential of getting an electrical contractor’s first call. The electrical distributor who regularly gets the first call from a customer will probably get the bulk of the order, while distributors who get the second or third call usually get the part of the order that the first-call distributor doesn’t want. These are usually back-order items that require a lot of care and handling but don’t always produce enough profit for the extra trouble.
12. Never disclose confidential information about an account to competitors. Professional salespeople never discuss confidential business outside a customer’s office. Your customers know you call on their competitors, and they expect you to keep their business private.
13. Introduce customers to new market niches such as residential VDV or lighting retrofits. An electrical contractor might enjoy the opportunity to get away from the rock-bottom pricing of bid work, and they will appreciate learning about a potentially profitable market niche.
14. Use your company’s business smarts to help electrical contractors run their own businesses more profitably. Electrical contractors have plenty of technical knowledge, but they often lack basic business skills. Running a profitable business is a lot different than pulling wire, and most electrical contractors will readily admit that they can use some advice on bookkeeping, accounting, personnel management and work flow. Introduce them to the people at your company who can offer this assistance.
15. Keep current on changes in the National Electrical Code (NEC). Changes in the NEC create sales opportunities, and salespeople must know how they affect their products.
16. Be confident. Customers like to be around winners, and salespeople that project an air of confidence are more likely to get an order than gloom-and-doom salespeople who always mope around and gripe.
17. Make one more sales call. Mike Dandridge advises customers to commit to see one customer per week beyond what’s on your call schedule. Unless it throws you behind schedule, make the call while you’re in the area. Keep a record of these calls, but make it simple. Make a check mark in your planner if you get an order, jot down a “P” if the call was productive and write in a “B” if the whole thing was a bust.
18. Don’t underestimate the importance of first impressions. People usually decide within the first 15 seconds whether or not they like a new acquaintance.
19. Be trustworthy. Long-term relationships result from long-term trust. You must produce evidence of your trustworthiness early in a business relationship. That means displaying trustworthy qualities such as dependability, punctuality and accountability. Over time, consistency supports the evidence. Be dependable in the small things as well as the large. Follow through, keep promises and take ownership of every interaction with your customer.
20. Ask the right questions. Always ask for the order. Many salespeople are afraid of being pushy. They think they’re asking when they say, “You don’t need anything today, do you?” or “Guess I can’t talk you into buying something.” This attempt at homespun charm may have worked in Mayberry, but if you use it in the real world, you’ll starve to death. Use simple open-ended questions. “What do you need today?”