Sales representatives (still) play in an important role in our economy. Outside of self-serve sales, they facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers—they are the glue that binds tech, info, action and service together today. Yet most of us dread getting calls and emails from sales people for fear they’ll try to sell us something.
The big question is: Are you getting true value from your sales rep or mere transactions?
Sales Call, Line 2
Unfortunately, a lot of the bad rap came from the telemarketing industry. The statistical geniuses laid out a success plan for the ratio of outbound calls to sales results: the more people you call on will eventually lead to a sale. The funny thing is direct mail had been doing this for years. Send out enough pieces in mass, and you’ll get the coveted 2% return—on a good day. Something always sticks to the wall.
Companies rushed to hire banks of telemarketers armed with auto-dialers to plow through terabytes of databases in a non-stop effort to reach as many people as possible with their spiel. Consumers were bombarded with solicitation calls, usually beginning with the dinner hour and continuing throughout the evening.
It’s been about 10 years now since the Do Not Call Registry provided consumers with the ability to put an end to nuisance sales calls. That, combined with today’s digital channels, has all but put an end to telemarketing sales—unless you’re a charity seeking donations or an existing service provider (banks, credit cards, insurance) calling on your customers to offer them additional products and services.
At work, we’re called on by business-to-business (B2B) sales reps wanting to sell us something they believe will help our business. How many voice mails do you get each week from someone wanting a minute of your time to tell you about the benefits of their product or service? How many of those calls do you return? My guess is almost none of them.
When You Want a Call
When you have a need and want to buy something to meet that need, who do you want to talk to? That’s right, a sales rep …really? Yes, of course, you do, because it’s on your terms and not the other way around.
Ironically, even when we’re open to dialog with a sales rep we do so reluctantly assuming we’ll have to endure the pitch process to get to the information we really want—just a simple answer to our question.
Such reluctance stems from past experience with less than professional (just plain bad) sales reps who don’t listen and never shut up. They are the sales types who smother us with a spiel of what they assume we want and how great their company is. Sales reps worth their weight in gold (true professionals) don’t do this. They earn the trust of their customers first—they are the reps people want to do business with.
Good Rep/Bad Rep
The differences between the types of reps you want to do business with and the kind you don’t is simpler to spot than you may think. Here are the 5 top things to look for when seeking value providers vs. order takers:
1. They do their homework before they meet with you
Professional sales people who deliver real value take the time to do their research on you and/or your company. They spend time understanding your business to be able to explain the benefits of their product or service as it relates to your business.
In our business, we help chefs and restaurateurs with fine meat programs tailored to fit their needs. We take the time to learn as much as we can about our customers and prospects by studying their menus, eating at their venues, reading their customer reviews online and more. When we do our homework first, we can have more meaningful conversations with our customers about their business.
Reps who do their homework make better use of your valuable time and streamline the path to meeting your needs. If a sales rep opens the conversation with something like “…tell me about your business,” they probably didn’t do their homework beforehand.
2. They listen first and talk second
We set our aim to abide by the following expression at Buedel Fine Meats: We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Meaning, we should listen more than speak.
Professional sale reps deliver real value when they listen first. They ask quality questions (sincerely) about your needs and seek comprehension of your goals before talking about their company. They want to know what drives your company’s needs, your decision making process, how you’ll know if your needs are met, and so on.
Value based sales reps know they must demonstrate how their product or service could benefit you in the context of your needs. The only way for them to do this is by listening first. Of course, there is an appropriate time for the sales rep to do all the talking so you can understand how their product or service can meet your needs, but if a rep is talking more than listening first, it’s a sign they’re putting their commission before your needs.
3. They make it safe and earn your trust
Professionals who deliver real value create a safe environment for you and they work to earn your trust. What I mean by a ‘safe environment’ is they create an atmosphere of accommodation without risk. Value adding sales reps accommodate your needs, not theirs. They work with you on your terms, not theirs. They follow your buying process, not their selling process.
Most sales people are under pressure to make sales, but the sales reps that add real value accommodate you without risk. An example of risk would be something like “… you have to buy it today, or the deal is gone.” Really? I doubt it. Earning your trust involves avoiding ultimatums and high pressure tactics.
We generally prefer to do business with people we know and like—we give them our trust because we find it safe to do so. Earning your trust is a process, not an event. Professional sales reps who add value know how to earn your trust and create a safe, no-risk environment to do business with you.
4. They say, “No” and frame it
Quality sales reps expect a long-term relationship with you. They understand that after they’ve earned your trust and your business there should be more business with you down the road. They also know that saying “yes” to everything you ask for, want or need is virtually impossible to deliver on. Conversely, they have the intelligence to say “no” when necessary to avoid purchase disappointments—in reality, they tell the truth.
The best value providers don’t just say “no” when they know their company will be unable to deliver on something, they also frame it with reasons why and propose “yes” alternatives. This gives you, as a buyer, an understanding of what and why they are able to do things and the opportunity to consider buying alternatives.
When you get what you expect, you’re happy. When you don’t, you feel like you’ve been taken. Professional value based sales reps say, “no” with alternative ways to say “yes” so that you get what you expect.
5. They follow up in a timely manner
Probably the most important attribute of all that distinguishes a value provider from a transactional one is that they follow up in a timely manner. How frustrating is it to you when you’re under deadlines to get things done, and you can’t because you’re waiting and waiting for someone to follow up with you? Very frustrating!
All of us from time to time forget things, lose track of a to-do or without intention let something slip between the cracks. That’s human nature. However, if lack of follow-up by your sales rep is the norm rather than the exception, he/she is not bringing value to your relationship.
True pros are responsive in a timely manner. If they promise to get you an answer to your question by tomorrow, they get your answer by tomorrow, not next week or next month. They do what they say they are going to do. They return your phone calls and emails within a reasonable time frame. They realize that your time is valuable and when you need something it’s important to you. If they can’t follow up in a timely manner personally, they coordinate someone else following up for you on their behalf because you’re important to them.
Reps who do their homework, listen first, work to earn your trust, avoid false promises and consistently follow up with you in a timely manner are professional value providers. Order Takers are often unprepared, like listening to themselves talk and will say anything to get the sale.
Who would you rather do business with?