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Improving Electrical Sales CallsBy David Gordon

There are really only two ways to increase sales: sell to new customers or sell more products to existing customers. Both require that distributor sales management and salespeople more effectively evaluate their customers, and identify new opportunities and manufacturers’ salespeople (direct and reps).

Marketplace competitiveness requires a back-to-basics sales approach that differentiates you, especially in light of the movement to more e-communications/e-commerce. No longer will “let’s see what today or this week brings” succeed. Planning and applying basic selling skills are the order of the day, so ask yourself these eight questions:
•    Why am I calling on this account?
•    What products is he/she not buying from me?
•    How can I find out what application problems they are experiencing?
•    Are there safety, code, labour saving or energy products I can sell them?
•    How can I bring value to new customers?
•    What resources do I and my company have to effectively cultivate new orders?
•    What types of projects/companies does my customer (contractor) work with?
•    What are my customer’s and his customers’ issues? Or for industrial or institutional accounts, what are their business initiatives and how can I help?

The question becomes, are you and perhaps more importantly your salespeople thinking this way?

One way to effectively increase sales is through joint sales calls. A time-tested strategy that requires some trust among channel partners but can be improved by planning. And it converts your salespeople from customer service resources (or order takers) to demand generators, hence increasing their value to the customer.

Yes, we know the horror stories and the issue of “Do I trust the rep?” But can you afford not to conduct joint sales calls with your key suppliers? What happens if “your” customer hears of a product from someone else (e.g., the Internet, direct from the manufacturer, a competitor)? What happens when the niche products that they need are presented by someone else? Or consider how many times your customer wants to hear, “Do you have an order for me?”

Effectively planned joint sales calls with objectives can be a very productive tool. The problem has always been setting expectations, pre-planning and follow-up. Here is where the sales or the marketing manager comes into play.

First, conduct a review of targeted accounts to determine, by generic or manufacturer product group, what each customer purchases. This product mix report is your key to selling something “new” (either a product category or a specific item) to existing customers. With this in hand, an examination of the data will reveal opportunities. Inviting the manufacturer’s sales rep for the product line to review the opportunities will further prune the list so there are no conflicts if the manufacturer is already getting the business (while also revealing interesting competitive insights to you).

Second, determine which products, new or existing, should be presented to each targeted customer. Products that support application solutions and are profitable are the best picks.

Third, motivation is key. To maximize effectiveness, consider an incentive for the distributor salesperson that rewards for activity (number of calls) and effectiveness (sales achievements). Joint calls require a lot of work. For the distributor’s and manufacturer’s salespeople, a reward is extremely important for success. Ideas that we’ve seen work include:
•    spiffs
•    promotions/contests, which may include non-cash rewards and gift certificates
•    double or triple commission on specific products for a defined time period
•    tickets to a special event (sport or concert)
•    having the president/sales manager wash both salespeople’s car

Another key element is motivating the customer. While visibility is good, sales are better. To encourage customers, consider answering their WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Non-pricing strategies can help preserve long-term profitability. But remember, not every customer needs the presented product today. Extend customer purchasing benefits for 30-60 days. Experience has shown that you need to plant seeds for sales to grow.

And while the distributor benefits from increased sales as well as many intangible benefits, capturing the business frequently requires having sufficient inventory to support the desired (expected?) demand. Manufacturers: make it appealing for distributors to have more inventory at the point of influence (in the branch/CDC). Consider extended dating, sales guarantees with no-restocking fee for 6 months, competitive stock buy-backs if necessary, SPAs, and more. Distributors: ensure you have the appropriate marketing collateral from the manufacturer. Typically, joint sales calls don’t happen in a vacuum. They are part of a concerted effort to grow specific product areas. An integrated sales and marketing approach is important as both reinforce the message.

And consider joint calls to engineers. They want to see product and are the influencers of what gets speced/purchased. Being their friend can generate significant sales as they frequently have purchasing authority.

Joint calls can be effective when planned, increase business, and add value to your customer relationships. With every distributor and customer seeking an edge, joint sales calls ensure that your customer hears from you and your manufacturer.

David Gordon is Principal of Channel Marketing Group, Raleigh, NC 27614; Tel: 919.488.8635919.488.8635; www.channelmkt.com.