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Most distributors are offering customers products that they really don't want or need. Here are five things that matter less to customers than most salespeople think — and what to sell instead.
If you have a traditional view of field sales, you might think that a salesperson’s primary job is to build relationships. The theory goes like this: Whenever there's a problem, the customer's designated outside salesperson swoops in with a heroic solution, thus earning even more business from the grateful customer who is now loyal for life.
This view is outdated. Today's supply chains are much more reliable, reducing the need for these acts of heroism. Reliability today is merely table stakes for keeping customers. If you want to be a hero, provide flawless service — not drama.
2. Frequent visits
The traditional view of field sales also holds that just by being around, ready to write up an order at any time, salespeople are providing value. I hate to break it to you, but your order-readiness and box of donuts don’t make up for the frequently unwelcome interruption of recurring sales calls. These calls just disrupt your customers' busy schedules and usually don’t provide any real value.
Don't get me wrong. Being available is a good thing. But there's a difference between being available and being a nuisance. Instead of making regular in-person visits that are expensive for you and have no real purpose, reduce visit frequency and provide customers with what they need to contact you when they truly need you. When they do reach out, get back to them as quickly as possible.
If the role of salespeople isn't to sell themselves or be available, their job must be to sell products, right? Wrong again.
Unless you have exclusive access to a product that is substantially different from other products on the market, your products are not strategic differentiators. If you want to sell customers more products, don't focus on what lines or new offerings you want to sell. Instead, find out what problems they have and determine whether or not your existing products could help them solve them. If products aren't part of the solution, they shouldn't be part of your sales pitch.
4. Price-driven promotions
"Load up and buy now" programs and back-end rebates help the distributor by allowing them to sell products more quickly, but how do these programs add value for the customer? Bulk-buying programs lower customer inventory turns and increase carrying costs while tying up money that could be invested elsewhere. Back-end rebates are equally useless, doing little more for customers than holding back their margins.
At the end of the day, you can only offer so many product discounts and still be profitable. So, you must come up with other ways to create value, ideally by leveraging your greater resources and knowledge to provide customers with a service that is cheaper or better than they could do on their own.
5. Bling, trash and trinkets, entertainment, etc.
Customers may value things like dinners out or sports outings on a personal level, but these things alone aren't enough to secure their loyalty if their relationship with you isn't helping them to grow. A golf trip may be fun, but it won't result in higher product sales.
Instead of providing this sort of meaningless fluff, find a way to provide true value. The value you create will depend on your customers' unique problems and your own strengths and capabilities.
- If your customers need space to stage projects, for example, consider lending out some of your own space for their use.
- If your customer regularly encounters an unnecessary expense, find a way to eliminate it, and document those cost savings.
- If your customers struggle with marketing, hire an in-house marketing consultant and share that resource with your best customers to help them grow.
- If your customers occasionally need access to rental equipment, buy that equipment once and lend it out to multiple customers.
When you've created a compelling value proposition, have salespeople share that information during sales visits. Help your customers grow their businesses, and they'll buy more from you regardless of their personal relationship with your rep or the other meaningless discounts, promotions and spiffs you might provide.
Mike Marks is managing partner of Indian River Consulting Group and specializes in helping distributors and manufacturers accurately diagnose problems and identify risk-bound alternatives, so they can take their next steps confidently. Contact him at email@example.com or 321-956-8617, or visit ircg.com.