As a strong advocate for Customer Relationship Manager’s (CRM), I believe that every company needs a way to communicate instantaneously with everyone that influences a customer’s account. CRM’s do that job well by enhancing voice mail systems, email marketing, website videos, social networking and product blasts. CRM’s improve the communication and effectiveness of salespeople and support staff.
But in one extremely important area, they fail. They fall flat when it comes to changing people’s habits.
High tech customer service and sales systems are great for easy ordering. They have eliminated the old sales milk route technique of dropping by every Tuesday to pick up orders. CRM’s have taken the order book out of the hands of field sales people and automated re-orders.
Unfortunately, our salespeople get stuck in the minutia of CRM technology and, supported by management, they look very busy on the computer: writing reports, creating spreadsheets, filling out sales notes, building phone logs, and emailing data sheets, everything but actually selling.
But when emails go unanswered, the voice mail is full, and your texts are ignored, how do you get a new idea or product in front of the prospect?
30 years ago, during my first week as an inside customer service person, I got a call. I picked up the phone and in my well trained, barely experienced, pretend sales voice, said “Hello, this is Rick. How may I help you?”
All I heard was a gruff voice that said, “This is Joe, same as before.” Click. I was a surprised and of course, dumbfounded. Here I was, all ready to prove my cool sales training and some goofball calls up and says, “This is Joe, same as before,” then hangs up? How was I going to up-sell this guy anything?
It turned out that Joe was the epitome of the harried plant manager. He never had time to put in orders or talk. When he ran out of products, he just called his existing vendors and said, “Same as before.” The savvy vendors just refilled his last order and sent him a bill. Joe had figured out how to make orders simple and easy.
Customers still want the same thing they did 30 years ago. They want easy ordering, quick follow up and reliable service.
When a problem arises, they want immediate responses, and thorough follow through. High technology has given customers the upper hand over old school sales systems by providing all these needs in simple web based systems. Your phone lets you order, check shipment, resolve issues and get refunds automatically. It gives you product and supplier reviews along with assembly videos.
The systems in place have replaced the main duties of salespeople and made many of their efforts redundant. Where do salespeople fit in this new mix of automatic service? Why should we bother to fund a physical outside sales crew and what could they possibly add to our company’s growth?
The New Sales Role.
All of this technology has one major flaw. It rewards repeated orders but ignores new growth and change. The outside sales reps new job is to be that agent of change.
The outside rep that is still physically calling on companies is in the best position to introduce new ideas, demonstrate products, and create change in product purchases. The relationships Reps create build the trust that makes change less fearful for the customer and creates a level of expertise for the Rep as a company consultant and market expert. Good outside reps act as filters and interpreters of the overwhelming online barrage of choices the customer faces. This trusted consultant role gives them the ability to introduce new products and better methods for their customers while they act as agents of change for their companies and the industry.
Fulfilling the new role as a Change Agent takes a modification of the techniques and patterns we have established over the years. Our goal is now to plant seeds and create new thinking within our customers’ minds. We will be required to act as trusted advisors on market trends, consumer habits and product advancements. Instead of the old “Show and Tell” style of product selling, we have to focus on questions about the customers program, products and clients. To be an advisor instead of sales person requires a much longer view on not just the product we sell, but on how it fits into their production, marketing and consumer acceptance.
Old School Techniques for current times
It takes a blend of new and old sales techniques to make prospects and customers change their buying patterns. As we have adopted CRM programs, voice mail, YouTube video instruction and online ordering, we have dispensed with field sales people,in-house support staff and customer service reps. As we have lost these people, we have lost our power to change buying habits. Blending the two systems of sales creates the opportunities we lost.
The huge disadvantage of our sole focus on technology is the loss of company personality and customer loyalty. When everyone can sell online the same way you do, there is no need for the customer to stay with you. Think back to your last Amazon purchase. As long as the supplier got 4 stars, shipped it free and was backed by Amazon, you really didn’t care who they were. Did you even remember the supplier of your last Amazon purchase?
Our task as companies is to rebuild our reputation and loyalty with our customer base, so that they never need or want to look at other sources. We want to combine online ease with inside support and outside action. The Old School, low tech, one-on-one, physical sales call tied to excellent inside support staff creates the trusted advisor role we crave, while the online ordering and technical data abilities lock in the repeat sale.
Cold Calls still work
You’ve probably heard that cold call selling is dead, but in reality it has just changed. With all the information about companies, people and products online, cold calling is much easier than before. We can research who the buyers are, find out their personal interests and community involvement, look at prospects catalogs, research our competitors deficiencies, and check their credit history, all from our phone. We can check who they know that we are already Linked In with, and even ask customers for a referral. Cold Calling has evolved into a system of texts, emails, referrals and calls that helps us qualify the prospect before bothering them with a call. That research is essential to using our time only talking to the best possible prospects. This research is one of the new techniques for Old School salespeople and it is most effective when handled by our Inside Support Staff.
The New Role of Inside Support Staff
As part of the sales team, Inside Support people are the new keys to making outside people more effective. Inside Support people used to only handle incoming calls from customers, take orders, answer technical issues or check ship dates.
The new role of inside support is to support the outside reps with prospecting, lead qualification, market research, and field appointments. Inside support now has to focus outside efforts and create opportunities for the outside sales staff, making their time in the field more efficient and valuable. By defining prospects potential and warming up cold leads, inside support staff can target outside sales people towards the best opportunities for new business.
Outside Sales act as Change Agents
About two months ago, I used this better research to target one new distributor of woodworking machinery as a potential new account, but my efforts at phone calls, emails and texts went unanswered, so I dropped back to Old School sales techniques and dropped by the plant. My travels brought me there exactly at noon. No one was at the front desk, and no one in the hallways. As I poked my head into the building, I was met with a “Can I help you?” Turns out that everyone was at lunch, (as I had hoped) and the person I met was the top VP in charge of my looking at my products. We had a very nice meeting and are quoting a large private label container program.
This all happens because inside support is creating qualified targeted leads for new business, so that outside sales people can drop a lot of their prospecting efforts and focus on building relationships with current customers and creating opportunities with the new leads. The key is for the outside team to hand over the repeat ordering to online or inside people and focus all their calls on relationship building and new product concepts.
Never Take Orders.
The most efficient and successful outside sales reps never take orders. Their customers place orders online or with support staff, so that the outside reps are free to discuss the customer’s issues, needs and thoughts. They build trust as advisors and specialists in their field becoming the customer’s strongest ally. They interpret and refine the huge amount of data swamping their customers and help them focus on the best application or product. They worry about sales in the long term, not just today and create in-depth relationships throughout the whole company not just purchasing. Blending new audio entry, phone based CRMs keeps the outside sales team moving to new business, while sharing information immediately with the inside support staff. Phone based CRMs reduce paperwork and open up more time for selling.
No More Milk Runs
Outside reps also need to change their schedules to reflect the new buying culture of immediacy. The past method of “just stopping by” or only calling on a certain territory on a certain day is gone. The most successful method is to follow up the targeted lead, build it into a new account and then hand over the ordering and paperwork to the CRM and inside customer support. This frees outside reps to move on to the next customer need. Responding to the customer’s needs immediately forces more travel from point to point instead of the old way of geographic centered milk runs. This doesn’t mean that outside reps should abandon sales travel planning, instead it demands that we plan calls on a more in-depth, relationship level. Each week our focus should be on which prospect is closest to changing to our products and what we will need to do to make that change real. These hot prospects become our anchor calls in each region of our territory. As reps set up those calls, they add sales calls in the other prospects and the 2nd level influencers for each region.
2ND Level Influencers
In every market, there are second and third level contacts that affect our business. These contacts do not use our products, but influence our products every day.
For example; in the kitchen cabinet industry, architects and interior designers specify what products are used by the cabinet maker. By using inside support to qualify the key movers and shakers in the 2nd level, and by working in smaller territories, the outside sales team has the time to call on these influencers and create change from all levels of the cabinet industry.
To make Anchor and 2nd level calls effective, smaller territories are essential.
The original thinking behind online ordering and CRM’s was that the software would take the place of salespeople and allow the company to have less people on the street, while increasing territories for those that were left. This backfired in to a reduction of customer orders and less customer loyalty.
When customers are overwhelmed by the choices online and they need an advisor, they want that person now, not next week. This demand forces more travel from outside people and as a result requires the company to tighten the territory.
If we want our outside sales teams to build customer rapport, create in-depth relationships and follow up on new leads, we need to give them more time in front of the customer, not stretch them thin. Smaller territories increase response time and create one-on-one relationships we can use to build our business and act as change agents for the customers. This is especially true of distribution or multi-line product sales.
Build by Relationships
Our job as Change Agents is build relationships with the company as a whole, not just a department.
Sales reps used to call on the purchasing (and if they were good reps), the engineering departments of manufacturers. These key contacts rarely left their jobs and relationships were easily established. Now, the market has changed and people can work from home, create their own businesses, and switch jobs easily.
Case in Point: Our rep group has been selling contact cement to a store fixture manufacturer for a several years. Every two years, we spend a long lunch hour doing a training session for the factory personnel that use the contact cement. This refresher course has reduced the manufacturer’s recalls and keeps his people up-to-date on the techniques of large volume gluing with contact cement. But, there is a huge side benefit to providing lunch and building a reputation as experts in adhesive for us too. Employee turnover is a common problem for all manufacturers in the wood industry. As these past employees move to other shops or set up their own businesses, they call us for adhesives.
All of these Lunch and Learns take time to set up, bring lunch, haul equipment, and answer questions. The goal is to train not to sell, so the attitude of the rep is one of helping, not pushing product.
Build by Market Volume.
Smaller territories also mean better market awareness and growth. Outside reps can focus on the whole market with every customer of every size, instead of just calling on the large accounts that are at the lowest margin, they can build sales at smaller volume, higher margin accounts. These smaller accounts create a stable base of business with less fluctuation.
Build by Geography
Outside reps that are stretched too thin spend most of their time driving from fire to fire, hoping to save business on the verge of collapse. The immense territories they cover keep them from learning about customers problems and seeing the smoke before it becomes a fire. Credit issues, shipping problems, and application mistakes are all pushed aside as they must leave to go put out the next blaze.
By reducing territory sizes, the rep learns about all phases of the customer’s needs, hears about issues from others contacts in the company and can quickly respond if they see smoke.
A tighter geography also allows the rep time to look at niches outside the normal customer base for accounts that can use our products, but wouldn’t easily be found by the competition. These niche players are usually sold at a higher margin with less competitive pressure and make a great base for new product uses, ideas and expansion.
Lastly, a smaller territory forces the rep to call on the smaller towns and outlying areas that may hold potential but were ignored as they drove to the next major market. Managers and reps have time to look at the territory, see that they are weak in certain towns and focus prospecting efforts to qualify those markets.
CRMs are essential to every business and so easy to use that we often rely on them for every aspect of selling. They do several things very well. CRMs eliminate order road blocks; create searchable databases of customers, competition, territories and products. They coordinate sales efforts between inside and outside sales teams and give everyone in the company immediate access when needed. But they fail at changing customer behavior and buying patterns.
When combined with an excellent CRM and inside support, trusted outside sales people are the best agents for changing customers buying habits and introducing new products to the market. The territories and techniques of both inside and outside sales people must adapt to the new way our customers and prospects purchase, but by switching prospecting to inside sales and using an advisor role for outside sales, we can cut through the swamp of unanswered voice mails, e mails and texts to get the sale.