How to Sell More When Others Are Selling Less

Edition: March 2003 - Vol 11 Number 03
Article#: 1476
Author: John R. Graham

Selling is never easy. When the economy is zooming, writing orders, getting contracts and signing new accounts may be easier. But it’s never easy. Hot, new products and services help. And having the solution to a pressing problem gives a salesperson an advantage.

An unpredictable and uncertain economic environment only makes selling more difficult.

If the hurdles out in the field aren’t enough to deal with, every company is demanding more from salespeople – higher quotas, larger territories and handling more accounts. The hot question asked among salespeople whenever they get together is, “How do they expect us to do more with all this going on?”

This is the world salespeople find themselves in today. And the road ahead may be even more treacherous. Here are some of the roadblocks salespeople currently face:

· Changes in territories

· More in-auto driving time

· Added non-sales responsibilities

· Internet competition

· Increased quoting

· Greater customer demands

· Internal company changes

· Merger and/or acquisition

· Decreased sales support

· Product problems

· Shipment delays

· Order snafus

· Problematic customer service

· Back orders

· Competitor-driven rumors

· Curtailed T&E budgets

· Reduced marketing support

· (And on top of it all) price increases.

The list is formidable, and most every salesperson is faced with some or even all of these issues. What’s more, salespeople aren’t just being asked to hold their own – they’re expected to grow their sales.

Is it Possible To Do More?

Whether we like it or not, the answer is yes. But to do so means looking at the sales job differently. Business writer Price Prichett once stated, “In the coming era, jobs are not something you have, but tasks you perform.” As we’re all discovering, “the coming era” is here. Unfortunately, many salespeople have difficulty performing the tasks that are essential to achieving more.

Here are 10 tasks to help you pave the way to greater sales success.

• Plan your month, week, day. Although it sounds ridiculously simple and basic, it isn’t. A recent USA Today survey shows that only 1 percent of employees plan their day and only 35 percent plan their month. Another survey shows that only 25 percent of salespeople meet their annual sales quotas. What good is a quota if there’s no daily, weekly or monthly plan to get you there? If you don’t have a personal plan, you can’t produce results.

• Do paperwork daily. Whatever method you choose to use – a file folder, laptop or a PDA – understand that the mode is less important than the act of doing paperwork. Notes and records should be kept every day.

If you travel for business, you’ve watched salespeople on a Thursday evening flight spending their time trying to retrace their steps during the past week. How can their records be accurate and complete?

Planning and record keeping needs to occur when the information is fresh. Those who follow this protocol never have to say, “I can’t remember,” when asked a question.

• Prospect consistently. Salespeople have a handful of people they’re trying to gain as customers. But few have 50 to 150 carefully selected (profitable) prospects they’d like to do business with if they had the opportunity. Few salespeople manage this prospect group with the same attention they give to taking care of their customers.

• Contact customers constantly. When it comes to weekly sales reports, many salespeople can’t figure out the value of the “paperwork.” In many instances, they have every right to be skeptical. Since no one reads the reports, the salespeople fail to get the necessary feedback.

But there’s another way to look at the weekly sales report. It may help you make sure you’re staying in touch with your customers. Technology makes it easy for salespeople to distribute their own weekly bulletin, product update or market intelligence report, in addition to making telephone contact and personal calls.

• Limit time spent with “favorite” customers. It’s difficult to escape the temptation to call on “favorite customers.” After a few tough meetings and a series of problems, dropping in on the satisfied customer can be reassuring. It takes the pressure off and it’s great to feel appreciated.

But more often than not, valuable time is wasted calling on these customers. When time is at a premium, do they deserve the attention they’re getting?

• Prepare meeting agendas. The first few meetings with customers are usually planned carefully. The agenda is sent in advance and the support information is ready. As time goes by, however, meetings tend to become less structured, almost conveying the message that the salesperson is shooting from the hip. Clients get the feeling that the relationship is being taken for granted and the meetings are less productive. This is when the salesperson begins saying, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Or, “Let me go back and check my notes.”

• Work by appointment. Today, it’s as much about time as it is about money. In some cases, saving time may be more important to a customer. And it should be important to every salesperson, too. One of the most effective ways to be efficient with the use of your time is to work “by appointment only.” Of course there are emergencies and unexpected meetings that will interrupt your schedule. Fit them in. But don’t let the exceptions run your day.

The goal is to get more done in less time, not to fill the day with activities that may not be productive. Working by appointment also allows the salesperson to allocate more time, if necessary, for highly profitable customers.

• Evaluate every activity. Get tough with your self. If a trade show is no longer productive or fails to attract the right customers, build a case for getting out. In the same way, if you find an event or show that fits your business model, advocate for becoming part of it.

Being focused means being rigorous about the way a salesperson uses every minute of the day. The same applies to sales meetings. Offer to help set the agenda. Try to make everything worthwhile.

• Anticipate objections. It’s surprising how few salespeople actually anticipate objections or fail to recognize customer questions as expressions of significant buying interest.

If price appears to be an issue, don’t wait for the customer to raise it. Try this approach:

Salesperson: “You’re concerned about cost, aren’t you?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Salesperson: “I can understand that. So, let’s start there. If I can show you how buying from our company will actually lower your costs, can we have your business?”

If the answer is “no,” get going and come back at a later date.

Some sales managers try to get salespeople to be better listeners. But what should they be expecting to hear? The task is figuring out what’s going on inside the customer’s head.

• Be ready. Too often salespeople rely on their way with words rather than thorough preparation. This is very much the situation when it comes to customer meetings. Many salespeople present boilerplate proposals. Details are missing. Notes are scribbled on the backs of envelopes. While the customer expects answers, the salesperson explains that this is a “fact-finding” session. It all adds up to one word: unprepared.

Customers perceive this as either a sign that the salesperson hasn’t done his or her homework or that he’s simply trying to finesse his way through meetings.

Learning these 10 tasks isn’t easy. Many of them fly in the face of what experienced salespeople have been doing for years. And mastering them can be tedious for those who are new to sales.

At the same time, the pressure to perform is on everyone, but it’s particularly noticeable to those in sales.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He is the author of four books on marketing and sales, including Break the Rules Selling, which was published in October 2002. Mr. Graham writes for a variety of publications and speaks on business, marketing and sales topics for company and association meetings. For more information, log on to