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Are Sales Reps Needed in Today's Economy?

Jonathan Hinshaw - Sunday, January 03, 2016

How will we do sales in this electronic age?

(Are sales reps even needed today?)

It seems like everywhere we go, products are on the internet, fill out a form, ships in two days.  Or, in the case of HVAC products, have it delivered the same day.  Heard recently of a company in the Midwest that had an arrangement with their distributor that allowed them to send over a list of parts used off of each truck, the next morning the parts were delivered in separate boxes labeled for each truck, just throw them on the trucks, good to go. 

In California, found a vending machine that dispensed typical truck stock items, used as card, logged in, got the parts needed charged to your truck, filled by a vendor after hours.

 

There are companies that do everything electronically, do not want their employees in parts houses, do not want a rep calling on them (no time to talk, give me your 3 ton price!). 

So what does this mean to the sales rep, faced with growing market share in this age of instant gratification, order-on-your-cell-phone type economy? 

First, more important than ever, is the relationship.  The reason a dealer doesn’t want to talk to a rep is because he knows what they are going to say.  Here is my 31” furnace, my 40 seer AC system, buy my stuff!  Special today, buy three, get fourth one free…

So don’t do that.  Ask your customers questions about their business, how they got started, what they see on the horizon.  In fact, one great conversation to have starts with this: where do you want to be in 5/10 years?  If they are a 30 year old, they may have not even considered that question.  Had an entrepreneurial seizure, decided to do business for themselves, just never had any business training.  They know how to bend metal, just no clue how to run a business.  If they are a 50 year old, ask them what their exit strategy is.  They don’t have one!  So here is where you come in. 

Ask them to have a cup of coffee with you one morning, away from the office.  Promise you will not even have your catalogues/price sheets/specials with you.  This meeting is all about them.  Ask how they got started in this biz.  What changes have they seen in the last 5 years.  May have to help them, but here are some things that have changed.  The internet, the customer can buy anything today on the web.  And they know your capacitor cost $15 dollars, the same capacitor you have priced out at $285 installed.  The internet makes it a lot easier to go shopping, in their local market. 

Second thing is how the customer views their home.  I lived in Phx from 1978 to 2005.  Back then the home was an ATM.  It rose in value 2-3% per month in some years!  Hard to find that sort of appreciation today.  In many cases, the home is worth less than what they paid for it.  So it is hard for the consumer to spend real money on something they don’t see.  Such as our stuff.  End result is more repairs, less replacements. 

Third big change is in the equipment.  Communicating systems are now everywhere, can be controlled from your smart phone, can log equipment failures, send a message to your company before the customer evens realized there was a problem.  The dealer today has to offer unique products and services to solve the customer’s problems, in many cases they don’t even realize there is a problem.  You have to help your dealer stay current with the needs of consumers today.  

So asking questions and listening is the secret to staying relevant in today’s economy.  After finding out what is important, then you have the right to offer solutions.  Not programs, not advertising, not even equipment.  Just solutions.  Solutions are more important and valuable than your programs, advertising package and equipment will ever be. 

So we are needed more than ever before, just in new ways.  A rep today has to become the trusted advisor, to support the dealer in his business.  JMHO, but I do travel over 100,000 miles per year, all over North America, and visit with hundreds of dealers each year…just sayin.        


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