Those of us who have spent our lives in sales, sometimes forget who really matters. As we pursue those elusive orders or solve problems, meet challenges, and soothe angry customers, it is easy for us to forget those who are really doing the work. The ones who are back at the shop, sweating it out so that all of us on the team can make a living.
While we’re at lunch complaining that the air conditioning in this restaurant is always set too cold, we should think about the folks working in the plating department where it is over 100 degrees on this pleasant July day. While we’re playing customer golf later, they’ll be plating hundreds of panels and sweating their you-no-what’s off all day for a pay that is a fraction of ours. Always being extremely careful because if they miss something there will be hell to pay and we as the customer interface will be there to make sure that hell is in fact, paid!
While we sit impatiently waiting for that buyer who is always late, we should think about those Quality inspectors visually checking hundreds of square inches of board surface for hours on end, atop metal stools in back-breaking positions, squinting through scopes making sure that the products you’re selling will be perfect. Always being extremely careful because if they miss something there will be hell to pay and we as the customer interface will be there to make sure that hell is in fact, paid!
Or when we’re stuck in traffic with nothing to do but turn up the radio and listen to the ball game for hours on end, furious about something we can do nothing about, remember those people in the drill department watching and monitoring as those drills pound out thousands even hundreds of thousands of holes making sure they are all perfectly round and in dimension and making sure they are all there, because if even one is missing, there will be hell to pay, and we as the customer interface will be there to make sure that hell is in fact, paid!
Or when you’re trying to relax at home around your pool in the late afternoon, you should remember those who have just come onto second shift, getting briefed to make sure they work on all of the right stuff for the next eight hours, before handing the work off to the graveyard shift that comes in at eleven, ready for the hand off to make sure that everything runs smoothly so that boards will be delivered on time and you won’t receive any grief when you meet with the customer the next day. Because if you do, there will be hell to pay and we as the customer interface will be there to make sure that hell is in fact, paid!
Or when you’re catching up with your Facebook friends late in the evening and a message comes up letting you know that your largest customer’s hot boards are going to be delivered at five tomorrow morning a few hours ahead of schedule. You should remember the people that made that happen. All those nameless, faceless, people who we never take the time to acknowledge, or even get to know, until something goes wrong. Because if it does, there will be hell to pay and we as the customer interface will be there to make sure that hell is in fact, paid!
Or when you’re calling your boss to complain that once again that quote to your customer, the one they sent in almost four hours ago, is almost a half hour late; telling him that you cannot possible succeed out here in the field if this is the kind of support you’re going to get from inside sales, regardless of how many complicated quotes they are trying to get done that day, for not only for other customers but the rest of the sales team’s customers as well. Remember the time you tried to do a quote to find out “just how hard this could be?” and gave up after fifteen minutes, because it was too boring and much too complicated. Remember that?
And then, when you’re booking that huge order, the one that is going to put you over the top. The one that is going to earn you that five-thousand-dollar bonus. Before, you decide to celebrate by singing “I Did It My Way” into your soap on a rope in front of your bathroom mirror, try to remember that no, you did not do it your way. That it took many people working in the shadows of the shop, in cold and in heat in all conditions both at home and at work to get that order. You were just the one privileged enough to be carrying the bag for your company. That company that has done everything they could to guarantee your success. The entire company won that order and that’s what you should be celebrating as you bask in the glory of victory. Because without those people back at the shop working tirelessly hour after hour, day after day, we in sales would have nothing to sell. Everything we do in sales is dependent on those people working so unglamorously back at the shop. Never ever forget that. It’s only common sense
For the past couple of years now I’ve noticed that it is much more difficult to get independent sales reps interested in selling for board shops. One of my offerings, one that is becoming my least favorite by the way, is trying to find reps for shops. My fee for this is getting higher every year because this task is getting more and more challenging.
Just a few years ago I could put together an entire national sales force of independent reps for a client in six to eight months, now I’m lucky to find two reps in that amount of time. Just a few weeks ago I sent out an offering to over three hundred reps for one of my clients and I did not get a single response, nary a won and this was for a great board shop.
One of my friends, who is a national sales manager for one of the country’s leading PCB companies was so discouraged after trying to find and work with the few reps that he did manage to sign that he told me after he had parted ways with the latest disappointing rep, “The next time I sign a rep will be one who has been calling me for three months begging to represent my company.”
I once worked with a company that wanted reps so badly they made them an offer they couldn’t refuse; ten percent commissions paid upon making the sale if you can imagine…they had no takers.
So obviously I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that maybe the rep/ PCB shop relationship is a thing of the past. Surely there are some exceptions, I personally know of some, but for the most part I’ll stick to this statement; and here are a few reasons why I think this is true. Here are some reasons why reps hate board shops:
- Board shops have a history of treating their reps very poorly. They often treat them as a necessary evil, like they are greedy middle men rather than independent sales professionals.
- They don’t often perform well in terms of Quality and Delivery causing their reps to spend more time apologizing rather than selling.
- They don’t pay their reps, for some reason a rep’s commissions are not treated as seriously as any other payable the shop has. This fact is so true that those shops who do have a successful relationship with their reps do so because they pay on time all the time. Some of them even pay early to guarantee loyalty which of course they get.
- They don’t communicate well with their reps; sometimes from the very beginning when they cannot even define to their reps what type of business they want and then are furious when the reps brings them opportunities they can’t build.
- They don’t communicate well at all. Reps are out there selling all day and they depend on their principals to keep them abreast of any information about their mutual customers. If the customer places an order the rep should be told about it. How many times have you heard, “well if he really knew what was going on he would know that the customer placed the order” Nope, not true. The rep probably knows about when the customer is going to place the order but not exactly when it is placed, so stop snickering about that.
- They don’t communicate well: In order to do his job right a rep needs the right documentation. She needs: copies of the quotes when they go out, copies of the P.O.’s when they are placed, regular status reports and then the invoice when the board is shipped. They especially need to know when a board is going to be late, or if it has a Quality problem.
- They don’t communicate well: Your rep need to be kept in the loop at all times. She needs to be part on contract negotiations during annual buys. He needs to be a part of the meetings when there are issues and problems. A good rep, one who is a true partner can be a critical asset during these times.
- In times of trouble the rep is the first to go. He will be told that the shop can no longer afford to pay his commissions and be profitable.
- The rep is the last person to get credit when credit is due. This usually happens when he brings in a very big account that continues to grow year after year to the point that after a few years much of the daily issues are being handled by inside people who start resenting the rep, saying things like, “why are we paying him? We’re doing all the work?” Always remember this. You did not have that account before you hired that reps, she came in and won that account. You would not have the account without the rep. Is that clear? Why is that so hard to understand?
And finally the last but certainly the most important reason that reps hate board shops is… the board shops screw them when they get too successful! I have heard this story over and over again. The rep finds a huge account and great opportunity for both him and the principal. It is worth millions of dollars to the principal and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the rep. This is going to be a big win for all. And then the rep gets canned, right out of the blue because the company just cannot justify paying him or anyone that amount of money. “Why it makes no sense,” the company president says, “You could make more than I make for crying out loud!” And so the rep is out. All his hopes and dreams are shattered. Oh he can sue them of course, but we all know that this is a long drawn out not to mention expensive process and a gamble, one he can ill afford to take. So he walks away. He gets nothing but a bad taste in his mouth for board shops. And the company well the lets the dust settle and then goes out to find a good rep, all the while complaining that it’s almost impossible to find one.
Look it’s very simple, treat your reps like partners, communicate with them, and yes pay them and you will have a great relationship. But treat them the way you have been treating them and you will get what you’ve always got which I would have to say is what you deserve. It’s only common sense.
There is an old axiom that goes behind every messed-up company is a messed-up leader, the real version is somewhat more graphic, but this is a g-rated rated publication and I respect that, heck you never know when a six your old might want to read this column. Anyway, any version you use of this saying it’s true. So many times, over the years I have dealt with owners who called me in to help them with the problems they were having with their teams, only to have to hear from me that they are in fact, the problem with their organization.
I have seen all types of leaders and I am happy to say that many of them are very good and in the end they lead their companies to a successful future. Others though, not so much.
I have worked with company owners who:
- Like to have the new plan of the month. They do not realize that a plan is only as good as its’ implementation. They hate the boring meat and potatoes implementation part, get bored and after a few weeks claim that the plan is not working and its time for a new one. I remember one guy who literally had a plan a month. I would visit him monthly, leave with a sold plan, work on it, and begin implementation, only to have him tell me to throw it and he had a new idea, the minute I walked into his building the next month.
- Then there was the guy who I had to argue with month after month because he did not believe that delivering product on time was important. He told me that he had not heard any complaints from his customers, so he did not understand what the problem was. Even after he lost all thirty-three new customers that a new sales team he had hired brought in. He lost all of them for poor performance and then blamed the new sales team for being ineffective.
- And, just one more because I am making myself sick and probably you as well. This guy, and you’ve heard about this guy before (he’s an avatar for all the owners who have this problem) would not spend on penny on sales or marketing, not one red cent. Always told me that he did not have the budget for it. Usually he would tell me this as we were walking into his shop to see the new laser drill or LDI he had just bought. But no, there was never any money for a sales effort of any kind…and of course the reason I was there talking to him was that he did not have enough customers and orders coming in!
Okay enough of that, let’s get on to some good stuff, like what the characteristics of a great business leader are. This is from a book a new book by Susan Solovic that is coming out in March called The One Percent Edge It’s a pretty good little book, I’d recommend it highly. It would make a great birthday present for your boss. So, from the book, here are the qualities of a good business leader:
- Demonstrates a consistent attitude and actions
- Follows through on commitments
- Is loyal to others
- Is readily available
- Gives praise
- Accepts responsibility for business decisions
- Delegates well
- Knows the difference between the important issues and small details
- Is a good listener
- Treats people fairly and honestly
- Is an idea/vision person
- Is willing to go to turn to people for advice
- Isn’t afraid to get advice from others
- Enjoys new projects
- Possesses a high EQ (emotional quotient
And now I here am a few more from my experiences: A good leader:
- Is fair to everyone and doesn’t play one against the other
- Is happy when someone under him does well
- Encourages everyone under her to do well
- Gives credit where credit is due
- Does not succumb to flattery
- Stands on the highest moral ground of anyone in the company
- Walks the talk
- Is self-deprecating (yes please, man we sorely need that with all our leaders in this country right now)
- Is the number one customer service person in the company
- Is a role model for everyone in the company
- Is an overall good person
- Is deeply involved in the company but does not micro-manage
- Does not waste her peoples’ time wanting reports that are not needed for the company’s success
- Not only embraces change but is himself a game-changer
There is no doubt that if a person possesses all of these characteristics she will not only be a good leader, she will be a great leader and people will love following her lead. It’s only common sense.
Book Recommendation: Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants
A book recommendation from Dan Beaulieu:
Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants
By Paul Cherry
Copyright 2018 Amacon
Price $ 17.95
Pages: 227 and Index
The one book to read and study if you truly want to know who your customer is.
This is a great book to help sales people learn how to win over their customers and an even better book for helping companies particularly their inside sales people on how to turn their customers into customers for life.
Creating a customer-focused company is all about knowing everything possible about your customers and the best way to find out everything about your customers is to ask them.
Author Paul Cherry who is President and CEO of one of the country’s foremost sales and leadership training organization shows his complete mastery the art of the question in this book. He focused not only on the right questions to ask in the appropriate situations but also how to ask those questions, the right time, the right place and even the right pace of questioning. He makes us realized that questioning is an art, a craft that must be studied and perfected.
Have you ever been in any of these situations?
- You’re talking to a prospect and you need to stop talking and get her talking. How do you do that?
- You’re in deep trouble with a customer. Your company has really screwed up this time and that customer is really mad. How do you handle that situation with questions that will not only start getting to the heart of the matter and solving the problem but also calm the customer down as well?
- Or you have to tell you customer that if that if they don’t start paying you will have to cut them off, or other touchy messages that we in sales get to deliver?
- Or having to find out if you are going to get that big order that they are awarding next month, but you need to know now because it is so vital to your company?
- Or you know that the buyer is stalling you for some reason but you don’t know why, and its your job to find out why?
Besides demonstrating to the reader how to handle these situations and many more, the author also provides lists of actual questions designed to help you develop your on line of questioning for all of these situations and many more. In fact, just about every situation you can come up against.
Basically, everything you need know about asking questions that not only help you sell but more importantly develop a long-lasting and productive relationship with your customers is in this book.
I would urge anyone interested in their customers and knowing everything about them should read this book. If you truly want to know who’s your customers, this is the one book you should make sure to buy and read.
Who are you and what are you doing here?
If you want to stand out as a rep company, you have to get your name out there. And that means getting involved in some good old marketing and branding. The good news, is that there are practically no rep companies paying any attention to marketing their companies, this means that the company that invests some time and a maybe a little money will be sure to stand out. And the even better news is that it’s not that hard to do.
Finding your company’s brand and then marketing that brand is one of the best things you can do to make your company stand out. But there is also another added feature to marketing your company is that the very first step of any marketing plan is deciding who you are, what you are going to do and who you are going to do it for. What niche are you going to fill? And why are you going to do it better than anyone else. The process of the self-examination it takes to answer these questions will make you a better company from the get go.
Here then, are seven steps to effectively building and implementing a successful marketing plan for your rep company.
- Whats in a name? Deciding what the name of your company is going to be is critical. You can go the easy route and just name it after yourself. Or, you can get a little creative and come up with a name that will not only mean something but be memorable as well. The name should mean something and represent not only who you are but what you do and the way you do it. Something like “Sales Sparks” will give the impression of a really hot and aggressive firm. While something like “Critical sales” will denote something a bit more serious and important. The important thing is to come up with a name that fits your company’s brand and conveys the image you want to get across.
- Getting your name out there. Once you have the name you must to come up with ways to get your name out to the marketplace, a way to make sure that you get noticed, a way that will lift your firm above all of the others. Come up with a plan to get your name out there.
- Traditional marketing is the first step to getting your name into the marketplace. This does not have to be expensive. Press releases for example are free and a great way to get exposure, write press releases for just about anything significant that you do from signing with a new principal to hiring a new sales person. Makes sure your press releases are professional in both appearance and content and make sure that they always carry your company’s message, your five-minute elevator talk if you will. Collect a list of all the publications pertinent to your market and send all of them each of your press release. Advertising is also good but expensive so spend your ad dollars very carefully. Make sure you are in the right trades, the ones with the right audience for your business. And make sure your ads carry your message.
- Content marketing is another important way to get your name and your message out there. Write all the time. Getting your writing published is the best way to get amplify your message. Writing a regular sales column in one of the trade magazines will get you well-known very quickly and will also establish you as an industry expert and leader. Articles on sales and marketing are also a wonderful way to establish your professional presence as an industry leading rep firm.
- Social media is here to stay so you might as well accept it and jump in with both feet. Whether you like it or not social media is here to stay. Please don’t say you don’t believe in social media it makes you sound old and out of touch. Instead get on it. If you are in fact old get your kids or your grand kids to show you how to do it. LinkedIn is great, Twitter is fun and easy and blogging is really just a shorter social media column. One of the good things about content marketing and social media is that you can “repurpose” everything you write. Shorten that column and make it a blog. Post in on LinkedIn and tweet about it on twitter you get a great deal of bang for the buck.
- Networking is important as well. Your goal should be to become the most famous sales representative in the best-known rep firm in your territory if not the country. Talk to everyone. Help as many people out as possible. Be the “go to” person when it comes to helping people out. Be as helpful as possible and people will start turning to you for help and advice. And most of the time they will return the favor.
- Speak up. Become the spokesperson of your industry. Take every opportunity you can to speak up. Join the right groups on Linkedin or start your own group or do both, Get involved in as many panel discussions as possible. Give talks, give webinars, present papers, these are all great ways to become the most famous rep in your business not to mention the fact that you will also become the best informed just by virtue of putting these talks and presentations together.
And one more, always under promise and over deliver, be a joiner, participate in as many business- related organizations as possible; Chamber of commerce, ERA, IPC, SMTA and any other organization that will help your business. Then when you have joined these organizations take on leadership roles when they are available. Remember the better you are known in your own market the better known your firm will be and the more successful it will be. All of these things tie together to create a great brand image for your firm and that’s what it’s all about. It’s only common sense.
It’s all customer service… all of it!
Whatever you do, everything you do in a company is all a version of customer service.
Just like everyone in your company is a sales person, everyone in your company is a customer service representative. From the owner to the person in shipping to the person in plating its all about customer service.
Every one of your actions and interactions represent your company’s customer service interactions. So be very careful and very intentional in everything that you do.
When anybody calls you company and I live person answers, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When you send out a quote on time, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When your sales person is on time for an appointment, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When your product is packaged perfectly and has all of the correct documentation, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When a visitor goes to your rest room and it is sparkling clean, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When you handle a difficult quality issue, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When your product is delivered on time, all the time, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When your sales person’s car is spotlessly clean, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When your receptionist greets a customer with a smile, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When you have a smile on your face when you’re talking on the phone, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When all of your wall charts are up to date, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
When your daily calendar is turned to the right page, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.
And everyone is in customer service.
Finding them is one thing. Keeping them is another. Here’s how.
Look we all know that this is one of our industry’s greatest challenges. For a number of reasons not the least being that many board shops have screwed many reps over the years, it is getting more and more difficult to get good reps to represent us.
I know that of all the services I provide finding good reps is the most challenging. The problem is that many of them just don’t trust us anymore. Some of them have completely given up on the printed circuit board fabricator as a viable principal. They tell me that it is difficult to get and keep customers for a PCB shop when the performance is less than 85% on time; or if they are successful, they can become “too” successful to the point where the board shop cuts them off because their commissions get too large.
Now to be fair, this week I am going to talk about things from the reps’ point of view and next week I will approach the subject from the board shops’ perspective.
With this in mind here are seven secrets to finding and keeping some great reps:
- As always make sure that you are performing, this applies no matter how your sales force is made up. If you don’t perform you are not going to grow your business whether you have direct or independent sales reps. In this highly competitive environment performance is king and value is prince if you don’t provide these to your customers your are doomed.
- Make the rep an offer he can’t refuse. By this I mean tear up your traditional contract. Who said that we have to keep using the same old boiler plate contract over and over again? Man that thing is over fifty years old; the world has changed so should we. Who said that commissions had to be from three to five to seven to ten percent? Who said that commissions had to be paid only when you get paid? Who said that thirty day cancellation is cast in stone? Who said that? Think out of the box. If you are going after a rep who you feel is so good that she can really boost your company’s sales then figure out what will be a great deal for the both of you. Offer her a percentage of the profit on the part number, offer him a longer term arrangement do whatever it takes and of course what makes sense financially to get that rep signed up.
- Make that rep your partner, no I mean your real partner. Bring him into your business family; treat him just like one of your direct people in terms of regular communications. Listen carefully to what they he says. You are paying this person to be your hired expert with his customer base. You are hiring this person to bring you the customers that he knows. Be good enough for him to do that. Follow his instructions when it comes to how to win those customers’ business.
- Pay her on time. Nothing more just pay the rep when you are supposed to pay them rep and make sure that you include a comprehensive commission statement. If you don’t pay your reps they will not perform, get it? Don’t even think about not paying your reps if you want them to work for you. Not paying them on time breaks the contract and disqualifies you as a valid principal.
- Include the reps in your marketing, you have a comprehensive marketing plan right? You are marketing your company with advertising, social media, newsletters, trade shows etc. right? Well make sure that you include your rep in all of that marketing. Think of your rep as a franchisee of your company; the reason people invest in a Subway restaurant or a Midas Muffler shop is so they can take advantage of their huge marketing budgets; make sure you provide your reps with the same marketing and branding advantages. And oh yes don’t be afraid to provide them with the qualified leads that come out of your great marketing efforts.
- Welcome them to your facility. Bring them into your company, insist that they visit before you sign them and then make sure that you provide them with the opportunity to come out to your plant whenever possible. Have a sales meeting once a year and make sure that the reps are there to take part in your strategy meetings, that they have a say in the direction of the company including service, technology and Quality.
- And finally trust them. If you don’t trust a rep enough to share company information with him then you are wasting your time. The partnership will go nowhere. If you don’t feel that the rep is trustworthy they he is not the right rep. You have to be open and honest with your reps, you have to share as much information as possible to that they will be successful selling your company and hence your products.
And finally, yes there is one more, I always deliver more than I promise:
Have regularly scheduled meetings with them where you discuss in detail their territory plans. This is critical. Please don’t tell me that you talk to them all the time, it’s not true; you are fooling yourself. Instead have a regular twice a month meeting with each of your reps to track the progress of their sales effort. Communication is the backbone of the rep/principal partnership and if you want to have a great relationship with your reps you have to talk to them…its only common sense