Putting The Right Things First
Had an interesting discussion with a sales rep, Jim (we’ll call him), at a workshop the other day, discussing whether things were going to get easier for sales people as the economy starts to come back. This was a rep who has been selling in his sector for some time, he has been with his current company for 12 years, and in that time has missed goal only once, and even then only by a bit. He sells a product that is critical for his buyers, but due to the number of players in the game, the acceleration in price wars over the last 18 months, the choice of seller has become discretionary. I give you the background to help you understand that his observations are coming from a position of success, not the usual chorus.
His feeling is that as the economy improves, things will get harder for many in sales. Despite the cautious optimism about the economy, and among sales people and sales organizations, many individual reps will not immediately, if ever, benefit from economic growth; organizations will see growth coming from only a few reps, specifically the same reps who were generating revenues during the downturn.
Jim was telling me that while he made goal in ’09, it was different than in previous years. His clients were expecting more of him this time around; it wasn’t price concessions, deals or favours. They were becoming more reliant on him to help them do their work. As companies were cutting back, his clients were once again left with less to do more; as a result they were looking for more than the usual. More than product expertise, they were looking for experts who can help them reinvent themselves and how they can do their jobs. These jobs were getting bigger, more demanding and had to be done with fewer resources. Their view is that buying product cheaper had way less value than someone who can help them not only cope, but get ahead in an increasingly competitive world.
While some vendors did manage to hang on using price, value was taking on more dimensions. Cheaper product in the hands of users who can’t cope, ultimately ends up costing more when all elements are taken into account. The loss of productivity by workers who can’t keep up, are over worked, or spread too thin is much greater than a few dollars saved here or there.
Jim feels the real work he did in 2009 was not hitting goal, but the resource he became to his clients. As a result of dealing with a cross section of companies, he was able to share best practices and help his clients do their jobs more effectively. Let’s be clear here, we are not talking about sharing the secrets or inside info of one client with another; but best practices learned from being involved and taking an active interest in how people use his product directly or indirectly. He sharing of practices would fall into what you may call cross pollination. In fact at one point he started an informal user group, without the help of marketing, or his company. They would get together and share ideas, views, challenges, but mostly the fact that they were not the only ones facing what at times seemed like insurmountable challenges. They would meet at a local pizza place once a month and share, in the process building relationships with each other, and a dependency on Jim.
As a result, Jim is convinced, and I tend to agree, that this dependency will grow as his buyers world’s become even more hectic as the economy picks up, demand improves, production increases, and demands on the remaining workers grow again. Now the good news is that Jim’s approach works just as well in an up market as they do in the down phases. When you get past the obvious, and focus on two key things you can always succeed. First is the welfare of the client, individual and organization, second is the ability to drive revenues for your company in order to ensure that you can continue to work on the former.
What’s in Your Pipeline?