It’s amazing how many salespeople go into calls without defining a purpose. Early in the customer/salesperson relationship, the purpose is sometimes hard to define, but still the call should be more than simply shaking hands.

When salespeople know what questions they should ask before the sales
call, they gather more information, listen better and accelerate the relationship. Insist that the new salesperson establish a list of customer questions. These might range from the market the customer serves to the companies the customer sees as competition to product preferences to the type of training they need for employees. You need to record and store the answers to these questions away somewhere besides the salesperson’s ironclad memory. You want instant recall without depending on memorization.

The need to remember the answers to ground-breaking questions takes us to our next point. Salespeople need to take notes during customer visits. For years, I recommended the use of a composition book with pages that are not easily detached. This meant the salesperson always stored customer data in the same place. Today, you can take notes electronically via a tablet computer. If they do this, insist on a well-defined method for categorizing, storing and maintaining the notes.

When new salespeople hit the street, there is often a tendency to use price as a door opener. While the strategy may produce temporary gains, I believe they create long-term pains. Margin erosion has become an epidemic issue with wholesalers across the country. Give every new salesperson pricing direction. Regardless of whether they have industry experience or not, your business model probably requires a different type of gross margin strategy.

Spell out minimum gross margin deviation before the salesperson shakes the hand of their first customer. If you have a pricing process like David Bauders’ Strategic Pricing Associates, spend time briefing the new salesperson on how and why the process works. Furthermore, measure the salesperson’s adherence to that pricing strategy from day one.

When Special Pricing Agreements are required, new salespeople should understand your company’s position on their proper use to capture and lock in important customer opportunities. And if (for some reason) you do not have a plan for how these agreements are registered within your own organization, this should be established immediately, for the entire sales team’s benefit.

The Right Tools

OK, we’ve walked our way through setting expectations, establishing work habits, and this brings us to equipping new team members with the right tools. Most of us have given thought to the right phone, laptop, Internet connection and company car. But the tool box needs to hold more than just the physical tools. Let’s go a bit further and talk about ERP system tools.

Every new salesperson needs to understand the purchases currently made by their accounts. Ideally, this should include more than just a top-line sales number and gross margin percentage. I suggest reports outlining product purchases broken down by customer. If the product can be segmented by technology groups, it’s all the better. Sales managers must invest the time to instruct salespeople in the reports available and how to interpret them. Ideally, this should become part of a monthly coaching session to ensure the data is correct and there are no issues with
account groupings.

The salesperson should know where and how to get this data in the future. Bouncing back to our first message,
set expectations as to how often you anticipate this type of information for review at the salesperson level. Strangely, even experienced salespeople from other companies within the industry have no realization as to the importance of understanding where their sales come from.

Before we sign off…

This article barely scratches the surface in launching a new member of your team. I am working on a workbook to assist distributors in effectively launching new territories. My notes have already spilled into their fourth folder of information. Along the way, I have discovered the best resource for information is the salesperson that started their journey two years ago. They still remember the pain.

With this final word, I challenge you to sit down with your newest successful salesperson, the one who is showing real promise, and ask what they wish they knew two years ago. Maybe they could whittle your investment down to $100 grand.

Frank Hurtte provides Strategic Insight for New Times. He speaks and consults on the new reality facing distribution in a post-recession world. Contact Frank at River Heights Consulting, 563/514-1104 or