Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sales Reps and Retailers can make a good team

I confess that I have never really done any retail work. I have worked with literally thousands of retailers and have learned a lot of valuable things. I thank you not only for selling my products or buying my services, but also for giving me valuable insights into what you and your customers like and don't like about my products/services and for general trade news.

You listen to your customers to determine how you can satisfy them right away or in the future. When you listen to a reasonable sales rep you learn ways to better satisfy your customers and get a chance to explain your concerns.

It might seem a bit presumptuous for me to think my experience could be of any value for you, but I have three other perspectives that give me some insight.

Specifically at one time I sold from a catalogue. I would be the first to admit, I knew very little about most of the thousands of items for sale. Pricing, convenience and my personal presence were my primary tools. My competition at the beginning had a killer edge over me-knowledge. Does that sound familiar?

What I didn't quite understand was that the people I was trying to impress had their own problems. Sure pricing and convenience might help and I suppose some prospects felt I was an amusing time waster. I did learn from talking to them and went back to my supervisors and gained some information. My company realized that knowledge would help close the advantage enjoyed by my competition. We visited manufacturing sites and listened to different product experts willing to visit us. In some cases I developed relationships to help me when I needed more information (or a favour). As time went on I was genuinely able to solve some problems for my prospects. Many of them were grateful and not only bought from me, but gave me leads and useful information.

One sales supervisor pointed out to me that when I talk to the customer(or prospect) I represent the company and should explain what we offer as positively and accurately as possible. When I go back to the company I represent the customer and should let the company know what it has to do to satisfy the customer and what relevant concerns they have. I have always tried to do that.

A second key perspective I have is that I and my family shop at retailers a lot. I am not a big spender, but it all adds up. Sometimes like your other customers I am just looking for a convenient place and time to buy what I want. If the price is not out of line with my expectations an easy sale is made. Sometimes I am not too sure what I really want--I just have some sort of problem. If the retailer can give me good advice (including going to another specific source) I remember and seek their advice again when appropriate. Sometimes I have been given unsolicited advice which often turned out to be in my best interest.

One good example of that was asking Nabourhood Home Hardware (on Barton St in Hamilton) for advice on doing some complicated plumbing. I realized I needed someone to actually do the work. They suggested a fellow, Don Heroux who is now a friend of the family. I have not forgotten.

A third perspective I have is a tool I stumbled on at a trade show. Tom Shay was presenting two seminars--one for people exhibiting at a trade show and the second for those retailers attending the same trade show. One of his themes was that there is a lot of information to be shared and he advised both sides how best to take advantage of the opportunity. He also recalled when his family's business had some very serious problems it was a sales rep who extended credit to help them survive at a time when the company was against it. Tom has a website and sends out newsletters with all sorts of useful advice for retailers. I try to keep on top of it and maybe you should too. Check out

You as a retailer and me as a salesman both have the need to solve problems as the core of our business. The more knowledgeable you are about what I sell the better for me, BUT also better for you. Maybe because you sold something you might not have otherwise, or maybe because you solved a problem the customer keeps coming back.

I try not to interfere with your customer flow and I realize sometimes you are just too busy to talk with me when I come unannounced. Sometimes it must seem I am just another annoying problem on a tiring day. Let's keep the door open. I hope to keep on learning from you and that I can maybe pass on some knowledge that will enrich us both.

The photo is an interesting watermill type of fountain I saw while calling on retailers in Orangeville.

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