When I’m helping building materials companies grow their sales, one of my favorite exercises is to ask their salespeople two big questions. The first question is, “What could the company do to help you grow your sales?” And the second one is, “If the company did this, how much would your sales increase in the next year?”
I ask these questions when I am riding along on sales calls, on phone interviews and at sales meetings. Why? Because that’s when the leaders aren’t around. Salespeople are more honest that way. They have learned that leaders have a bad habit of remembering how much the salesperson said they could increase sales, while forgetting the changes that the sales increase was based on.
The numbers I hear all fall within a range, with the lowest sales increase at 10% and the highest at 20%.
I do put one limitation on their answer: they can’t tell me that they could sell more if the company would lower their prices. When they tell me that, I ask them whether they are a salesperson or an order taker.
To be fair, most salespeople don’t tell me they need lower prices.
What they tell me is that they need help in two areas: operational support and marketing support.
Some of the operational improvements these salespeople dream about are:
- Making it easier for the customer to place and track orders.
- Improving customer service.
- Responding faster to requests such as samples or pricing.
- Making the warranty claim process more customer friendly.
- Reducing product damage during shipping.
There’s more, of course. I’ve found that each company is different depending on their products and customers. But there is one common issue: operational improvements are made for the financial benefit of the company without regard for how they affect the customer.
Salespeople tell me that these operational issues create two problems.
1. They take time away from business development to manage issues with current customers – issues that would not exist if the company would simply address them.
2. They put the company at risk of losing the customer’s business to a competitor who is easier to deal with.
As for marketing, for most building materials companies, I view marketing as sales support. If a marketing program doesn’t help make a sale, it has no value.
This will be true as long as a salesperson is involved in selling a customer. Marketing and sales are moving online very quickly but, for the vast majority of building materials companies, the salesperson still plays a critical role.
The problems salespeople have with marketing are:
1. Many of the sales support materials created by marketing, like literature and presentations, are useless. They are designed by someone who has no idea who their customer is or why they should buy the company’s product. Salespeople tell me that they either don’t use the materials they are given or make up their own.
2. I get the same kinds of comments about many company websites, social media, content marketing and email campaigns. Salespeople complain that “We have a nice website, too bad it does nothing to help me make a sale.”
3. No one asks. No one cares. The marketing people don’t spend enough time with the salespeople. They don’t include them in their marketing planning. And when the salesperson has a request, it is not taken seriously.
When a program fails, it is the fault of the salepeople; it is not a problem with the marketing.
When working with building material companies, one of my goals is to take away the salespeople’s excuses. When sales increases are measured, I don’t want to hear any, “If only we had X, I could have got my numbers.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to set salespeople up to take the blame. What I’m really trying to do is eliminate as many barriers as possible to make help them be as successful as possible.
I am also amazed at how simple most salespeople’s requests are. They don’t want to be in charge of marketing or company operations. They simply want to be supported. Salespeople have one of the toughest jobs in your company. It doesn’t make sense to make a difficult job even harder.
This is so obvious to me that I sometimes forget to make a big deal of it with my clients. I want to thank the VP of Marketing I was talking to who told me that his CEO gave him the job of “Eliminating Any Excuses from the Sales Team.”
It made me realize that this would be worth sharing with my readers.
At least once a year, or whenever you are introducing a new program, check in with your sales team. Better yet, do it with a fresh set of eyes. I have found that an outside person, like myself, is better at uncovering what is holding your sales team – and your sales – back.
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