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Selling is a business activity that tests patience and discipline. Fraught with
rejection and customer demands for satisfaction, it can put severe strains
on personal make-up. So much so that many leaders wonder why career
selling is so appealing. Yet, when you suggest a better life elsewhere, the
successful salesperson won't hear of it. Why? Because nothing can replace
the thrill of closing a sale. Targeting customers, devising sales plans, plot-
ting strategies, and identifying products and services that the customer will
want to buy becomes a rush. It is likened to wild game hunters preparing
for the kill.
Salespeople live for the "cold call," the first-time customer contact.
Successful sellers characterize them as introductions, not sales calls. In
fact, they avoid selling at all during first meetings. Why? Prospects are
expecting a pitch, and because they don't know the salesperson, it will
never be easier for them to say no. And as successful salespeople know, a
no is extremely difficult to turn into a yes later on.
So, as a salesperson, your first call is social only, a reconnaissance
mission to learn customer interests, both business and personal. Make
notes about the style, personal make-up, and interests of the prospect. Let
a month go by. Then call again — perhaps for lunch. Tour his operations.
Learn about his successes and failures — but don't try to sell!
During these first few contacts, you are simply obtaining customer
intelligence, determining what the customer might be interested in buying.
This increases your chance of making a sale in two ways. First, your
knowledge of a prospect's operation better enables you to identify and
then meet his needs. And as his familiarity with you increases, his resist-
ance to purchase declines. By showing interest in his business, you are
demonstrating that you're not just out for a fast sale. Instead, you build a
relationship. He becomes more comfortable. And then you sell!
You may call on prospects many times before asking for an order.
You'll know when the time is right. You'll have enough intelligence to
match your product with his needs, your confidence will be at its highest,
102 Peter M. Cleveland
his resistance at its lowest. Attempting to sell before this point increases
chances of failure dramatically. Leison Auto Parts offers an excellent
example of relationship selling.
Leison Auto Parts has been selling after-market auto parts to large auto
service operations for fifteen years. Its most successful key account sales-
man, Fred May, sells 40 percent more sales volume than does his closest
rival. Leison's president encourages Fred to pass success secrets on to other
sales staff, to foster a stronger team sales performance. He asks Fred to
hold seminars on customer relationship building for the other salespeople.
To teach his strategy for success, Fred walked the rest of the sales
staff through his sales plan for his next cold call. With Jack Motors as
his potential customer, he showed them his approach to making the sale
as outlined in Figure 33.4.
Fred explained each call meticulously, stressing how each successive
contact is dependent upon the success of the previous one. In Fred's
approach, each call has a small manageable goal — a golf game or a
plant tour — that will take the relationship a rung higher. At the top of
the ladder, of course, is the desired sale. He won't talk about Leison
products until the fourth contact. Only then will he have sufficient intel-
ligence to match product solutions with Jack Motors' problems.
Leison Auto Parts
Sales Plan for Jack Motors
Secrets to Revenue Growth 103
Fred May's approach to personalized sales plans makes him the most
successful Leison salesperson. He plans each account in the same manner
— even for repeat customers. It's just as important to maintain existing
relationships as it is to create new ones.
Not everyone has the skill and personal make-up to sell as well as Fred.
Many salespeople develop problems when implementing plans. Steven
Astor's experience at Peoples' Drugs helps make the point.
Les Whitby, president of Peoples' Drugs, employs 31 people to achieve
$28.2 million in sales. As outlined in Figure 34.4, Peoples' includes one
retail drug store, a wholesale division selling to other drug and retail
outlets, and an institutional sales division for hospitals, armed forces, and
detention centers. Derek Lamb, manager of store sales, is responsible for
$6.8 million retail sales, Steven Astor sells $18.4 million in wholesale, and
Carolyn Green achieves approximately $3 million of institutional sales.
Steven services 42 wholesale accounts — some every three days,
others weekly, monthly, and bimonthly. Regular and reliable scheduling
of sales calls is critical to his success.
Ten of Steven's accounts are difficult to manage. Grumpy store
owners and slow account payers demand extra time and delicate people
skills. One account in particular, Johnson Pharmacy, creates particular
hardship. Lewis Johnson yells at suppliers to keep them on their toes
and discourage liberties with pricing. Steven finds Lewis so unnerving he
searches for any excuse to avoid the account. If he has six calls to make
in a day and Johnson Pharmacy is one, he will schedule it last and tr
very hard to consume the day with the first five.
Partial Organization Chart
F i g u r e 34.4
104 Peter M. Cleveland
At sales meetings, Steven always discusses Johnson as his most difficult
account and seeks advice from others.
After two and a half months of procrastinating, Steven was
summoned by Peoples' president Les Whitby. He had just received a call
from Johnson complaining about the lack of service from Peoples'. A
representative hadn't been on his premises for months. Steven attempted
to explain the situation to Whitby, but the boss was unsympathetic. He
ordered Steven to make the call immediately or not come in tomorrow.
En route, Steven didn't know whether to be angry or frightened. As
he got closer to Johnson, he decided on anger. He told Johnson to sit
down and listen to why every supplier in the drug industry avoided him.
Treating every supplier as if it had cheated him created animosity, he
informed Johnson, and when they avoided him, he just became angrier.
He himself wouldn't be there if it weren't for the threat of losing his
job. The account was so unpleasant, Steven told him, he didn't care if
Johnson called Whitby a second time.
Johnson looked puzzled, as if not realizing the harm his behavior had
caused. When he collected himself, he muttered something about start-
ing their relationship over.
50 Steps to Business Success doesn't recommend yelling at customers as
an effective sales technique. Situations do arise, however, where forceful
behavior is the most appropriate alternative. Steven Astor had reached that
point with Lewis Johnson. When pushed to the limit, he decided his job
wasn't worth it. The relationship between him and Johnson simply had to
change. By standing up to Johnson, Steven earned his respect and helped him
understand how poorly he treated his suppliers. Together, they rebuilt the
relationship. Today, Steven no longer looks for excuses to avoid Johnson.
The self-imposed stress of working in sales often manifests itself in
avoidance behavior like Steven's. Some people load schedules with tasks
they like to do — anything to avoid the pressure of a sales call. Others call
numerous internal sales meetings to discuss the same plans over and over,
to the point where they believe they're selling just by calling a meeting.
Then there are those who develop contact lists every time they feel pres-
sure to make a call. Still others focus on selling to industries rather than to
Secrets to Revenue Growth 105
People with these symptoms suffer sales panic. If you are one of these
people, take a deep breath and grab a clean sheet of paper. For each of
your sales accounts, list the precise actions you must take to achieve the
outcome you desire. Plan dates for sales calls — perhaps a month apart,
and as many as you think necessary to achieve your goal. Specify what
information you require from second and subsequent calls. Leave the first
call for social purposes, with perhaps a brief description of your achieve-
ments and interests. Remember, don't sell before your confidence is high
and customer resistance is low.
The panic stricken may also lack the discipline to follow through with
selling activities after they've managed the first call. Common experiences
salespeople who begin with great enthusiasm — making one, maybe
two, sales calls to potential customers — then losing interest. This is
the Power Surge Syndrome, named for its strong start and poor finish,
those who try to implement sales plans alone when they really need
the support and skills of other staff to achieve them. Knowing when
to bring in the cavalry is critical to successful implementation,
those who oversell and end up talking the customer out of buying.
Knowing when to stop talking is frequently a difficult lesson for the
Detailed sales plans alleviate these afflictions because they provide a
road map, and this, in turn, breeds confidence. Sales plans should also
include the all-important step of consulting your soul mate. As in all bites,
the soul mate's input is an essential ingredient to sales success.
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Product Intuition Is
Worth a Thousand Hours
"Beware of those who worship the ground you walk on;
they may be just reaching for some dirt."
Product intuition represents the ability to produce the right product, at the
right time, and at the right price and quality to meet customer needs. Get
all the criteria right and you ride the crest of product success. Get the
criteria wrong and you spend enormous amounts of time and money
mitigating losses. Products fail if companies lack the patience to link them
to customer satisfaction. It's fatal to rush products to store shelves prema-
turely, before customer demand is assured.
The age-old debate used to be whether a company should be customer
satisfaction or product development oriented. That debate is over: the
customer won. Products are no longer designed and produced to satisfy
the technological dreams of research departments. Customers have made
it clear. They don't want better mousetraps. They want traps that work, at
the right price, color, and size, and only with options to meet their needs
— nothing more and nothing less.
Product-driven companies build new products with more options and
functions than necessary to meet customer satisfaction. Development costs
must be recouped through revenue, and overdeveloped products are
usually priced less competitively. Customers won't pay for a sledgehammer
if a mallet will do.
108 Peter M. Cleveland
Customer satisfaction is the only consistent product design criterion.
Businesses won't survive unless they organize every process around it.
Every decision regarding products, expenditures, investments, and
management is made with customer needs in mind. More than anything
else, this single element differentiates successful organizations from
While product-driven companies innovate in a vacuum, customer-
driven companies continuously study shifts in customer needs. Results are
Product Intuition Is Worth a Thousand Hours 109
compared against their own product advantages and those of competitors.
Any barriers to customer product acceptance are addressed through plan-
ning during triage.
Customer service teams identify and continuously monitor customer
needs. These needs form the basis of what the team perceives to be the
customers' values when assessing products for purchase. The team
encourages everyone in the company to satisfy those values, and measures
employee performance on that basis. This continuous assessment of
customer needs and values also offers valuable intelligence for the design
and creation of new products.
Customer satisfaction leaders facilitate this process. Service teams
ensure the results are implemented. This system for closely monitoring
customer needs is critical for all businesses, large and small.
The components of the customer satisfaction focus are illustrated in
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