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Proactivity and Presentations

Copyright MMX, by Dave Kahle

A few years ago, I was working with a VP of sales on a new compensation plan for his sales force.  He wanted, among other things, to encourage the sales force to make more presentations of new products and programs to their customers. 

“How many presentations do you think they make each week, on the average,”  I asked.

“I don’t think a week is the right duration to measure,” he replied.

“OK,” I said, “Let’s use a month.  How many presentations to you think they make per month?”

“I think we’d be lucky if they averaged one,” he said. 
I was stunned.  One?  How could that be? 

“If they aren’t presenting something, what are they doing?” I asked.  His answer:  “Taking care of problems, nurturing the relationship, writing orders – just generally being nice guys, and taking care of the customers.”

“You don’t have sales people,” I replied, “You have mobile customer service representatives.”

Unfortunately, the company described above is no longer is existence.  Their fortunes were tied to a major product line.  When a new management team decided to take that line direct, the company was unable to fill the void, and, after 80 years of existence, closed their doors.  One of the contributing factors was their inability to create demand for their new product lines.  In other words, they couldn’t sell very well. 

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Alas, his story isn’t at all unique.  The world is full of people who call themselves sales people, but whose vision of themselves is really a “mobile customer service rep.”  Their idea of selling is to be a nice guy, fix any problems the customer might have, and hope that the customers ask about something.  If they get along with the customer, that relationship will lead them to buy, or so they believe.

There was a time when the mobile customer service rep model worked well.  Business was simpler, customers had more time, and competition was not nearly as fierce.  Manufacturers fielded larger sales forces, and created the demand for the product.  Distributors merely supported it.  A distribution company could get by hiring nice guys who had some industry experience.  Few companies actually trained their sales people in the best practices of consultative selling, because, if they were nice guys, people would buy from them.  They didn’t have to actually sell.

Now, however, we are in a new economic climate.  Astute CEOs are realizing that they can not wait for the economy to improve to grow their businesses.  The companies who want to survive and thrive, and the sales people who work for them, will need to sell better than their competitors.

That means they can no longer merely expect their relationships to stimulate their sales.  Higher order skills are required.

In the new economy, both distributor sales people and distribution companies will need to create demand for the lines they carry – to actually, really and truly, sell.

One measurement of the quality of a sales force is the degree to which the sales force is proactive -- to what extent do the sales people routinely plan for the penetration of key accounts, plan for sales calls, assertively set the agendas, probe customer issues, and present solutions? 

Sales forces, real sales forces, concentrate on doing all these things, routinely and well. 

Here’s one simple little measurement that will shed a light onto the degree to which you, or your sales force, are proactive: Measure the quantity of sales presentations made every month.  Easy, simple and incredibly revealing.

A sales presentation occurs when a sales person delivers some information to the customer about something that the customer can buy from him.  So, for example, when a sales rep lays down a sell sheet about a new product, and says, “Let me tell you about this,” that is a sales presentation.  So, too, for the product demonstration, the written proposal, even a response to a request for a bid or quote.

If you can pull this information off a CRM system, great.  But even a simple hash mark system will work.  Every time you, or your sales people, make a presentation, just scratch a hash mark onto a piece of paper.  At the end of the week, count up the total.  See how proactive you actually are.

Critics will be quick to point out the flaws in the system.  There is no provision for the size of the presentation.  In other words, a presentation in a “C” account counts the same as a presentation in an “A” account.  And what about those big deals where it may take several months to get to the point where you can make a presentation?  There is no accounting for that.

Fair enough.  You can certainly add some layers of sophistication to take into account the size and strategic value of the account.  But for now, let’s just get an indication of the degree to which you, or your sales force, are proactive sellers.   Everything else being equal, the mobile customer service reps will make very few presentations, where the proactive sellers will make considerably more presentations.

This simple little measurement – the quantity of sales presentations made – can go a long ways into shedding light on the degree to which you, and your sales force are equipped to sell better in the new muddle economy.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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