I started by sales career over 20 years ago. In 1995, I had 2 co-op work terms at Lexmark Canada. This was followed by a full-time position starting in 1996 and running through to 2005. The first few years were an especially formative for me in my sales career. There were many lessons learned through working with great sales leaders and some on self-reflection. These are some of my favourite sales lessons from those early years.
Ask Questions, Listen and Tailor Your Conversation
One of my first joint calls as a dealer rep was with my manager. I had just completed a week of intensive training and I was ready to show him how much I had learned. We visited a reseller in my territory and I proceeded to talk about all of our products, feeds and programs available. I had gotten everything across in the meeting that I had learned in my training. I was extremely happy with my knowledge and the way the meeting went, until afterward when it came time to review my performance. My manager explained that product and program knowledge was great, but it was more important to find the things that are the best fit for the customer. It’s important to tailor your talk and pitch around these items – this was an early revelation to me.
To this day, I still ask lots of questions to ensure that I tailor my comments to the things that are most important to the prospect.
Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Position
I was on a business trip in Atlantic Canada with a Sales Director from another division because I helped to support some of their resellers across the Maritimes. On the trip, we sat together on a few joint calls and an in-person meeting. My goal for the meeting was to get this particular reseller to sell our products to his end users. The reseller’s goal was to get service authorization so he could support his clients and service a few competitive accounts. I had a great objection handling strategy that was well rehearsed. The meeting started and it was going well. I had handled his service authorization questions and was moving on to another item when the Sales Director interjected. He took the perspective of the partner over Lexmark in the meeting, asking how the customer was going to benefit from the arrangement. The issue was re-opened and discussed further.
After the meeting, I was a little mad at my co-worker for submarining me with the partner. His view was to understand the customer and what was important to them. I learned that this strategy will help with better and longer term relationships. This is something that I continue to explore today.
About 6 months after I had started full-time with Lexmark, my boss in Ottawa resigned and one of my colleagues took her job. I was then promoted from a Reseller Rep to an End-User Rep. Part of my territory was large organizations located in Eastern Ontario. This included the DND base in Kingston. Lexmark had a great relationship with them and they were among our top 10 customers for our team. The main content was a procurement officer several years my senior. I was not prepared for our first meeting and he ripped a strip off me during the meeting because of it.
He was absolutely right and from then on I was prepared for meetings as well as I could be. I eventually repaired the relationship to the point that I was in his golf foursome for the local DND tournament. Today, I am very prepared for meetings and calls and leverage a sales meeting plan to make sure I’m ready.
Be Respectful of a Customer’s Time and Trial Close
After being promoted, I met with another early customer. This customer was a large government department in Ottawa. I had one of the most experienced and successful Sales Reps at Lexmark on the call with me. The meeting was going very well and I had great dialogue with the client. At one point, my colleague stopped the meeting and mentioned that we only had 5 minutes left for the call and said that he wanted to respect their time. The client said that they were happy to go over the scheduled time to talk further. This was a stroke of genius by my co-worker as he was gauging the client’s interest. The meeting went on for an additional 30 minutes and that customer turned into a decent order before year-end.
When Presenting/Demoing Engage the Clientresulted in better engagement and meetings.
Working with startups today, I know that this is often an issue for them. Taking the extra time at the start and during can lead to much better outcomes.
There are many entrepreneurs that are new to sales but have years of technical or operational experience. If you are looking for some sales help for your team, please reach out to me and we can talk about some of your strategic and tactical sales challenges.