LisBiz strategies: Do your sales reps know their market?

Home Columns LisBiz strategies: Do your sales reps know their market?

January 5/12, 2015; Volume 28/Number 14

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Gone are the days when sales reps only had to know their products. Their job was simple: convince the customer their products were the best, and the customer bought. Today the job has changed; the rep has to be tuned into the No. 1 issue, which is how to get customers into the store. Without customers, there’s no business for anyone. If a sales rep really wants to win at this game, he has to understand his customers’ business better than they do. Gaining loyal customers and getting them into stores require a fresh set of skills. The challenge is connecting with the customer and influencing her flooring conversation.

“Value” is a buzzword for worth. We are always talking about it, but the idea of value has also changed. If you want to be competitive within your market, you must add new value skills. Most manufacturers are working diligently to link their customers to their sites and provide marketing strategies. But, unfortunately, when it comes to working with manufacturers, many retailers are still in the Dark Ages.

So, what are the best ways to understand the market and connect with both manufacturers and customers?

Institute proper training. Manufacturer reps teach product knowledge as if they are selling directly to the customer. I have been watching reps teach product knowledge and sales classes for years. Most use the same sales tactics they use selling to the retailer. My suggestion: Hire a trainer who understands retail selling and sit through the classes.

Understand that price matters to everyone. I love when I hear, “Just give them more value and they’ll buy.” The sooner we all realize that price is an issue, the sooner we can meet it head on and understand how to deal with the customer who says she can get “free installation down the street.” The old saying “You get what you pay for” doesn’t fly anymore. Off-price retailers such as HomeGoods and TJ Maxx have taught customers to be better shoppers. I was in a high-end flooring store the other day and the owner was concerned the salesperson was quoting too high a price to the customer. I thought, “The owner needs a sales training class.”

Social media will help bring in more customers. Listen, most stores are having a tough time getting the hang of social media, but there are others who are knocking everyone dead. They are using Pinterest, Houzz and Facebook to connect and sell customers. Today’s reps need to understand how social media works and how they can help their customers get on-board.

Know there is value in a good party. My mom used to say, “Once Tony’s (my dad’s) customer, always Tony’s customer.” He knew the value of a great party. The stores that are building relationships and loyal customers are jumping into social media marketing with both feet—they are getting a leg up on their competitors. They learned how to use online meet-ups to build a customer base and bring the new customers to their stores. My suggestion? Manufacturers and distributors need to expand their roles to include marketing strategies that will help their customers.

Get real about the competition. In the 1980s, Walmart was the threat, putting many small retailers out of business. The big box stores were never considered a threat, but every retailer knows they are and needs the skills to go up against them. What do you do differently when they are selling the same products you are?


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