Al’s column: Sage advice for new mill sales reps

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February 17/24, 2020: Volume 35, Issue 17

By Jerry Levinson

During a dinner with a friend/colleague at Surfaces last month, the subject of mill reps came up. Specifically, how sales reps need to come up with novel ways to approach potential retail store owners like me.

In speaking with my friend, we came up with this hypothetical question: “How would you approach a new flooring store account if you were a mill sales rep?” The approach we came up with works in several scenarios, such as when you are a new rep to a company and you are dealing with an existing customer, or if you are approaching a new account and would like them to carry your product line.

One of the biggest mistakes mill sales reps make is they walk into a potential client’s store with a singular focus—sell a product or display. It’s understandable because that’s their primary job. After all, they probably went through several weeks of training to learn why their company’s product is so fantastic that any consumer would be crazy not to want said product in their home. So they go in guns blazing.

What typically happens next? The mill reps usually meets with a very busy (read: defensive) flooring dealer who doesn’t like the fact that you just showed up. (Yeah, I know you called ahead and scheduled an appointment but he or she didn’t remember.)

So, how should a mill rep navigate these waters? My colleague and I created a basic flow chart to serve as a guideline. Here are some valuable tips:

Know thy customer.Find out more information about the person you’re calling on. What kind of person is he/she? Is he/she married? Maybe he/she just celebrated an anniversary. Does he/she have kids? What is he/she passionate about? If you share the same beliefs as the client, you can build a great relationship off that.

Research the store’s history.How long have they been in business? How many employees do they have? In a lot of cases you are far better off knowing the salespeople more than the owner because they are the ones selling the floors.

Listen more, talk less.The famous author Dr. Stephen Covey wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is my favorite saying, and it works really well in sales. You did your research; now you are meeting your prospect for the first time. Again, you should never walk into that first meeting with the intention to sell your product. Instead, make that first meeting about understanding your customer’s business.

For example, who is their target audience? What products do they already carry? What do they like about those products? What do they dislike about those products? How cluttered is their showroom now? Can you make the footprint you plan on taking up very valuable for the dealer? Does your display make it easy to sell your product? Is there good information on your product that the consumer cares about and would understand?

Once you have answered those questions, you can begin discussing how your product will benefit the client’s business. Now is your opportunity to present your product in a unique way that will fit his/her business so the sales team can have the greatest success with your product. It takes planning, creativity, research, design and a coherent strategy, but it’s worth the effort.

At the end of the day, people tend to do business with people they like. If you better understand his/her business, chances are you’ll develop a connection that extends beyond the typical sales rep/client relationship.

 

Jerry Levinson is the owner of Carpets of Arizona and founder of Profit Now, a consultant business for flooring dealers. He has also authored two books on sales and marketing. In addition, Levinson manages the Flooring Dealer Group on Facebook, which boasts more than 3,000 members.

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