How can joint sales calls become more effective?

Overview

There are really two ways to increase sales. Sell new customers or sell existing customers more new or existing products. These require planning on the part of distributor sales management, distributor sales people and the manufacturer sales team to more effectively evaluate their customers and to identify new opportunities. This continues to challenge distributors and manufacturers because, in the end, joint sales calls are either effective or a waste of time. So how can you avoid these traps and make the joint sales calls more effective?

For a distributor sales rep to arrange a day of joint sales calls with a manufacturer salesperson / rep, takes time and planning to orchestrate an effective two way engagement. With the abundance of reps that request a distributor’s time, the traditional joint sales call day must take on a different meaning and be profitable, especially with sales calls costing at least $300 per call!

Joint call basics

To begin, the Distributor rep needs to be selective about where they take the manufacturer rep. They need to bring the rep into accounts that make sense and accounts in which there is a realistic chance to create, or close, business. Joint calls need to be geared toward a targeted customer with a targeted product. And this means that the distributor must have identified the customer’s needs and interests. The distributor rep needs to selectively insert the manufacturer “expert” into their sales activity at the right time and the manufacturer rep needs to be in position to deliver upon expectations. What are those expectations?

  • A high degree of product knowledge
  • Ability to sell product features and benefits per the customer application
  • Quick follow up, whether that includes pricing and or following up with technical assistance
  • Lastly and most importantly, loyalty and trust….make sure the distributor knows you are working with them and them only on this opportunity as they have brought you into the customer (even if you previously knew the customer!). The distributor is using you as their product specialist … an extension of their team!

Here are some questions for distributors to consider:

  • How many of the rep agencies that call on your do you trust?
  • How many of the joint sales calls that we conduct are effective?
  • Or would you prefer not to have the pressure of conducting joint sales calls and would rather call the rep when you need them?

And a key question for manufacturers:

Do you want your reps to doing joint sales calls or would you prefer that they call on end-customers / contractors directly to create demand and then let the business go to the most “aggressive” distributor salesperson?

Both parties need to see clear value. If the distributor rep doesn’t feel that the manufacturer rep is bringing technical value, then the manufacturer rep will most likely not get invited to the account … for this or any of the lines they represent … or be invited by the salesperson again. On the other hand, the distributor needs to make the day with the rep worthwhile. This takes planning to surgically insert the rep into the process. Once a date is in the books, neither party should back out of the commitment. Breaking a joint sales call day commitment is a bad message to send to either part and can build ill will.

Manufacturers today want top of mind, they want the mind share of their distributor partners. If they are willing to commit qualified technical resources to assist the distributor in the selling process, as partners, the distributor needs to take advantage of these opportunities. With the abundance of lines that a distributor sales person needs to sell, this level of expertise should be welcomed. The manufacturer needs to deliver the deep expertise. When these qualifications and expectations align, it is a win for all parties!

And if the rep does not have the expected level of expertise, the distributor needs to advise the manufacturer to see if the situation can be rectified or alternatives identified.

Linkage to operations

Effectively planned joint sales calls with objectives can be a very productive tool. The problem has always been setting expectations, pre-planning and follow-up. Here is where the sales or the marketing manager comes into play.

And while the distributor benefits from increased sales as well as many intangible benefits, frequently to capture the business there must be sufficient inventory to support the desired (expected?) demand. Manufacturers should make it appealing for distributors to have appropriate inventories at the point of influence (in the branch / CDC). Consider extended dating, sales guarantees with no-restocking fee for 6 months, competitive stock buy-backs if necessary, SPAs and more. Also, does the distributor have the appropriate marketing collateral from the manufacturer? Typically, joint sales calls don’t happen in a vacuum. They are part of a concerted effort to grow specific product areas. An integrated sales and marketing approach is important as both reinforce the message. This is a team sell; you need inside, outside and operations all on board. Your tech specialist can also apply this same methodology to their customers and vendors. Everyone needs to know the targets and a well planned and executed Joint call cadence should become a vital part of the everyday sales agenda and business plan with key suppliers.

Joint calls can be effective when planned, can increase business and add value to your customer relationships. With every distributor, and customer, seeking an edge, joint sales calls ensure that your customer hears from you and your manufacturer.

The competitiveness of the economy requires a back to basic approach to selling to differentiate you, especially in light of the movement to more e-communications / e-commerce. Joint calls can generate sales..

…Making Joint Sales Calls a Successful Strategy

Step 1: A customer targeting process driven by data

  • Review your targeted accounts to determine, by generic or manufacturer product group, what each customer purchases. You need marketplace data! Get your marketing team involved or an outside party. A product mix report or account base gap analysis is key to selling something “new” (either a product category or a specific item) to existing customers. With this in hand, an examination of the data will reveal opportunities.
  • Inviting the manufacturer’s sales rep for the product line to review the opportunities. This will further prune the list so there are no conflicts if the manufacturer is already getting the business (while also revealing interesting competitive insights to you) through another distributor.

Step 2: Connect product and services to the customer

  • What products, new or existing, should be presented to each targeted customer?
  • Obviously, products that support application solutions and are profitable are the best picks. No longer will a “let’s see what today or this week brings” strategy succeed. Planning and utilizing basic selling skills is the order of the day.
  • Identify the needs of the customer and solving the need with planned activities is now at hand. Both parties should ask themselves, and discuss
  • Why am I calling on this account?
  • What products are they not buying from us?
  • How can I find out what application problems they are experiencing?
  • Are there safety, code, labor saving or energy products I can sell them?
  • What resources do we have to effectively cultivate new orders?
  • What types of projects / companies does my customer (contractor) work with?
  • What are my customers and his customers’ issues? (or for industrial or institutional accounts, What are their business initiatives and how can I help?”)
  • Is there a strong commitment to two way communication and account execution?

Step3: Consider a motivation tool

Motivation is key. To maximize effectiveness, consider an incentive for distributor sales people to reward for activity (number of calls) and effectiveness (sales achievements). Joint calls require a lot of work. For the distributor and manufacturer sales person, a reward is extremely important for success. Some ideas include:

  • Spiffs
  • Promotions / contests which may include non-cash rewards and gift certificates
  • Double or triple commission on the specific products for a defined time period
  • Tickets to a special event (sport or concert)
  • Or, the president / sales manager washes both salesperson’s car

Results need to be tracked and visible. You need scorecards to show results and motivate your team.

Another key element is motivating the customer. While visibility is good, sales are better. To encourage customers, consider answering their WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Non-pricing strategies can help preserve long term profitability. But remember, not every customer needs the presented product today. Customer purchasing benefits should extend for 30-60 days. Experience has shown that you need to plant seeds for sales to grow.

Leadership alignment

The question becomes, are you, and perhaps more importantly, your salespeople, thinking this way? Shouldn’t you!

This time-tested strategy requires trust amongst channel partners but can be improved by planning and commitment. It converts your salespeople from customer service resources (or order takers) to demand generators, hence increasing their value to the customer and your key supplier partners. Can you afford not to conduct joint sales calls with your key suppliers? What happens if “your” customer hears of a product from someone else (i.e. the Internet, direct from the manufacturer, a competitor)? What happens when the niche products that they need are presented by someone else? Or consider how many times your customer wants to hear “do you have an order for me?”

What’s your most effective tactic for a successful joint sales call? We’d love to hear your comments or suggestions.