Jeff Gardner is about to embark on the 2010 Sales Performance Study to determine what makes a sales person tick in the office products industry with colleague Dr Shawn Green, and in association with OPI. Here he explains his own findings from out in the field
OPI: You spend a lot of your time talking to the people involved in selling to customers. What would you say the general mood is like out there, right now?
Jeff Gardner: The mood is mostly positive from the OP dealers I come into contact with. More and more of them are feeling confident about the general business outlook in the US.
OPI: That’s the good news, what’s the bad?
JG: The bad news I hear from dealers is that many of their current customers are down in sales because they have reduced the numbers of employees in their companies. This reduction of ‘head count’ has had a direct effect on their budget for office products.
The other good news is that there are quite a few dealers who are growing their sales overall as a company and experiencing their growth from gaining new accounts, and new customers through conversion. They are also making up for the loss of spend by their current customers through active prospecting efforts and gaining new accounts.
The salespeople at those dealers are telling me that the consumer decision makers are more willing to consider other choices and options when it comes to suppliers. They are the ones that are getting in front of and gaining the attention of potential customers.
However, along those same lines, dealer owners and sales leaders tell me they have a challenge getting their current salespeople to focus more on prospecting. How do we get our experienced salespeople to bring in more new customers? This is what I hear over and over again. That is one of the goals of our upcoming industry research study. We need to identify what the best dealers and their salespeople are doing to get results and to share that information with the dealer community.
OPI: Are office products a harder sell in 2010 than, say, 2008?
JG: There are more complexities to selling office products today than in the past. However the dealers who embrace those complexities rather than resist them are better off than they were in 2008. One good example is the availability of sales intelligence tools such as sales-i that are available to dealers.
OPI: Are you seeing differences from city to city, state to state across the US?
JG: There may be economic differences between geographic areas in the US; however I am finding examples of dealers who are able to continue to grow through the use of technology and solid sales leadership, despite the economic situation. Those particular dealers are telling me that they are refusing to participate in the economic slowdown.
We’re constantly surprised by the industry’s desire to try and break into new avenues – and we’re told that breakroom, imaging supplies and green are leading the way.
OPI: So would you say we’re witnessing a change in what people expect to sell?
JG: According to many experts, most dealers are only about one-third penetrated with their customer base. That presents a huge opportunity for dealers to grow sales. Most dealer salespeople could double their sales by just focusing efforts on getting a larger share of wallet from current customers. I find that most dealer salespeople are capturing a good portion of the imaging supplies category. However, breakroom and green products are wide-open opportunities.
I was recently working with a salesperson and we called on one of his current customers, a law firm. The office manager told us that they wanted to use green products as much as possible. In that situation, the decision maker brought it up to the salesperson, however in most cases it works the other way around.
The traditional office supplies/ink and toners are typically more price-oriented in the marketplace. So when a dealer salesperson only focuses on those more obvious items with their customer base it usually means lower margins. Getting a better mix and wider range of product categories will typically lead to better margins.
There are two simple steps to selling more niche products such as breakroom and green products. First identify which of your customers are not buying those niche products. Secondly, go out and present and sell those products.
Of course I am over simplifying the process and I don’t want to say that it is easy to go out and just gain a larger share of spend from current customers. There are ‘choke points’ that may be stopping dealer salespeople from selling new and niche type products, such as not being able to track the products customers are buying. However technology has made it easier to identify opportunities.
Some salespeople feel uncomfortable getting outside of the typical commodity oriented office supplies. They may feel that they don’t have enough knowledge about the products. So they just avoid anything new or niche. Or, they figure, why upset the apple cart by pushing for new products? That thinking can let a competitor get a foot in the door by selling those products to your customer.
OPI: Would you say there are things, as an industry or individuals, we could be better at?
JG: There seems to be a challenge for many dealers to find quality sales candidates and develop them into effective salespeople. I have two recent examples of dealers who told me they set up appointments with multiple sales candidates to interview for a sales position. Half the candidates didn’t even show up for the first interview. I find that highly surprising given the number of people are supposedly "looking for work" in this current economic climate. The dealers I talk to don’t necessarily need superstars, they are more than satisfied to find salespeople who are just willing get out there and make calls.
The other thing we can get better at is making sure that ‘on boarding’ process for new salespeople is thorough and effective. Unlike the old school two-step sales training method: Step one: Here are your catalogues. Step two: There’s the door, now go out and sell. We need to make sure we outfit new salespeople with all the tools and skills they need to be successful.
Good salespeople are made not born…I know some of you will want to debate that statement, but it is mostly true. The best salespeople start out with natural talent, however if that natural talent is not developed they will never reach their full potential.
OPI: What would you say separates the good, or even the great, from the average at the moment?
JG: We see dealers that have developed a solid sales process and manage their sales team to effectively carry out that process as being more successful.
However, we are hoping that our research will better quantify what top sellers are doing and why they are more successful. I can give you my personal thoughts and experiences; however Dr Shawn Green and I prefer to utilise researched based information when making conclusions. There are too many unproved theories floating around out there that ‘sound good on paper’ but don’t bring about results.
The 2010 sales performance study
The primary purpose of the sales performance research study that is being initiated by Jeff Gardner and Dr Shawn Green is to help identify key factors that lead to consistently high levels of sales results within the office products industry. The study will examine specific aspects of the sales process high achieving sales people are performing more effectively than others. It will also assess what sales, motivational and goal setting behaviours are executed differently between sales professionals that achieve high levels of versus average results. In addition, the research will help determine why purchasers of office products supplies would be willing to switch from one vendor to another. We believe that the results found in this study will be highly useful in the development of sales professionals as well provide key coach-able points for sales managers to their sales force.
Along with reading the specific research results in OPI’s US Annual Review (published later this year), participants of the study will receive a free electronic book titled: Maximum Selling written by Jeff Gardner and Dr Shawn Green. In his review of Maximum Selling, Brian Tracy, one of the world’s most renowned sales development and motivational specialists said: "This book gives you a step-by-step process you can apply immediately to make more sales, faster, and easier than you ever imagined."
To participate in the survey please contact Jeff Gardner for information: email@example.com