Open all ears
by Jeff Gardner, Maximum Performance Group
Continuing this two-part special, top salesman Jim DiCenso reveals some of the sales secrets that have made him one of the most impressive performers in the OP arena.
After becoming the first and only salesperson at a small office supplier in Illinois back in 1989, Jim DiCenso has spent nearly 20 years on the front line of office products sales. After riding the OP wave in the 1990s, DiCenso maintains the excellent, long-term relationships he has built up with many of his clients.
Just as importantly, he has fostered close ties to his sales partners who he says "contribute a lot" to his success. Using "warm" leads and a personal "not pushy" approach, he has gained a reputation as a top performer in the industry. Now a partner at Midwest Office Supply, DiCenso recorded 2007 sales of $2.7 million and, with the help of a focused business plan, aims to break the $3 million mark in 2008.
What is a typical day for you?
I try to get to the office as early as I can, usually between 7am and 7.30am. And I’m out the door to see customers by 9am. However, every day is different, that’s what I like about this job – there’s no monotony.
I’m not the kind of guy who likes to be strapped to a desk or stuck in meetings. When I’m out seeing people with ten or 15 appointments in a day, that’s when I like it best. I’ll see at least five people in the morning and hopefully five to ten in the afternoon.
In Springfield, that’s easy because it’s such a compact city. I also schedule my appointments in a certain end of town on certain days so I’m not running all over the place. And in between calls, I’m answering email and handling phone calls – every minute of my day is used towards selling office supplies. However, that’s not to say that I don’t take a Friday afternoon off to go golfing every now and then.
Even when I’m away from the office on vacation, I’m still checking my emails. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. I want to make sure that I’m involved in all the important sales that my customers have. If I’m away on vacation and a customer needs me, I am going to be available for them, which doesn’t really bother me because I love what I do.
It would bother me more if, when I got back home, I found out that one of my customers had to go somewhere else to buy something because I was not available. We have great support people and for the most part, my customers go to them when I am away. However, if there’s an emergency, I want to be available for them.
How do you deal with price? It seems to be an issue with most OP consumers.
We’ve done a good job of matrix pricing so that we are giving the ‘A’ items a bigger discount to our customers and we are very competitive. That’s not because of me, it’s because of the guys behind the scenes like Jeff DeMarco and Jeremy Krall who are doing the pricing for us.
If I’m going after a new customer and all they care about is price, then I’m going to give it to them. Because once I’m in the door, I’m never going to leave.
Is there anything you do to keep yourself pumped up and motivated? You sound like you’re in an awesome mood on a Monday morning – what do you do to recharge your batteries?
We feed off each other to keep ourselves motivated around here. We all want to succeed. And the other thing is that these guys are my friends, I’ve known most of them since school, the last thing I want is to feel as if I’m a load to them and that I’m not pulling my weight.
Also, I’m a pretty competitive guy, I always have been. Growing up playing sports, I hated to lose and selling is a lot like that. I hate the thought of losing – I always want that win. Whether it’s a two-person office or a 100-person office, I want to go in and get the sale.
You spoke last time about listening as a key to selling success. What kind of questions do you ask when you are on a first appointment?
The most important question is, who is the decision-maker? I don’t want to spend a lot of time at an account only to find out that the person I’ve been dealing with needs to get approval from someone else. I want to talk to the person that has the authority to switch over all the business. Otherwise I’m just spinning my wheels and wasting everybody’s time.
From there I ask: "What is it you are spending the most money on- or "What product are you buying the most of-. For some companies it’s toner, for some its paper. You never know the particular item that’s going to ‘wow’ them when you come in with a better price or better selection.
Then I ask them: "What are you looking for in an office supply dealer? What do you expect out of me- Companies usually say next day delivery, web ordering, that kind of things. Usually it’s something we can provide for them.
Finally I ask: "If I can show you savings somewhere, will you give me a try- I don’t ask for all their business, but to at least give us a try. That way, you get a commitment from them and when you do come back with better pricing, they won’t just blow you off and say that they’re happy with who they’re buying from. It has happened in the past that even though we are cheaper, customers say they want to stay where they are.
It just goes to show that for some people price is not the whole thing. There are a lot of things customers look for when they’re going to purchase their office supplies."
What has been your most memorable sale? It doesn’t necessarily have to have been your biggest sale, it might have been a tough prospect or something unique that you remember?
There’s one that comes to mind and that was a large furniture installation. It was a bid process with one of my bigger customers. We came in with a HON product and our price was significantly lower than our competitor. We were awarded the bid, but then the competitor came back with another product at a lesser price.
So at that point, my contact at the customer went to bat for me with the administrator and said: "Look, Midwest won the bid, we know the company will install it right, we know that DiCenso will be on site helping to make sure this job gets done correctly. The right thing to do is to give the business to DiCenso." And because of my contact that company gave me the $100,000 order. It all came down to my relationship with the customer and our reputation. If the customer had looked at price and price alone, the other competitor would have won.
Any favourite closing techniques that you use? What do you say to wrap things up at the end of a presentation?
I always ask for the customers’ business. I always let them know that I want their business. I’m not here just to give you a sales pitch and move on, I’m here because I want your business and I’ll do anything to get it.
Any last comments or advice you would give to someone new just starting out in sales in the OP industry?
This is a great job and there’s a lot of freedom, you’re out in the field away from the office. If you’re not disciplined, if you’re not goal-driven, you’re going to fall on your face. If you aren’t going to motivate yourself, you will be distracted in ways you won’t believe and you will go off and waste your time and never achieve your goals. You’ve got to be disciplined – you’ve got to want to get to a certain level of sales, every year, every month, every week and every day.
Early in my career that freedom was a distraction for me. That’s why I’ve become so set in my ways, getting in early, scheduling my day and knowing exactly where I’m going to go. I don’t want distractions to stop me from reaching $3 million this year!
Don’t forget to contact me with your suggestion for a top performing salesperson to be featured in an upcoming article. Good Selling!