wedded bliss


A successful sales/customer relationship, says Jeff Gardner, is more like a marriage than a casual fling. It is a commitment that needs to be constantly worked at through the good times and the bad

The previous trade secrets articles illustrated five of the six steps involved in the sales process. First, you prospected to find potential customers; second, you uncovered the prospect’s needs; third, you presented an appropriate solution; fourth, you negotiated through objections and, finally and fifth, with the order, you gained a commitment.

Believe it or not, your work is far from complete. Closing a deal is like saying "I do" on your wedding day; if you don’t follow-up on your promises, then you are headed for a wounded, if not broken, relationship.

A successful wedding requires not much more than a question, an answer and a few days/weeks/months of preparation. A successful marriage, on the other hand, requires a laundry list of ingredients: patience, planning, care, concern, loyalty, love… Simply put, a successful marriage requires follow-up on wedding day promises.

And so it is similar with a sales relationship. What are you going to do to keep your customer happy? What will you do to prove you care about your customer? Follow-up!

The follow-up phase is a time for you to focus on bringing value to your potential customer. Yes, I said potential customer. There is a definite difference between a potential customer and a loyal customer, and the difference is defined in the salesperson’s follow-up (or lack thereof). Follow-up is staying power. Remain loyal to your customers and they will remain loyal to you.

opportunity knocks

You have huge potential to grow your current customer base. According to research, most business consumers buy their office products from multiple sources. Even if a consumer considers your company to be its primary supplier you might be getting only 40-50 per cent of the potential business, which leaves plenty of room for a profit increase on your part. You can literally double your sales with most of your customers.

Start by performing a potential analysis for your top ten customers. Identify how many people each of those top ten customers employ. Your potential sales opportunity is anywhere from $500-$1,200 per employee, per year. Now do the maths. How much is their potential? Subtract the amount they are buying from you. The difference is your growth potential. You might be surprised at how much opportunity lies with your current customers.

For example, a 20-person consumer business will purchase approximately $800 of office products and computer supplies per person for a potential of $16,000 per year. Let’s say it buys $7,000 worth of product from you now – your opportunity is the $9,000 difference.

Your growth potential is attainable only if you have something to give back to your customer – added value (see box). Added value is not asking for another order. It is not providing your customers with an 800 number or a website through which they can place more orders. In today’s world of online ordering, the function of a sales rep to write orders is becoming less and less valuable to the customer. In fact, the salesperson who drops by to "visit" or to "pick up" an order is downright annoying.

Regular sales calls hold your place on a customer’s shopping list of suppliers; therefore, make as many sales calls as a company’s size and service require.

I had a meeting with a salesman who was lamenting the loss of his second largest customer. He told me that a month passed before he discovered that the customer had switched to his competitor. An entire month passed! The salesman admitted that he had been lax about contacting the customer, and at the end of the month when he looked at his sales reports he noticed that this particular customer had not bought anything from him that month.

So, he called his contact person on the phone and she told him that they had switched four weeks earlier and they had already become accustomed to dealing with the new supplier. If I were to make a list of the seven deadly sins of sales, failure to follow-up would be near, if not at the top of the list. Complacency is automatic failure in sales.


Take time to develop relationships beyond the office supplies buyer. What happens if that buyer leaves the company? Get to know the different department managers. Introduce yourself – maybe your services and expertise will help them to run their departments more efficiently.

Your sales growth potential increases with each person you meet at a particular company. There could be different decision-makers for the different product categories that you sell. For example, the entire jan/san category might be purchased by someone other than the office products buyer.

Ask your contact person to introduce you to any decision-makers that you don’t already know. Most office products dealers have catalogues with thousands and thousands of products. Get your fair share!

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a break-up can tell you that break-ups hurt. Your customers will eventually leave you if you neglect them, and your bottom line as well as your reputation as a salesperson will suffer. Follow-up is the sixth step in the sales process, and it is the tool that will perpetuate future sales.

added value

Top performing salespeople do not make a sales call unless they have an objective or purpose for the call. They find a way to make the sales call valuable for the customer and not just for themselves. There are two specific ways that a salesperson can bring value to a customer.

1. Help the customer with procurement


Streamlining the steps involved in purchasing office products is a valuable time-saving strategy for your customers, for example, and it helps their offices to function more efficiently. Don’t assume that a customer that has always faxed or called in orders is a satisfied customer. Start a conversation and present different options. If you don’t do it, one of your competitors will.

2. Help the customer with product applications

I recently spent two days with sales leaders from several successful office products dealers, and the experience helped me gain a better understanding of the force behind sales success. One of the topics was how to bring value to the customer. We all agreed that presenting a product which helps a customer’s employees become more productive brings value to the customer. In other words, value added allows the customer to see the product as an investment, not a cost.

Do not accept status quo! Go after more business from your current customers, and maximise selling potential by following up with your customers!