Dealing with Sales People

InTheMiddleMediumDealing with sales people is time consuming and often annoying.  Most sales people tend to have poor timing, won’t take no for an answer, drop names, make sport of being rejected and will try any tactic to have an audience with you.  The real problem is that all businesses need to buy and sell stuff.  If we could eliminate that inconvenient aspect of business we could all happily return to nomadic lifestyles.

Fortunately, unless you are part of a large corporation with a streamlined purchasing process, there will be times you have to buy something from them.  Sales people.  You may even have to help one of your company’s sales people close a deal.  This means you and I need to embrace the sales process even if it’s not part of our day-to-day responsibilities.  My shift in mentality about sales was a byproduct of the Great Crash of ’08.  I’ve learned to enjoy building relationships with sales people.  Hopefully, so will you.

The problem

Shortly after the economy crashed I was overloaded by the high number of sales people calling on me.  I didn’t want to turn them away.  I usually felt guilty for not spending more time with sales people.  My dad was entrepreneurial and of course, a salesman.  My grandfather was, too.  I remember how hard both men worked to earn business and keep it.  Also, I did a short stint of sales fresh out of undergrad school.  Ten by ten was the motto.  We had to make 10 cold calls before 10AM every day no matter what.  I sold paper.  It was grueling.  The flashback to my year of selling reminded me of the sharp sting of rejection.  I didn’t want to treat other people that way, even if I wasn’t’ going to buy.

The problem of being overwhelmed with sales calls was twofold.  First, the crashed economy and second, the big company where I worked.  We were beginning several large technology projects during the downturn.  Our concept was simple: this crash won’t last long so let’s do all the stuff we never had time to do before.  Products and services should be cheaper, we have the cash to pay for what we want to do and we have the manpower to pull it off.

The technology sector in Birmingham, Alabama is small.  Word spread quickly that we were investing in our company’s technology and that I was one of the primary gatekeepers.  Temporarily, I was the guy to meet.  On top of all of this I traveled about 75% of the time.  Many sales people assumed that because I was difficult to reach they needed to turn up the effort.  This was the only time in my career to have sales people show up at my office and literally refuse to leave until we could meet. Often, I wasn’t even there.

I had to find a solution

It hit me on my way out of town one morning.  I needed a day every month to meet with sales people.  The idea was a simple solution. I’ll have my assistant Diane, who was already keeping up with all of the meeting requests and messages, contact everyone and tell them we were going to dedicate one day a month for me to meet with potential vendors.

Vendor Day  

That’s what I named it.  Actually, it was more than a name.  Diane and I branded it.  We were excited.  But few people understood the concept.  We needed to define it and advertise it.  We needed to reverse sell.

We had a list of over 100 sales people waiting for an appointment.  Diane started chronologically, working from the oldest to the newest, calling and explaining what we were going to do.  Some people got it immediately and liked it.  Others thought it was ridiculous and refused to participate.  That eliminated about 15 people.  We were ecstatic to hear the majority of people were embracing our concept.

We wanted to make the day productive for everyone involved so we created a few guidelines and one rule.

The basics: Our rule and guidelines

  • Our only rule: You have a maximum of 30 minutes.
  • Who we are.  We provided annual sales, number of users, number of servers, primary vendors and upcoming projects.
  • No buying decisions are made on vendor day.  If your product or service is of interest, you’ll be invited back for a longer meeting.
  • Do whatever you want in the 30-minutes.  Talk about your company, a product or service, yourself.  It’s up to you.
  • Invite as many people from your organization as you want.
  • Present in person or remotely.
  • Business casual.
  • We start at 8:30 at stop at 5:00.  There are no breaks between the 30-minutes.  If you use all 30, another person will be setting up as you leave.

The first Vendor Day flew by.  It was actually fun and I looked forward the the next one.  For the first several months we had a Vendor Day about every 3-4 weeks to work through the list.  As things settled, we pulled back to every other month then about every 3-months.  It worked better than we imagined.

We did spot some interesting tendencies:
  • Every single Vendor Day one person did not show up and never followed up.
  • Two people always asked why I wanted to meet.  When I explained someone from their company called us, the person immediately shifted to blaming their corporate office.
  • Few people managed time.
  • At least one person was always asked to come back.  Usually two.

Benefits:

  • Focus.  I knew what I was getting into for the day and was able to stay focused and involved without feeling like I needed to rush to something that was more important.
  • Respect.  Each sales person received my full attention.  See the bullet above.
  • Condensed MBA. I learned a lot about business, negotiating and how to sell.
  • Better solutions.  I was able to make better choices for my company and provide better services.
  • Tech Talk. I increased my technical knowledge and discovered a lot of talent in the southern IT space.
  • Networking. I made some strong business relationships that I still maintain.  I also helped sales people connect to my peers.

Sales people are doing their jobs.  They understand what makes a business run at the core level: buying and selling stuff.  If you aren’t in sales, try spending time with sales people.  There are many highly professional people who can help you.  And those are the type of sales people who can build lasting relationships, connect people, solve your problem and are driven to provide a great experience.

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