Senior managers with technical expertise and presidents and CEOs need to make periodic sales calls on key customers as we have previously discussed. These calls should always be made with the local sales representatives. First of all, the sales person has the knowledge of the customer that will be very useful during the visit, and it will give you the opportunity to spend time with those soldiers manning the outposts. Difficult times can also be a very good time to make these visits.
We did business in the “north country” of upstate New York. Winter times can be brutal with snow off the eastern side of Lake Ontario in the hundreds of inches per year. When a salesman and a senior manager show up between the months of November and February, everyone will remember them. These vendors, not the fair-weather types, will invariably get the business. Same thing when times are tough and travel budgets shaved.
During these visits, be sure that the local rep carries the agenda. You should set the agenda items you wish to cover ahead of time, but let your local rep show his authority to lead the discussion. Don’t make them look unimportant. Otherwise, you may find out that that customer will never take a final word from your sales rep and you will become the receiver of many calls you don’t really want to handle.
If you have never been a direct salesman, as many of us have not, you will find many interesting sales techniques being employed by your local reps. You will also get a better idea of how your company is being portrayed out there.
At times you will also get into a meeting where there is really no interest in your company’s products. This is sometimes very hard to read, but it can save you a lot of wasted time if you can quickly ascertain this.
I remember making such a call with a very senior salesman on a steel company with which we had done many projects. We thought there was a new big project that we could bid on. But after a very short time, knowing how that particular mill operated, he realized that all the key people to decide on such a project were not present at this meeting. He closed up his catalog demonstrating our products and suggested that the meeting was over. It seemed uncomfortable to me, but it was in reality a relief to those people who had been called out to attend the meeting because a senior manager was coming.