May 2019
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The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
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Secrets of a Sales Rep – Episode Four

 

Secrets of a Sales Rep – Episode Four

Albert and the Raincoat

The following article was written by Mike Wicks; he is currently an author and ghostwriter, but in his early career he was a professional salesman. He has developed dozens of sales and marketing courses and delivered hundreds of hours of sales and marketing training during his career. He is also an adviser with University of Victoria's Innovation Centre of Entrepreneurship. "Albert and the Raincoat" is the fourth in a series of articles in which he shares with readers his secrets of sales success. The third "Secrets" article was published in this publication in January 2019.

In my last "secrets" article I told the story of how I learned first-hand the importance of being a chameleon when selling to people. This time, I'm going to tell you a humorous story that illustrates that creativity can sometimes help you win the day.

One of my earliest memories as an eighteen-year-old trainee sales rep in England was being put with an older salesman called Albert, who was soon to retire. It was he who showed me how to complete the company's weekly expense sheet. It's hard to believe these days, but at that time we were given a cigarette allowance – yep, we were paid to smoke! Almost all our customers smoked and salaries weren't high, so the allowance allowed us to be generous with our 'smokes' when selling to bookshop owners.

The main reason I remember Albert is his raincoat. It was a well-worn gabardine relic he always wore, even when rain was not forecast. In his final few weeks prior to retirement, he added to his expenses request form, "One raincoat - £50." We used to complete our forms on a Friday evening and get our expense cheque a week later always on a Monday. On this particular Monday Albert looked displeased with his cheque. His expense sheet had been returned with the raincoat expense crossed out.

Unperturbed, the following Friday Albert once again itemized his expenses and included, "One raincoat worn on company business for 30-years!" and once again submitted it to Bob White, our sales manager.

When the expense cheque arrived, once again Albert was unhappy. The raincoat item had a thick red line through it with an arrow leading to the comment, "You cannot claim for this type of expense! – Bob."

Time was running out and I sat beside Albert in his car as he filled out his final expense sheet before retirement. That was the last I ever saw of Albert, but not the last I heard of him. Sometime later at a sales conference, Bob White was talking about the past and he brought up Albert and what a great salesman he was. He then recounted the tale of the raincoat. He told everyone about Albert continually trying to get him to pay for the tatty old item of clothing. He mentioned that he had refused to pay for it on several occasions and that he scrutinized Albert's final expense sheet thoroughly and the raincoat was nowhere to be seen. It was then, apparently, he saw a tiny annotation – a small asterisk with a line to the term PTO (please turn over) – when he turned the sheet over he read the words, "It's in there somewhere if you look for it! Albert."

Albert was a great salesperson and taught me a lot about creativity and that there's always more than one way to get what you want out of any situation. I remember that often when I come to what seems like an impasse – I pause, think of Albert – what would he have done?

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Secrets of a Sales Rep – Episode Four

 

Is a USP Important?

When you think about what makes any company special, it's primarily something that sets it apart from its competition; on a personal note it's something that offers you, the buyer, something more, something different. In sales terms, this is often called a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It's the one thing that make us choose one company over another. It's what makes that company attractive and distinct from other companies. In short, it's what makes it unique.

But why have a USP? Consider for a moment why you shop where you do – perhaps for groceries in person, or books online. Somewhere along the line you made a choice and that choice was based on some sort of criteria. For instance, perhaps you shop at a grocery store called Quality Foods. Your reasons include the fact that the store is close to where you live, the staff are friendly, the prices are reasonable, and it allows you to choose one product each visit that is on sale especially for you, and you are allowed to buy four of this particular product on each visit. The store also features $1.49 days, pop-up sales where many products are marked down for the day. These combined, form the store's primary USP. You probably value the ability to choose what product you get a special discount on, and the $1.49 days are a bonus. But, if the store wasn't close, the staff unfriendly, and the prices higher than the competition, maybe the USP wouldn't be strong enough to keep you going back. In this case however, the ability to choose what item you can get on sale may be a unique benefit that is far more attractive to you than the store's competitors who only give you a discount if you purchase items in multiple quantities.

Your USP can be anything from guaranteed best prices, best/longest warranty, free delivery, free servicing, widest selection, free upgrades, or something completely different (dare we say unique?) Whatever it is, it has to be something your competition isn't offering.

Make it the focal point of your company, ensure it is appealing to customers, build your marketing strategy around it, and make sure it creates excitement which makes you stand out.

One way to discover a USP for your company is to carry out a strengths and weaknesses analysis on your competition and particularly pay attention to their weaknesses. It's there you may just discover something you could introduce that would give you your USP.

One word of warning – make sure you can live up to your USP. United Airlines used the slogan "Fly the friendly skies" to demonstrate its USP of caring more about its passengers than other airlines. How did that work out? Not all corporate slogans, or tag lines, are companies USP's but they often reflect the USP.

If you can have a combination of USP's all the better! Multiple USP's offer the chance to appeal to different people; what's important to one person may be of no interest to another. Being unique gives your company an edge, so think about what you can do to offer your customers something your competitors don't, or even better can't!

One last word, about the word unique; you often hear people say things like, "It's very unique" or "It's almost unique," when they probably should be using the word 'unusual' instead. Something can be very unusual, but if it is unique, it is one of a kind. Make your company one of a kind.

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Secrets of a Sales Rep – Episode Four

 

Coach's Corner - Continuous Improvement or Perfection?

What in life requires perfection? Usually situations that are associated with matters of safety, life and death. We also need perfection when designing and building vehicles, airplanes and rocket ships or building bridges, office towers or other structures to ensure stability and resistance to outside forces. Medical procedures also require perfection.

"Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection." – Kim Collins, Olympic Athlete

However, on many occasions we find ourselves in situations where we get caught up trying to be perfect and it's actually slowing us down. During those times we are creating barriers to moving forward; we dwell on small things that don't really matter but take up a great deal of time. We get bogged down with trying to achieve perfection when it isn't necessary, or even at times realistic.

"The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement." - George Will, Journalist

It's really important at certain intervals to reflect on what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve; to ask ourselves the following questions. What outcome are we looking for? What amount of time are we willing and able to spend? When is enough, enough?

Our focus on perfectionism can blur our path to improvement. In fact, it can become a roadblock to better things. Those minor incremental changes probably won't make any significant, or real, difference in the long run.

When we move from focusing on perfection to concentrating on continuous improvement, we will actually achieve greater outcomes. When we are able to overcome those "spinning wheels of perfectionism," we will find that we have freed up some time to focus on other more important things.

"Excellent firms don't believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change." – Tom Peters, Business Management Author and Speaker

Next time you are caught looking for perfection, stop, reflect, and ask yourself, how important is it? What will you achieve by striving for perfection? What else could you be doing?

Paul Abra, Certified Executive Coach
Motivated Coaching

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