Building Superstar Salespeople, One Byte At A Time

A few years ago, the rationale for having a website was simple. The reasons were:

“It provides my business with credibility and puts my name out there.”
“My neighbor or the guy I golf with has a website.”
“It will be important to have one someday.”

Someday is here. In fact, “someday” actually arrived in 1998. If we think about it, the last uninformed customer purchased or leased equipment sometime around 1998. Customers today are smarter and more educated and are utilizing the Internet to acquire more information. Prior to calling the distributor, the customer is aware of basic product information, invoice costs, transaction pricing and even equipment evaluations from various third-party sites. The customer often has selected the product and has determined what he or she wants to spend. Still, we must provide our salespeople with the tools needed to hold that customer’s hand and provide them with even more knowledge, helping the prospect to make a smart buying decision.

The basic rationale for having a website in the year 2002 is still simple: Today’s website will enhance the capabilities of our sales efforts, allowing us to operate our businesses more profitably and more efficiently. Put more simply, the purpose of today’s website is to make more money. Or to look at it in another way: If today’s technology does not meet a current need, it has no purpose.

Developing Sales Professionals Remains our Greatest Challenge
With record unemployment lows, locating, recruiting and training professional sales personnel continues to be one of our greatest challenges. At times, it seems as if the only salespeople who are pounding the pavement are those who are chronically unemployed. We hire “Johnny” and hope that he will succeed in our environment, or we seek to recruit those superstars who are working for another company. As small business owners, we then attempt to offer compensation packages that are competitive with larger companies. Predictably, when competing with the larger employers, we come up short.

Most entrepreneurs will tell us that it takes about a year for a salesperson to become a true asset to the company. During that first year, we make a sizable investment in arming the new salesperson with product knowledge and with knowledge that is specific to our company. We pour our blood, sweat and tears into our new employee, knowing that his or her success will assure us of our own. The salesperson, through trial and error, will apply that knowledge and, if we are lucky, become successful. In some cases, depending on the company’s turnover rate, we may have to repeat that process several times before we hit a home run.

In order to grow our business, we are challenged to meet more customers’ needs. In order to meet more customers’ needs, we must recruit more salespeople who can sell. How can we provide our sales personnel with the tools they need in order to sell more product and to experience greater success? How can we accomplish all of this in the least amount of time, as cost-efficiently as possible? You guessed it. The answer is the Internet.

A Unique Form of Communications Intimacy
If salesmanship is about building relationships, then Internet sales (if utilized properly) can be about building lasting relationships. As websites mature and as the Internet becomes integrated with the distributor’s business, targeted and one-to-one marketing utilizing the Web will be the norm to address the individualized needs of customers.

Let’s face it, the training investment we make in individual salespeople is costly. It is only mitigated by the salesperson’s potential long-term commitment to the company. As electronic commerce becomes easier to manage and more cost-effective to implement, distributors now can shift some, if not all, of the traditional telephone and face-to-face selling to Internet-based selling.

We know from experience that consumers have been visiting the Web instead of utilizing the telephone in order to gather information and to solve their problems. When necessary, they can even engage in a sales or service dialog on demand. In short, our prospects will continue to drive an online interaction process. Business 101 teaches us that in order to succeed, we must listen to our customers. My friends, they have been speaking for several years. As time goes on, they are beginning to shout!

Direct selling will always have its place in the marketing of a complex product or in a consultative sales environment. It will remain difficult to replace a live sales call when it comes to selling a highly technical product or high-end products and services. Yet the Internet holds real promise as a tool for enhancing the sales process and for continuing the sales cycle in the absence of qualified salespeople.

In-person sales calls will still occur, but soon we will routinely utilize the Internet as a sales tool. The use of the Internet as a sales tool is not necessarily a foreign concept. Nor does it have to be outrageously expensive or complicated. (The Internet as a sales tool can be as simple to use as a calculator!) It’s simply a tool utilized to create a stronger, more capable sales force.

It is important to understand that just as we have public and private space in our brick-and-mortar buildings, we can have public and private space on our websites. Just as our customers do not typically access the employee break room, online visitors may not routinely access what can be termed “private pages” (otherwise known as Extranet). These private pages can become a major sales advantage when properly utilized by sales personnel.

Internet-Enhanced Telephone Presentations
Let’s begin with the use of the Internet as a tool to enhance telephone contact with our sales prospects. Maintaining the customer’s interest and controlling the direction of the telephone conversation can be a challenge for all salespeople. The Internet and your website can serve to enhance a conversation with a prospect by providing the prospect with all he or she needs to know about your company and about purchasing specific equipment.

Imagine the following scenario: The salesperson conducts a telephone conversation with his prospect and invites that prospect to visit his company’s website to view additional information. The salesperson escorts the prospect through a visual presentation of your company, visiting specific pages of your website. He continues with a live voice to lead his prospect page by page, visually “making eye contact” as they view your material together.

If the salesperson possesses a reasonable familiarity with the company’s website and a basic level of product knowledge, he can stop at various points during this presentation to provide the prospect with additional information and to invite questions. The salesperson can direct the prospect customer to testimonials and success stories. He can add relevant anecdotes to underscore key points.

The next stop on this virtual journey can be a visit to the company’s menu of services, an inventory page or a page which allows the prospect to “build” the desired product.

What was originally a quick telephone contact has become an in-depth sales presentation. Your salesperson was armed with the tools he needed to hold that customer’s attention. He was able to direct the customer to information that clearly highlights your company’s competitive edge.

Internet-Enhanced Face-To-Face Presentations
We have all seen salespeople fumble in a face-to-face selling situation. They may forget key points that identify our company’s competitive edge. They may inadvertently respond incorrectly to a prospect’s inquiry. Our goal is to arm each salesperson with the fire power needed to create a sales presentation that is as strong as the one we ourselves would give. Easier said than done.

Have you ever wished that you could get into the head of your salesperson and invisibly accompany him on a sales call? Imagine your salesperson’s closing ratio if he were able to present all of the information in a way that you would. Using readily available technology, it is possible to create a situation in which a salesperson can walk into a prospect’s office and make a presentation that is guaranteed to be consistently the same as the one you would have given, regardless of the salesperson’s personal knowledge base.

Scenario Two: The salesperson visits his prospect’s office armed with a notebook computer. He may connect with the Internet from the customer’s office by dialing up his company’s website (or using wireless technology to gain Web access) and then guide the prospect through an online seminar regarding your company, your services and your products. The salesperson can lead the prospect through a one-on-one interactive presentation, and the company has the assurance that the selling message (no matter who is providing it) is uniform and consistent.

Scenario Three: The salesperson has finished his presentation and determines that the prospect is ready to purchase equipment. While in the prospect’s office, the salesperson can access the company website or a private site to inform and educate the prospect and facilitate the sales process. Contracts and ordering information can be available to the salesperson over the Web. The salesperson can even place an order and receive an instant electronic acknowledgement from his company—all while the salesperson is sitting in his prospect’s office.

Utilizing online technology can indeed level the playing field. A less experienced salesperson can make a presentation that is worthy of a veteran. To some extent, the sales presentation is theater. The Internet-enhanced sales presentation can be utilized as a cue card, helping the salesperson to remain focused, to direct the attention of the prospect and to enable the prospect to make a smart purchasing decision.

It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s Just the Web
Internet-enhanced sales presentations are not rocket science. They simply make use of technology in a way that benefits our companies and, most important, enables our customers to make smart purchasing decisions. We must consistently remember that online technology has no purpose except to help our customers. It is our challenge to look at technology in its purest and simplest form—and to determine if and how it can work for the gases and welding industry.

Only then do we have a use for it.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
Judy C. Flanagan is president of Data Key Communications, Inc., publisher of NWSA Journal, in Dewitt, New York.