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Every Day is a Training Opportunity

By Kris Walker

Life takes you in lots of new directions, and each direction brings its own lesson. Here are some sales lessons I've learned on the road.

A scan of the calendar indicates that this months issue of Counterman includes the ASE P2 Test prep. The upcoming ASE test will gauge if you know the nuts and bolts of being a good parts professional.

Of course, there are other bits of knowledge the ASE test can never measure. These are the soft skills learned from years of making sales calls and dealing with customers. What follows are some valuable lessons Ive learned while making calls on the road.

I think back to the fast food sign I saw many years ago on my sales route that said Quality Help Needed. Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, the next time I drove through that part of my territory, the sign had changed and simply read Closed. I guess they found help, just not quality help.

I think about the time I called on a customer to whom we had not shipped product as expected. I was armed with all of the official company responses as to why we were not shipping product and satisfying our customers needs: the laborers were on strike, the plant burned down, theres a raw materials shortage, our policies dont match your business model, etc. The customer put the whole situation into perspective by simply saying, You are making your problem, my problem. I learned how important it is for a company to be easy to do business with.

I think about the time I finally realized that we set expectations as we pitch our company, goods and services - but its how we perform after the sale that reflects the true value of that company, goods or services.

I think about the time I applied simple mathematics to a spreadsheet and converted a program into a business proposition. I learned by doing the math that customers dont just buy products, goods and services, they buy profit opportunities. Anybody can buy and sell widgets, but can we generate an income while doing so?

I think about the time that after going through my pitch, perhaps a bit rehearsed and routinely for the umpteenth time, the customer asked me, How do you know this stuff so well? After another successful sale, the concept hit home: Preparation makes all the difference in the world. It also taught me that even if the pitch is rehearsed and routine, its important to keep up the enthusiasm. It is, after all, the customers or prospects first time hearing it, and they deserve my best effort.

I think about the time, as an outside salesman, I worked with a customer to reduce his payments to our company, sacrificing short-term gain for long-term good will. I commented to the customer that I couldnt afford too many days like that. He answered, Dont worry, it will come back to you. And I trust it will.

I think about how good I feel when I work off a plan and how disorganized I feel on those rare occasions that I take off without one. I learned that I am always more productive when I work off of a solid plan, even if it changes mid stream, as it always seems to do.I think about all the times Ive sold something as a result of a cold call. Ive always believed that if I made enough calls, Id be bound to find somebody who would buy something. I call them accidental sales. But they still count.

I think about all the cold calls that Ive made that resulted in nothing more than identifying a business with no prospects of buying. Theres value in that too.

I think about how I like to watch customer service representatives at the hardware store, bike shop and airport as they deal with dissatisfied and difficult customers and situations. I learn how others handle those challenges and turn them into opportunities. I think about how I walk the floors of successful retailers and service providers and learn how they merchandise their products and services and train their associates.

I think about the training seminars and classes I have been fortunate enough to attend and all the valuable lessons I have learned. I think about the times Ive spent with vendor, company and customer associates, and I how learned from watching and listening to them. I think every call I prepare for, plan and make is a training opportunity. Every day I can learn about my company, customers, prospects and myself. All it takes is a willingness to learn. Think about it.

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