Over the past month, according to our current survey, which closes today, sales for many distributors have stabilized or improved. This which makes sense given construction is open in all states and states have opened their economies to varying degrees.
At the same time, distributors have had staff in their branches to support their customers. That is the benefit of being deemed an “essential\” business.
However, until recently, most salespeople have been, in the words of one manufacturer sales executive, in \”captivity.\”
One of the most frequently asked questions by manufacturers in our prior COVID-19 surveys is \”when can we start visiting distributors?\”
Our current COVID-19 survey will help answer this as a few of the questions ask about manufacturer / distributor interaction as well as timing.
Remember the phrase \”you never get any if you don\’t ask\”? In sales you need to either pick up the phone, visit the customer or be creative to get noticed.
Kevin Wolff, director of National Accounts for Diode\’s Elemental Led, decided he wasn\’t going to sit at home and live on zoom (and he sensed distributors were getting zoomed out.) So, he was proactive, put miles on his care and generated sales.
Getting Back Out There!
Even in the era of social distancing, we still need to be face-to-face with our customers while making safety a priority. Zoom video calls worked great for a while, but from my personal experience going back into the field, I’ve found customers look forward to seeing vendors again with more time to meet, and customers have missed seeing us as much as we missed being with them.
Last month I began visiting customers and conducting counter days in-person. In the Northeast part of the country I have seen 10 distributors. Down in the Southeast I have seen over 40. The breakdown of customer appointments compared to just stopping by has been about 60/40.
Some states and regions still prohibit non-essential business to be conducted indoors. In those cases, I conduct product review and counter days for customers outdoors using a pop-up canopy tent, folding table, samples and a multiple outlet strip. I have conducted about 40% of my calls and trainings doing this. Because Diode’s product demonstrations are interactive, I provide sanitizing wipes for contractors and distributors, stayed 6 feet away and in a majority cases distributor inside have glass at the counter. When I have had meetings inside conference rooms, we have all be spaced out for social distancing.
Diode has always provided customers hands-on training for our products, and will continue to do so in a way that keeps everyone safe. Decreased capacity of branches sometimes result in contractors waiting in line to enter, which has proven to be a welcomed time to educate them on the advantages of using Diode products.
During this challenging time, I want to encourage everyone to be creative in your promotion and education for customers beyond Zoom calls. To support this and the local economy of our customers, I’m planning some events that will launch this summer. A few ideas include “brew-and-learns” at a local brewery outdoors, golf outings and fishing, which are all safe ways to entertain customers while promoting our brand. We’ll likely continue the new ways to connect with our customers even after all restrictions are lifted.
I hope that my positive experience with seeing customers in-person will encourage others in our industry to follow suit.
I look forward to discussing with each of you how we can safely return to face-to-face interaction with our customers.
In conversation with Kevin about what prompted him to “start selling early”, he shared a few of things:
- As a “born” salesman, he’s used to being “out with customers” and meeting with them. There was only so much he could do virtually.
- Creativity was important.
- When he called, and eventually should up, he found distributor branch personnel were happy to see him. In most cases he was the first manufacturer salesperson / rep they had seen. They were looking for “new” company after being restricted to staff.
- Learning new products was beneficial to branch personnel, who had the time to visit since they weren’t as busy as normal.
- He picked up orders from distributors who commented that they couldn’t get answers from their reps / factories and wanted to “thank” (reward) him for his perseverance.
- Practicing “safe selling” in accordance with distributor policy was important. He also abided by CDC guidelines, which distributors appreciated.
Kevin concluded our conversation with ““at Diode we’re lighting the way. It’s elemental.” And to a degree, that is what sales is.
Sales is a contact sport. For many, the value of relationships, built over time, has enabled salespeople “be the customer’s first call / enabled your call to be answered” generating sales over the past 60 days. These relationships will regenerate sales. Transactional interactions will result in fleeting business.
The key, as distributors and customers open, is continuing to serve needs, communicating how you add value to the “customer” and practicing safe selling.
Respondents to our current COVID-19 survey, which closes Thursday, June 11th, receive a free copy of the report. For those choosing not to participate, it will be available for $50 the middle of next week.