by Greg Walters
The following content is intended for new copier representatives. But if you’ve been around the copier block a couple of times, participated in demo-ramas and are considered a seasoned selling professional, I implore you to read and comment. Not for my edification - you owe it to the industry to help fix the future and advise the next generation. So let them know what’s up, the good, the bad and the ugly.
So you’re new to selling. Welcome to the greatest show on Earth where all the clichés apply:
"Learning here is like drinking from a fire hydrant.”
“This is baptism by fire.”
“It’s sink or swim.”
“Remain calm, everything will be OK.”
Over the next few months, it will be my honor to regale you with legends of glory and doom; with stories of heroic tragedies and mundane existence; with tales for your enjoyment and possible tutelage.
My story is a simple one. I began selling technology in 1988 and tripped into “copiers” in 1999. I’ve worked with AFLAC, Cintas, Océ, Panasonic, Industrial Videos, IKON and multiple VARs, from Michigan to California to North Carolina to Wisconsin.
Let me be clear - I am NOT A SELLING EXPERT. There was a time when being referred to as an “expert” was flattering. Not anymore, not for a while. As a matter of fact, I feel the age of the expert has passed. There are no experts because everybody is an expert.
If I possess an iota of insight, it’s from being on both sides of the selling table. Ricoh, Staples, Lexmark, Samsung, HP, Xerox, a plethora of independent copier dealers, IT VARs and MSPs have presented to me and my C-level clients. More significantly, I’ve been in on the conversations after you leave the conference room and it isn’t pretty.
Brace yourself: I’ve put together a list of aspects, people, forces and considerations prevalent in most copier selling environments - things you’ll need to learn about and work with on a daily basis:
- How to sell
- Site surveys
- Pick-up forms
- How to qualify
- Sales manager
- Your technicians
- Expiration dates
- Service manager
- Business reviews
- How to use email
- Customer service
- How to load paper
- Contracts manager
- Learning vs. training
- Statements of work
- Multiple lease types
- How to change toner
- How to use the phone
- Understanding leasing
- How to clear a misfeed
- Order entry/submission
- Document management
- How to create proposals
- The 30-day process/funnel
- Different leasing companies
- How to talk about “solutions”
- How to train your customers
- How to accept responsibility
- How to write a business plan
- How to manage service issues
- Learning your internal systems
- Delivery and acceptance forms
- How to track down billing issues
- Shipping/logistics delivery forms
- How to handle an upset customer
- How to demonstrate your solution
- How to engage your support team
- How to work with your service team
- How to work with different interfaces
- How to talk about business problems
- How to work with your vendors/OEMs
- Understanding how to present a lease
- How to work with management/ownership
- How to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook
You get the point - there’s a lot of stuff.
How can anyone deal with all this and make a living? Remember, you get paid to sell, not to fill out paperwork, babysit technicians, placate unruly customers or deliver toner.
In this new, turbulent world where are realistic, stable recommendations? As someone who has worked with oodles of salespeople in diverse environments, here is my first dose of sharable opinion:
One - be the sponge.
Two - don’t be intimidated.
Three - sell something, anything.
Lesson one: soak it up
With so much thrown at you, it seems ridiculous to suggest absorbing even more. But that’s exactly what you should do. For example, check out your entire dealership (be social, not pushy). Make note of the business processes inside your accounting department. Read books and watch movies about selling.
You can use this knowledge when asking prospects about their business.
Caution 1: Thousands of books dot the landscape, but there are probably fewer than 10 worth reading - all others are rehashed versions of the original 10.
Caution 2: Don’t spend too much time learning under the dealership roof. Get out in front of many prospects and ask how they manage around business challenges. These are the notes you want to take and review - your prospects do not care about speeds and feeds.
Lesson two: intimidation
There are plenty of reasons to feel overwhelmed. Don’t worry, that’s part of the “training” — you’re supposed to feel like you are drowning. This is the part where you make most of your mistakes.
Don’t worry, even the tenured professional has confused “cost" with “sell,” sold a misconfigured device, left out a fax board, extra memory, postscript or bridge unit. Going back to a prospect to re-sign a lease agreement is so common it’s a rite of passage.
Caution 1: Those seasoned sales professionals may strut around like peacocks dripping with hubris and sporting chunky watches. They may even perpetuate a negative stereotype. But respect them, they are proven — made.
Caution 2: When you are fortunate enough to accompany a veteran in the field, shut up and pay attention, but remember, her style is not yours. Pick up the building blocks and create your own palace.
Lesson three - take every deal
In the first few years of any startup, cash flow is king. Beyond hefty margins, getting money to flow into the organization secures a profitable future. You are a startup; this is why most rookie compensation plans are ramps and revenue based. As a startup, you need to get money in the door - you must sell something.
Most dealerships have all sorts of ideas and guidelines on how to survive the first year or two, but passing tests, getting certifications and winning demonstration contests will never make up for a number at the end of the month. Sales is No. 1 - a fax machine, single-function printer, 10-unit MPS agreement - sell something, anything.
Caution 1: Desperation does not attract. As much as you must bring in revenue, do not sacrifice your dignity chasing cash. Like a wolf senses weakness, prospects can feel desperation. Find a deal without losing yourself.
Caution 2: Don’t get comfortable selling “little deals” but don’t let the whales hypnotize you. The process is sequential and elevating, every sale is a step towards bigger and better opportunities. Do not get caught in the rut of exclusively approaching “cash flow” deals.
The path you have chosen is paved with the experiences of those who came before you - seek out these elders and observe the signposts along the way. As you grow into a selling professional, that concrete walkway will fade into a dirt trail until one day, newbies will be asking you, “How did you come to this golden place?”
Over the next few months, I’ll put forward pieces designed to resonate with entry level players and stimulate the ones who've journeyed before into contributing as well.
This should be fun.