10 Sales Questions for Summer
Ah, summertime. Lemonade in a hammock. That novel you’ve been meaning to read. And, finally, a chance to pull the proverbial train into the station, exhale, and think things through. We spend most of the year with our heads down; too busy selling to wonder if we are heading in the right direction. Finding answers first requires knowing the questions to ask.
To help you take stock of where you are, my sales rep friends, here are some points to ponder:
- “Why do people buy from me?” There are two answers to this important question: Your answer (the dream) and the customer’s answer (the reality). Your version of who you are and why orders gravitate toward you is probably not accurate. Only by going right down Main Street and asking clients directly will you understand which cards to play when seeking new business.
That said, it is highly likely most customers will not be able to tell you immediately. They simply haven’t given it any thought. This means you will have to circle back to allow time for the question to sink in.
- “Where is my sweet spot target
market?” This is almost the polar opposite question from No. 1. What kinds of accounts do you gravitate toward? What kinds of people within those accounts? Which vertical markets suit you best? Imagine having access to this information and getting a gut feeling immediately upon meeting someone. This would save a lot of time and keep you from chasing bad opportunities.
There are many angles to this question — from gender to age group, and even personality type. The best place to start is by examining your current customer base, taking a sip of that lemonade, and looking for similarities.
- “Where am I vulnerable?” It is said you will lose 10% to 15% of your sales volume each year. Be it a client who goes under, moves away, simply doesn’t reorder, or chooses another vendor, you will organically shrink on an annual basis. For the most part, you have no control over that kind of loss.
It’s the other vulnerabilities you need to be concerned about, especially with your largest and most valuable clients. Think: Under what circumstances would I lose [insert company name]’s business?
Uncovering the answers to that question is akin to preparing for a pending hurricane to hit. That sucker is coming, it’s going to huff and puff, and you must be ready to weather the storm. Your ability to survive is largely dependent on proactively bringing existing clients new ideas, expanding your base of contacts, and reminding everyone of the value you bring.
- “How well do I understand my
customers?” If you consider yourself to be merely a print supplier, and your client engagements are limited to purchasing, you might be able to maintain a long-term relationship with an account, however, you will never truly maximize the opportunity unless you have a thorough understanding of its business needs, challenges, and future.
Few print sales reps obtain such a deep level of engagement. Most stay at the surface level, forever fending off the competition by lowering their prices. Only by examining the market and putting yourself in clients' shoes do you move from supplier to partner, submitting ideas rather than just numbers.
- “What is my plan for each profit
opportunity?” Stop and take a look at your overall book of business. If you tried, you could see there are different “categories”: Top accounts, specific vertical markets, geographic areas, or even product type (digital printing, promotional products, wide-format, etc.).
Put that novel down for a second and think through each profit center. What kind of plan could you put together that would maximize each opportunity?
- “Where is my time best spent?” This question has two parts, the first being long term. Looking at the plans you just created in question No. 5, which do you believe has the greatest potential for producing sales volume? The second is short term and should be asked on a regular basis (not just daily but multiple times each selling day). You could even ask it of yourself right now: “Is reading this column right now the best use of my time?”
- “Where do I want to be in six months?” Somewhat of an extension of question No. 6, here’s a chance for you to create the ideal sales future for yourself. Six months from now awaits Q1 of 2022. Envisioning an ideal situation, what do things look like for you?
Think in terms of sales volume, new accounts, and/or even work-life balance. Like the other
questions on this list, it costs nothing to dream, so dream big. Put some serious time (maybe even a second glass of lemonade’s worth of thinking) into this one.
- “Do I love what I do?” This one is not open-ended. It’s either a yes or a no. Here, it’s important to go with your first answer — the one that comes from your gut. If you don’t love what you do, quit immediately and go find something you do love.
That said, don’t confuse a lack of love for what you do with frustration for your current sales situation. For example, being in a sales rut can create enough negativity to where you think you hate being in sales, but those are actually two different things, you need to know the distinction.
- “What have I learned?” This is a question I typically ask young salespeople early in my coaching process. It’s easy for them to see change on a week-to-week basis. As such, they are able to easily come up with important lessons.
For a legacy rep, this one might be more of a challenge. Here, I suggest taping a piece of paper to your desk and jotting down things that come to mind each time you consider the question.
- “What do I need to do my job effectively?” I promise you this: Your answers to this question will be far different from your manager/boss, and probably will even conflict with my opinions. For example, you might think you need marketing materials, such as leave-behinds. I disagree. What you need is marketing and lead generation. Make these needs known. Salespeople, like children, don’t come with instruction manuals for management to refer to. Ask or you will never receive.
Plop yourself in that Adirondack chair. With the wind blowing and the birds chirping, shut off your cell phone, grab a pen and pad of paper, and start writing some answers. Then, let this thought process go for a few days before making additions and edits.
Whether it’s a major course correction or just some minor tweaks, this is the time of year to take a snapshot of your sales and examine each and every pixel. After that, you can look forward to a spike in sales … and perhaps even one for that lemonade!
Bill Farquharson is a sales trainer for the graphic arts. Email him at Bill@AspireFor.com or call (781) 934-7036. Bill’s two books, The 25 Best Print Sales Tips Ever and Who’s Making Money at Digital/Inkjet Printing…and How? as well as information on his new subscription-based website, The Sales Vault are available at BillFarquharson.com.