by Greg Walters
“When I grow up, I want to sell copiers and printers,” said nobody, ever.
"If two years ago you told me I would be selling copiers, I would have slugged you in the head,” said new reps everywhere.
An aunt to her nephew over Thanksgiving dinner: “What do you do for a living now that you’ve graduated, Johnny?”
“I help companies manage and reduce the costs associated with documents!”
“Oh. You sell copiers. That’s nice. Could you pass the potatoes?"
For those of you who have been in the business for more than a couple of years, you may find the above statements apropos, if not a bit painful. I wanted to be an astronaut once, but the closest thing I’ve gotten to Star Trek is my iPad. I do know the seven steps of the xerographic process, however, so I’ve got that going for me.
Regardless, let’s say you’re a fresh-out-of-school, new copier sales representative. Perhaps you’ve taken a sales class in college, worked retail over the summer, or your friends and family tell you, “You’re such a people person, you should be in sales." Congratulations, you are more than qualified.
As a newbie, your target market is going to be what we love to call “down the street” copier sales. Everybody starts here; many stay. Down the street (DTS) selling is just that; your prospects are located up and down the street and, like the Fuller Brush man, you’re expected to prospect to these small businesses — funeral homes, real estate offices, insurance agents, auto dealers and shops, HVAC, construction, electrical subcontractors, trucking companies, churches and the ever popular print-for-pay businesses.
But the best way to approach this segment is not through a precise email campaign, massive research or a cute social media program. The proven method is a combination of door-knocking and over-the-phone cold calling. That’s it. It’s hard work, no doubt, and the first step in the journey to major and strategic accounts management.
Here’s how these DTS accounts behave:
— The owners make the decisions: With family-owned and founded businesses, you’ll be working with the people who can sign on the line that is dotted. There's potential for a little more emotion-based decision and family influence. Logic may not prevail.
— They are copier averse: They love to hate the copier; get used to it.
— They have gatekeepers: Whether at the front desk, behind thick glass or an intercom away, DTS businesses have perfected the role of gatekeeper.
— It’s not their first device: They hate copiers because they’ve had copiers before.
— They are price-driven: Cheapest is the best.
— They are loyal to the lease/contract: They are less likely to break ANY agreement.
— They lie: Small businesses have difficulty being negative, so they feel better dragging the process out instead of telling salespeople “no.” When the sales process drones on, do not be surprised to hear them tell you they’ve already signed with a competitor.
— The 30-day cycle: Not every sale is a 30-day close, but the smaller accounts tend to make decisions in 30-day windows; it just may take six windows.
— Your education: Learn all you can about their business environment; how they make decisions, pay bills, process jobs, sell and move information around. The more businesses you get into, the bigger your portfolio of experience becomes.
— Forgiveness: You don’t need to be perfect. These accounts are typically more apt to be okay with re-signing a lease that you messed up. What they do not stand for is lying.
— Every one of your competitors is doing the same thing: Selling down the street is a universal rite of passage, so your prospects are getting hit on all the time.
— Every one of your competitors is saying the same thing: I know you think your company value proposition is unique. It isn’t. Find another talk track.
— Price drives everything: Hate it or love it, smaller accounts can be the most price sensitive. Hopefully, your beginning compensation plan is revenue-based.
— Lease expiration dates trigger most change: There is an art to deciding how close to the expiration date is good to reconnect.
Are you ready for elephant hunting? No, not yet.
Those big accounts look great on paper — you may even know somebody who works at the company — but don’t spin your wheels trying to land the big accounts just yet. Management will let you know when you’re ready. If you’re lucky, you may be the recipient of an account your leader lands. This too, is a rite of passage. Learn from it.
Copier sales is a great place to start a career. If you can sell copiers, you can sell anything.