Not all sales representatives are equal. What makes the difference between a good and a bad sales representative?
A sales representative is first and foremost characterized by its knowledge of its customers. A good sales representative has a good customer base and maintains good relationships with all its individual clients. Good sales agents visit their customers or call them regularly. They know their needs and they know how to answer them.
Visiting customers is very important and cannot be stressed enough. It is only through regular visits that the representative can meet more people in that company. More contacts means more potential business. The sales representative gets to know the customer better. The customer also gets to know the sales representative better. The sales representative builds his own image and his own brand. The sales representative must be known for his capacity to find products that answer his customer’s needs.
Knowing their customers also means that your sales representative must understand their purchasing pattern. What is the purchasing cycle like? Who makes decisions along the way? Is the purchasing decision based on price, quality, delivery, service? Is the customer expecting a discount as part of the purchasing process? These are a few questions that a good sales representative will know the answers to.
Knowledge of the industry
A good sales representative not only understand each and every individual customer, but it also understands the market as a whole. Principals are hungry for market information. Key information includes:
- Market growth: Is it a growing market, is the market flat, is it stagnating?
- Market trends: Are there new products being introduced? Is there any breakthrough innovation, any disruption to an existing market?
- Competitors: How are they positioned? Are the competitors’ products perceived as inferior, equal, or superior to the product they represent? What is the unique selling proposition of the product being represented? What is the demand for that product vs. the competitors’?
- Feedback: What improvements to the product are the customers suggesting or requesting?
Your sales representative must also know the products it represents. It can seem obvious but it has numerous consequences.
It means for example that in order to sell technical products a sales representative must have a good technical education, good enough to understand its customers’ questions and give clear answers.
If the representative does not know the answer to a question that is fine. He must be able to communicate the question to its principal in a clear fashion and communicate the response from the principal clearly to the customer.
It also means that a sales representative can be good at selling one product but not good at selling another product. Some products require technical sales, some others require negotiation capabilities, others require an understanding of the emotions behind the purchase, and others require a constant presence on the field.
Training a sales representative is crucial. Most companies do not give enough training to their sales representatives. This is a serious mistake because representatives can only be efficient if they answer their customers’ needs.
A good sales representative must be able to demonstrate a product or give a detailed presentation; it must be able to answer the main questions from the customers; and it must understand its own limits in order to come back to the company it represents and ask for details or answers to questions it has been asked. This capacity at dialoguing with the company it represents is an excellent indication of a good sales representative.
Communication capacities of a sales representative are crucial. A sales representative is the link between two parties, one selling products and the other one purchasing them.
A good sales representative must have the capability to communicate with both parties quickly and efficiently. The representative must bring answers to its customers, but it must also bring answers to the company it represents.
For representatives in a foreign country, communication starts with language skills. The customer must be able to communicate with ease with both his customers and his principals, and that generally requires fluency in two languages.
Finding prospects is a good start. But a sales representative must have tenacity. It must follow up with its customers, understand their sales cycles and know when to push. This follow up will make the difference between a sales representative that brings prospects and one that brings purchase orders. And there can be a huge gap between the two.
There are two kinds of follow-up. Following up on existing opportunities and quotations already sent is the easiest. It only requires a periodic phone call to keep abreast of the customer’s happenings. Following up on prospects that do not have an immediate need is more difficult. It requires from the sales representative that he visits his customers periodically to make sure they keep him in mind next time they have a requirement.
It is very important for a sales representative to keep the company it represents up to date on its progress. All companies require regular reporting from their inside sales force. This includes new contracts, new offers, follow up of existing prospects, probability to win existing opportunities, and revenue forecasts.
It is normal to require the same level of reporting from independant sales representatives. Unfortunately most companies do not have enough contacts with their sales representatives and do not get detailed reports.
A good representative must define with its principal the level of reporting to provide. Then he must conform to this requirement and send reports by itself, without being asked. It is very frustrating for a company to be forced to push its sales representatives to provide reports on a regular basis. Very few representatives send reports by themselves.
Most sales representatives have a very bad reporting. Therefore, a representative that gives regular and complete reports without being asked is very much appreciated.
Reporting can be a determining factor in the long run in the relationship between a company and its sales representative. Any company will prefer a representative that gives regular reports. A sales representative that brings less revenue but that gives better reporting can in certain cases be preferred to a representative that does not report on its activities. Managing representatives is crucial for a company.
Customer contact is very important for any company, in order to get feedback on its products, to know about new trends and new customers requests, and to know about new products that customers would like to see. Selling through sales representatives cuts the direct link between a company and its customers. A good sales representative must relay customers concerns and requests to the company it represents. Sales representatives must be opened to discussion and must listen to their clients.
A good sales representative must also report negative comments from the customers. Any company is interested in constructive criticism, which can make products evolve to better serve the customer. Sales representatives must understand customers’ criticisms and must provide constructive feedback to the principals.
It is almost obvious that a good sales representative must be reactive. It must answer requests both from its principal and from its customers.
This can be tricky though when the principal is not in the same timezone. The sales representative may be required to work odd hours to communicate efficiently with the principal.
In the end, a sales representative is judged by its results. A good sales representative is one that adapts to its customers and knows how to get the order. Certain sales representatives practices can be surprising, especially in foreign countries. But the sale representative must be the one who decides how to interact with its customers to sell the products it represents.