Done well, co-travel can yield a variety of advantages. Here’s how your company can see how the sum is greater than the parts.
by Anita Sirianni, RDH,
The Professional Sales Coach
Manufacturers or service providers who rely on channel partners for distribution often run the gamut of attitudes and philosophies on how best to maximize this relationship. Some companies buy the attention of distributor sales reps with temporary spiffs and incentives. Others bypass dealers altogether by directing their sales and marketing efforts toward end users. So what is the best way to get the most sales mileage out of the dealer network?
After 20 years working in, for, and around direct, indirect, wholesale, retail, Internet, and mail order companies, I am convinced one of the most effective ways to maximize sales and market penetration through channel partners is to co-travel. Co-travel, done poorly, is a waste of valuable time, talent, and opportunity. Co-travel done well can yield a variety of advantages. If you are not getting the results you deserve or desire, consider using the following ideas to boost your co-travel efforts.
Exercise your role
Wholesale reps should be adept at wearing a variety of “hats” or roles with their dealer partners. I often see reps limit themselves to wearing the “sales hat” well, but few others. Focusing on immediate sales opportunities is limiting your sales and growth potential.
Teacher/trainer - This role is the most important for manufacturers and service providers, but is often the most forgotten. Too often, manufacturers and service providers measure a successful co-travel day by the number of widgets sold. The best way to evaluate the success of a co-travel day is to test how much the retail rep knows about your offering. A few quick questions could include:
• What are the key features and advantages of the product being detailed?
• How do these product characteristics compare to the alternatives?
• What is the primary problem or need this solution addresses?
• What are the most common objections and how are they best handled?
At the end of the day, if a retail rep understands this basic sales knowledge, the day was a huge success - for both parties. Maximize co-travel days through education and training and reap the benefits for months and years to come.
Motivator/coach - Once a firm foundation in product knowledge is established, the next area of focus should be selling skills. Too often I hear complaints from manufacturers, “Dealer reps don’t sell; they are well-paid order takers!” My reply is, “What are you doing to help them develop their selling skills?”
Co-travel days are an excellent chance to put “the real world” back in sales training. Manufacturers have a leadership opportunity to share presentation strategies they know are helpful in selling their products. Sales tools and advice on open-ended questions designed to uncover customer need are equally important. It’s a good idea to practice taking turns demonstrating and coaching the use of these techniques. Sales presentations to end-users should always be a tandem effort between manufacturer and distributor representatives on co-travel days. Wholesale reps who conduct presentations while retail reps are dealing with other account issues are wasting their time and their talent.
Problem-solver - Distributors can evaluate their manufacturers and service providers by their ability to respond and resolve problems. A portion of co-travel time should be reserved for discussing, resolving, and following up on past problems. By asking the right questions and initiating a swift response, product and service providers can strengthen relationships on a local level.
In addition, companies who empower their sales teams to resolve problems are companies who pave the way for better partnerships and future business. With so many product options and too few differences in performance, the way a rep and a company respond to problems is an important and valuable differentiator.
Product expert - Often wholesale reps restrict their role to the “local product expert.” While this hat is an important one, it ranks dead last in what it takes to develop relationships and identify new business opportunities. How many times are co-travel days reduced to days of troubleshooting and problem solving?
A local representative is an attractive source for product information and application advice. Unfortunately, this is not the only use of this resource. It is by developing these roles and wearing each hat during co-travel that product/service providers and distributors can build the best partnerships.
Clarify your goal
I believe the quote, “Grey goals beget grey results.” Co-travel cannot possibly live up to its potential without establishing a basic game plan. Is setting co-travel goals simple? Yes. Is it easy? Absolutely not! So often, a typical co-travel day begins in the parking lot of the branch office or the first sales call. Pre-call planning consists of a few niceties over a quick cup of Starbucks. That’s not exactly a co-travel success strategy.
Better co-traveling results come with better preparation and planning. We coach clients and top performing sales representatives to initiate FAST Start sessions at the beginning of every co-travel day. This dedicated time is reserved for coaching, teaching, pre-call planning, etc. It is analogous to the morning huddle most end-users use to start their days.
How fantastic would it be if you planned your sales strategy?
What success would be yours by mapping out a targeted game plan for each account to be visited that day?
How much more effective would you be if you reviewed the salient sales aspects of your featured offering?
Co-traveling remains one of the most powerful and influential sales and marketing tools available. For those manufacturers and service providers who use the dental distributor network, co-travel remains a dynamic weapon against fierce direct competitors.
Anita Sirianni, The Professional Sales Coach, can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (480) 323-6909.