FROM THE TOP
by John O’Brien, CPMR
As I was sitting in a colleague’s office, I read a small plaque on his windowsill for the thousandth time. It reads, “Poor performance doesn’t lose lines, lack of communication does.” I left his office and went on about my day, but something in the back of my mind kept bringing this thought forward. Later that day I got in the car to take an hour-long ride to visit a customer. I find that alone time in the car is when I get some of my best thinking done and then it hit me. In today’s world, how do we really define communication?
We are bombarded with communication from so many sources every hour of every day, including emails that we send and receive. It’s strange, but I’ve had to actually start using my out-of-office message more regularly. When we were all work-ing remotely at our desks all day, we were able to get answers to people quickly. Now, with customers opening up to see visitors more, those responses are delayed and people are not used to that delay. So, to help set the expectations for my responses, I will say in my outgoing message: “I am on the road visiting customers today, so my responses will be delayed.” While I may not be communicating an answer, at least I am communicating the expectation of when I can provide one. Then there are all of the other communications, text messages, LinkedIn posts, social media, as well as this article. The key to good communication is to be both efficient and effective.
Just as no two people like the same top-pings on their pizza, no two people have the same communications method. I find it fascinating to learn how each individual prefers to communicate. Sure, many of us follow the same routine: send an email, send a follow-up email, then send a third request. And let’s face it – we’ve all fallen into the email trap of “Well, I sent an email, but I haven’t heard back.” But the true art of communicating is going beyond what you’re comfortable with and seeking results with different methods. Maybe you can follow up the email with a phone call. Maybe you send a text to see if someone is available, prior to a phone call. Maybe you send an InMessage through LinkedIn to schedule a time to make the phone call. Or, maybe you word your email as a call to action by explaining why it’s important to them to get back to you. When I am work-ing with new colleagues, I like to challenge them to get out of their communication comfort zone and try something different. You’d be amazed at the response you get when you try different things.
We are all facing the same challenges in our industry today. Long lead times, supply chain constraints, rising raw material costs and product allocation are just a few. How many of us sit on calls with our partners (reps, manufacturers and distributors) and our customers, talk-ing about these issues and hearing how they are negatively affecting the customers? As salespeople, it is in our nature to want to help, if for no other reason than it’s our job to sell them products and we all want to be good at our jobs. Another colleague of mine is fond of saying, “In these tough times, we need to over-communicate. We need to keep reminding customers of the lead time issues. We need to communicate when parts get recommitted or when shipments don’t happen as scheduled. The more we can communicate with our customers, the better chance of them continuing to be our customers.” Her statement couldn’t be more true. Communicating bad news is the hardest thing to do, but if we deliver it quickly and effectively, customers appreciate it. They may not like the news, but at least they can make the necessary plans based on it.
To be a good communicator, you need to be a good listener. Ask people around me – one of my favorite sayings is, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason, you should listen twice as much as you speak.” For us salespeople, that’s very difficult. We’re trained weekly on webinars where we learn all about our manufacturer’s latest parts. Then we want to go out and expound that knowledge on our customer base. We load up with data sheets, PowerPoints and samples to head out to find that next big opportunity. In our minds, we know why we think this particular part would be perfect for our customers. I propose that before you start presenting the latest and greatest, ask some questions. Ask the customer if they are having a problem. Ask the customer if they’ve found a solution. Ask them if they would be willing to consider an alternate solution. Anything you have to do to get them talking – then listen. Listen to their responses so you can tailor your discussion to their individual needs.
Finally, we need to make sure we are communicating well with all of our partners. Manufacturers’ reps, our principals and our distribution partners are all stakeholders in the success of our customers. The lines of communication need to be open and clear amongst all of us so that we’re all working towards the combined goal of closing opportunities and growing revenue.