“My approach to this job is to not worry about yourself. Worry about your customers. Help them be successful. Get them where they want to go, and they will take you along for the ride!”~ Tom Kars
At what point do you ask for a credit/new account application?
Tom: Not until the customer has shown serious interest in ordering something. To get a customer access to online pricing, we must have an account filled out to put together a dummy quote and bring that in. As soon as they show interest in that, we get going with it.
Do you fill it out by asking them questions, or ask them to go online to fill it out?
Tom: Being old school, I still carry some paper new account forms with me and can fill them out rather quickly. But the trend is going online, which is faster and the direction of the future so, I would encourage them to use the online process. But if a customer is not comfortable with that, I tell them to give me a shout and I’ll walk them through it.
What percentage of your customers place their orders online themselves?
Tom: About 80-85%. I show them all their options and the younger customers prefer online, whereas there are some customers who still want me to do a live order with them. I like to be there for those first orders.
Do you think that you could be doing $9 million if you didn’t have that many customers placing their own orders?
Tom: Probably not. Your time is spent differently now. Instead of windshield time seeing every customer, pushing every order through, and making every callback, that time that’s been freed up allows you to grow your business. It allows you to sell more cases and more dollars. You must stay in touch with the reporting that your company provides for you to know if you’ve lost any business.
When customers are placing their own orders, it’s very easy to lose something and not even know it unless you’re paying attention. You’re still working a lot of hours to be successful in this business, but you must be willing to make that shift as to where you’re investing your time. It’s still all for the customer. You might go see a customer every other week or every third week. That doesn’t mean you’re not paying attention to their business every week.
What percentage of customers pay their bills online?
Tom: That’s increased dramatically. I collect one check a week at this point. It’s the least I’ve ever collected in my career. It’s pretty much all online. EFT is just simpler.
Do you use brokers and manufacturers’ reps, and do you use samples?
Tom: Yes, I use brokers and manufacturers reps, probably brokers more often just because they’re more accessible and there’s more of them. If I need a little more expertise, say we’re in a coffee account, there’s a wide variety of coffees to show and to sample. I might bring that broker into that sale as my expertise because when you stock thousands of items, as much product knowledge as you have, you never know at all. There’s always information out there that is new to you that you can learn from. You bring in that broker or manufacturer rep at that point and let them help you make that sale and educate you and the customer at the same time, and you’ll learn that way.
Do many brokers or manufacturers reps go into your customers on their own and do you mind?
Tom: Some brokers that I’ve had a relationship with for a long time know it’s fine with me if they have something that’s relevant to show the customer, just stop in. Customers will tell me that so and so stopped in yesterday and showed them a product and I don’t have a problem with that at all. If we had that conversation and it’s an established customer, and you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in.
Does it make a difference in your business how you treat your colleagues?
Tom: It makes a tremendous difference. Whether it’s other salespeople that you work with, folks in your office, or delivery drivers, you still can bounce ideas off each other, and help each other out. If you’re in town picking up for one of your customers, save somebody a trip and bring their product back as well. Save them 30 or 40 minutes, they’re going to do the same thing for you. I think it’s imperative to look at everyone’s perspective through their eyes. In the case of your delivery folks, there have been times when every company has had a late truck, especially in the last few years. Put on your jeans and sweatshirt and go with a driver and help them unload. Not only for them to see that you care and to help them out, but you should see the look on your customer’s faces when you come in with a two-wheeler of their product on it with the driver. It’s good for them to see that you DO work as a team and that goes a long way. You must respect those who work in the office doing their best to do a job. Do not make a credit manager your enemy, they have a job to do, and never lie to them. Be truthful with them 100% of the time. If you treat people with respect, you will get that back 100-fold.
Any tips for Greenhorns in their first two years of being a sales rep?
Tom: When I first started in this business, we worked 70 hours a week. We truly did. And it was long hours, and those rewards didn’t come immediately. Your first few years are going to be your hardest. You’re building that credibility; you’re learning the product line.
- Be patient.
- Make a goal to make more money each year. Make a plan that is workable for you. There will be setbacks and things that happen that are not your fault. A customer may go out of business, and you had nothing to do with it, but you take a hit. Understand that six months later, a new customer might open up that same place and you have a new customer.
- Be a resource for customers, and good things will come.
- Get over that hump of those first couple of years and find your niche. Everyone has a different style, find what you do well and connect and thrive with.
- Learn from your customers and grow, be aggressive, but yet be respectful of the customer.
- If you sell by price, you die by price. You want to build relationships and show them that you care about their business being successful and that you just want to partner with them.
Tips for Veterans to stay motivated?
Tom: Be grateful. If you have been at this for a good while, you know changes will come. Try to have this perspective knowing that for your company to grow and be relevant in the future, there are going to be changes and you’re not going to like all of them, but you have survived those changes.
Being thankful and grateful for the company that hired you. Being grateful to the customers that have partnered with you. For me, being thankful to God who gave me the ability to do what I do. That is what keeps you going, having a grateful heart and just continuing to do the best you can for the company that you work for.
My favorite quote from Zig Ziglar says, “You can have everything in life you want if you just help other people get what they want.”
If you want to be in this business long term, it has great rewards. It really does.
Be a Resource and SELL SOMETHING!!