The Importance of Sales Calls

Rob Lucas is a partner in Fidelis Fastener along with his associate Larry Thomas.  Fidelis is a company that  offers distributors direct connections with vendors overseas as well as logistics and supply chain support.  Fidelis offers a new model in the industry that has the ability to aid in cost reductions for distributors.  Rob and Larry are frequently asked to give their personal insights on developments in the Asian markets and they have spoken at both the National Fastener Shows - East and West and have also been interviewed during their overseas travels by Fully Threaded Radio (fullythreaded.com).

After spending some quality time with Rob at the Midwest Fastener Association he agreed to contribute the following post to Fastener Talk.


THE IMPORTANCE OF SALES CALLS

  Recently (while attending the MWFA show in Chicago), I ran in to T.S. and we started discussing sales calls, travel and territories. This was actually just a couple of guys chatting about the business and these seemingly simple topics, but it really got me thinking that they are not as simple as just the basic "sales person 101" type subjects. After stewing on it for a day or two I began thinking of the real significance they have in the market.

  In this day and age there are so many means of communication that sometimes I think the traditional sales calls seem to be lost. Phone call and aimless have been with us now a while and now we have WIFI most everywhere which allows people to connect to the internet remotely. We have new cell phones or smart phones which allow for the same access to the internet and then there are the online buying and selling services that occur and are promoted more and more everywhere. While all these are fantastic tools and make our lives much easier, they can never replace face time and the relationships either developed or being developed that come from a good old fashioned sales call.

  In our business model, my partner and I always talk to our customers about relationships. In fact RELATIONSHIPS was a key word we stressed in our presentation at the Columbus fastener show. Our relationships with overseas vendors and the power that brings to the distributor once they begin to establish these same type relationships. The same message applies to relationships in domestic sales. You can gain more knowledge by seeing someone than you ever can by an email, phone call or an online service of buying/selling. Sitting down with a customer is a small part of the overall "sell" but it has tremendous power. You will gain market knowledge, maybe a window in to what they are seeing from their portion of the market, some insight into what their competitors are doing, the activity taking place in the office around them and most importantly, you see that person/s. Seeing them allows you to strengthen your relationship if you have one, or to build and cultivate a new one. Anyone who has been a road warrior at one time or another can certainly appreciate and understand where I am coming from.

  While T.S. and I were talking, I started thinking of how many times I hear customers and vendors alike say how few and far between people visit them anymore. Perhaps the reason is the economy and companies are deterring the sales teams from travel to minimize expenses, or maybe the reason is they think a call is not needed since they are doing "ok" with that customer. Whatever the reason, I think it is a shame and foolish. In the economy we have had recently, now is an ideal time to spend extra cash to see your clients. They have more opportunity to visit since their work time is not so hectic. Where once they may not have been able to see you due to time restraints, a slower economy affords that face time.The amount of money spent on travel to visit customers may look excessive, but ask T.S. or other road warriors what their expenses are and if it is worth it. I can tell you that our company's travel expenses are probably higher than most, with all our overseas travel and domestic travel. However, I can also say that without it, we would not be in business. There are so many ways to manage a travel budget and stretch that dollar to your benefit. We have mastered these tools and learned to travel as inexpensively as possible in order to get that valued face time. Cheap rental cars, budget hotels, shopping for airline tickets, staying with friends and family are just some of the ways we keep our costs low. Heck we can travel to Asia for a few weeks including airfare, cheaper than most travel domestically for a few days. So if you plan ahead and utilize some of these tools and others, you can achieve road time while not breaking the bank. Now if you are thinking that your business is "ok" and does not warrant a call (very few think like this I am sure), think again. You can never offer enough service and information to your customers, the more they know about you and you of them, the better off you will both be in the long run.

  T.S. and I were also chatting on territories and he asked a great question..."Rob, how can you cover so much ground effectively?" My response was simple, "I can't". I did not respond to him like that to show a lack of work ethic or poor salesmanship, it was an honest answer. There is no way any one or two people can cover a territory completely. I live in Chicago, and with my day to day operations, staying on top of my business and my schedule, there is no real way for me to cover a small territory the way I dream I could, let alone the globe. In fact, in all my past employment positions in sales it was impossible. It is impossible for anyone! Sure you can make sales calls and write call reports and do all the traditional things required in sales, but can you really cover it completely? Do you have a strong relationship at every customer in your territory? Know all the players at that customer? Know all there is to know about their ever changing business on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis? Know the competition thru and thru? Know all the ins and outs to make you effective as well as support them 100%?  If you answer honestly, you will agree with me. However if you answered honestly and still disagree, please write the rest of us a book on how you did it and share your secrets.


  This business is still a people business and no amount of technology can replace that. Sure offering the latest technologic tools is great service not to mention some publicity for your company, but it will never replace knowing your customer. The world is shrinking due to technology, but it is the people that make the world go around. Even the guys at Fasteners Clearing House who's business is entirely technological understand this and are out as much as possible selling themselves and trying to understand their customers better. The point to that is nobody, not even those who base a business off of the latest technological tools can afford to not see the customers and the market they try to support.

So....get out there and see those good friends of yours or go meet some new ones. You never know what you will unearth with your next visit to a customer. Good luck and happy selling!




Rob Lucas
Managing Partner
Fidelis Fasteners, Ltd. (HK)
Mobile: +1.630.532.0458
Skype:  rob.lucas2

www.fidelisfasteners.com

http://www.linkedin.com/in/roblucasfidelisfasteners

 

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Comments

  • 6/11/2010 7:57 AM Courtyard 2nd Home wrote:
    Could not agree more with Rob. I am out there on the streets every week seeing customers and I cannot tell you how many opportunities I come accross just because I am in front of the customer. I use e-mails and mailings and all the tools that support my sales efforts but visiting the customer, face to face, is still my best tool. I am happy every time my competitors try do drive the "live person" out of the sales equation. Penny wise, pound foolish. By the time they realize it there is so much harm that can be done that it will take them years to repair. Use all the tools you have but it is still a people business. No matter what your computer is telling you. Keep it up T.S.
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  • 6/16/2010 10:15 AM Fastenergal wrote:
    I totally agree with the importance of relationships and communication with customers. The recent posts have really got me thinking about our changing times. Can we have it all? New age technology, with old fashioned values? Companies going lean in their manufacturing process and encouraging their sales force to focus on larger A&B accounts, where the volume is. But, what is getting missed by not personally visiting the smaller accounts on a regular basis? Just because they are smaller doesn't make them any less important. I agree with Rob, you learn so much more during a face-to-face visit than during an email or text message.

    I attended the Columbus Show this year and only saw a handful of large distributors there. I did have very good conversations with numerous mid-size to smaller customers that I haven't seen in a while. And it felt really good to reconnect with these people and hear what has been going on from their point of view. This also afforded me many new opportunities I wouldn't have received otherwise.

    TS continually stresses the value of fastener shows. To me, they are very useful way of staying connected with the people we don't always spend enough time with. Virtual Show? Could be interesting and the way of the future, but I'd prefer the old fashioned way. I agree Rob, this is still a people business and some of my closest friends are in it. I've been told numerous times, once you get in the fastener industry, you never get out. I personally believe that is because of the releationships developed during personal visits. Thanks for reminding us of that.
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