– Darrell Sterling
corporate parts and supply manager
It’s the time of year for finding out whether you are a trusted advisor to your customers or just another salesperson calling on them for business.
You will discover a lot about your relationships as you inquire about your customers’ growth plans for the upcoming year. If a customer feels comfortable with you, they will not only explain what their growth plan is, but how they are strategically planning to achieve it.
You should have a good idea of how the prior year went with your customers, so you can either compliment them for an excellent year or ask how they plan on recovering lost market share. Does a customer really need to earn back lost revenue? Was the prior year just a record year? Did they just land a large project? You should know the situation if you really are tied into your accounts. It is important for you to know what direction your customer is headed and have an idea about how they got there.
I try to find out if my largest contractors are in an acquisition mode, looking to purchase a smaller contractor, because if they are, I might be of some assistance with my knowledge of the marketplace and the various contractors. If a giant contractor is not interested in acquisitions, the questions become: How do they plan on growth for the year? Are they looking to bring on an additional salespeople? Do they have a new lead-generation program? What other growth vehicles are they looking to employ?
If you know what’s going on with a contractor’s business and ask intelligent questions, they will be more open to letting you know what plans they have for the year. If you are trying to figure out your budget and the amount of sales that you are personally looking to grow next year, then you need to be in close contact with your customers to see what they are planning, as your growth and theirs will go hand in hand.
You can grow other ways, of course, by finding new customers and bringing them on board. I am always on the hunt for new customers, but the easiest sales to get are with the accounts you already have. I want business with my existing accounts to grow.
If your customer has had a down year, you might ask what plans they have or how you might be of assistance. It is also good to find out from your contractor if there’s any additional training they might require or that they would like to see you provide. I always ask that of my customers, as I am looking to bring value to my customer base and training is an excellent way to accomplish.
I will also recommend to customers to look into how well they have been selling IAQ products, and how well have they been doing upselling and using financing as options, as these are best practices. It helps to learn how well your contractors are tracking key performance indicators.
If a customer had a large project the year prior, I ask them if they had any insights or plans on capturing another project for this calendar year to help keep sales on course for the upcoming year. It is also a good idea to ask if they plan on any personnel changes for the upcoming year, or if there will be any restructuring within the company.
If you are not a trusted advisor, but just another distributor trying to increase sales, your contractor will be guarded, less likely to provide you with information. If that is the case, you know you have work to do, as you must bring more value to your contractors so that they will start looking at you in a different light.
I want to be seen as someone who provides excellent services and have my contractors look forward to discussing their ideas with me, to get my opinion on their business plans. You might have been a trusted advisor for one year, but perhaps did not earn the right the next year if you slacked off on the number of visits and the overall value that you brought to the customer. Reviewing growth and budget numbers with your customers is a good report card on how well you have done that year for your clients.
You might have plans for the upcoming year regarding training that you want to provide for your customers, or a new marketing program that you want to unroll that you feel will allow you to increase sales, but if you really want to know how you’re going to grow, you must talk with your customers and find out their plans. You need to find out from your customers what it is they need and what you can do for them. You just can’t assume that you know what is best without knowing what direction they are going in.
It is hard to truly forecast your own sales growth if you have no idea what your largest customers are planning for the upcoming year. You do not want to find out midway through the first quarter that your largest customer is retiring and selling his business to another contractor with whom you do not do business. You could be looking at a large sales loss early in the year, and it is best to know about these things as early as possible.
I look at budget reviews as a report card for my performance, and you should too. It is time to get out there and find out how well your contractors respect and value your opinion. Let’s make 2024 a great year by taking excellent care of all of our contractors and helping them to prosper in the new year ahead.