Sales Best Practice #14 – Creating rapport with new contacts

Posted by Dave Kahle on August 26, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment

Best Practice #14: Is good at quickly creating rapport with new contacts.

By Dave Kahle

I like to break the sales process down into its simplest components:

  1. Engage with the right people.
  2. Make them comfortable with you.
  3. Find out what they want.
  4. Show them how what you have gives them what they want.
  5. Get an agreement on the next step.
  6. Follow up and leverage satisfaction.

One of the essential early steps is to “make them comfortable with you” in other words, to create some rapport with the other person.

Trust is essential in creating rapport with your customers

According to the dictionary, rapport is “an emotional bond or friendly relationship between people based on mutual liking, trust and a sense that they understand and share each other’s concerns.

We can understand why this is so important. If your contact doesn’t feel comfortable with you, then he/she won’t be nearly as open to sharing information. And, if we can’t get information, we can’t “find out what they want.” We all have stories to tell about an incident in which we were the buyer and a sales person was rude or self-interested to the point where we decided to terminate the relationship and go somewhere else.

The same thing is true of our customers. If they don’t feel comfortable with us, if they don’t feel that we are interested in them, they form negative impressions of us and consider some other source.

I’m surprised by the quantity of sales people who get this exactly wrong. They’ll talk about a customer and say something like, “he’s a really nice guy,” as if that mattered.

Their first reaction of the immature sales person is to judge the customer by his/her own feelings about the customer. That’s exactly backwards. It doesn’t matter how we feel about the customer. What does matter is how the customer feels about us.

And, it is the responsibility of the professional sales person to interact with the customer in such a way as to make this particular human being comfortable with us.

Not surprisingly, the best sales people are masters of creating rapport with all kinds of people, understanding that it is the essential first step in a successful interaction with a customer. The average sales person never takes the time to study this issue, instead relying on his or her hit-or-miss people skills developed outside of the job. The average sales person views the customer through his/her reaction to the customer, whereas the best sales people understand that it is their job to create rapport with the customer.

Like so many specific aspects of the sales person’s job, there is no magic, no secret to this task. Creating rapport is a widely researched issue, and best practices for doing this well are widely described.

To understand some highly effective ways of accomplishing this:


About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine.

His most recent book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been named one of the “five best business books,” by three international entities.

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The sales conversation is changing—have you kept up?

Posted by Michael Boyette on August 21, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment


Are you having the same old, same old conversations with customers and prospects? Ones that start like these:
Woman using smart phone by patrisyu at

Tell me about your business

Let me tell you about my product

Just checking in 

How’s it going?

Not much; what’s new with you?

These are antiquated conversation openers that go back to the days when customers brought in salespeople to learn about services, products and solutions. Today, these kinds of conversations are ones that neither you nor your buyer need. You can and should learn about their business before the conversation begins. They can do the same for your products and services. If you’re just checking in, you can text.

Buyers still want to talk to you, but not about that stuff. Today’s conversations start where the old ones left off. You need to come to the table already an expert — with knowledge of the customer’s company, its competitive environment, and the stakeholders involved in the buying decision.

Where to next?

And then you need to take the conversation somewhere that leaves the customer thinking, “Wow. I got a lot more out of that conversation than I expected.”

You want conversations that buyers will remember. That will set you apart from other salespeople. That will unlock new opportunities or get your buyer thinking differently.

Here are four fresh kinds of conversations you can have with prospects and customers:


Customers are looking to you for insight that goes beyond what they already know, to help them solve not only their current problem, but emerging business challenges. Futuring conversations help you (and sometimes buyers themselves) understand where things are headed. The goal isn’t prediction. It’s to learn the buyers’ vision of the future as they understand it today, and to explore what they need to do right now to prepare for it.

Success is target by parkorn at

Some questions to get the ball rolling:

  • Where do you expect this organization to be in five years?
  • What are you doing to prepare for ______ (insert an emerging industry trend)?
  • What will be the biggest threat to your business in the next year?


The goal of this conversation is to identify top-priority business issues. This isn’t a conversation limited to your products and solutions; it takes a step back to look at what issues are attracting attention and resources in the organization.

Business graph by hywards at

Some questions to ask:

  • What topics are getting the most discussion in management meetings these days?
  • Where are you spending the most money?
  • What’s driving revenue and growth?
  • What problems keep coming up despite your best efforts to solve them?


These conversations are designed to help you better understand buying cycles, so you can get plugged in sooner. Back in the old days, buyers got salespeople involved early in the buying cycle, because that was the only way they could get the information they needed. Now buyers can do their research anonymously on the Internet, and they tend to invite salespeople in only at the end. The buying cycle is still there, but much of it is invisible to salespeople – unless you ask.

Business opportunities by basketman at


  • What projects are you working on that are still in the early phases?
  • What issues are you just now starting to look into?
  • What’s in your development pipeline?
  • What do you see on the horizon that you feel you need to know more about?


These conversations create emotional links between the customer and you, what you sell, and the company you work for. It’s important to make the business case, but equally important to connect person to person.

two corporates discussing business over snacks by stockimages at

You might say:

  • How do you feel about what I’ve proposed?
  • What will it mean to you personally if we can find a solution to this problem?
  • I was really excited when I saw the results of our field trials.
  • It’s fun to work with your organization, because you challenge me to do my best.

These are different conversations from the ones you may be used to having. They require a greater depth of knowledge and insight. And they may take you in unexpected directions. They may uncover opportunities that more predictable conversations never will. Even more important, they differentiate you from all those other salespeople who play it safe, and get your buyer thinking of you in a new and better light.

Adapted in part from “Changing the Sales Conversation,” by Linda Richardson. To learn more, visit

About the Author:

Michael Boyette is the Executive Editor of Rapid Learning Institute and thought leader for the Top Sales Dog blog.  He is a nationally recognized authority on selling and has written hundreds of articles and training programs for sales reps and sales managers.  Michael has managed programs for US Healthcare, Bell Communications Research, and DuPont.  Connect with Michael via Twitter @TopSalesDog.

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Image “success is target” by pakorn/

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Image “business opportunities” by basketman/

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Best Practices for Sales People

Posted by Dave Kahle on August 18, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment


One of the most debilitating myths about the sales profession is that sales people can learn on their own, on the job, and eventually become good at their jobs. This myth implies they’ll eventually develop their own style, and that will bring them the maximum results.

That myth is true for about five percent of the sales people in the world. For the other 95 percent, nothing could be further from the truth. The overwhelming majority of field sales people perform at a fraction of their potential because they have never been systematically exposed to the best practices of their profession. Instead, they have been expected to “learn on their own.”

I like to paint. I don’t mean pictures, I mean walls and bedrooms and hallways. I enjoy the physical nature of it, and the resulting change in the feeling of the room. Once, for about two months, I actually made a living doing it. I think I’m pretty good at it.

Until a little while ago, when I was watching one of those reality home improvement shows. On it, a professional painter demonstrated the best way to apply masking tape, hold a brush and apply the paint. Yikes! I was doing it all wrong.

All this time I thought I was pretty good, in my own self-taught, learn-on-my-own sort of way. I guess I really didn’t have any standard. But I almost always painted by myself, and had only my own opinion. I thought I was pretty good compared to what I thought was good.

Then, when I discovered the best practices of a true professional, I saw that my own ideas we not up to the standard. I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. If I’m going to become really good — objectively, verifiably good — I have to change my routines and incorporate the best practices.

So it is with sales as well. The world is full of sales people who have learned on the job, pretty much on their own, and have never been exposed to the best practices of the profession. They delude themselves, as I did, holding the opinion that they are pretty good. And that delusion keeps them lingering in levels of performance considerably beneath what their potential would allow them.

Sales managers often share that delusion, and occupy themselves with other matters, unable or unsure how to improve the performance of their team. Typically, the sales manager was, in a previous incarnation, a high performing sales person. He/she was part of the five percent who learned on their own, who studied the best practices, and who incorporated them into his routines. As a result, that sales manager, formerly high performing sales person, expects every other sales person to be just like him; to have the same motivation, the same drive, the same ability and propensity to learn. He, therefore, makes little effort to expose the sales team to best practices, because he did it on his own.

That’s too bad. Every profession in the world develops a body of knowledge about the best way to do that job. And every professional in the world is expected, if they are serious about the profession, to regularly study those best practices, and to incorporate them into their routines with a disciplined, methodical effort. That’s why teachers have in-services, doctors go to conferences, nurses have in-service training, etc.

Teacher Holding Book and Focus At Blackboard by iosphere at

This article is available in an expanded version on our blog. Post your comments there.

The job of the sales person is no different. There is probably no other profession where more is written about, and to, than field sales. Over the last 50 years, there must have been thousands of books written, tens of thousands of articles published, thousands of audio programs prepared, and hundreds of newsletters and magazines published – all for the field sales person, and all describing the best practices of the profession in various terms and methods.

Just as there is a set of best ways to paint a room, so there are sets of best ways to ask a question, seek an appointment, build rapport, make a presentation, close the deal, and follow up on the purchase. Astute sales people understand this, and seek to continually expose themselves to the best practices. Astute sales managers do likewise. They continually expose their sales people to the best practices of the profession, and encourage every sales person to improve by methodically incorporating them into their routines. Those companies that systematically and methodically expose their sales people to the body of knowledge regarding best practices of the sales profession consistently out-perform those who don’t.

It is the path to improvement that the rest of the professional world understands. It’s time for the sales profession to do likewise.


If you are serious about learning the best practices of your profession, consider a subscription to the Sales Resource Center; 20 years of Dave Kahle’s wisdom and insights for one low monthly fee.

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Sales Q&A – How to handle backorders

Posted by Dave Kahle on August 11, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment


Q. I recently gained an order from a new customer for 10 items. We back ordered four of the ten. My customer is quite upset with me and my company’s purchasing agents. Our relationship is strained because of someone in my company’s poor performance. What would you do?

A. Ah. The proverbial “backorder” problem. What would we talk about if we couldn’t complain about backorders?

First, let’s recognize that the problem is as old as the job of the sales person, and we will have to deal with this problem until the day we retire. The problem is a result of conflicting pressures. On one hand, your company only has so much money and space, and just can’t buy and hold or produce everything in the hopes that someone somewhere will eventually buy it. As a sales person, however, you want everything available instantly. So someone is always going to be disappointed.

Throw in the fact the customer probably doesn’t want to pay anything but the lowest possible price for the product, and you can see that there is an inherent tension here. If the customer would be willing to pay twice as much for the product, your company could afford to build huge inventories. But, since that is unlikely to happen, your company needs to control its investment inventory so that the company has a chance of making money. In other words, you are always going to have some backorders!

OK, so what do you do about them? The first thing is to prevent them with clear communication and appropriate expectations. Don’t assume that because you backordered a customer that means that your colleagues are uncaring or incompetent. That rarely is the case.

For example, if your company has been routinely selling about 100 of a certain item each month, and you bring in a new customer with an order for 20, it’s unreasonable for you to expect your new sale not to cause someone some problem. The sudden increase in demand from 100 to 120, without any prior notice, will probably mean that someone is going to get backordered.

Balancing Supply and Demand to Avoid Backorders

The problem wasn’t the poor job your purchasing colleagues did; it was the sudden increase in demand brought on by your new order. Further, if you promised the customer immediate delivery on an item he is ordering for the first time, you probably created unreasonable expectations in your customer’s mind, and promised something that you could not really deliver.

It would have been more reasonable to have promised the customer a two or three week delivery on the first order, and to have informed your purchasing person of the coming increase in demand.

Many backorder problems can be prevented by using these two practices: 1) good communication with your purchasing people, and 2) reasonable expectations to the customer.

But what do you do if you are consistently plagued with a quantity of backorders that seem unwarranted? Go first to your purchasing people with respectful inquiries and a detailed description of the problem. No vague generalities or “sales person’s talk” here. Be detailed and specific with the problems and the consequences of those problems.

If you don’t get satisfaction, then bring the problem, in the same respectful and detailed fashion, to your manager.

Finally, if you still don’t see positive improvements, and if the backorder problems continue to jeopardize your ability to service your customers, then at some point you need to consider whether your continued employment with this company is the wisest choice for you.

 Access 25 years of wisdom and practical, proven advice – like this – online 24/7 for one low monthly fee. Learn more here.


About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. Check out our Sales Resource Center for 455 sales training programs for every sales person at every level.

You may contact Dave at 800-331-1287, or

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Selling Confidence: How Optimism Can Bolster Your Sales Team

Posted by Larry Caretsky on July 31, 2014 under CEO Corner, Sales Training | Be the First to Comment

Sales management tips on

Excerpt below:

Business News Daily logo

Inspiring optimism in your sales team isn’t always easy, but you can do it with the right techniques. Caretsky shares three tips for helping your team take the “glass half full” approach to its work.

Retrain worn-down employees. Constant rejection when making a few dozen calls a day can take its toll on even the most optimistic person…

Click here to read the full article on

Sales Best Practice #13 – Inside Relationships

Posted by Dave Kahle on July 18, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment

Relationships with inside people, a best sales practice by Dave Kahle.

By Dave Kahle

Best Practice #13:  Has an excellent relationship with customer service, purchasing and all the support staff inside his/her organization.

This is such an important practice that I have named it one of my top eleven time management strategies. If you have the book, Eleven Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople, you’ll see that it is secret number nine.

I had to learn this the hard way. I was a heavy-hitting, driven sales person. I’d stop into the office, drop off work for everyone, and head back out to my territory. I just assumed that everyone would do the jobs that I had deposited on them. My task-oriented style put a number of people off, and my operations manager warned me that I was creating ill-will among the office staff.

It took a while, but I finally decided that I needed them to be on my side. So, I apologized, bought everyone a gift, and tried to re-start the relationship on a more positive basis. As people gradually came over to my side, I found that I was able to be far more productive.

Instead of doing a project myself, I could confidently ask someone inside to do it for me. Since they liked me, they didn’t mind. Instead of expediting a back order myself, I could have someone else do it. Instead of walking a new and complex order through the system, I could have someone else do it.

Job Allocation by pakorn at

I discovered that many of the tasks that I previously had done myself could be done just as effectively and much more efficiently by someone else. That freed up my time to do what I did best – visit my customers and sell my company’s products. As a result, I was much more effective.

That’s why this is one of the best practices of the best sales people. The average sales person creates an overwhelming list of tasks to perform and things to do which then weigh him/her down and decrease the amount of time spent with customers. The exceptional sales person creates relationships, not tasks, and influences those people to do the tasks for him. In so doing, he/she multiplies his effectiveness and dramatically increases the amount of time spent with customers.

It’s a best practice of the best sales people.

To learn more about how to do this, read chapter nine of Eleven Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople.


About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine.

Check out our Sales Resource Center® for 455 audio and sales training programs for every sales person at every level. You may contact Dave at Kahle Way® Sales Systems, 800-331-1287, or

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How to Build Rapport with Anyone

Posted by Dave Kahle on July 7, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment

By Dave Kahle

Building rapport with customers is like squirting oil into gears. Imagine some gears grinding together. When you squirt lubricating oil into the gears, you reduce the friction and make everything work smoother.

So it is when two people interact with each other. Rapport, like lubricating oil, reduces the friction and makes the interaction work smoother. For a sales person, creating rapport with any human being is an essential step that enables the customer to feel comfortable, and leads to a much more effective sales interaction. The best sales people create rapport with everyone.

Fortunately, creating that sense of understanding and mutual trust is a skill which has been studied through the ages. Here are a few proven ways to build rapport with anyone.

1. Pay attention to your appearance.

People will form an impression of you, based on how you look, before they even say hello to you. Your appearance, then, should be designed to help you look confident and competent – whatever that means in your market. At a minimum, that means clothes clean and pressed, shoes shined and hair cut.

Your attire should help you connect with the customer — not separate you from him. For example, if you are calling on production supervisors, you shouldn’t wear a suit and tie, as that will separate you from them and generate a bit of discomfort in them.

The best rule I’ve seen is this: Dress like your customer, only a little better. On several occasions, I have worked with sales forces who sold to farmers. Blue jeans and flannel shirts are OK, as long as they are clean and pressed blue jeans, and a better quality flannel shirt.

But what if you call on several different types of customers in the same day? One sales person shared his approach to this problem. He wore gray slacks, a blue button-down collar shirt, and a navy blazer. When he called on managers and executives, he dressed it up by putting on a tie. And, when he called on people who weren’t in the executive suite, he dressed it down by removing the blazer and the tie.

Business Man by graur razvan ionut at

2. Use a sincere compliment

Everyone likes to be complimented. When you sincerely compliment a customer (or his company), you communicate that you are interested in him/her, that you have noticed something they do that stands out, and that you aren’t afraid to say something complimentary. Those are all good things.

Not so long ago, I entered a prospect’s office building for the first time. The lobby was quite dramatic, with a two story atrium, and a soaring piece of sculpture. When he came down to meet me, I immediately told him that the lobby was very impressive, and that I felt very comfortable and a bit inspired because of it. We chatted for a few minutes about it and I then followed him to his office, having achieved some rapport.

Executives Posing Under A Chandelier by stockimages at

This article is available in an expanded format.  Read “Seven ways to build rapport with anyone”  here.

3. Ask a perceptive question

A perceptive question, asked with sincerity, does everything that a compliment does and then some. When the compliment doesn’t call for any response from the customer, a question does. If done correctly, it can initiate the conversation and help the customer feel like you are interested and care about him.

In the previous situation, for example, I could have said, “Was it designed to create that kind of feeling?”

4. Indicate a personal connection

If you have something in common with the customer, mention it. You don’t have to beat it to death, just mention it. When the customer discovers that you both know the same person, went to the same school, vacationed in the same place, or belong to the same organization, he realizes that you are alike in some ways. It’s easier to do business with someone who is like you.

Access 25 years of wisdom and insight on-line, 24/7 for one low monthly fee.  Learn more here.

Building rapport is a science with proven practices and tactics. Use any of these techniques and watch your ability to create rapport improve, and thereby smooth out the way to more sales.

About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.  Sign up for his free weekly Ezine.  Check out our Sales Resource Center for 455 sales training programs for every sales person at every level.

You may contact Dave at 800-331-1287, or

Image “Business Man” courtesy of graur razvan ionut/

Image “Executives Posing Under A Chandelier” courtesy of stockimages/

Sales Q&A – Money Owed

Posted by Dave Kahle on June 24, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment

By Dave Kahle

Q. How do you deal with a difficult customer who owes you money and constantly draws you out by hanging the money he owes you over your head? This customer also requires three times more service than most of our other customers.

A. It sounds like this customer is taking advantage of you. I suspect that this is not a profitable customer — you are probably losing money on him.

Let’s try to sort this out. First, I’m not sure why you are involved in worrying about the money he owes you. I believe that a sales person ought to help run interference for the company when it comes to collecting money. I also believe that a sales person has the responsibility to not sell to accounts that he/she knows are in financial difficulty. Having said that, it appears to me, in this situation, that the money he owes you doesn’t sound like a sales issue. Your company’s management, specifically the credit department, ought to have a series of policies and procedures to address these kinds of issues. This customer certainly should have some terms within which he is expected to pay, as well as a credit limit. Those are credit issues, not sales issues.

It’s really pretty simple from your perspective. If he’s over the credit limit, you can’t sell him. If he’s under, you can. It should be pretty black and white. So, just don’t get into a conversation regarding the money. Refer it to your company’s financial and credit management.

The “three times more service than other customers” is really the issue. The real question is this: Is it wise for you to invest that much time in this customer?

Effort Time Money Dice by Stuart Miles /

The practical answer has to do with your own personal situation. If you have extra time and not a lot to do, and the time you invest in this customer is not time that you could be investing in someone else, then it is probably worth it. Better a difficult customer than no customer. Better some sales than no sales.

If, however, the time that you spend with this customer is time that you could be spending with other, more profitable customers, then you have a conflict.

This calls for a process I call “demoting some customers.” It requires you to make cold-blooded business decisions about the future potential of a given customer, and then to use that objective analysis to change the amount of time you spend on a customer.

I’ve described this process in several other places. If you want to read about it, review the chapter six of my book, 11 Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople, titled The Fourth Time Management Secret: Prioritize Your Customers and Prospects! It’s also taught, in some detail, in The Sales Resource Center® on-line course entitled: Top Gun Light: Session one.

It may be that, because of this customer’s slow payment and exceptional service demands, it is not wise for you to continue to deal with this customer. There is nothing that says you have to sell to everyone on their terms. It may be best for you to move on and invest your sales time in other customers.

So, bottom line is this: make some cold-blooded business decisions about whether this customer is worth the time you are investing in him. Don’t be afraid to cut him off, if that is the best decision.

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. His most recent book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been named one of the “five best business books,” by three international entities.

The Sales Resource Center® contains 455 audio and video training programs for sales people, sales managers, and Chief Sales Officers.

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Sales Tip – Keeping track of the things discussed with customers

Posted by Dave Kahle on June 16, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment

BP #12: Has a good system for keeping track of the things discussed with the customers. A best practice for sales people by Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

By Dave Kahle

I am constantly amazed at the number of sales people who never take notes during or after the visit with a customer, thinking, I suppose, that they will remember everything important. Or worse, that nothing is important enough to actually remember.

A close second are those who, on occasion, realize the need to take notes, but who seem constantly surprised by that need, and unprepared for it. They find themselves using the backs of printed pages, the margins of selling literature, the backs of business cards, etc. to scribble cryptic remarks. The concept of a well-thought-out system has evaded them.

By the way, this is one of the benefits of a well-designed and comprehensive CRM system, which forces you to take good notes by requiring that you respond to the prompts and blank spaces of a computer screen.

A well-prepared, organized sales person needs to have a system that prompts him/her to take the right kinds of notes for every sales call, organizes that information so that he/she can take the necessary follow up action, and makes that information available in every succeeding sales call.

As a minimum, that system should include forms, either electronic or paper, to record certain aspects of the account that the sales person picks up from time to time – things like the number of employees, the type of equipment used, the position and title of the key decision-makers, etc.

Then, there needs to be a place to record the important aspects of the conversation. What did you talk about?

Finally, there ought to be a place to record the action items that came out of that conversation. Do you need to call someone? Check on something? Arrange for something? These “to dos” should also be kept in a duplicate file, with the date by which you promised to have them completed.

Finally, you ought to record those things that you want to take up in the next sales call. That information should be readily assessable so that you can plan for it as you prepare for the next time you see this customer.

There are various mediums on which this information can be recorded. Some people will use paper, others will use smart phones or tablets, while others record everything on a laptop. With the sophistication of today’s computer systems, there really is no excuse for a sales person not to be conscientiously and systematically recording, storing, and using meticulously gathered information from the customer.

It’s a regular practice of the best.

To learn more about this best practice, review:

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Sales Tip – The Impenetrable Account

Posted by Dave Kahle on June 9, 2014 under Sales Training | Be the First to Comment

By Dave Kahle

How do I sell to an account that is firmly in the hands of a competitor?

In one form or another, I hear that question at almost every sales seminar I teach. It’s a great question, reflecting one of the most perplexing and frustrating situations every sales person faces. If you haven’t yet been faced with this problem, be patient, you will be soon.

Here’s how this usually develops: You’ve called on a large, high-potential account a number of times, but can’t seem to get anywhere. The more time you spend in the account, the more apparent it is that one or more of your competitors is deeply ingrained in that account. You may even have had someone say to you, “We do all our business with XYZ competitor.”

And that leaves you on the outside looking in. If the account has some real potential, you want to be seriously considered as a supplier. But it looks like this account is not really interested in you – not because of you or your company, but because of a previously established strong relationship with a competitor.

So, how do you manage this account? What should you do?

Let’s start with what not to do.

Man holding axe to break the door

Don’t vent your frustration by speaking poorly about the competition. And don’t attack the competitor’s products, company, practices or sales people. Someone who works for this customer – or more likely, several people who work there – chose to do business with that competitor. They have chosen to buy the competitor’s products, have developed a close working relationship, and may be good friends outside of work. When you speak badly about the competition, you insult all those decisions made by the customer to work with that particular competitor. Trying to penetrate an account by insulting your customer’s judgment is a bad idea.

Realize, also, that you have only a tiny glimpse of what your competitor is really like. You may have found some evidence in another account of their ineptness, or what you perceive as unethical behavior. And on the basis of this tiny experience, you’re ready to launch a holy crusade to reveal their deep flaws and expose the risks of doing business with them.

That is almost never the truth. Almost always, your competitor is a company with products, ethics, business systems, people and goals that are very similar to yours. Very few companies survive in this highly competitive market place if they have shoddy products, lax business morals, incompetent people, and poor operating systems. When you criticize these things in your competitor, you show yourself to be ignorant and inexperienced.

But what should you do?

Leadership brings ladder

Here are two proven techniques to penetrate these kinds of accounts.

1. Go around the competition, not through them.

This customer is probably not buying everything from your primary competitor. There likely is a handful of other suppliers selling items that you could supply. Focus on those. Find items that are being purchased from someone other than the main vendor, and present your company’s options on those. Often these could be small quantities of relatively inconspicuous items that don’t appear on the radar screen of your competitor.

When you put together attractive programs and proposals for those kinds of items, you don’t threaten your customer’s relationship with your competitor, and you begin to show them the value of a relationship with you.

Be careful to keep a relatively low profile in the account. You don’t want to draw your competitor’s attention. At first, as you try to pick off some of these miscellaneous items, you are very vulnerable to your primary competitor finding and squashing you. As time goes by and you’re successful at becoming the supplier of a number of miscellaneous items, you’ll gain power and position within the account, and in so doing, build some defenses against the ire of your competitor. You’re always safer if your competitor underestimates your activity and success within an account. So, at least until you’re well established, be as discreet and inconspicuous as possible.

Here’s a number of ways to implement this strategy of “going around the competition.”

A. Find some area within the customer’s business where the competition is very weak. For example, when I was selling hospital supplies, I discovered that one of my major competitors was very strong in the operating room. The competitor had a wide range of products, well-respected lines, a history of being active and interested in that area of the hospital, and significant expertise in operating room procedures and problems. So, I didn’t bother with the operating room, and spent my time in respiratory therapy and ICU. The competition never bothered to visit those departments. I went around my competition by finding a department on which to focus where the competition was weak.

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B. Find someone who doesn’t like dealing with your competitor. This may take longer. In a large organization, there are often dozens of decision-makers and influencers. It’s likely that one or more of them may not like dealing with your competitor. Maybe personalities clashed sometime in the past, or someone felt slighted or treated rudely. Regardless, someone inside that organization may not be your competitor’s biggest fan. Find that person(s).

Here’s the second major strategy for penetrating the impenetrable account.

2. Make a persistent, strong appeal to be the secondary supplier for that account.

Here’s one important thing you know about this customer: They are loyal to their key supplier. That indicates a philosophical position this customer holds – these are people who believe in loyalty to suppliers who do a good job in their account. That’s why they continue to buy from your competitor.

I was faced with this exact situation on more than one occasion. As I was venting my frustration over a particularly difficult account, my manager counseled me like this:

“The only thing you can count on,” he said, “is that things will change. We don’t know how, and we don’t know when, but we do know that things will change. Your job is to stay in front of the customer and position yourself to be the customer’s easiest, lowest risk choice when things finally do change with the competition.”

What great advice that turned out to be.

Almost always, those accounts that protect a relationship with your competitor will just as fervently protect the relationship with you when you become their primary supplier. The payoff is well worth the investment.

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine.

Check out our Sales Resource Center® for 455 audio and sales training programs for every sales person at every level. You may contact Dave at Kahle Way® Sales Systems, 800-331-1287, or

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