By Jerry Leth, Vice-President and General Manager, MANA
I graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree. My first job was as an assistant to the plant engineer at an instant coffee plant. Thirteen years later, I left the coffee business and began a sales career. In 1988, I started my own manufacturers’ representative business.
Shortly after I signed an agreement with a new principal, the sales manager called and told me I needed to come back to Columbus, Ohio for sales training. They paid for all my travel expenses and that reinforced my belief they fell into the highly desirable principal category.
With 20 years of sales experience, I wondered what an old pro like me expected to learn. When I started my sales career, my boss sent me to a sales course where I learned about “features and benefits.” Describe to the customer the product features, then tell them what they do for them. The final step was to ask for the order. That approach sort of worked.
Much to my surprise, the sales training my new principal provided all their manufacturers’ representatives taught me a whole new approach.
You start with a strong sense of purpose to help your customers solve problems. My previous purpose was to book orders. You develop good questioning and listening skills. You learn how to provide feedback to your customers so they know you understand their situation. Make an effort to understand them first, and they reciprocate and listen to you when you explain how you plan to help them.
With this approach, you can’t fake it. You have to deliver solutions, time after time after time. The more you do, the more the customers trust you. The more they trust you, the more they buy from you. To me, that’s the ultimate relationship you create with customers. When I returned from that sales training session and applied what I learned, my sales increased substantially.
Jerry Leth, MANA’s vice-president and general manager, started as membership manager in August 2000. Previously, Jerry owned and operated Letco Tech Sales, Inc., a MANA member, multi-line professional outsourced sales agency he founded in 1989. Before starting his own agency, he managed a network of manufacturers’ reps as vice-president of sales and marketing for torque and tension equipment. Jerry graduated from Stanford with a mechanical engineering degree. He started his career at Hills Brothers Coffee in San Francisco in engineering and production before embarking on a sales career.