Don’t Forget to Sell to Inside Staff

by John Davis, Paul Davis Automation

We have all been there — it’s 1:30 p.m., the car is hot, the A/C still cooling down the sweltering interior. The taste of a wolfed-down lunch lingers as you growl at Siri or Google to please dial the correct number. It is Thursday, the customer from this morning’s call is irritated because their shipment is late, and you have approximately 10 minutes to call the factory and try to resolve the late shipment before your 1:45 p.m. conference call which you will take while driving to your next appointment (for which you are already running late due to the fiasco this morning). It’s been a week, and Friday cannot come too soon.

The phone rings and then is answered. As soon as you hear the voice on the other end, the first thought that comes to your mind is, “Oh crud (you know what I really mean), not this guy.”

The next ten minutes are spent painfully and awkwardly trying to get this inside salesperson to see your side of the story as you advocate for your customer and to please — just please — take a stroll out to production to see if they can get the delivery moved up. There is success at the end of the call, but certainly neither party is happy. As you both hang up and part ways, you both think simultaneously, “What a jerk — what did I ever do to him?”

I found myself in this exact situation a few months back. It isn’t surprising that — as a salesperson — it is in my nature to try and make friends and build relationships. After all, we wouldn’t be in this business if we were antisocial people with horrible interpersonal skills. So, it bugs me when I don’t connect with another human being. Especially since we are fortunate that all of our manufacturers have fantastic inside salespeople — they are smart, good with customers, responsive to communications, and solid partners. In other words, I got along with all of them just great.

All of them except for one guy.

This inside salesman — by all measures — is a great person. Not only does he have all the attributes I listed previously, but he is a great dad and family man. For some reason though, he and I just didn’t connect. Not only did my inability to make friends with this fellow drive me nuts from a personal perspective, it was becoming an issue professionally as we were both starting to avoid interaction with each other. It was time to confront the issue head-on and see if we couldn’t find some common ground.

It just so happened that I was scheduled to be at the factory for some training in a few weeks. Once there, I made it a point to grab a cup of coffee with this gentleman to see if we couldn’t hash things out. Through the ensuing conversation, it became clear that much of the friction in our relationship was being caused by a few behaviors on the part of us both. Of course, neither or us saw these behaviors as obnoxious or non-productive (we both thought we were acting in the best interest of the company and ourselves), but some in-depth discussion and several cups of coffee revealed that some simple changes to how we interact with each other would alleviate a burden of frustration and actually make it enjoyable and productive to work together.

The point of this article is not to delve into the details of what was wrong between me and this inside salesperson, rather it is to point out that I had neglected a very important customer of mine — the factory inside salesperson. With our daily schedules the way they are — flitting between meetings at Mach speed and trying to keep up with the multimodal mountain of communication bestowed upon us by our smart phones — it is hard to make interactions with our inside people (especially if we don’t know them well) anything other than brief, transactional, and frankly, cold.

Charley Cohon, MANA CEO, tells a great story about how he used to take bags full of candy to his annual meeting at one of his important principals. Prior to the meeting with the company leadership, Charley would distribute the candy to the entire inside staff, making a point to shake hands and ask about kids, vacations, and life in general. The inside staff loved him, and Charley’s company enjoyed a long and mutually profitable relationship with this principal.

In Charley’s case, it was not the candy, it was the consideration and thought. And in my case, it was the effort of taking time to sit down with an important customer — my inside salesperson — and listen to their needs. It’s what I do every day in my job as a salesperson, and what better customer than someone who can not only help make your territory run smoother, but can be an important ally at your principal’s HQ?

John Davis has two professional passions — engineering new software and hardware products and having the privilege of being the second-generation owner of his family’s rep business, Paul Davis Automation. Both keep him busy during the cold Cleveland winters. When not at work or spending time with his family, he can be found at the local airport.