One of the challenges of a growing business is finding good people to represent us. I’ve been surprised, when hiring account representatives, how many applicants don’t understand the essential requirements of every sales job.
My own background is mainly in sales. I started with Markraft as an account representative right out of college. I’ve led the company’s sales staff, too. So I’d like to share some thoughts about how the best sales people operate, and how they benefit both their own employers and their customers.
Knowledge is essential. We expect all our account reps to understand our company’s goals, and our core values. Of course, every sales person should be an expert on the company’s products and services. I’ve run into too many salesmen who know the price – and commission – for every product they sell, but freeze up when a customer asks a detailed question about its features or functions.
It’s also vital for an account representative to know the competition, its strengths and weaknesses. Any intelligent customer wants to know why they should choose us over another company. We expect our representatives to be able to talk convincingly about what sets us apart – our “competitive advantage.”
A good account rep must focus on the customers. That means learning about and understanding their needs. It means earning customers’ trust by truly looking out for their interests. We’ve all seen the sort of salesman who pushes whatever product has the biggest commission, but doesn’t necessarily best meet the client’s needs. Another important way to earn the client’s trust is being totally up-front and honest about prices and terms.
This essential focus on the customer starts with asking the right questions. As an account representative, I learned I couldn’t make a convincing case for my company’s products until I understood the prospect’s needs. It’s not just what the customer needs, by the way. What does the customer want? In our business, many different models and styles of cabinets will meet a homeowner’s basic needs, but only a few might be exactly what a family wants in its kitchen.
If the client is a contractor building 100 apartments, the questions will mostly be about practical matters: price, durability, functionality. But when talking about somebody’s home, the smart sales rep understands that emotional considerations carry a lot of weight in the decision to purchase.
A sales person’s most important skill is listening – knowing when to interject in the conversation and knowing when not to – paying attention to what is important to the customers, not to what the representative thinks should be important to them. Everyone is different and has different needs and tastes. To be successful in sales, you must be a good listener, know how to understand the customer’s perspective and what is truly important. In the end, you have to care.
The sales representative’s essential goal is to show how the company’s products can perfectly match the customer’s wants and needs. By solving the prospect’s problem, the skillful sales professional avoids all the negatives of the traditional “hard sell”: buyer resistance, objections, mistrust, and eventually dissatisfaction with the purchase.
Understanding relationships is a vital quality that too many sales people don’t get right. Doing business, especially in a tight-knit community like Wilmington, is about relationships. It isn’t only the relationship between account representative and customer. It’s just as important for the sales representative to work well with the people who actually fulfill the order. In our case, that includes the designers, the installers, and the people in our warehouse and supply chain. It’s their job to translate the sales person’s promises into a finished, functional, attractive room. They’re the people who make sure products are ordered on time, meet the customer’s specifications, and get delivered when needed. The account representative who respects what all those people do, and treats them as essential team members, can count on truly satisfying his customers.
Some other crucial traits we look for when hiring for sales jobs:
• Well organized. The good representative has a plan and follows it, yet stays flexible enough to adapt to unexpected circumstances. Smart sales people anticipate both problems and opportunities, and consistently follow through to make sure loose ends are tied up.
• Strong communication skills. A good account rep is clear and persuasive about the product’s benefits for clients. She stays in touch with prospects, following up with them as promised, and on schedule. She’s equally effective talking to groups or one-on-one, and is equally good at speaking or writing.
• Results oriented. Effective sales people use their understanding of their employers’ goals and their customers’ needs to secure profitable business. They look for opportunities to up-sell. They ask for, and get, referrals from their current customers.
• Business savvy. The very best account representative stays on top of industry trends, changes in the marketplace and new technology. He looks for new opportunities and rarely gets taken by surprise, either by the competition or by customers’ evolving needs.
• Time management. Serving customers effectively requires good organization. That includes keeping track of multiple projects at the same time, a scheduling system to make sure no client’s needs are overlooked, and a track record of meeting all deadlines.
I’m always happy to answer any questions about what we can do for you, in your home or for your business. Watch for more tips about how to enhance your home’s value and convenience!
Cee Edwards is President and General Manager of Markraft Cabinets. He joined the company in 1995. Since 1985, Markraft has specialized in cabinet and countertop design and installation in residential and commercial construction and custom remodeling. To learn more about Markraft, go to www.markraft.com. Contact Cee at 910-762-1986. Like Markraft on Facebook at www.facebook.com/markraftcabinets or follow Cee on Twitter at twitter.com/CeeEdwards
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