Case Study #1 “Prospecting By Driving Around”
When the phone rings, Charlie Preston knows exactly who is on the other end. It is eight o’clock Wednesday evening, and his sales manager, Melinda White, punctual as always, is making her weekly checkup call to see how Charlie did last week.
Charlie and Melinda work for RealVoice Corporation, a distributor of electronic communications equipment. One of the company’s exciting new products, a portable email/cell phone device called the In-touch 200, is about the size of a pack of cards, weighs only five ounces, and can be carried in a suit coat pocket. RealVoice is a small player in this growing but highly competitive market, and it seeks to carve out a niche by marketing its products mainly to small and medium-sized companies. Customers and prospects for RealVoice products include companies that have many salespeople and other employees (e.g., delivery, installation, and maintenance people) who spend little time at the central headquarters office.
Charlie, who has been with RealVoice for less than four months, is not looking forward to this conversation with Melinda, because he had a rather lackluster week. He completed only one sale to a small account with limited long-term profit potential for RealVoice. Although the three- day company training program for new salespeople covered many different prospecting methods, Charlie prefers to drive his company car out into his territory near Portland, Oregon, and become familiar with the companies and people in it.
Business growth is exploding in the area, so the telephone directories are always out of date. Only by driving around his territory can Charlie be one of the first salespeople to locate and make calls on the new companies that have recently opened for business.
During his first three months on the job, Charlie had considerable success by merely driving around until he spotted an industrial park or a company whose parking lot contained a lot of look-alike, middle-range cars – the kind usually purchased in large numbers as company cars for salespeople. Even during his daily routine of putting gas in his car, eating meals, and doing personal errands, Charlie makes it a point to subtly prospect for business by starting conversations with people. Charlie used this technique to find four prospects during his first four months with RealVoice, and he turned two of them into customers after only a few sales calls. But this past month his sales have really slowed, probably because many area companies are cutting costs during the current economic slow-down. Charlie picks up the phone and tries to put himself into a positive upbeat frame of mind before he speaks.
Hi Charlie, this is Melinda. How are you doing? Just calling to see how you week went.
Well, it was not one of my best weeks, but I’ve got a lot of pots heating up on the old stove. [Charlie has a few accounts that he is working on that hold promise, but he knows Melinda is really interested in how many sales he made this week.] That’s good, Charlie, but first, tell me about your week. How many sales did you make?
Unfortunately, I sold only one account last week, but I’m only about one sales call away on two others. [Charlie fears Melinda’s notorious wrath. Another rep in the
company has told him about how upset Melinda becomes when a salesperson has poor weekly numbers. Instead, Charlie is surprised to hear her reply in a mild, comforting tone.]
Well, why don’t you give me an idea of what happened on each call, and maybe we can figure out a way to change your luck. [Feeling relieved by Melinda’s approach, Charlie proceeds to describe the past week on the road.]
Let me start on a positive note. I did find three prospects this week that should turn into customers eventually.
Last Thursday, while I was having coffee in a doughnut shop down in Salem, I met a guy named Carl Avery, who turned out to be the sales manager of Lixon Wholesale Foods. He’s a high-energy guy who has ten sales reps located throughout the state. He said that one of his frustrations is that he has a hard time reaching his sales reps during the day and has been thinking about equipping each with a portable e-mail or cell phone device. I told him that our new In-Touch 200 did both jobs, and he was interested. So I followed him back to his office and showed him some of our latest product brochures and let him play with my own In-Touch 200 for a few minutes. He seemed impressed. He even called to ask Joe Lixon, the company president, to come down for a look, but M. Lixon had gone for the day. Anyway, I tried to close Carl and get him to buy a few for his sales force on a trial basis, but he said he wasn’t quite sure he was ready. He asked me to call him back in about three weeks, after he’s had a chance to educate himself more about competitive products.
On Monday I had an appointment to see the president of Waller Rubber Company. I found out about this company through a friend of mine who buys tires from them for his bicycle repair business. The president told me that they sell products throughout the United States and Canada and that they have a twenty-five-member direct sales force. I told him that his company sounded just right for our RealVoice In-Touch 200. He told me that he didn’t have the budget this year, but was pretty sure that he would be interested about a year from now. Just then his secretary buzzed to remind him of a meeting. So he quickly thanked me for my time and walked me to the door. As he was leaving, he yelled back to me, “Why don’t you see Pete over in MR? He might be interested.” I didn’t know what he meant by MR, and he was gone before I could ask. I waited for a few minutes by the secretary’s desk to see if she knew what MR meant, but she was so engrossed in her phone conversation, I don’t think she even noticed I was standing nearby. She’s kind of an airhead, so she probably wouldn’t have known anyway. So I headed on out for my next appointment.
Have you checked out Lixon Wholesale Foods and Waller Rubber Company with our credit department for advance approval of sales to them?
I haven’t had a chance yet, but I’ll do that as soon as I’m close to a sale. They’re good-sized companies with nice facilities, so I’m sure there won’t be any problems with either of them.
You’re probably right, but it’s a good idea to check them out credit-wise before you spend any more time with them.
You’re right. I’ll call my friend, Bob Camarota, in the credit department tomorrow to check both companies out. Before I forget, Melinda, I want to tell you what happened today while I was having a flat tire fixed at a service station. I struck up a conversation with a guy named Walt Stauffer who turns out to be the sales manager for a company that sells auto parts to service stations. He told me that
they currently sell in twenty states and have thirty-five sales reps but are planning to cut back in the near future. He wasn’t sure how many reps they are going to keep, but he liked the idea of a combination e-mail and cell phone in one device. He looked over my In-Touch 200 and our brochures for several minutes; so I know he’s interested. He especially liked the size and design of our product, although he thought the price was little high. He asked whether they payments could be spread out over a longer period of time, and I told him I would get back to him on Monday to set up an appointment. I think this account offers good potential.
Overall, I averaged about six in-person calls a day last week, but most of my contacts were pretty much up-front flat rejections due to budget cutbacks. I didn’t even see about a third of my prospects because they were in meetings. Guess I should have used my In-Touch 200 to call o email ahead of time to reconfirm. Times are tough in my territory now, but I’ll keep charging until things turn up again.
Source: Personal Selling, Anderson, Dubinsky, Mehta, Houghton Mifflin Company, (2007) (Reprinted in Personal Selling with permission of Paul Christ, West Chester University of Pennsylvania)
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