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Make 'Value-Added' Really Valuable

by Bill Blades

Bill BladesThink of how stupid the average salesperson is and realize that half are more stupid than that . . . forget value from this second-tier group.

Smart salespeople, on the other hand, can earn more clients in five months by being interested in the success and happiness of others than in five years of getting them interested in you. Yet, the majority of salespeople make routine sales visits without thinking, "How am I going to earn their business?" and "How can I make my selling proposition so compelling that no one else will stand a chance?"

In this article I'm going to focus on adding value to your repertoire along with providing education for your clients because focusing on these two areas will bring in huge increments of revenues versus making virtually the same presentation (lots of talking) day in and day out. Most of these presentations are not only boring, but the salespeople are like fish: They wouldn't get into trouble if they kept their mouths shut.

Now let me address education. As a sales representative, I gave my first convention speech at age 25. Then as a regional sales manager, I developed an all-day seminar that typically drew 150 to 200 industrial attendees by invitation only. It was so successful the company had me speak nationwide as it was bringing in tens of millions of dollars. Then with another industrial firm, I started providing seminars on sales, leadership, culture, exporting and other topics. Again, millions flowed in.

My next venture in life was speaking and consulting. I've had many retainer clients where I work with a firm for one or more years – usually a week per month. While my initial services are invested with the president, V.P. of sales and the sales force, we soon begin to seek out target accounts that are progressive and could represent considerable revenues for my clients. We then arrange for me to speak or consult for them. In each of these scenarios, I furnish usable information for growing people and revenues. That's value.

Let's face facts . . . all indicators point to slow growth for several more years. Do we just ride it out and hope for the best? There are tons of ignorant corporations doing just that. Please digest this: Organizations that focus on competition will eventually die. And those that focus on creating value will thrive.

While I speak and consult for my clients' clients, the overwhelming majority of the clients who have me speak and consult are construction-related firms. Whether I'm providing my services, on my client's behalf, to a potential client, a distributor or dealer, all of them benefit. I've got building materials distributors that have grown during the recession. How? By taking business away from competition that still "sell" and operate in the old school way: Products, pricing and service. My clients have these same three components, but they add value.

And let's look at our own people. How many sales and management personnel do you have that acted on just 12 new skills in the past year? The answer must be "All of them." Yes, education costs money, but ignorance costs more.

Let me share some real-life examples of the benefits of providing education.

1) Firstly, the idea wasn't mine. I was working with a long-distance telephone provider and the CEO flew in to hear me speak for his group. He had heard of my previous seminars and how the new skills were bringing in new business. I finished speaking and he told me he wanted me to speak for their large clients and potential clients.

At the first breakfast seminar, they drew about 150 targeted executives. I was talking with one very large attendee and he stopped me to talk briefly with a sales representative of the firm hosting the seminar. It was very simply, "Joe, can you come in Friday at 10:00?" Then he turned back to me and said, "I don't think he knows how much business he just got."

2) I spoke for a large meat processor and we took a coffee break about 9:30 and I noticed the CEO and his executive team talking among themselves for 90% of the break time.

We went back in the room and the CEO asked if he could speak before I continued. Of course I didn't say "No." He said, "We just talked about the fact that we just learned more in one hour than the ¼ million I spent on education on this group last year. What is it you want from us?" I replied, "Just all of your business and I'd like to leave here today with your (largest item) business."

He asked what time my flight departed. He then suggested we stop the seminar by a certain time to get to their headquarters to get the order and get me to the airport on time.

3) I've been part of many sporting events where the client hires a sports legend and fan favorite to sign programs and balls. I'm there to sign books and offer consulting advice. Many ask if I can visit their executive team before I leave town. Again, I'm not going to say "No." I respond in the affirmative and set up the appointments before the game ends. I'm armed with a state map and my day planner so I can set appointments that make geographic sense. But I always conclude with "get your team prepared to ask me questions that you're struggling with" and "get them prepared to give us our first order. Is that fair?" I've never encountered a "No."

We then arrive, field and answer questions, sign a book for each executive, get our first order and often offer a seminar . . . for additional business.

4) A large plumbing contractor said he wanted me to be the first visitor in his new home. My client's salesperson dropped me off and the client, his wife and I met on the patio. In advance of our meeting I said "Get your order pad ready for water heaters" which my client had sold him a total of zero.

I got 200 units plus about 25 minor items, but Ms. Bean Counter (spouse) said, "Their heaters are $___(forgot the amount) representing $___ (forgot) more for the 200." He replied with one statement which was, "Yes, but I get Bill." Our agreement was he would drive 1 ½ hours for lunch and it would be a working lunch. I just told him that we couldn't spend 3 hours of travel time plus a 1 ½ hour lunch each quarter. He cheerfully responded with "I'll gladly drive to you." At every lunch, which was a consulting session, we received new items.

5) I've spoken for my clients' clients at conventions usually at breakfast or lunch. One big rule for a nice turnout and avoiding a run-in with the convention is that your event must not be held while convention events are taking place. What I like is the venue is held in the same hotel where your target accounts are staying. No one has to travel and everyone needs to eat. And they receive value.

6) I provide consulting in my clients' booths at conventions. We set up a section in the corner of the booth with comfy chairs, pastries, coffee and end tables, beverages etc. It's another by invitation-only basis. The CEO has gifts purchased for the clients along with a neat note that I give at the end of our consulting session. Over 90% of the time, we get business and they never ask what our prices are.

Most exhibitors do the same thing every year . . . same booth, same people and same literature. As with many other things your group does, they do them by habit. Look at every major segment of your annual sales and marketing plan and figure out how to put a spin on it. New, new, new helps you to avoid what happens to over 90% of corporations – they drift.

We know that most romantic affairs take place because of the bedroom monotony at home. The same applies to business. You can't blame the economy, but you can stop the drift and build excitement among your people and clients. If you love boring, move to North Dakota where they're boring oil out of the ground. Up there, boring is good. With clients – it's bad.

7) At a breakfast seminar in Atlanta, I arranged for the CEO of a very large firm to sit next to my client's CEO. At the conclusion, the CEO guest was in no hurry to leave, but I loved his question to our CEO which was, "Do you mind if I ask you what your revenues are?" My client replied, "$50 million." Silence. Then the guest said, "It's kind of embarrassing for a $5 billion client to be educated by a $50 million vendor. I'm very appreciative as I learned a lot. How do you propose we build on this relationship?" Ka-ching!

8) On a routine basis, I join the salesperson on a target account sales call. Naturally, we tell them we want the CEO in attendance and ask that everyone be armed with their best questions. Caution: I've been doing this long enough that I can share that your 1 hour visit often winds up as a 2-3 hour session. Often the group is dismissed and we wind up in the CEO's office. And most often, the CEO asks me to get our salesperson to go make a call elsewhere as a plethora of things on the CEO's mind is confidential in nature. The CEO gets better and we bet business.

9) This one was classy. There was an extremely large potential client and I noticed the V.P. of sales never mentioned them so I inquired of the reason. I got something like, "They're not going to switch." I had him make an appointment with the No. 2 guy in the organization and had a salesperson drive me there, where I received a modest $20,000 trial order.

But here's the classy portion. I invited him and his executive team and their spouses to come to my client who was located in a tourist city. We had the ladies touring in horses and carriages and without them knowing it, we arranged for stops at classy stores along the way where a gift (sometimes inscribed) awaited them. While they toured, I provided a management seminar for their spouses.

My CEO got his bank to loan us his yacht, chefs and servers. The No. 2 executive came to the back of the boat where I was sitting watching the porpoises "escort" our boat while swimming along side. It was as if we had trained the porpoises to entertain our group. He said, "Bill, we cancelled the rest of our agenda to just plan on implementing the education we received. This was the best management retreat ever." There's more to this client example, but I can share that we received millions of dollars in five months.

10) I join salespeople, as an accomplished consultant and sign books on the spot. How many salespeople do you know that have made client visits with an authors?

I could cite many, many more examples, but I'll end here with a reminder: providing valuable education helps your clients be better prepared to sell more (often your products) and lead better. You've provided a value-added service and they will remember you for years and you've further bolstered your reputation.

There are many details to do the above with clients and your group can't offer these services if they are not on a process calling for greatness themselves. Fives can't sell tens.

If you do not create competitive advantages you will not successfully compete. Forget the old school lunches, ball games, holiday gifts, and instead provide a service that will help your clients be more successful. The rewards will come back to you 10,000 to 100,000 fold. And more in most cases. You can still have lunch, but you will be setting up the next seminar – for more business.

Education is one of the most valuable – or the most valuable gift you can provide. So don't think, "How much with this cost us?" Instead think, "I'm sure an investment like this will differentiate us, create bonding, help them grow and we will get a nice return on investment."

It's hard to find meaningful differentiation, but you just learned several ways to do such.

Bill Blades, CMC, CPS, specializes in growing people and revenue in the areas of sales and leadership areas. He can be contacted at (443) 477-0061 or Visit


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