Fostering Customer Contact

I require my sales reps to contact their largest accounts on a monthly basis at minimum. Though they're good about it, periodically I hear complaints about the policy. They are hesitant to be seen as pests - calling just to call. What's the solution?

Conscientious sales reps know that regular communication with their accounts - especially the larger ones - is key. All want to avoid the "just touching base" call or visit that reps and clients alike dread.

Revisit the requirements

Call frequency plans should be reviewed and adjusted from time to time. Is the current plan realistic? Is it consistent with the client's buying cycles? Are you asking the reps to contact the accounts too often? Discuss the situation with the reps. Get their input. Perhaps a revision is in order.

Define "contact"

Do you and the reps define a customer contact differently? Have you set achievable goals for each conversation, or do the reps feel pressured to "always be selling?" If they don't sell, are they forced to explain themselves? Talk about and come up with a mutually acceptable description of the term.

Broaden your view

Take a tip from high-performing sales reps. They will tell you that contact with a customer can take many forms.

Top reps know each client personally. They know who likes fishing and who enjoys attending rock concerts. They learn as much about each client's business as possible, not just the department(s) using your product.

If a business book addresses an issue a customer struggles with, they send a copy. If they see something insightful about a client's closest competitor, they forward it. If a client is passionate about fishing, they might even send an article on the latest fishing hideaway.

With good reason, top reps consider gestures like these to be "contacts" with their accounts. A follow-up call about a great place to go fishing allows for a relaxed conversation. Business discussions evolve more spontaneously.

Have something to offer

Many companies provide valuable information or services for their clients. Some send out a survey every few years and publish the results. Some host conferences or seminars. Others might allow trainers or knowledgeable sales reps to speak at a client's staff or annual sales meeting.

All of these gestures represent opportunities for the sales rep to "contact" a customer. If you don't already, begin to offer something of value that your reps can send or invite clients to.

Tune in

Highly effective sales reps get to know their clients slowly over a period of time. Careful listeners, most take meticulous notes and pick up on little things the client says. To the best of their ability, they make getting to know the client as painless and unobtrusive as possible.

Counsel your salespeople not to bombard the clients with questions like, "What do you do in your free time?" or "Have your read the new book on social networking?" These overtures might come across as pushy or too much too soon.

Take it easy

Barraging clients with unsolicited emails or reading suggestions will quickly become more annoying than "just touching base" calls. Unless a client specifies otherwise, forwarding information of interest twice a year should be sufficient.

Any books and articles sent should be tasteful. I tell sales reps, "If you're worried that a link might offend some one -- it probably will. Don't send it."

Putting call plans in place so sales reps contact their accounts on a consistent basis makes good business sense. Just make sure to revisit the frequency requirements from time to time. Encourage reps to be creative when it comes to getting in touch with their clients. As an organization, provide opportunities for them to do so.