Making Small Talk

A client writes, "With my reserved personality I struggled as a sales rep to casually chat with customers, mostly sticking to business conversations. Whenever possible, I avoided taking customers out to lunch or dinner. Despite all this, I was a successful salesperson. Now a sales manager, I see some of the salespeople struggle with small talk the same way I did. How do I help them with something I am so bad at?"

Many successful salespeople lack an extroverted personality. The stereotype of the outgoing rep lives on, but all types of people do well in sales.    

The good news:  sometimes it's easier to coach from our own weaknesses. We have a greater awareness of and had to work hard to overcome them. With strengths, we often don't know why we're good at certain things, and struggle to coach others. 

Throughout my own career, I've always had positive responses to the questions below:

How long have you been in your position?

Customers answer this enthusiastically. They've just started, been there five or more years or worked for the company quite a while. No matter, they enjoy talking about their career trajectory.

What's the biggest difference between your prior position and this one?

I ask this question if they've been in their current role for less than two years. Most people pause and then give an interesting answer. Their insights help me understand them as an all-around professional.

What changes have you seen over the last several years?

I make this inquiry of those with tenure of three or more years. Most think for a moment, and then offer a thoughtful response.  While the information they provide often has little to do with my product or service, I learn more about their overall industry views. It makes me better informed.

Are you from this area originally?

When you ask this question, you win either way. People take pride in the area they've chosen to live.  If they aren't from the area, they might have accepted a job out of college or moved with a spouse. Others might have lived in that very town (or nearby) their entire lives. This question allows you to get a little more personal without being in any way inappropriate.

Warning Signals

As a young rep, while scheduling a follow-up appointment with a customer, he mentioned going on vacation soon. I made note of it and told him to have a good time. He smiled and thanked me. 

During the next call, I asked about his vacation. He gave me a cold stare and changed the subject immediately. I have no idea what happened, but it was a good lesson for me. No matter how well-meaning your question, you have to watch your level of familiarity. It differs with each customer and can change at a moment's notice. 

Over the years, I've learned to record things customers mention such as:  weddings, children's / spouse's names and activities, vacations, and hobbies. But I don't ask about these events directly unless I know them particularly well.  Instead, if it feels right, I'll say something like, "The last time we met you mentioned your daughter's volleyball game." They either talk about it enthusiastically because they want to, or acknowledge it quickly and we move on.  But I never get a cold stare. No one seems offended.

Final Thoughts

Some of us excel at small talk. Others find it difficult and stressful. If you know it's a weakness of yours or a rep's, help them assemble a list of questions that get conversations started. Try them out on joint sales calls (inside or field). See which ones work and which ones don't go over so well. In that way, you're helping them create a toolkit of solid questions.

Provide More to Your Largest Accounts

A reader writes, "A sales rep just closed the biggest deal in our company's history. This is a high profile client and the largest one we've ever worked with. I want our company to rise to the occasion and prove to this new client that they didn't make a mistake in doing business with us. How should we go about this?"

Caught up in the excitement of closing a major account, many companies forget to ask, "What do we need to do to retain them? How should we interact with them going forward to ensure we keep their business?"

To answer your question, I'm turning to Lisa Magnuson, author of "The TOP Seller Advantage: Powerful Strategies to Build Long-Term Executive Relationships" and Founder / CEO of Top Line Sales, a company focused on helping Sales VP's develop and close their largest prospects and retain and grow their most important existing accounts.

Suzanne: First of all, why should we treat our largest account differently than our other customers?

Lisa: Whether you're a small company, mid-sized company or work for a large company yourself, if you land a "whale size" customer they will expect more. More resources, more attention and support, and more expertise.

Suzanne: How do you determine what "more" looks like for your biggest customer?

Lisa: I recommend that you analyze and rank your top customers and then determine the support investments you're willing to make for each level. For example, your top tier (which might only include one account) could qualify for:  a dedicated account manager, an executive sponsor from your company, and access to all top-notch resources.

Suzanne:  What are the risks to doing nothing?

Lisa:  The risks are great. Just a few include:

  • Putting your company at risk with a disproportionate amount of revenue tied up with a small number of customers without a pro-active account management model to retain those customers. 
  • The embarrassment of your competitor snatching the account out from under you.

Suzanne:  I know that you talk about pro-active account management structures in your book. What are these and why are they important?

Lisa: A proactive account management framework, co-developed with your customer, is essential to drive desired results. At a minimum, the joint development of a shared plan (i.e., partnership plan) should include several elements:

  • Alignment of goals, priorities, mission, and vision - the objective of this part of the plan is for each party to share their goals, mission, and vision to identify their shared vision, mission, and goals.
  • Rules of engagement - this is developed to agree on the points of engagement (i.e., who, what, where, and when). In other words, how will you work together?
  • Relationship plan - the purpose of this part of the plan is to identify the who's who from the customer side and the supplier side to align like roles within both organizations. The relationship plan can include a primary contact and secondary contact if helpful.  It's important to include executive relationships in the plan.
    • Meeting cadence - the benefit of outlining a meeting cadence is to have regular communication and progress towards goals and priorities:
    • Monthly Status Meetings - cover immediate opportunities and issues with day to day contacts
    • Quarterly Review and Planning Meetings - review the plan and priorities with day-to-day contacts and other interested parties or stakeholders
    • Annual Strategic Visioning Meetings - strategic planning to review accomplishments and set direction with executive sponsor

Lisa adds the following advice, "Putting the correct focus and investments around your biggest account will always pay big dividends."

Site Visits - Making the Most of Them

A reader writes, "Whenever possible, I advise my sales reps to ask any new prospect they're calling on for a tour of their facilities.  They tell me they would like a tour but feel unsure about the right time to make that request.  What are your thoughts?"

Sales representatives should always ask for a tour of the facilities.  It adds to their overall knowledge of the company they hope to do business with.  Timing does matter, though.

Visiting Prospects

When the sale moves beyond the discovery phase and a potential new customer shows a reasonably strong interest in your company's product or service, that's the right time to inquire.  Suggest the reps say something like, "When it's convenient, would you mind asking someone to give me a tour of the assembly warehouse?"  (The rep should be specific enough in their request to show they've done their homework.)

Most decision-makers welcome the chance to conduct the tour themselves.  If they're too busy, appointing someone else never seems to be a problem.  The better you know their business, the more you will be able to help them. Seeing a manufacturing floor, a laboratory, or a warehouse provides the rep with new and interesting information to consider before putting a presentation together or submitting a proposal. 

Be Engaged  

Reps should resist the urge to treat the tour as a pleasant walk-through that kills a little time.  High performing salespeople take notes, ask questions, and when safe and permissible, take part in the process.  If you get introduced to other employees, ask how long they've been with the company and doing this particular job. 

Anyone working at a machine or assembling a part appreciates a chance to talk about what they do all day long.  You never know what they might say that might give you an idea for a current or future presentation.

Look for Opportunities to Learn

During the tour, most hosts let their guard down at some point.  I remember a president saying to me one time, "See that machine over there?  That was my job.  It helped put me through college."  Another admitted that when he's really stressed out, he comes onto the floor and helps sort the returns.

Others might talk about expansion plans or moving a particular machine from one area to another.  Regardless of what they say, it's usually great information to have.


If some time has passed since a rep toured the facility of a long time client, encourage or remind them to suggest another.  Typically their contact at the company will say, "Not much has changed, but OK."  Once the tour starts, it usually turns out that quite a bit has changed. 

During the expedition, the rep might ask, "The last time I was here, wasn't this area empty?" The customer might say, "Well yes ... has it been that long?  We moved our laser machines over here.  Now over to the left, you might not know about this either."  At that point the tour is off and running, with the sales rep jotting down all kinds of new information. 

Handling Remote Locations

Many reps make sales calls to an administrative office with a manufacturing facility in another state - or even overseas.  Each manager has to make the decision as to whether a trip to this facility makes economic sense.  If the expense seems reasonable and the company could or does do substantial business with your organization, I highly recommend having the rep make the trip.

When the expense proves too great (at least in the short term), have the reps inquire about some type of virtual tour.  Perhaps they could Skype with a few of the key employees at the facility.  Though it won't take the place of an in person visit, the rep's efforts will get noticed and they'll learn a great deal.

Security Concerns

A lot of companies, especially larger ones, have security confidentiality concerns.  As a salesperson, you may never make it past a conference room - let alone be taken on a tour.  Some organizations ask visitors to sign non-disclosure agreements before entering the building.  It never hurts to ask for a tour, but company's individual security policies need to be respected.

Play Back What You Heard / Saw

Salespeople can and should do their best to incorporate things they've learned from their visit to better serve the customer.  Though they won't use all of what they learn in any one presentation or proposal, having a thorough knowledge of what a customer does and how they do it will help close more deals and build stronger business relationships. 

Visualizing Changes in Your Top 20 Accounts

In 2013 I want to coach and guide my reps to focus on the top customers in their territories. I know I can create a list and discuss each account with them. What else could I do that might have a greater impact on how they interact with these very valuable customers throughout the year?

If the top 10 or 20 accounts in a salesperson's territory are below quota as a group, achieving their overall sales revenue goal becomes difficult if not impossible. These elite customers typically represent more revenue than all their other smaller accounts combined.

Helping your reps create game plans for these accounts will increase the chances of their meeting and exceeding their sales quotas for the year.

Steven Schottenfeld, a colleague and data analyst at TraceTech Solutions suggests this simple but effective exercise.

Create a list of the Top 10 or 20 customers in each rep's territory. Then follow his instructions below:

  1. Generate "List 1" - the Top 10 customer list for the year that precedes the last full fiscal year.
  2. Generate "List 2" - the Top 10 customer list for the last full fiscal year.
  3. Place them side-by-side, as shown in Table A.  
  4. Cross out any customer in List 1 that isn't in List 2.  These are former "great" customers who fell out of the Top 10 in the last fiscal year.
  5. Circle any customer in List 2 that isn't in List 1.  These are "fast-rising", high-value new customers.
  6. Draw a line from the remaining List 1 clients to the corresponding List 2 clients.  These customers are still in the top 10 but may have moved up or down in the ranking.
  7. The results for the example are shown in Table B. 

Table A

Table B

Now examine the two lists. Interesting, sobering, or surprising might include some of the words that come to mind. What changes a year brings!

A quick comparison shows, for instance, that Clark Construction dropped from number two to number eight with a loss of over $150,000 (-77%) while SBS moved from number ten to number three with an increase of almost $150,000 in revenue (+729%). Quality Construction remained stable at number four. Overall, the top 10 Accounts were off by 8% from 2010.

With this type of information the conversation moves from the general, "be sure and spend the majority of your time in the field with the Top 10 Accounts, especially Clark Construction. That account was disastrous last year" to the specific, "Let's look closely at Clark Construction -- order by order, product by product, month by month. After we have a better understanding of what happened, set up a meeting for the two of us to meet with the president. Following that meeting, we'll devise a strategic plan for the year and meet with her again."

Objective data allows you to give the rep specific guidance on a top account and help them increase their earnings.

Thanks so much Steve, for this great suggestion.

Managing Changes in Client Circumstances

A reader writes, "Recently, I sponsored a sales contest for my reps. To win a gift certificate at their favorite store, a rep's top 15 accounts needed to finish10% ahead this quarter versus last. All but one rep enthusiastically embraced the contest. This individual claimed that several of his top 15 accounts from last quarter should no longer be in the top 15 for this quarter.  I want to be reasonable. Under what circumstances should certain accounts be switched for others?"

What a great contest! Most rep's top accounts do fluctuate. Number three switches places with number five and so on. Reps and companies in all industries experience this. These changes affect sales contests, forecasts, and commission pay-outs.

In certain instances you as the manager should give serious thought to moving an account out of their top group. Issues could include the following.

Client Who Has Lost a Contract

Sometimes your company's customers lose contracts or large clients of their own. An event like this impacts their bottom line dramatically, resulting in downsizing or significantly reduced hours for employees. This leaves even the most effective sales representative unable to recoup the lost revenue.

Customer Credit Issues

Accounts get put on credit hold due to concerns with outstanding balances. Many remain in this status for more than 90 days. Reps bear little or no responsibility for their client's cash flow issues and shouldn't be penalized as a result.

Client Discontinues Use of Your Product

Permanent changes to a client's business model may result in a client no longer using a product you sell to them. Working with the rep on price negotiation or other adjustments won't help. It's not a matter of their buying a cheaper or generic version. The client will no longer be buying this product at all. The rep cannot sell them anything else from the product line.

Seasonal Variations in an Account

Due to the nature of an account's business,they might buy a lot in one or two quarters of the year and little or no product in other quarters. No amount of effort on the part of the rep would or could change this.

In all four of these scenarios, a rep may not be able to recoup the lost bookings from these accounts in the next few quarters or years - or possibly ever. Fairness dictates that you consider removing these accounts from the rep's top roster and then replacing them with the next account down the list.

Replacing the Revenue

Removing a company from the rep's top account list or allowing them to alter a forecast might, but does not necessarily mean, they are off the hook for the revenue generated by these accounts.

Depending on the severity of the drop in sales from an account, the rep might be expected to make that number up through one or a combination of accounts. This requires a team effort between a manager, the sales reps, and other departments like marketing. Reps need to feel supported as they strategize.

The Sales Contest

Back to your original question, let's say the rep's sales for Q1 totaled $2,100,000, making $2,310,000 their Q2 goal for the contest. If the account that replaces the problematic one brings in $50,000 less in revenue per quarter, you need to be the judge as to whether or not you hold the rep to the full $2,310,000 or come up with some number in between.

Other Situations

Some reps will work a territory where certain customers have been hard hit by an economic downturn. Others will experience a buyer or decision maker with whom they had an excellent relationship leave a company. Companies changing the direction of their business prove problematic for reps.

These situations make the position of sales a challenging one, but do not necessarily mean removing the account for the purposes of a sales contest or allowing the rep to alter their sales forecasts. It means they need to work harder and smarter.

Always keep in mind that sales contests keep reps focused through the tough days in sales. Try to make a decision that honors both the company goals and helps the reps overall motivation.

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.

Communicating Price Increases to Customers

A client asks "I am the President of a top-of-the-line stationery and paper goods company. Over the years, we have had to raise our prices to adjust for inflation and remain profitable. With the devaluation of the dollar as well as the increased cost of raw materials and fuel, we are in the uncomfortable position of having to issue unprecedented price increases. Using materials of lesser quality is not an option because our company's reputation is based on selling the very best. My salespeople are nervous about how this price increase might affect the size of the orders their customers place, and whether or not customers will consider vendors that carry a more economical line of paper goods."

Most all of my clients are facing this dilemma from both perspectives - as customers and as business owners. Their own suppliers are increasing prices or including surcharges, and at the same time they have to raise prices on their own products and services. It is unpleasant for everyone.

Review the Facts with Your Sales Team

If your current price increases are more significant than any you have issued in the past, you will have to first explain the situation to your own sales representatives. If, for instance, the cost of one type of raw material in particular has skyrocketed, and is the main culprit behind the price increase, educate your staff. Rehearse what you will say about the price increases until you feel comfortable, and then review the facts in a straightforward, non-apologetic, positive manner. They will appreciate your candor. All of your sales representatives go grocery shopping and fill up their cars at the gas station. They understand what's happening.

Draft a Letter to Customers

Work with sales and marketing to draft a letter that will go out to all of your customers explaining the price increases. You may want to come up with several different versions of the letter for different sizes or types of customers. Letters to your very best clients should be customized and personalized. However, none of these letters should go out until you, and eventually your sales representatives, have spoken directly with your customers about the situation.

Call the Top Accounts

As President, you should take it upon yourself to call or visit your organization's best clients, regardless of which salesperson handles the account, and tell them about the price increase personally. Let the salespeople know you are doing this, and involve them where necessary. When meeting with your valued clients, answer their questions directly and honestly. If these are some of your best customers, they are probably astute business people themselves, will understand what you are going through, and will respect you for telling them directly. By taking it upon yourself, you also help to show that you take the matter seriously, and that you are willing to take some of the heat off of the salespeople.

During the customer meetings, promise to confirm the price increases in a letter and make sure to follow-up on that commitment.

Use Initial Feedback to Guide the Conversations of Your Salespeople

Once you have made a few of these phone calls or visits, meet with the salespeople and talk with them about how the conversations went. Be honest about the customer's reactions to the situation, and go over the various questions they asked and objections they may have brought up. Then, tell them to call or visit all of their own customers and have a direct conversation about the upcoming price increase, just as you did with the top customers. It should be made clear that leaving voicemails or sending e-mails are not options.

Let your sales team know that your door is open if they want to discuss a particular account with you. You should meet with the sales representatives once they have made their first two or three calls to talk about the conversations, and review their progress to make sure that they are contacting all their accounts (not just the ones they feel most comfortable with). Get together with them regularly so that you fully understand what they are dealing with and so that they feel your support.

In order to remain in business not just through this recent economic cycle but for many years to come, most companies will have to take a hard look at their cost of doing business. Many will have to raise their prices accordingly. The sales department will no doubt feel the Impact of this situation as they interact with customers. Help them through this with a company-wide effort involving an effective plan, frequent communication, and teamwork.

Review Accounts to Set Sales Priorities

I always advise my clients to run a report of their current accounts, sorted by the amount of sales revenue they represent. The largest clients should be at the top and the smallest clients at the bottom. These are the questions they frequently ask me about this activity.

What am I likely to find?

Most of my clients discover the following:

  • Once they get past the top 10 or 20 accounts, the remaining accounts represent much less revenue than they thought. The dollar amount drops off fairly quickly.
  • One or two accounts that they think are top accounts and have paid considerable attention to are not in the top 10 or 20.
  • Several accounts spend a lot more money with their company than they realized and they do not spend any appreciable time with them.
  • The account list is “top heavy” and “bottom heavy” with few accounts in the middle.
  • Many accounts are stagnant. They spend the exact same amount of money every year and buy exactly the same type of product. There is no growth.

What should I do with this information?

Once you have established who your top customers are, determine what percentage of your allotted sales time should be spent with each one and on what type of activity. Some may just want to meet and discuss business; others might like to play golf.

  • Figure what the top companies have in common as well how they are different from each other. Let the commonalities help you to identify the ideal customer.
  • Let the differences serve as a guide to the type or size of company that might be missing from your account list. Create a sales and marketing plan to proactively add those types of companies to your account roster.
  • Make sure that your salespeople understand who the very top accounts are, have the skills necessary to grow the accounts, and are spending the right amount of time with them.
  • Learn about and get to know the second tier customers to determine which ones might have strong growth potential in the coming years.

What should I do about the large number of companies who do almost no business with my company?

Divide that group of companies up and have the salespeople call on them. Determine which ones have potential and which ones do not. After that activity is complete, there may be some companies that should move into inactive account status. You might consider dropping them from sales territories and marketing campaigns. Put your efforts into bringing on the type of accounts that you really want to do business with.

How often should I run this type of report?

Every other month. If you do this exercise on a regular basis, you will rarely be as surprised by what you see as you were the first time. But you will become more adept at spotting trends within your customer base and you will be more aware of how individual companies are performing.

There is one added bonus that my clients often overlook. Running a report like this makes you less dependent on your sales representatives “take” on how things are going with a certain account. You now know. It makes conversations with them more constructive and you won’t be caught off guard late in the year when a particular account is down by a significant percentage. You will have the account information at hand.

Though my clients come from many different industries, the challenges they face are similar. In “Sales Management Tips,” I regularly answer questions that have been posed to me by my clients. I hope the answers will help you to solve some of the sales dilemmas you face in your own sales organizations. If you would like to ask a question, please contact me. The identity and affiliation of those submitting questions will be kept confidential.

Meeting Customers is Critical for Executives

A client asks, "I'm the president of a small company. It's been suggested to me by peers and business advisors that I get out and meet my customers on a regular basis. I feel awkward at these meetings, worry that I'm wasting the customer's time, and don't see the value of it. Does it really do any good?"

It's critically important to the growth of any business that the person in charge not lose touch with the very people who help make their company a success. Making periodic customer visits is the very best way to do that. Why?

Peer to Peer

Company presidents like to meet other company presidents. It's as simple as that. No matter what the industry, executives share common issues and appreciate being able to talk to peers.

Show Appreciation

Taking the time to visit someone in their place of business shows them that they are a valued customer like no phone call or holiday card ever could. Nothing replaces being personally thanked for their business by the company president.

Share a Vision

Paying a visit allows you to talk about your company's plans for the future in a way a salesperson could not, and allows your customer to talk about their plans in a way they might not with the salesperson. Hearing about the customer's future plans enables you to think long-term about your business relationship with this particular company.

Take a Tour

I have never met a company president that did not enjoy giving a tour of their facility. It's usually very interesting and you will come away with a better understanding of how their organization really operates.


When two company presidents meet, they often think of several people they know that they think the other should contact. This usually doesn't happen, though, unless the two presidents are face to face. They may even offer to make an introduction to someone that you have always wanted to speak with but haven't felt comfortable contacting for one reason or another. Prior to the visit, you may want to think about who, in your network, they might like to meet.

Observe the Salesperson

How does your salesperson really interact with the customer? What do they actually say? What might they be neglecting to mention? Though company presidents often interact with their sales staff on a regular basis and may even manage them, they are often in the dark about how they conduct customer calls. Accompanying them is a great way to observe your sales staff first hand.

Proactive Beats Reactive

Some company presidents visit accounts only when the customer is extremely unhappy and may take their business elsewhere or to help close a large deal. Seeing accounts only in these two extremes makes executives hesitant about paying an ordinary visit. Use these visits to get to know your customer better so that when something does go wrong, or your assistance is needed in selling, you will be in a position to be even more helpful.

Get Energized

Most company presidents that I work with make the same comments after coming back from a client visit. They say they feel "relaxed," "re-energized" or "more focused." Many say they have a renewed appreciation for the jobs their salespeople do. They always, always learn something that they wouldn't have if they hadn't visited an account in person.

So get out there and visit those valued accounts. Start slowly. Make sure the first few visits are to accounts where you feel relatively secure. Once you're comfortable, schedule visits on a regular basis. You will be glad that you did.

Strengthening Relationships with Customers

A client asks, “In last month’s newsletter you mentioned that Field Sales Representatives benefit from face-to-face contact with their customers. I have an Inside Sales staff and want to help them build the same relationships with customers that outside reps enjoy. How do I go about doing this?”

Developing customer relationships is more challenging for Inside Sales Representatives (ISR’s) because they don’t have the advantage of seeing their customers in person on a regular basis like Field Sales Representatives do. Here are some tips to help them forge strong relationships with customers:

  • Schedule occasional in-person visits so that they can meet their key accounts.
  • Require that they call the key customers in their territory a certain number of times per calendar quarter.
  • Print their photo on their business cards.
  • Post general biographical information along with their picture on your company website.
  • Send a newsletter or tip sheet out to customers on a regular basis featuring some content from the ISR.
  • Send out personalized holiday and “thank you for your order” cards from the ISR

The following suggestions might help to lessen the isolation ISR’s can sometimes feel and increase the scope of their network:

  • Sponsor their membership fee in an organization that serves your particular industry.
  • Provide off-site sales training on a regular basis.
  • Send them to occasional tradeshows in your industry and/or use them to staff your show booth.

By implementing some of the suggestions above, you are helping the ISR move away from being seen as an order taker or a voice on the other end of the phone. You are giving them the tools to form multi-dimensional relationships with their customers, and this will lead to an increase in sales revenue.