What’s Your Billboard?

April 1, 2010

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned some lessons that have become important parts of my work. Without them, I don’t think I would be where I am today. I’ll call them “billboards” on the highway of sales success. I’ll be writing about them regularly, so stay tuned.

I like to call the first one “Mastering the Industry Event.”

Participating in industry trade shows, meetings and special events provide you with great opportunities to network and build contacts. They enable you catch up on new developments in our industry. Of course, they also provide amazing opportunities to initiate and close sales.

With this in mind, I have to say that I’m really looking forward to this year’s Management Forum. After all, where else can I meet so many of my customers, prospects and colleagues in one place? Oh, sure, we talk on the phone and drop the occasional email. But there’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting. It’s the way business used to get done.

It’s all about the personal sale, and the Management Forum is a great place to practice this art.

The experts say that there are generally six steps in any sale. They include prospecting, initial contact, presentation, handling objections, closing the sale and follow-up. In our electronic age, an increasingly large percent of this process happens through email, cell phones and text messages.

That makes me worry. Sales relationships are complex, and there’s plenty of room for error. Emails and texts can never capture the meaning and nuance of a face-to-face or even a phone meeting. My philosophy is that while technology should enhance our business relationships, it shouldn’t dominate them. We here at Sea-Land try to maintain that.

I’ve read that 63 percent of sales are lost because the salesperson talked too much and listened too little, which brings me to another point. The Management Forum is a great place to talk, but it’s a better place to listen. I’ll listen to what people have to say. I’ll hear about their work and lives. I’ll renew old friendships. I’ll find out what they think the year ahead will bring, and what’s keeping them up at night. I’ll hear what we do well and where we can improve.

In addition to seeing the people I know, I’ll meet plenty of people I don’t know. The Forum is a great place for networking. I’ll meet them at special events, committee meetings and industry sessions. I’ll take their business cards and write down a few notes about our meetings. Since I’m now on LinkedIn, I may ask them to be part of my network and vice versa. Eventually, we may be important to them.

If a personal relationship is an essential part of the sale, I can honestly say that I’m in a good place. I’ve spent the better part of my career meeting people, learning about them and seeing how I can make their work just a little easier.

It’s tough to walk into a room without running into someone I know. I’d say it’s the same for most of my more experienced colleagues here at Sea-Land. That’s not always true for some of the junior members of our company. So, if there’s one thing that I really appreciate about ILMA and its events, it’s the opportunity to expose my colleagues to the people they’ll need to know. It’s a great way to let them build their connections and develop the confidence they will need to become the leaders of tomorrow.

At Sea-Land, we are members of a variety of industry associations including ILMA, NLGI (National Association of Lubricating Grease Manufacturers) and STLE (Society of Tribologists and Lubricants Engineers). We also send at least one associate to our industry-specific meetings each year just to see what we can learn from our competitors.

Staying connected through our industry events is just part of our business. It’s a commitment – both in dollars and staff time. In these economic times, keeping that commitment isn’t always easy. However, we do it because of all the great opportunities it provides to renew relationships, establish new ones, solidify sales and train our people.

We wouldn’t be as successful without it.

I look forward to sharing more of my favorite billboards with you in the future. I hope that you will read them as you go forward on your journeys.