Selling through Other Peoples Teams

Firms with vestigial or non-existent sales teams often delegate selling to their dealers and distributors' salespeople. While this appears to sidestep the immediate problem, it comes at a cost. The most obvious is lack of overall control. Outside sales forces have their own profile of contacts, which may or may not dovetail with yours. They also take time to influence, encourage, and assess.

For an outside team to be able to extend your operation, your communication strategy has to be thought through systemically so as much as possible is made easy. Remember, there are dozens of other manufacturers who are also vying for their time and attention. Never expect that because a dealer agrees to get his salespeople to sell your product, they will devote 100 percent of their time to this task.

You will need to furnish an outside sales force with the following:

♦ Sample products

♦ A demonstration

♦ Documents explaining the product and its features

♦ A rundown on competitive products

♦ A sample selling letter

♦ A sample telephone spiel

♦ Product literature

♦ Reprints of product reviews

But how do you train the dealers? One popular way is to hold an open day. Another is to visit individual salespeople. Unless you are the market leader, the chances of a dealer sending his staff to you for a day is low. A better bet is to run a seminar at the major distributor's product showcases. Most hold these two to four times a year.

Visiting the dealers individually is a strong way of winning their commitment. It enables you to see for yourself that your software is correctly installed, and to take their sales teams through a typical demonstration and answer all their questions. You can discuss their prospective leads and explain which features might be of most interest to different types of contacts.

In practice, a salesman would be fortunate to visit more than three dealers a day in an urban area or two adjacent counties. For this reason alone, you may still be better off working indirectly than employing any salespeople. Dealers have swathes of customers that they have worked with for years. They know instinctively which products are appropriate.

To start things rolling, some software houses fund a bulk mailing to their most promising customers. If you take this approach you must stay in regular communication with the dealer to monitor your progress and help them with their problems. Dealers have short attention spans. Nothing holds their attention longer than success. If they spend time periodically to sell your product and nothing happens, they will soon give up and find more profitable lines to promote. Conversely, there is nothing like quick early sales to encourage them.

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