Secrets of a Sales rep #8 – The Extra Call Strategy

If you’ve read my previous posts in this series you will know I was a sales representative for a publishing company in the UK during my early career – a road warrior as we were sometimes called.

Most calls were to regular customers; mid-size to large bookstores. I visited each store every six weeks to meet with the buyer and subscribe our new titles. If I was lucky I would also sell some previously published books – stock titles.

There was a routine to this and a certain type of sales technique required. Bookstores needed to stock most of the new titles we were going to be publishing in the coming months, so it was never about whether I’d get a sale, it was about the quantity they would order.

What I was seeking was commitment. The more copies of a book they purchased, the heavier they would promote it by displaying it in a prominent position and having their staff recommend it to customers.

This type of selling was all about relationship building. The buyer need to trust me, trust my judgement and they also needed to like me. This will be the subject of a later post, but today I want to talk about how I built my territory faster than any other salesperson in the company.

This secret to success follows the time I moved companies to join one of the most established publishers in the country. I realized my sales revenues were dependent on two things; my relationship with my existing customers and the quality of the titles our editors were buying. I had control over the former and none over the latter.

Becoming the company’s top rep was my first personal priority and it was tough given the scenario described above. Many of my colleagues had larger, wealthier territories than mine so given that we were all selling the same books, it came down to selling more of them than they did. The challenge was, if you sold too many and the bookstore couldn’t in turn sell them to their customers, they had a habit of being returned. Finding the balance was difficult and at the end of the day it was sales minus returns that equalled revenue.

After a couple of sales conferences, I realized that most of the sales team focused all their efforts on their key customers. They virtually ignored small bookstores and I could understand why – they took just as long to service, for a fraction of the return. On the upside, competition for their buying budget was less.

So, my first strategy to become top rep was to do one extra call per day to a smaller, neglected bookstore. I’d arrange my day so I could do a “pop-in” call to a store on my way home. Some of these calls were a complete waste of time, but others gradually became good, if modest, accounts.

After a while, I ran out of small bookstores to add to the end of my day, so I had to think outside the box. After the last appointment of the day, I’d look out for any type of business that could potentially sell our books. Luckily, I worked for a very large publisher and soon realized I was almost spoilt for choice. During my first year with the company I added cash-and-carry warehouses (think Costco etc.) to my list of accounts, along with pet stores for our dog breed series, sports stores for our sporting books list, antique shops for books on antiques – you get the idea.

These new accounts didn’t need to be visited every six weeks like my main accounts, but a pop in two or three times a year reaped dividends and in between visits, they ordered direct. Bonus!

I was on a roll so I started thinking even further out of the box and in one enlightened moment approached the manufacturer of Pedigree Chum pet food and struck a deal which saw them feature coupons on cans of pet food, whereby dog owners collected them in return for a breed-specific book from our list. This increased sales massively for this specialist imprint of books, both from promotional sales and through the huge exposure they received from being featured on cans of dog food across the country.

Bottom line? I became top sales rep and was promoted to head office to set up a new special sales division. All because of an extra call!