Growing up, every Monday was wash day, which meant Mom had to fill the old double-tub Maytag washer with the wringer in the middle. She obtained the water from the pump in the basement and hung the wash on the clothesline to dry. Adding this chore to raising eight kids meant there was no time to prepare a normal meal. She would take what was left over from the previous week that was too good to discard but not enough to make a meal. She would add water, spices and put it all in a pot to make soup. It was never the same from week to week, but it was always nutritious, and often the ingredients — especially the beans — tasted better when mixed with the other items than they did individually.
This article is going to be soup: a variety of subjects that collectively provide a mental meal for you.
Carrots are good for the eyes. What do people see when they work with you or visit your facilities? Does your literature represent the type of organization you wish to portray? Has the brochure and sample slid around in the back seat and now the corners are bent or the image smudged? Don’t be cheap with your own image. We are currently in the process of producing a new brochure. Our previous brochure obtained business because of the fine job done by a PSDA member plant. We had a client tell us if our brochure was indicative of the quality of our work, then we were the type of company she wanted to work with. To be candid, it had too much text and was seldom read, but it did portray a high quality workmanship and a great image.
I know the business place has gone to more casual attire. While this can be a good way to promote image wear and logoed garments, it may not present the best to a current or prospective client. I was taught it is a sign of respect for the client to show up dressed to do business and not look like I was out running errands and decided to stop. However, I’ve heard that my customers don’t care. Well, they may tell you that, but they see what you wear and how you present yourself, and they also see that about your competition. Would you rather be the one with the professional image, or is a casual presentation good enough? Trust me: Your customers notice and believe your attire is representative of your proposition. What image are you projecting: professional or casual?
Meat was the core ingredient in most soups my mother made for us during my childhood. While it changed from week to week, we always knew that meat was the heart of the meal. What is at the heart of your business? Do you have a core proposition? Can your clients and prospects tell what it is among all the other things in your bowl, or is it “mystery meat”? We all understand that the core proposition of a business may change depending upon the client’s current needs and goals. What is your driving factor? It may be the steak of a great overall business solution, the chicken of telling the account that “we are not a good fit for you,” or the ham, representing that you are there because you truly like the client on a personal level and want to foster that relationship.
Spices add flavor to the combination. We all need to spice things up from time to time. Be proactive in bringing in a representative from one of your suppliers to show the client new ideas. Get another perspective on the products, process and how to collectively improve what your client needs. Often times, the client isn’t always aware of their needs and could benefit from hearing new and innovative ideas. After working in the industry or with a client for many years, it is easy to think we are bringing them the right solution because it works. But there is always room for improvement, especially for your clients. Bring in an industry expert who possesses the experience of many clients and new ways of providing solutions. Even if your client decides for not to make a change, you as a distributor will gain credibility and respect for considering the end user’s experience. When your client does have a new problem, you will be the one they look to for possible solutions.
Green beans or edible legumes are healthy for you. How healthy are you? Let’s not get into that whole working out thing. We’re talking business. Are you calling on healthy accounts that will pay you for the amount of time and resources it takes to service them? Our industry has sales people that work with multimillion dollar accounts and others whose client’s yearly spend is only a few hundred dollars, yet they both make a good living. The first requires a heavy investment of time and resources to service, and the second group uses technology and minutes to service. Both are healthy strategies. What is not healthy is chasing or even keeping accounts that cannot or will not let you earn a decent profit for the amount of time and resources you invest. You can do two things: raise your prices and be surprised at how many of those clients stay loyal because of your good service, or fire the account and let them waste someone else’s time. Volume is vanity and profit is sanity.
Potatoes are cheap, filling and tend to absorb the flavor of the rest of the ingredients. We ate a lot of potatoes when I was growing up. If you are performing well for your clients, why not fill out your offering by adding the other goods and services available in our industry? I doubt there are few accounts in any territory that buy everything you can offer. If you took one product each month and talked to all your accounts and prospects about it, you would be amazed at the potential business opportunities. You are in there cooking soup anyway, so why not fill out your offering without having to make another sales call or open a new account?
While Mom never had a good Texas steak to add to the pot, I have had the pleasure of making a Texas friend. I first met Walt Smith at an association after-hours gathering in Dallas, and I learned that he is one heck of a singer and a great guy. But then we were in various educational sessions and I discovered he is smart, possesses common sense and has a passion for this industry. Over the years, Walt has dedicated his time and resources to serve the association in many forms. Recently, I had the pleasure of being on the PSDA board with Walt where he always had the best interest of the entire membership in mind. It was there I discovered that he is also one heck of a friend. Walt, I dedicate this column to you.
Dennis Pottebaum, CDC, CAS, is president and CEO of QRG, a distributorship based in Minneapolis with multiple offices located in the Upper Midwest. He is also the current president of PSDA.