A further selling tool will be the range of samples of the product, or products, involved. Salesmen's samples should be carefully prepared and presented. Where the company offers a wide range of merchandise, it is important that samples should be easily portable with quality and size markings clearly identifiable. Sample cases need careful design to enable the salesman to put his hands on any particular item quickly and surely. Nothing is more distracting and likely to weaken the salesman's approach than to have to fumble his way through a mass of items to find a particular sample he wants.
Other sales aids are copies of the company's literature, acting as a back-up to the salesman's spoken words and sample range and providing the retailer with a ready means of reference to the company and its products.
The various stages of the call upon a retail grocery or pharmaceutical account can usually be summarized as follows:
(i) The reception of the salesman by the buyer and an initial discussion of any matters outstanding. These may include comment or complaint with regard to a previous delivery, an examination of damaged packages or the investigation of an account query.
(ii) The carrying-out of a check of the retailer's stock. In many retail trades, especially grocery, it has become the accepted practice for a supplier's salesman to examine the shelves and stockroom to ensure the adequacy of the stock of his products which is being carried and to note the quantities of each item which should be re-ordered to bring the stocks back to an optimum level.
(iii) The presentation of new lines, the re-presentation of existing items in the product range not currently being stocked by the retailer in question, the discussion of new special offers and other types of promotion activity.
v) The achievement of a satisfactory close by obtaining an order. Where the need for re-stocking of established lines has become apparent from the stock check, it may only be necessary to obtain the retailer's assent to the order. In the case of a new product line, the salesman may need to persuade the retailer to speculate with a trial quantity 'to see how it goes'.
The ability of the salesman to 'close' his sales is the crux of good salesmanship. All his other activities are subordinate to the obtaining of orders. It will be apparent, therefore, that it is this aspect of his field training which must be given the greatest attention. As we have seen earlier, this is an ability which it is almost impossible to assess in advance, which is why there are so many people employed as salesmen whose success tends to be haphazard and often purely fortuitous. The Sales Manager should not, however, be too alarmed if, during the period of his training, the fledgling salesman appears weak in the closing of his sales. Ultimately, every successful salesman finds his own method of approach to this vital aspect of his work. We have seen that we cannot assess exactly the qualities needed to make a successful salesman. For this reason, it is not possible to teach a trainee salesman exactly how to secure an order. The most the trainer can do is to demonstrate methods which have proved successful when employed by others and to steer the beginner away from approaches which are likely to fail. In the vast majority of cases, good salesmen start to learn how to sell after their training period is over, when they are on their own and are faced with the personal challenge of achieving a sale without outside help or interference.
The question of interference is relevant when the trainee makes his first call and it becomes the turn of the trained salesman to step into the background. If he is to do his job successfully, the trainer must accept a self-effacing role at this stage. He should avoid any interference with the conduct of the interview. If he sees the chance of a sale slipping through the trainee's fingers he should let it slip. To intervene and take over the discussion will be to destroy the beginner's confidence. It will also damage seriously the confidence of the retailer, who may be unaware of the apparent shortcomings of the newcomer until the more experienced man highlights them by the intervention.
Of course, if the trainer foresees the likelihood of vital damage being done to the company's reputation, he must interrupt. It is, however, very important for the beginner to be given the opportunity to make mistakes which can subsequently be pointed out to him and be corrected. It is certainly far better for him to commit errors during his period of training, when his words and actions are under surveillance, than later, when he is on his own and has no one to guide him.
After two weeks of joint calls, there is considerable merit in allowing the trainee to operate on his own for at least a week in order that he may put into practice that which the trained salesman has taught him. Undoubtedly, he will encounter situations not covered completely in his routine course of instruction. These will be the basis of further discussion with his trainer when they meet again to resume the formal training procedure. This may last for a further one or two weeks, followed again by a week when the new salesman works the territory unaccompanied. By reducing gradually the periods of accompaniment and increasing those when the salesman operates solo, his confidence will be allowed to grow. The process should be continued until such time as the trainer considers that the fledgling has reached a degree of competence where he has more to gain from practical experience than from exhortation and example.
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