A supplier rep takes a thoughtful, hands-on approach to connecting with customers.
If you ever see Melinda Gleghorn, CAS, headed to your office toting a case of knives don’t be alarmed. She comes in peace as regional sales manager for Monroe, Connecticut-based supplier Victorinox Swiss Army, Inc. (UPIC: swisarmy). But she doesn’t just sell knives, Gleghorn prides herself on going where her customers are and helping them find solutions in her products. Check out what happened on a recent trip to one of Gleghorn’s favorite territories: scenic Colorado.
5 am It’s unusually quiet around the house since the dogs are already at the kennel for boarding this week. In addition to my own dogs, I’ve fostered dogs for a wonderful organization, Citizens for Animal Protection, for the last eight years. Although I miss them, it’s a nice break to get ready to leave without one of them camping out in my suitcase or sample bag in protest.
7:30 am Time to enjoy a nice latte and double check the plan of action for the day. I’m headed to beautiful Denver, Colorado, one of my favorite places in the seven-state region I manage. Every time I land and see the mountains I’m amazed I get paid to do this job.
10:30 am After spending a couple of hours diligently working on the more tedious aspects of my job, such as expenses and database management, I’m finally on the way to my favorite part: the sales call. Today I’m a bit nervous because it’s the first time to see this particular account and I have no idea what to expect. They didn’t give me a head count, just that there would be “a few” of their salespeople attending.
11 am Oh boy! The conference room has filled up with one of the rowdiest group of salespeople I’ve ever seen—nine of them to be exact. I spend the next hour attempting to learn about their business, sharing how our company can help them meet their goals and laughing until I’m crying. At several points I completely lose control of the group and am unsure if anything is sinking in. I also continue to remind them of knife safety as they toss them around the table.
To my amazement, when the meeting is over, several of the salespeople want to discuss current projects and we order samples and a few speculative samples. The sales manager apologizes for the group’s exuberance, but says it’s a sign they enjoyed the meeting. That sounds good to me, so I pack up and head out.
12:15 pm I find a nice, safe parking lot to prepare for a 12:30 conference call with our vice president of sales, Mike Smith, regarding a new initiative. About two years ago, we explored the idea of a mailing program to help overcome a huge obstacle for us. That obstacle is the TSA guideline prohibiting pocket knives onboard airplanes, which began in 2001. Unfortunately, the idea never came to fruition; but when Mike Smith was transferred to our division from retail knives, he breathed new life into the idea and we are now close to launching. Today we discuss input from various key accounts of all sizes. After giving them an overview of the potential program and what we are trying to accomplish, I ask them to critique it and present any possible issues they could foresee. This was a great exercise and we will tweak certain aspects of the program based on this input. We discuss packaging, next steps, marketing and, finally, a tentative launch date.
1 pm I dash into Qdoba for my favorite vegetarian Mexican gumbo. This is always a stop during my Denver travels. While I’m there I scan for any urgent e-mails and follow up where needed.
2 pm Time for my next stop. This time I know the office and its people well. We have an informal meeting to discuss their current challenges and opportunities. They are excited to hear about the 2011 catalog and what we are doing to help make it easier for them to present our products. Our sales and marketing teams are working closer together to provide customers with easy-to-use marketing tools. We understand that distributors are so stretched for time and deal with so many vendors, those who make it easy for them stay on the top of that pile on their desk. Knowing distributors have many demands on their time and multiple vendors who are eager to share their products, we hope an easy-to-use marketing tool will find its way to the top of that stack of important things found on each distributor’s desk.
2:30 pm My 3 pm meeting has asked to postpone until tomorrow, so I go to plan B: the drive-by. There is another distributor in the area I’ve called on in the past. Their sales are at a place in which it no longer makes sense to try and set up formal vendor meetings. However, since I’m close I decide to stop in, say hello and leave some collateral materials behind in case something sparks a new interest with them.
3 pm As soon as I walk through the door I realize this may not have been a good idea. One salesperson approaches, narrows her eyes and says, “Can I help you?” Although we have met on a number of occasions, I put on my biggest smile, introduce myself and explain the purpose for my visit. She frowns again and asks if anyone knew I was coming. By this time a couple of others are peeking out of their cubicles and offices to see what’s going on. The salesperson (I’ll call her Sally.) says she’ll check with the owner (Let’s call him Owen.) and see if he can come back. After some whispering behind a closed door, she comes out to inform me that Owen is way too busy and to leave whatever I have with her. I thank Sally and exit while trying to make it to the door before I start laughing out loud. This office could not have looked more shocked if I’d arrived wearing a gorilla costume. Glad I got over my fear of rejection a decade or two ago. So this is why I get paid! Reminding myself they can’t all be fun and games, I move on to the next one.
5:30 pm After finishing my sales calls for the day, I sit down at my hotel desk with a great mountain view and work on the day’s follow-up and respond to e-mails.
6 pm One of the business publications I receive in Houston published a list of our top green companies awhile back, and I pull out the issue and take it to dinner with me. As a company who focuses on decreasing our environmental footprint, I’d like to find a way to market to these companies in particular. A couple of my key distributors share my passion for the environment, and I keep them in mind as I highlight potential focus accounts. The days of showing knives on sales calls and then taking orders are long gone. Now, it is about taking a much more strategic and thoughtful approach to marketing. I make a note to set up meetings with these distributors and brainstorm about the best way to go about this.
6:30 pm As usual, I’ve forgotten about the time change and suddenly notice it seems like it’s been an exceptionally long day. It’s time to shut it down and enjoy a quiet dinner before heading back to the hotel and starting again tomorrow.