Are your salespeople truly selling?

September 1, 2007 By    

‘Nothing happens in our industry until someone sells something to someone else.’

This is generally an accurate saying for all of commerce but particularly descriptive of the challenging retail propane markets we face every day. Since we can agree that our retail propane markets are competitive, it stands to reason that – to reach our goals – we need top sales professionals who are the best equipped to bring in the highest quality of new customers.

 Carl Hughes, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist
Carl Hughes, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist

However, the people who sell for us every day often are not effective. It is typical in this industry that we have little oversight of our salespeople, so we may wonder if they are being effective.

Let’s look at some of the top mistakes propane salespeople make, and we’ll offer some suggestions for improvement.

“Just visiting” – When sales calls are not organized for a purpose, they are “just visiting.” The salesperson stops by, chats and assumes the mission has been accomplished. Of course, nothing of value has been accomplished other than wasting the customer’s or the prospect’s time.

Solution – Require all sales staff to have a planned approach for each customer contact. Expect resistance from some of your salespeople on this idea. The salespeople you want are those who embrace planning and are eager to learn how to improve their skills and odds of success.

Having no passion – Some salespeople behave as if they don’t care whether the prospect buys from them. Others seem to go through the motions in monotone.

Solution – This may require training, or it may require different salespeople. It is not a quick fix. The passion that is expected is real, natural and authentic. Pushy and/or cheap talk is not what works. Salespeople must believe in their product’s benefits, and they must believe in the company.

Not being prepared – So you like your sales force a lot. They have good energy and they make many sales calls, but something is missing. It’s often as simple as not having a plan for the call.

Solution – This is where company training comes in. Regardless of how many years you have been in business, how many times you have called on the same accounts and how sure you are that your customers know you – training and planning as a team will increase results.

Talking too much – Fast-talking, witty salespeople may be fun to hang out with, but if they dominate the sales dialogue and listen only for an opening to speak, they talk too much.

Solution – This is way tougher than most salespeople believe, and it takes considerable practice to hone these skills. All great salespeople are good at asking questions of prospects and clients and really listening to learn something of value. The time for salespeople to talk should be reserved for when it’s clear the customer or prospect wants to be informed.

Attempting to convince, instead of convey – The objective is not to push the prospect into submitting to your view. The most successful salespeople I know in the industry are brokers of high quality information. When they talk, people listen – because the message is well-communicated, has value and is credible.

Solution – Training. High-quality, externally led training sessions can have a positive impact, especially since this skill is one that must be learned. It is also one that improves with instruction. Don’t expect immediate miracles with the training process, but expect better results over time in meeting your growth targets.

Not prospecting – One mental barrier for all of us related to the sales process is that we don’t naturally envision new customers. Because we can’t imagine that someone who is not a customer could be our customer, we don’t see any point in introducing ourselves.

Solution – Imagine that everyone wants to be your customer and is waiting for you to call them. Many people do want to do business with you; you just have not contacted them. Prospecting is not leading with price; it is learning about the needs of potential clients, then presenting benefits of your product and services to them.

Carl Hughes is vice president of business development for Inergy LP. He can be reached at or 816-842-8181.

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