A Q-and-A with CAMA’s Best Salesperson of 2011
By Brandi Cowen
Making a sale isn’t easy, especially in the turbulent economy most businesses are operating in these days.
Making a sale isn’t easy, especially in the turbulent economy most businesses are operating in these days. Who better to ask for advice on sales strategy than Jonathan De Guise, the Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association (CAMA) Best Salesperson of 2011? Canadian Vending & Office Coffee Service chatted with De Guise to find out how he learned to sell and what the secret is to succeeding in sales.
|Gordon Berry of Heritage Coffee Company (right) presents Jonathan De Guise with CAMA’s Best Salesperson of 2011 award at CAMA’s Canadian Vending & Office Coffee Service Awards in September. Photo by Brandi Cowen|
How did you get started in the vending industry?
I started in ‘94 as a parts clerk at Atlas Automatic. It was a vending and amusement distributor. One of my friends was working there and there was a job opening in parts, so that’s how I got started in the technical side of the business – listening to the other service tech on site about troubleshooting the equipment. Then I got approached by Crane in ’98. I worked there for six years as a service tech and then got interested in sales. When the sales rep at the time moved into another position in 2004, I got into sales at Crane for Eastern Canada.
Was it a challenge taking on such a broad area?
I have to travel from Ontario to Newfoundland, so I’ve got a travel schedule. Twice a year I go to the Maritimes. Every four or five weeks I travel to Toronto because I’m based out of Montreal. That was a challenge: taking over new accounts, meeting new people from scratch.
How did you start to get to know clients in Ontario while still managing every-thing you already had on your plate?
I started with the big guys and the top customers. I gave them a call and introduced myself and explained what’s going on with our business and industry and just got to know them.
How do you keep yourself organized while having so much on the go?
Like I said, you have to implement a travelling schedule and make sure you cover each territory as needed. I’ve been with Crane since 1998 – more than 13 years now. You get to know the customer: what they expect of you and when they need to be serviced. You need to keep in touch on a regular basis. Every few weeks, you need to make contact with them either in person or on the phone.
When you were learning the sales side of the business, was there anyone who taught you?
When I started in parts, I was also interested in the next step, which was the technical side. In my free time, I started listening to the service tech on site and I also started reading the programming guides. When the service tech was not around, I started helping people. When I started with Crane I got interested in the service side and I started listening to the sales rep and going to meetings with him, so when he was on the road travelling, I started selling equipment in house.
As a sales tech if you go to the Maritimes, you don’t just go there to fix machines. You take that opportunity to discuss your product and try to help the sales side move forward. That’s how I learned it. The first guy that I really worked with in sales was Sylvain LaRue – he was the sales rep with Crane at the time.
Also, with Crane being a worldwide company, every year we have a sales meeting so it’s continuous training every year.
When you’re going out to make a sale, how do you approach the customer?
It’s all about knowing and understanding what the customer needs. In our own language, we also call it finding his pain. People will buy based on a need or a pain. My job is to find it.
I can’t talk for other people, but for a lot of sales reps, it’s about presentation and just pushing a product. But really it’s all about understanding what the customer needs and then answering that need. That’s how I really focus on the customer.
Once you’ve made the sale, do you do any followup with the customer?
Yes, followup is very important. At Crane, we have processes and training, so part of that is the followup process. We have a two-week, four-week and eight-week followup. Either I can do it or our field service engineer (FSE) can also help with that process. If the customer is comfortable with the equipment and his business is profitable, we will sell more machines. If his business is profitable, our business will be profitable.
Is there anything that you do beyond company policy?
It’s really understanding what the customer wants. It’s selling the right product for the customer. It’s not just doing a sale. I work with the customer and make sure that they’re really happy because if they’re happy, they win. If it’s a win situation for them, it’s a win situation for me and then they’ll come back to make repeat sales. It’s not just doing a sale and then forgetting about it. You want repeat sales.
What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve run into on the job?
The biggest challenge I think I’ve had is when the economy kind of crashed in ’08. A lot of industries were closing or downsizing so most of the operators were really hurt either with losing accounts or reduced revenue. They have warehouses loaded with equipment; it’s hard for a manufacturer of vending machines to sell machines when their warehouses are full. We had to start thinking outside the box and see how we could help them. If you cannot grow by new business, you have to find ways to grow, so grow revenue within their accounts. We came out with new equipment and tried to help them be more profitable with their old accounts. Like I said, if they’re more profitable, they have more money to buy more machines. I think the challenge was that it’s really been a tough economy over the past few years.
Also the pricing issue is a big challenge. A lot of people think that pricing is the number one reason why people buy. It might be for some people but technically it’s not. If you have the right solution and you answer the customer need, then they’ll buy your product.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
The first thing is, “shut up and listen.” If you do more talking than the customer does, then there’s a problem. It’s all about understanding the customer – if I understand the customer, then I can help them.
And if you could give one piece of advice to other salespeople, what would that be?
Stop trying to sell product just because it’s in your catalogue. Some people just go out there and throw brochures on the desk and say, “This is what I’ve got, this is what I’ve got, and this is what I’ve got.” It’s all about listening to the customer, understanding what they need and then selling them based on their need. You need an understanding of where they have been, where they are, and where they’re going.
Do you find that a lot of customers do have a plan for where they’d like to get to, or do you have to work with them to develop that vision?
It would be a perfect world if a lot of them had a plan. Unfortunately a lot of operators don’t. The most successful companies are usually the ones that have a plan. Since ’08, most of the businesses were down 20 to 30 per cent. Those that broke even or had growth between five and 10 per cent were the ones that didn’t stop and wait. They’re the ones who went out and tried to get new accounts and really grow their business. I think yes, a plan of where you want to be is very important. If you just sit and wait, a lot of stuff is going to pass you by. And it’s hard to work with those customers because they don’t know what they want to do.
Are you finding that after the recession the companies that are still around tend to be the ones that do have more of a plan now?
I would have thought that more companies would have a plan, but I don’t think that more companies are doing planning. What I’m surprised about now though is we in the industry would have expected more companies to go either bankrupt or be closed or sold. There wasn’t much of that. Most of the operators kept their businesses and there are still many that don’t have a plan unfortunately.
Everything is moving so fast now. We’ve got wireless, the touch screen, people asking for ease of payment, for credit card and debit card. This is moving so fast in our industry, it’s been crazy. I can see that the people who will be successful in the next year or two will be the ones that really stay in touch with the new technology, with what’s coming in and what the future holds. Those are the ones that will invest in their business and be successful in the next two years.
Editor’s note: This interview was edited and condensed.