February 2, 2010

Handling Tire Kickers

By Julie Sturgeon

When asked, “What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to say to a client?” many salespeople report that “I’m sorry” is at the top of the list. But not for Dennis Kucinski. For him, the words stuck in his throat when he asked a deadbeat prospect, “Do you ever intend to buy my product, or do you simply delight in watching me jump through paperwork hoops?”

For six years Kucinski, a sales representative for Nystrom Inc. who sells globes, maps and atlases, tolerated a school’s entreaties for catalogs about his social studies programs, appeals for free promotions and requests for bogus project bids. Yet the school never appreciated his “go-fetch” service enough to buy one little globe.

“The first year I figured it was because I was still new to sales,” Kucinski recalls about his dealings with the buyer at the school. “The second year I thought he’d gotten used to me and I would crack the ice any day.”

Somewhere around the fifth year Kucinski gained enough sales confidence to say, “We’ve talked about a purchase, but are we truly headed there? If not, this request is wasting your time and mine.”

Despite the years of aggravation, to this day Kucinski continues to occasionally call on the powers-that-be in this particular no-buy relationship, leaving the door open for round two. “You never know what’s changed for this no-buy client, so I have to touch base,” he points out.

What fails to work with one prospect makes all the difference in the world to another. Kucinski recently filled a $42,000 order from a school that previously said it could afford only $150, to test of his professional service commitment. And according to Nystrom’s feedback, many districts tell the company’s competitors they’ll work only with Kucinski, because he’s there when they need him with superior service. “I like to hear that,” he admits.

Kucinski maintains equality in salesperson-client relationships by revising his expectations of no-buy companies. Now Kucinski asks them for contacts at more profitable PTA and private-school customers in the area.

Steve Payseur, sales manager for Huntington Foam Corporation in Iron Station, NC, takes this turn-the-other-cheek twist to the next level. He readily acknowledges that his worst offender ignores his sales service efforts “because my competitor is their favorite supplier in the world.” Still, even the worst “quote collectors” need more than one bid to meet project requirements, and one particular facility selected Payseur.

The scenario begins, Payseur explains, with a phone call requesting a bid. Then he drops in at the company’s warehouse on a bid fact-finding mission to gather information about his competitor. The competitor’s parts are on display for him to count. The quality is evident at a glance. “I can say things like ‘Oh, is this typical of the quality you get?’ My guide says ‘No, this is a bad one.’ I just grin and ask him about the next bad one, too. Usually he changes the subject at that point,” Payseur says.

Payseur habitually delivers his quote to the no-buys at the last hour, hand-delivering it to maximize his impact. With polite banter, he pins them down with a straight question: “If I offer the best price, will I get the business?” The creative backpedaling begins. Payseur has heard everything, including the excuse that Huntington’s location is too distant, although he maintains it’s as close as the competitor’s.

Payseur relives these sweaty moments when he needs quick amusement, or a mental punching bag, as he deals with more serious prospects.

However, he also has no thoughts of cutting this client loose. “I don’t like to no-quote anyone,” Payseur emphasizes. “The next time something comes up, they say, ‘These guys didn’t quote it last time so they can’t handle the work.’ That’s my company’s reputation on the line. The trick is not to take it personally.”

Kucinski, on the other hand, uses the no-buy exercise as a type of self-check. “Face it. Sometimes you cross the line into being too persistent, too pesky. You have to learn how to read people, and constant-quoters teach me that,” he insists.

Of the 1,400 schools in his two-state area, Kucinski estimates only five clients fit this abuser category. “I don’t fret about percentages that low,” he says.