On all our Central European markets, we are newcomers. From the Hi-Tech energy-cost saving nozzles that are used by wise companies, and the high quality pneumatic tools that we have introduced on the market, first customers represent 20% to 70% of our turnover depending on the market. In our business, the “customer” is an abstract term: in larger companies, we always have several users and deciders who function sometimes very autonomously.
We know the expression “putting your foot in the door”. My definition of it is that you have done a first sale at the customer’s, although the share of your products compared to the total purchase of similar products is marginal.
I always welcome a foot in the door. I welcome a decision carried out by the customer to buy something from us. It’s the difference between thinking about doing something and actually doing it.
The thing with the foot in the door is that it can start to hurt, because you are actually supposed to go through the door, not to stay stuck in the middle.
Many salespeople consider the job done with the beginning of the first sales. They consider that the hardest part has now been achieved, that the products are referenced, and that the urgency on this customer can be lifted in order to focus on new potentials. That in fact is rarely the case.
What you achieve with a foot in the door is the right to pursue your efforts. It means you are “tolerated” at the customer. You are not a member, but you’re allowed to look around through the partially opened door.
Through that partially opened door, the salesperson can take a better look inside the customer, see new people, listen more closely to customer needs, understand how everything works, who’s using, who’s deciding, who he/she should be talking to. If not, at best the salesperson stays in that uncomfortable place of the marginal supplier, selling little but needing to deliver generous conditions in the hope of bigger sales. And hope alone never generated any revenue.
In the end, frustrated, the salesperson takes the foot away only to see the door slamming back shut and requiring a renewed effort to reopen, but without the visibility and access to people he or she had.
A salesperson should use the opportunity of the half-opened door to push it wide open and close it on the nose of the competitors outside. And that means using the limited access gained by being a supplier to obtain as much info and contacts as possible.
I ask our people to be able to “map” their customer. A salesperson should be able to draw on a piece of paper a schematic view of the organization chart there. The salesperson should identify the places of use of the products, the key people and their motivations, and the potentials in all these places. And I insist on the organization chart even if schematic: Knowing 20 people working side by side in the same office or production area is great, but they simply cannot open new places of opportunity if they have little contact with other potential users of your products.
So the first sale is always something to celebrate with the salesperson. It is a great achievement, but it can get painful if we don’t move on.