The Vending Sales Process: Prospect, Learn and Educate

Whether we are a small operator or a large multi-state operator, or a supplier to our industry, we all have something in common. We all have to sell business to stay in business.

For anyone in sales, you know when I say, "Life in sales is like a roller coaster ride." One minute you can be riding high because you just landed that prestigious and profitable account. The next minute you get a call from an irate customer that your machine is out of order again, and if you don't get it fixed, they will find someone else.

Life in general is that way, yet sales magnifies the situation. In order to be successful, you need to be able to handle the highs and you need to be able to handle the lows of everyday sales life. And most importantly, you need to be able to handle the word "No."

Key element: personal relationships

Throughout my favorite movie, "Jerry McGuire," are scattered clips of Jerry's mentor, Dicky Fox, reciting various "words of wisdom" about being a sports agent. His first phrase in the beginning of the movie is: "The key to this business is personal relationships."

The same is true with sales in our industry. One side of our industry includes the product, equipment and other goods and services that are sold to the vending operator. On the other side of the fence are the salespeople who represent the vending operators who go out every day and try to obtain new business.

A salesperson on the supplier side does more of a relationship type selling process. Whether you are selling vending equipment or product at the regional level, you are calling on the same people (the local vending operators) every day.

What steps did you take to develop these relationships?

Step one: relationship building

First, you probably did not walk in the door on the first visit with your new candy bar in hand and say, "You want to buy this?" No, the first visit consisted of getting to know your new customer. What type of personality did he or she have? How did they start their business? Is their family involved in the business? What have they done to make their business so successful?

You got that first tour of the facility. You physically met and remembered the names of many of the people who worked in the back, including the service department and the warehouse.

In the afternoons, you met the route people as they were coming in off the route. You attended and became involved in the state vending association. You met the spouses and sometimes the children of the vending operators at the convention.

Success demands commitment

Bottom line, in the back of your mind, on that very first visit, you asked yourself, "How can I help this person and the people in their company through my product or service?" You also asked yourself, "What can I do personally for this person outside of my product or service?" And when you asked yourself this question, you sincerely meant it.

Sure, you ultimately wanted to sell that new candy bar or machine, but deep down you really wanted to get to know this person hopefully as a friend. Those of you who have done this for many years understand what I am talking about. In my opinion, those basic concepts are major components of what makes you successful in sales.

For the salespeople on the operator side of the business, especially if you are in a large market, you tend to do more cold calling, meaning that you call on new people every day. Yet many of the same things mentioned above in relationship selling apply to you as well.

Along with cold calling, one successful salesperson I know has become involved in the state associations of his customers.

He is also on the board of an association that is outside of his business. In this particular case, my friend has focused on a couple of major industries to target his business. Over the years, he has developed personal relationships, which have turned into referrals, which have turned into more business.

Networking brings referrals

My point? Talk to your present customers to determine what groups or associations they attend and see if you can join their organizations.

Use your customers to get referrals.

Consider giving a talk to a manufacturers' or personnel managers' association. The talk could be titled "Using your foodservice as a motivating tool for your employees," or "Using your vending program to communicate to your employees."

One of my purposes for this article is to make us think about how we do our daily activities. Do we plan each day? Each week? Do we compare our accomplishments at the end of the week with the goals that we set for the week?

Salesmanship: Constant education

One sure way to refine your sales processes and increase your sales is to read books on the subject at home or listen to tapes in the car. I don't care how long you have been in sales, but looking at your job from different perspectives is always good. Each book you read will offer a different point of view as to how the sales process should work.

With that said, let's take a basic look at the sales process.

Key Focus: The decision maker

First, we need to be sure we are talking to the decision maker. We also need to determine who else will be involved in the decision-making process that could influence the decision maker.

We have to find issues that the prospect has with his or her present service.

We need to provide a solution that solves the prospect's problem.

If your foodservice program is going to require a subsidy, you need to be sure upfront that the prospect understands this and that he or she has the money to provide a subsidy.

You do not want to spend an enormous amount of time selling your service only to find out the prospect has no money in the budget for your program.

You need to make an agreement with the prospect that if you are able to provide the solutions to these specific issues, they are willing to change vending providers.

Either "yes" or "no," not "maybe." You never want the "let me think about it" answer.

Throughout the process, keep watching for "red flags." What potential situations could occur that would prevent you from getting the sale? If it can go wrong, it will.

Account prospecting must be ongoing

How do you get plenty of prospects? Make cold calls every day. In fact, set aside a certain time period in your appointment book each day to do nothing but cold calls. Do not let anything interfere with your cold calls during this time frame.

Cold calling is a difficult process for many of us, but persistence and quantity of calls is key to being successful.

Your goal in making a cold call is to get an appointment. An old boss of mine once told me, "Scott, you can't sell anything sitting in the office." You can't sell anything, much less vending services, without being face to face with a prospect.

The phone is the most efficient way to conduct cold calls with regard to the number of calls. You may, however, want to consider personal cold calls as well.

After an appointment, stop at another company close by if for no other reason than to meet the receptionist. See if he or she can help you with whom to contact in the company, and leave them your card and brief information.

Maybe leave a chef salad from your commissary for the receptionist, the contact and the contact's assistant if it is before lunch.

Security issues create new obstacles

I know cold calling in person has become more difficult in light of new security measures many companies are taking these days. Many times you can't even get in the front door to personally talk to the receptionist. Rather, you end up talking to the receptionist through the outside intercom.

However, during those times that you can meet face to face with the receptionist, it does help that you can work your way around the receptionist's incoming calls.

Questions you should ask yourself include: "Whom should I call on? Who is the final decision maker that makes the decision for their vending and foodservice program, and how can my vending company solve their needs?

"What makes me different from the competition? What do I say when they pick up the phone for the first time or when I leave that first voice mail?"

Goals determine daily workload

To determine how many cold calls you need to make per day, you must first look at your sales goal for the year and then for each month. Once you have established your sales goal, you must determine how many cold calls you need to make to get an appointment.

Finally, you need to determine how many appointments you need to make to create enough sales to meet your monthly and ultimately your end-of-year sales goal.

As an example, let's say you need to sell $1 million in new business for the year. That breaks down to $83,333 per month.

Based on your past history of success, let's say you feel that you can get one appointment for every 20 cold calls you make. And for every five appointments you make, you can achieve one sale worth $50,000.

That means you need 20 sales, which requires 100 appointments per year or roughly two appointments per week to achieve $1 million in annual sales.

If it takes 20 cold calls to get one appointment, then you better do 40 cold calls per week. If it takes 40 cold calls to get an appointment, then you better do 80 cold calls a week.

Identify the customer

Next, determine what type of prospect you want as a customer. Do you primarily want larger vending accounts that will require food and possibly a cafeteria-type food program, or do you want primarily small snack and soda accounts? Maybe you want a combination of both.

Obviously, if you want the smaller accounts, you will need to achieve more "closes" to reach your goal.

On the other hand, if you choose to go after much larger accounts, the time you need to spend to close these accounts may be longer than the time spent to close smaller accounts.

Always keep your prospect list full

My suggestion is to develop a combination of both small and large accounts to keep your pipeline full. Track your pipeline daily.

What can you do to take these prospective accounts to the next level of the sales process? Your pipeline is that group of prospective accounts that are considered active potential accounts somewhere in the sales cycle.

The pipeline does not include accounts you think you want to target, but accounts that at least have shown an interest in your product or service. Your pipeline needs to consist of a certain minimum level of potential sales dollars that you feel you need to achieve your sales goal. Your pipeline will constantly have accounts leaving either as a sale or as a loss.

Your cold calls should be bringing enough accounts into the pipeline to offset the accounts leaving the pipeline.

From my experience, and believe me, I am learning every day, cold calling is like riding a bike. At first, you try and fall, but ultimately it becomes second nature.

Who do you talk to? What do you say?

You need to contact the right people, say the right words and most importantly, ask the right questions. This takes practice, and practicing on a prospect is usually not a good idea. Practice on your own or on a family member to achieve the proper "flow."

To begin, you need to contact the right person. Start high on the management ladder and work your way down. It is much easier than starting low and working your way up.

As an operator salesperson, you want to start with the president of the company or minimally, the senior vice president or the human resources manager.

Remember, vending services affect the employees, so human resources may be a good place to start.

Be ready for anything on a cold call

A few things can happen on a cold call. The person you are trying to reach picks up the phone (which almost never happens), the person's administrative assistant picks up the phone, or you get the person's voice mail, which is the most common scenario.

Follow a communication agenda

The first thing to do if your prospect's assistant picks up the phone is to get his or her name and immediately write it on a piece of paper. Stating that person's name first, I normally begin the conversation or message by stating my name and my company, briefly what we do, and then I state the purpose of my call, which is to get an appointment.

The goal is to get an appointment with the decision maker and not the person who takes care of the refunds. In other words, don't say, "Can you tell me who is in charge of your vending?"

Rather, try, "Hi Mary, I hope you can help me. My name is Bob Smith. I am with ABC Vending and Foodservice. Mary, we work with many executives like yourself to help them utilize their vending service to provide healthy food products and create high morale for their employees through monthly promotions.

"The reason for my call is I would like to make an appointment with you or someone in human resources to discuss these programs and determine how we can best help your company."

Be prepared to respond to, "We are happy with our vending service." Your answer to this might be that one of your customers said the same thing until they saw your program. This statement needs to be followed up with questions to keep the conversation moving forward and ultimately result in an appointment.

The sales meeting: Be organized

Now that you got the appointment, you must prepare for the meeting. Many salespeople walk in to the appointment and "wing it." You as the professional salesperson have researched the company on the Internet.

What do they do? What special "news" has occurred at the company? Did they get a new client recently? What have they done recently to increase profits? Enter your prospect's company name into Google and see what comes up.

He or she might be involved in the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Maybe he or she just received an award during an industry association meeting. This applies to salespeople on the supplier side as well. Even though you call on the same people, you need to plan the call.

I create a sales call plan, which ultimately becomes my "sales call report." After the call is complete, I place the report in my prospect database for future reference.

The follow-up appointment

Maybe your plan for your next appointment will be to tour the facility and the vending areas.

Or you may want to provide ideas about what you have done at other lo-cations that had similar issues to the ones you uncovered in this meeting.

Now you are ready to do a proposal. The proposal is not meant to sell the prospect. The prospect is ready to become your customer.

The proposal

By the time you are writing the proposal, you should know that the prospect has already decided to become your customer. The proposal is an affirmation to the specific topics and solutions that have been agreed upon by you and your prospect.

If the client is not yet ready to move forward with you, then you must uncover additional issues and provide mutually agreeable solutions before the presentation of the proposal.

Remember, you must make an agreement with your prospect early in the sales process that if specific issues are solved by your solutions, the prospect will give you the order. If you have the agreement in place, closing the sale is that much easier. The bottom line is, if you can't close the sale issues still exist that you have not uncovered with the prospect.

The sales process involves multiple activities that are done simultaneously.

Click here to view the PDF version of the Weekly Cold Call Calculation table.

About the Author
Scott Larkin has been involved in the vending, office beverage and contract foodservice industries for over 30 years. His positions have included vending operations management and sales, management software and equipment manufacturing, and distribution. Scott can be reached at