I want you to imagine that you are successfully running your ingredient sales territory. What would that look like? What would it mean? How would that impact your life? Having clarity about what success would look like when you reach it provides significant encouragement and motivation for you, but a lack of clarity about what specifically defines success for you breeds frustration.
Before I share what I believe success actually means and the four strategic steps that will help you get there, I want to tell you about an ex-coworker of mine. He was probably the best ingredient sales rep that I’d ever met in my career based on his sales growth. He saw exponential growth in ways that I never thought possible. While he wasn’t loved by everybody at the company, and he wasn’t necessarily doing all of the work that they thought he should be doing, he did experience something that, I think, every ingredient rep really wants…freedom. Success feels like freedom, but only if it is continually expanding.
So here’s a story that illustrates what I’m talking about. It was six weeks into 2011, and we had a bonus program that encouraged us to hit a certain number based on our different ingredient margins and total sales. Once we hit that target number we capped out on our bonuses. Nothing more could be earned. He was six weeks into the year, and he had already hit the target number. It was one of the craziest things you could ever imagine, that in about 45 days he had hit the target number and could now basically just relax and manage his existing business because there was nothing for him to gain from additional growth. Of course, that kind of stagnation is not the ideal scenario for anyone. However, his experience is an example of what success might look like. He created freedom.
Personally, I define success for an ingredient sales rep as the freedom to grow your ingredient sales exponentially. Before I get into the specific strategic steps that you need to take to grow exponentially, it’s important to clarify why exponential growth is such a desire for ingredient sales reps. The frustration that I’m noticing is that sales reps are seeing growth, whether at a major multinational corporation like Mitsubishi Food Ingredients or at a smaller company, but they’re not satisfied. It doesn’t matter if they are growing 40% or more. Actually, they may even be discouraged or sad. No one factor determines this discouragement or sadness but it’s the convergence of factors that come down to one simple idea: they don’t feel the freedom to truly grow. Part of the reason they don’t feel this freedom stems from feeling trapped by some of the steps you’ll see in the paragraphs below.
The freedom of exponential growth must come from the ability to constantly and continuously grow without limitations or fear. It originates from the idea that growth helps more people than stagnation. Of course this assumes what you sell actually helps people. If it doesn’t, then you’ll want to move immediately to step 2, but for the purpose of this blog I believe that what you are selling helps people on a holistic level. It helps your co-workers, your company’s suppliers or farmers, your customers and end-consumer or animal or agricultural health and even the environment as much as possible. This is a big assumption, but stick with me.
So how can you initiate the process of freedom creation? I got to experience exponential growth in my career when I managed a $12.7 million territory and took it to $51.6 million, which is about a 400% growth in 47 months. My main ingredient sales came from microorganisms. That growth wouldn’t have been possible without taking the steps below.
Use these four strategic steps to begin moving toward experiencing the freedom to grow your ingredient sales EXPONENTIALLY!
- Identification—Identifying the areas you need to focus on is one of the most important things you can do for your business. The more random your ingredients, the less chance there is that a customer is going to buy your ingredients. The more targeted the ingredient, the bigger chance that the customer going to buy. Just like with ingredients, the more targeted your focus and actions are, the better chance you’ll have of achieving success. Being focused ensures that you’re not going to be derailed by random distractions. Identifying your vision, which includes identifying your best and worst skills, relationships and opportunities will allow you to truly focus your efforts and move forward on your goal of reaching exponential growth in ingredient sales. The process of identification simply tracks what you do, who you engage with and what opportunities you participate in. The next strategic skill must be walked into courageously…that skill is elimination.
- Elimination—There are so many things standing in the way of exponential growth, including internal challenges at your company (like systems and processes) that take away from your ability to grow. The ex-coworker that I mentioned above rarely engaged in customer relationship management (CRM) activities because he realized that the CRM system did not function in a way that would allow him to grow exponentially. He would only do CRM activities when it made sense to do them, and by being strategic about his activities, he was able to grow at incredible rates. I followed his lead on that and did not always fill out my CRM because the time it would take to do that would steal time from other, bigger goals that I needed to achieve. If I wanted to add almost $10 million in new business in a year, I knew that my time had to be very focused, and the time demanded from internal activities could easily derail me from those goals.There are also external activities. You might have customers that are demanding a lot from you, and the distraction of those customers is taking away from the most important goals that you’ve identified that will enable you to achieve the freedom of exponential growth.In order to focus on the things you’ve identified, you need to eliminate the less important internal activities, you need to eliminate external activities, and you need to eliminate your own mental distractions. Conceptually, this is simple, but requires massive courage as well as the willingness to not be liked by everyone. Not because you are a jerk but because this step could actually harm you. Freedom often requires initial suffering and pain. The process of elimination of your comfort activities and even the way you interact with people can stay the same, be eliminated, or be improved upon. But only you can decide if an activity, a process, a system, or even a person contributes to exponential growth or limits your freedom to grow.
- Organization—The biggest components that you need to learn to organize and manage as an ingredient sales rep include your inbox, your opportunities, and your relationships (both inside of the company and with your different accounts). If you are not organized in how you engage with each of these areas, you are going to be distracted by all of the potential activities that can be done. You won’t have a focused pipeline, you won’t have focused relationship engagement, and you won’t have focused team members to help you get to where you need to go. Your organization, how you work and your processes are essential for attaining the freedom of exponential ingredient sales growth. No one else defines this for you but you can get help from coaches, mentors, and other training to help you effectively organize.
- Value Creation: The Product Creation Process of Accounts—The freedom to grow exponentially only comes through value creation and the most important value you create as an ingredient sales rep revolves around your engagement with the process of finished product launches of your account, or what I call the Product Creation Process. Whether they’re brands or manufacturers, there is a journey that every ingredient takes, starting at the idea stage all the way through to the continual finished product sales. Knowing this process will allow you to grow both new business and existing business. If you haven’t learned the Product Creation Process inside of your accounts, you will limit your ability to grow exponentially. Customers want to launch products with their process, at specific times and usually much faster than you would imagine. Or, they might want to launch in a much more thorough way than before, which happens when they have answered all of the ingredient questions or finished product questions. Your customer’s growth is your growth, but only if you understand and engaged in their Product Creation Process.
It’s very simple. You, as a sales rep, want to have freedom. You want to have the freedom to think about your territory and your accounts strategically. You want the freedom to spend time with your family and your friends away from work. You want the freedom to engage in relationships inside of your company and with your customers in a beneficial way. You want your work to be fun! In order to experience all of those things and experience the exponential growth that will allow for these freedoms to happen, you are going to need to think strategically and develop the four essential skills listed above. If you are having trouble, let us know in the comments below. We love helping sales reps grow!