The Right Stuff for Distribution Reps in 2023


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A look at the characteristics, attitudes, and skills that successful distribution reps use to remain relevant.  

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a great cross-section of distribution reps. The best-performing individuals achieved an elevated level of success year after year because they all possessed six common characteristics, attitudes, and skills I believe continue to be relevant today. Let me share them with you, and then you decide if they can help you in 2023 and beyond.

No. 1: Successful reps see themselves as decision getters 

Their role is to help their customers reach a well-informed and committed decision. So, they are OK with a well-informed “yes,” and a well-informed “no.” Any response that does not end with one of those two outcomes is cause for further discussion and influence.

No. 2: Successful reps pay attention to emotions

While veterinary science is based on facts, industry decision-makers are influenced by emotions. Like every other person on the planet, their decision-making is the pursuit of that which gives them the greatest sense of confidence. Emotion is evident in how decision-makers respond, but not necessarily in the words they choose to use in responding. So, the most successful distribution reps pay the most attention to the customer’s music, i.e., their tone, speed, and the inflection in their voice in addition to their body language. As a result, the words the decision-makers use make entirely more sense.

No. 3: Successful reps can handle negativity

Negative responses are a part of every business discussion, and successful reps deal with that negativity much more effectively than others. Their focus is on the problem, not the person involved. In response to a negative remark, they remove the word “you” and replace it with one of the impersonal pronouns like “it,” “that,” or “this.” By focusing the conversation on the problem, the rep and the customer become a team trying to fix something. A negative has become an opportunity.

No. 4: Successful reps can communicate logically with any emotion 

There is a slightly different logical path for every emotion. If we are problem-burdened, help makes sense to us. If we see something as risky, mitigating or eliminating the risk makes sense. If we are skeptical, proof is appropriate. If we are interested, more information and discussion are appropriate. The most successful reps have the skill to make sense of the full range of human emotions and are willing and able to connect with their customer regardless of their reaction.

No. 5: Successful reps make it easy for their customers to do business with them 

Certainly, they spend their initial face-to-face time following their customer to understand their perspective, needs, and concerns. However, once connected, successful salespeople switch from follower to leader and reveal their motivation for advocating a particular product or service. They cover all the facts, answer all the questions, play with the possibilities, and close with the most significant decision the customer can manage today. The skill of leadership allows them to positively influence the conversation and help the customer make a well-informed, committed decision.

No. 6: Successful reps are persistent

Earlier, I mentioned that a well-informed, committed “no” was an acceptable answer. When “no” comes up early in the conversation, it is neither well-informed nor committed. In most cases, the customer is saying, “no, not that way.” This is where the characteristic of persistence is critical. Rather than quitting at that point, successful reps recalibrate and ask some more questions to uncover a better logic path or the appropriate benefit that the customer does value. However, a “no” late in the conversation usually means it is well-informed and committed. Persistence sees that “no” as “no for now,” and dictates it is time to move on and come back with a better idea the next time. So “no” is never really “no.”

Attitudes, characteristics, and skills of high performers. Will they assist you in reaching your goals and objectives? That is a question only you can answer.

About the author

Patrick T. Malone is a business advisor and leadership mentor based in Taylors, South Carolina. He is the co-author of the best-selling business book “Cracking the Code to Leadership” and may be reached at [email protected] or 404-630-7504.


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