By Michael Hotchkiss – May 6, 2017

I recently went on a two-day sales trip with a sales rep I had never met, in an unfamiliar territory, to see customers I knew nothing about. This is about the experience and not the players or the stage, so no mention of names or places. If you are aware of my predisposition to preparation, you may ask, “What were you thinking?”

My answer would be, “Following my gut”.

My high expectations were to meet an excellent Rep with a well-organized plan that would open the selling nostalgia scrapbook and reaffirm that well-executed calls are still the most effective sales tool.

I landed at Hopkins Airport at 8:15 am after a short flight from Hartford. I had had two conversations and a few email exchanges with my Rep/travel guide and a list of stops scheduled for my two-day trip. Historically, I would have spent much more time asking questions and researching companies on the docket. I didn’t prepare more because I have been around long enough to know a pro when I hear one, even after a few minutes on the phone. My insights were bolstered before I left by a colleague who had previous dealings with this Rep.

I knew after the first stop, my gut spoke the truth. I felt like I was back driving around as a young Sales Engineer with the Regional  Manager – a mentor of mine – explaining the craft of selling. I mulled this over as we drove along. I had sponged up years of experience during those early trips. I then recalled, more recently, the tricks of the trade I had passed along to young sales engineers. A role reversal, yet still a learning experience. These were fond memories and this trip felt just like that but we both were veterans.

In the time between appointments, we had more small talk than sales talk. I knew about his the kids, his softball team and love of the Chicago Bears. I shared my passion for writing and WWII history. Bar stool talk. It was only when we got to the five-minute-to-arrival mark that we hit the mutual instinct alarm and put our game faces on. It was as we approached the parking lot, that I heard about the Rep’s past efforts with the customer, personality traits and a focus point. One hour of pre-test studying put into a five-minute summary. He was right every time. And all the meetings were productive.

The Rep had bagels for the first stop. He pre-ordered pizzas – we picked up – for our third appointment scheduled at noon. We stayed right on time all day without cutting anything short. We even had a cancellation, which time slot was magically absorbed. The same for the following day. Donuts for stop one and a planned lunch with old friends at stop three. Nine straight seamless and useful sales calls. The only thing that made it feel like a business trip was my hotel reservation was screwed up – and that was my fault.

I was dropped off at Hopkins around 5:30 at the end of day two, a couple of hours before my flight. Like clockwork. I carried my notes and the satisfied feeling of accomplishing best expectations; a rare combination. The fruits of our labor could lead to new business from seven of the nine customers we saw. Two of the calls were courtesy stops or we may have batted 1.000

There was a sentimental feel to this trip that also was a boost of confidence for me in a new job with a new company. It was great to confirm my belief in the old fashioned sales call. When done with experienced folks who know their territory and their customers as well as this Rep, there is no more effective sales tool. It had been a long time since I had such a great road trip. Expectation met.