A Long Road: the Importance of Travelling

Tom O'Malley

I have been traveling for 25 years and I have learned many things. First, travel is not as exciting as it may appear. Usually, I am in a hotel off the highway and no one is carrying my bags up to my room for me. My kids think I stay in the same hotels that I use all my hotel loyalty points for on family vacations, and wonder why I am so cranky after a work trip.

People often ask why I travel so much, except for my wife, who asks why I don’t travel more. The answer is simple: I feel it is the best way to get to know my customer and the marketplace. I don’t travel just to chase a specific job but also to stay in touch with my customers. I had someone say to me once, “Why are you traveling there? We have no jobs there.” Exactly—that is why I am traveling there, I am going to make sure they know who we are.

Having done this for so long I am fortunate that I have so many customers I can go see and they welcome me in. They have become friends who I look forward to seeing and grabbing a meal with. This did not happen overnight though. It took a lot of hard work, rejections and miles.

I think for anyone starting out as a traveling salesperson you need to learn some key things.

  • Always be respectful of your client’s time. They are fitting you into their day; things happen, and you could be running behind. If that happens, just let them know and give them a timeframe. They will understand and appreciate your communication, and it will show them how you would handle a job when things that come up.
  • Allow yourself time and plan your day accordingly. Believe it or not you can’t go from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore in 45 minutes even though it is just 45 miles. Just because it is convenient for you to see someone at 10 a.m. because your last appointment is just down the street doesn’t mean that is best for them. Unfortunately, they will be inconvenienced.
  • Make the effort to get the client out of the office. The obvious is lunch, but sometimes people’s schedules are more conducive to breakfast, drinks after work or dinner. Be flexible even if it means an early wake up or less free time at night. When they are not in the office their attention will be on you. Do not be discouraged as it takes a while to get someone to spend their free time with you.
  • Have a goal for the trip. This could include meeting a new customer, closing a job, taking someone out, doing a presentation or seeing an architect. You do not always close a job on a trip, so you need small wins that help you build your confidence and sense of accomplishment.
  • Foster relationships. Relationships are what makes the world go around. What you need to realize is these relationships don’t happen overnight. I have learned about relationships from many people and have emulated many things in fostering these relationships/partnerships along the way.
  • Attend industry events. I have faithfully been attending our industry trade shows from year one. This allowed me to meet key people outside of the office where they may be a little more relaxed. I would then follow up when I was traveling to their city and I had an instant connection. The key is to get out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to as many people as possible.
  • Make cold calls. An appointment is always preferred but sometimes you have some extra time in your day. It is easy to use that time to finish your day early or have a longer lunch. I try and stop in and meet with someone, or at least leave a card and get some names of key people. I have landed many a project from this initial step. Even if it was two to three years later and they remembered me.
  • Ask for a referral. Once you are in with one person at a company, do not stop there. Ask them to walk you around to other key people. It is easier to get an introduction while you are in the office then trying to call or email later. People do appreciate the time and cost associated with travel and I have had many customers say they have never met my competition other than a local rep. They recognize the effort you made to come see them and usually want it to be a success for you.
  • Network with other industry people. I have become friends with other people that handle different products. In the end we often have similar customers. I laugh when I hear people say, “Look at those two sales guys talking, what a waste of time.” I have done introductions for these other salespeople, and vice versa. This helps get you past the “gatekeeper.” Good people like to help good people.
  • Respect the privacy of a lead. My philosophy is only bid those leads that come to you. If you start calling others on a prospective bid, they may appreciate it but will most likely not trust you with a confidential bid. If people trust you it will lead people to only get a number from you. That will increase your sales more than chasing everyone and having no loyalty.

When the customer thinks of you as a partner, that is when the relationship changes. You are not looked at as a supplier but as a valued team member. You win and lose jobs together. You build your businesses together and you solidify the friendship. All of this takes time and effort but you will be amazed as you look back and see all the progress you have made.

Tom O’Malley is a founding partner at Clover Architectural Products and is vice president of sales. He has been in the aluminum and glass industry for 23 years. Currently he focuses his time on working with architects, helping to bring their ideas to fruition. He also travels and meets with the top glazing and metal subcontractors to partner with them to help make their project a success.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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