Despite distributors’ best sales tactics, not all come-and-go customers stick.

The question then becomes, should sales reps continue to invest time and resources in an account that’s going nowhere or should they cut their losses and move on?

In general, distributors agree that sales reps should never cut bait from a customer. However — as with most rules — there are exceptions.

“You should take [come-and-go customers] as a challenge and put forth all your effort to educate them and change their thought process,” says Crisafulli. “But you will still encounter people that shoot you down on everything you have to offer — whether it’s working with staff to create a safer environment or introducing environmentally friendly products.”

Harrison admits to cutting bait from customers, though he says this rarely happens. Instead, his preference is to more strictly manage come-and-go customers by price.

“If a customer reveals himself as an occasional buyer it needs to be reflected in the price he pays,” says Harrison. “Of course, by changing the price, I might run them off. If a customer is particularly difficult to deal with and culturally opposed to forming relationships, I’ll adjust my price to a level where if they pay it, I’m still happy to have them as a customer, and if they don’t, I’m OK with it. It’s easier to do that than to fire your customer.”

Does that mean distributors should give preferential treatment to customers with whom they already have a long-term relationship? Absolutely, although distributors are quick to add that all customers should be treated with the same level of respect.

“Those accounts that are going to stay small, in many cases by design, you still have to treat graciously,” says Smith. “You never know where an individual working there may migrate to in later months or years. And they will always remember how they were treated and reciprocate accordingly.”

Likewise, Holland treats his customers with the same responsiveness and courteousness regardless of their status.

“Every customer should be met with the same core value that our company represents, but when it comes to the customer that values us as a true supply partner, we may extend offers to them that we wouldn’t for a come-and-go customer,” he says. “It may be that we don’t charge the small order fee if they don’t meet the minimum, or maybe they need unique packaging or invoicing. We will spend time with our marketing partner to create these things for them that we probably wouldn’t for a come-and-go customer.”

Indeed, distributors may offer the same value-added services for both ideal and come-and-go customers — the difference is long-term customers often receive these services for free.

Truitt, for example, recently brought in 35 of his long-term customers’ area managers for training on bloodborne pathogens for OSHA requirements. In addition to providing lunch, he brought in an expert to present the content and provided certificates for the attendees.

“You’re talking about several thousand dollars in costs to us — and I’m not going to charge them for it,” he says. “I would treat a transactional customer differently, because most likely I would charge for those types of services.”

Balancing Act

Nurturing come-and-go customers can be a worthwhile endeavor that leads to long-term partnerships. At the same time, distributor sales reps shouldn’t neglect prospects or their more established jan/san customers.

“The key word is balance,” says Pancero. “Is the sales rep balanced in regard to where they’re putting their attention?”

Pancero puts the onus on sales managers to coach their sales reps to ensure that their sales territories are in balance.

“Sales reps should always be actively working a list of 10 prospects that have not placed an order,” he says. “As soon as they place an order they come off the list and a new prospect goes on. They should also be able to sit down with the sales manager and look at their top five accounts to see how they can be of more value and be more proactive in supporting them.”

Finally, the sales reps need to look at their remaining accounts in the middle of that range, which include transactional customers, to determine how they can move these accounts forward.

“The best way to stabilize an account is for the sales rep to get higher, wider and deeper within that account,” says Pancero. “Higher by talking to the decision-makers, wider by getting into other departments and deeper down to the front lines by talking to the users.”

This may require some extra work by the distributor, but it just might unearth an ideal customer. 

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.

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