Celebrating 19 years with Bargreen Ellingson this month, Kevin Wilkinson's role is more of a player/coach, although his title is general manager. This is because, in addition to managing a territory with his own accounts, Wilkinson also assists others in his office with their jobs.
After beginning his career working for Red Robin's corporate office, Wilkinson was looking for something more stable. Listening to Bargreen Ellingson sales rep Sam Wiltse rave about the company prompted Wilkinson to set his sights on joining the Tacoma, Wash.-based foodservice equipment and supplies dealership and he has never looked back.
While Wilkinson's clients laude his dependability, it is his scrappy and innovative approach that has allowed him to build his business. "I owe a lot to my wife Sheila for who I am today," Wilkinson says.
FE&S: How do you go about managing customer expectations to meet their needs?
KW: I listen, which is the most important thing I do. It's important to find out customer needs and steer them in the right direction. Also, responding to customers the same day is a must.
FE&S: How has the job changed since you got involved?
KW: There are a lot of new products out there now. Us sales reps need to stay on top of that; we need to know a little bit about everything. Our customers want someone to help them make their business successful, and that's what I do, by showing them new products and ways that can save them money. It has also become more important to stay on top of the latest technology.
FE&S: How do you build customer loyalty and maintain it?
KW: Loyalty is important. My motto is to "just show up." It's all about staying in touch and face time. I don't consider myself a sales guy. The people I deal with want someone to take care of them and that's what I do. I make it a point not to answer my phone in front of customers. I make sure to give them the uninterrupted attention they deserve.
FE&S: What's your approach to building a territory?
KW: Cold calling is important. Also, utilizing technology, such as iPads, smart phones and laptops is key. I make sure to get e-mail addresses from every customer. I create and send out weekly sales flyers. It's also important to be persistent. I'll try to lead with one item to get the conversation started. This always leads to bigger purchases down the road.
FE&S: How do you maintain your product knowledge?
KW: Technology is a great asset for this. I'm on the web all the time sourcing product information. It can be difficult to keep on top of everything. Reps also help out a lot with product information. One of the biggest resources for new products is our customers, who come to me all the time with new information that they want me to research. The industry is so big, there are new things coming out all the time.
FE&S: What is the biggest challenge you've had to overcome during your career?
KW: I had a brief stint in the beginning of my career as an outside salesperson in Yakima, Wash. I knew the product and the people, who I had delivered to for three years, but selling to them was a whole different animal to me. The role didn't feel right to me at that time, so I asked to work back in the warehouse. I gained more product knowledge and confidence, which helped me overcome my shyness. Then, when I took over my outside sales role in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, it came more naturally to me.