TOUGH CALL: The Trouble with ‘Milk Runs’

By / 1 year ago

The Milk Run Salesman“It’s a good problem,” and “It’s better than the alternative.” Those are two variations on your response to staffers who are working harder and are more productive than ever before. Your company is paying more overtime than it’s paid in years, and that’s just fine. Whether they’re making the sale, building the load, delivering the products, or keeping everything running behind the scenes, your people are earning every penny.

One thing you’ve noticed about running at full capacity is that you’ve become very aware of processes that waste time and cost your company money. You can understand and embrace those that are unavoidable. Then there’s Oscar.

Oscar is a long-time salesperson for a local distributor who visits your store every other Thursday—whether you need him to or not. As a “milk run salesperson,” his job is to stop at your company to see if there’s anything you need. He doesn’t call to make an appointment, he just stops at every yard on his route to see how he can help. A very friendly and personable guy, Oscar is well-liked by your staff. In fact, it’s not uncommon for him to talk with individual staffers about sports, hunting, the weather, whatever, for extended periods of time.

Your company has a process for placing orders, so you never need any products from Oscar. And unfortunately, when you have had some issues with billing or defective (or non-received) product, he hasn’t had the authority to do anything about it. Since he doesn’t have anything you need, and can’t solve any problems you might have with his company, you’ve come to view his services as an unwelcome distraction.

During slow times, Oscar’s visits were fine. Even though he didn’t bring a lot of value, he was a friendly connection with one of your biggest suppliers. But ever since the snow melted this spring, the pace at your store has been anything but slow. Now that you and your team are running at breakneck speed, Oscar is in the way.

Here’s the thing: While the simple solution would be to call your contact at the distributor and ask them to reduce or eliminate Oscar’s visits to your company, it wasn’t always like this. In fact, Oscar has been with this distributor for decades, and it was Oscar who helped you navigate some sticky situations back when you were first getting started in this industry. The fact is that you feel some loyalty to Oscar, but you need to do what’s best for your company.

  • What would you do?
    1. Hard stop. Yes, Oscar is a nice guy, and you have some history with him. But with sales and customers on the line, you can’t afford social visits. Time to make them stop.
  • 2. Relax. Your salespeople are professional enough to cut friendly conversations short if they’re busy. Oscar may not deliver a ton of value, but he’s a good man and his visits don’t hurt anyone.
  • 3. Empower. With Oscar’s rich experience in the industry, his visits could be extremely valuable—if he was empowered to solve your issues. Call your distributor and push for it.
  • 4. Talk with Oscar. Take time one day to take Oscar to lunch. It’ll give you a chance to discuss your dilemma, and to ask what he’d do.
Poll closed. See results below.

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