What Is Selling, Exactly?

Bill Lee

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Dear Bill:

A couple of years ago, I heard you speak at a Western Building Material Association meeting in Washington State. In that program you made the statement that most salespeople in our industry spend too much time performing tasks and too little time engaged in the act of selling.

This statement confuses me. My manager‘s idea of selling and yours are miles apart. He has instructed us to make at least one prospect call each day and do our best to get the prospect to allow us to quote on an upcoming job. Of course, nine times out of ten, quoting an upcoming job includes having to do a take-off. And performing both of these “tasks"  quoting and doing takeoffs  don’t qualify as “selling" if I understood you correctly.

My manager’s theory is that the fastest way to get prospects’ attention is to quote them some pretty hot numbers. While we don’t always get an order as a result, if our prospects see our quotes consistently coming in under the market, they will pretty soon be motivated to give us a fair shot at their business.

What’s wrong with this theory?

A struggling salesperson from the Great Northwest

Dear Struggling Salesperson,

The last thing I want to do is get you in trouble with your manager. However, except under extenuating circumstances, I do disagree with the approach he is advocating. And here’s why:

The odds of salespeople - no matter how good they are - getting an order from a prospect on the first call are not good. My argument is that few builders are going to give salespeople an order on their first sales call even if they do a terrific takeoff and come in with a lower price than their current supplier has been quoting. Instead, most builders will first give their current supplier an opportunity to meet the price. In fact, I’ll bet you that most your own loyal customers give you “last look" when one of your competitors fires a low-ball price at them in an attempt to take business away from you.

Pricing is like water, it seeks its own level. You fire low-ball prices at my customers and in retaliation I fire them back at your customers. This is a lose/lose scenario if I ever saw one. I personally believe that one of the reasons that our industry’s gross margins are under so much pressure is because of prospecting tactics like the ones your manager advocates.

As the old saying goes, a well-groomed gorilla could quote low-ball prices. Quoting involves little if any “selling. "

While doing takeoffs is a task that does require technical expertise, doing takeoffs is extremely time consuming and is no closer to selling than quoting. Just about any salesperson working for any of your competitors can do both, so neither task represents a great deal of added value. You must be spending anywhere from three to four hours a day just doing takeoffs for your prospects, not counting for your regular customers.

One of greatest truths in the selling profession is this, “All things being equal, builders prefer to buy from salespeople they know, like and respect. " And here is another great truth about selling: “All things not being equal, builders still prefer to buy from salespeople whom they know, like and respect. "

So your job as a salesperson is to build relationships with your prospects that are better and more valued than the relationships your competitors have previously built. Building relationships takes time. You don’t build relationships over night. You don’t “buy" relationships with low-ball prices. About the best a low-ball price will buy you is an order; it will rarely buy you a customer.

Selling is a profession. Salespeople who have learned how to build relationships and gain the trust and confidence of their customers and prospects will always be successful and are highly sought after. They also earn incomes that rank at the top of the industry.

My guess is that your manager learned the tactics he is teaching you from someone he worked for in the past and has perhaps not been exposed to a lot of professional sales training. After all, it is possible for a salesperson or sales manager to be successful strictly because they possess a high degree of technical expertise. But when you combine technical expertise and professional selling skills, you have an almost unbeatable combination.

If your manager would like to discuss this issue, please invite him to give me a call or send me an e-mail message.

Bill Lee is author of Gross Margin: 26 Factors Affecting Your Bottom Line ($29.95) and 30 Ways Managers Shoot Themselves in the Foot ($21.95). Both books are $6 S&H for the first book and $1 S&H for each additional book. Bill also offers Master Selling Skills DVDs and CDs on his Web site. See Shopping Cart at http://www.BillLeeOnLine.com


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