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Quest for the 100th Sales Tip

Dec. 1, 2006
You don't have to dig too deep in the electrical wholesaling industry to find a salesperson willing to share their favorite sales tips.

Some things strike a nerve. Judging from reader feedback, Electrical Wholesaling's October 2006 cover story, “99 Can't Miss Sales Tips from the Pros” (page 22), is one of the most popular articles we have run in quite some time. The article offered tips from sales veterans, the magazine's contributing authors and sales-related articles published in EW over the years.

Just for fun, we challenged readers to submit the 100th sales tip, and said the salesperson providing the best sales tip, as judged by EW's editorial staff, would win a $100 American Express gift certificate. EW's editors weren't sure how many sales veterans would enter the contest and give away one of the secrets to their success. Imagine our delight when dozens of solid sales tips flooded our in-box, with more flowing in right through the date initially intended to be our deadline.

The feedback we got from readers was flattering. Said George Conyngham, president, Eastern Penn Supply Co., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “I wanted to compliment you on one of the greatest, most concise, sales tips listings I have seen in 27 years in the business. It was absolutely fantastic.”

Because of all this reader interest, we are holding the contest open for several more weeks, and will publish the winning tip in the magazine's February issue. Readers can submit their tips up through Jan. 22 to Jim Lucy, EW's chief editor, at [email protected]. Visitors to Electrical Construction and Maintenance's online E-trade show also voted earlier this month. We wanted to share the first wave of entries to the contest. If you have any additional tips, please send them to us.

The Latest Tips

Never give up. This is a changing world. The person you now sell to or are trying to sell to will not always be in the same spot, because people move around in this business. For instance, I might not have been able to sell to a particular electrical contractor. But perhaps he has a son who is being groomed to one day take over the business, and I can build a better working relationship with him. Maybe a company changes purchasing agents, or a worker in the field with whom you are friendly starts his own company. Perhaps the girl at the front desk who always greets you with an enthusiastic “hello” goes to another company and assists you with information on the firm. That warehouse guy or truck driver may graduate from college and go on to manage his own company. Change always gives us another chance or opportunity.
Senior Sales Engineer/Specialist
Siemens Energy and Automation
Fort Collins, Colo.

Think outside the box. As a distributor rep in Vancouver in the late 1980s, our market was saturated with distribution to the point of being ridiculous. Success meant thinking outside the normal box of strategies. For example, most of the contractors in our area required their electricians to start with their own list of tools. That list included a cordless drill and a 1/2-inch to 2-inch knockout set. Those are some pretty expensive items for a guy just starting.

I approached the payroll department of one contractor and asked about a deduction plan for their new guys. The contractor had no problem with that. The electrician was happy because it meant he could have the best tools upfront and pay a small amount from each check over six months. Once I was successful at that contractor, I approached other customers. I got the same results. I then approached the local technology institute and with their blessing put out a flyer to the first-year students about our deal. The resulting success was overwhelming.
Industrial Sales
Thomas & Betts Corp.
Vancouver, British Columbia

Make a sales call on larger customers who haven't done business with your branch in several years because of past issues. Employees at your branch may sometimes feel certain customers don't like your company, when the truth is that these customers don't feel they need your company. Don't give up after a few sales calls. The job of an outside salesperson or branch manager is to communicate the value proposition they have to offer customers and try to mend relationships that were damaged years ago. This accomplishes two things. You may get additional sales from a source you would not anticipate. It also keeps the competition guessing, because you are aggressively going after new business.
Branch Manager
GE Supply
Seattle, Wash.

Know your competitors' products and pricing. Some competitors will always have better pricing on some products. Never put down a competitor as having a low-quality product. A better strategy is to present and compare the technical features of your product and your company's services with those provided by competitors. Although your company may still be a little higher in price, you may discover advantages in delivery time, after-sale service and handling of damages/claims.

When customers are quoting jobs, don't be afraid to ask what price they need to get the bid. Ask if you can get back to them as soon as possible, and then call within a couple of hours to close the deal. If it's a large bid with a workable timeframe, explain that it will take a day or two to prepare the best pricing and shipping for them. They will work with you as long as you are honest with them.
Lighting Specialist
Damar Worldwide
Memphis, Tenn.

Create more opportunities at each sales call. The more opportunities we create, the more orders we will get. I would rather have 10 orders out of 100 opportunities than one order out of 10.
Vice President of Marketing & Sales
Arlington Industries
Scranton, Pa.

Don't let the competition scare you. I once had three competitors following me every week so they could learn my route and try to beat me to the customer. Don't let that scare you. Change the way you call on your customers. Do your route backwards or change the days when you call on specific customers. It works and is fun.
Inside and Outside Sales
Electrical Wholesale Supply Co. Inc.
Boise, Idaho

Do what you say you will do. The other sales tips are all worthy for use by our industry's salespeople, but the following is a surefire method for getting a customer to do business with a salesperson and his company. It's something that all current and potential customers want and expect, but so often do not receive. It's simple, but it takes a strong commitment by the salesman. Excuses must become a thing of the past. My suggested sales tip is for a salesperson to: “Do what you say you will do.”
Retired CEO of Watson Electric Supply
Dallas, Texas

Follow up. After you send out a proposal, make sure you show interest by doing some follow-up. Use this technique to glean more information from the customer as to where the purchasing process lies. Ask the customer these questions:

  • Was the proposal acceptable and did it meet all parameters, (within budget, time frame, etc.)?”

  • When do you expect to award and what will be your decision criteria?

  • Are we a front runner?

I will also share with you a quote from F.W. Nichol that's taped in my window: “When you get right down to the root of the meaning of the word ‘succeed,' you find that it simply means to follow through.”
Sales Director for Pacific Northwest
WESCO Distribution Inc.
Portland, Ore.

Ask new and existing customers for referrals. I have guided many salespeople to great success by instilling in them the importance of asking for referrals. A referral is an easy sale, but so many salespeople do not take the time to ask.
Vice President/Engineering
H&H Industries Inc.
Elmwood, Ill.

Develop your own “rules of the road.” I have my own list of 13 sales tips that I call my “rules of the road.” I have shared them with many young salespeople. I don't believe these nine tips were mentioned in your “99.”

  • Don't bash the competition, your own company or anyone else, for that matter. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it.

  • Spend at least 10 percent of your time prospecting. This should be done in both existing accounts and potential customers.

  • Your pay is directly proportional to the amount of time spent in front of the customer.

  • Find out what the customer wants or needs and help him get it.

  • Make it as easy as possible for the customer to buy from you.

  • Say thank you.

  • Don't waste the customer's time. Always have something of interest to show and/or tell.

  • If you don't know, ask!

  • All supply houses have buildings, inventory, computers, telephones and people. Remember, the biggest difference between them and your company is that they do not have you!
    Outside Sales
    Wabash Electric Supply
    Bluffton, Ind.

Tell the truth. Period. No caveats, and no spin. In the long run you're better off, even if the customer does not like the message.

When you get the order, stop selling. I am amazed at how many salespeople talk themselves into an order and then keep talking (selling) and unsell the customer. Get the order, say “thank you” and shut up.
National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association
Tarrytown, N.Y.

Never talk negatively about your competitors during a sales call. Your potential customer has been buying from someone before you, and chances are they built a relationship with people from that company. When you talk negatively about your competition, if your customer is buying from them, it tells them you think they have been making bad decisions. This could make them defensive. You also run the risk of insulting them if they are friends with that competitor. A more effective sales strategy is to focus on the unique benefits of your company or product.

Keep a tight daily, weekly and monthly schedule. Many salespeople are pulled in too many directions. Scheduling your day and calls keeps you on track and trains your customers that they can depend on you. If you see a customer the second Tuesday of every month, they will anticipate your call and be ready with quotes or orders. I was an outside salesperson for 16 years before starting my own distributorship three years ago. Both of these tips have helped me succeed in my career, and I train our outside salespeople to use them, too.
President and CEO
Autonomy Technology Inc.
Bend, Ore.

Know your customer's sales history. Be sure to thank your customer for a past order. Send a special note or letter of thanks to a new customer and reference the items on their first order. A little appreciation goes a long way.
International Sales and Marketing Assistant
EPIC Enterprises, Inc.
Southern Pines, N.C.

Tell the customer you need and will work hard for their business.

Marketing Manager
EPIC Enterprises Inc.
Southern Pines, N.C.

Continue your education. Product-specific training from manufacturers and sales skills training like the Certified Sales Professional program offered by the Manufacturers Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF), Arvada, Colo. With those behind you, look to local community colleges and universities for continuing education programs to hone your business or computer skills. Don't take the courses pass/fail. You will work harder and learn more if you know your performance is being graded.

Over-prepare and under-present. You should over-prepare and be ready to speak to any concern your customer might raise, and under-present by not inflicting a brain-dump of everything you've prepared on a customer who doesn't raise every issue you've prepared for.

In one sales call, I had customized flip charts at the ready to explain complex issues the customer might raise. Instead of raising those issues, he just gave me the order. Getting the order was the goal, and I achieved it. Pulling out my flip charts that I had worked long into the night to prepare would have been satisfying, but it would not have moved the sales process ahead, because I already had the order.

So the order went to my principal and the custom flip charts went into the shredder, because that was the right thing to do: over-prepare and under-present. I just had to force myself to remember receiving an order was my cue to stop selling.
Prime Devices Corp.
Morton Grove, Ill.

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