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Act Like a Salesman

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Oct. 1, 2004
The sales arena is filled with drama. When a salesperson performs the sales dance well, standing ovations sometimes seem in order, but when a salesperson

The sales arena is filled with drama. When a salesperson performs the sales dance well, standing ovations sometimes seem in order, but when a salesperson misses a cue or hasn't adequately prepared, the scene can turn ugly fast.

In any given market area, there will always be a few outstanding electrical distributor salespeople. Of course, there will also be novices still making their sales debuts.

Some of the following authentic sales examples illustrate why top salespeople earn large incomes and why they are so valuable to the profitable growth of an electrical distributor. Other examples depict how easily valuable business can be lost when salespeople fail to use common sense in their sales approach. Readers can learn from both.


A distributor salesman put a lot of time and effort into helping one of his contractor customers put together material pricing for a bid on a large bridge project. The bid was complicated and required special lighting fixture quotes and other nonstandard material, but a major lighting fixture order was involved.

Over a lengthy period of time, the contractor had to rebid the job three separate times before the project got the green light and his firm was awarded the job. When the contractor was finally ready to purchase the job requirement, the fixture manufacturer advised the distributor salesperson of a substantial price increase because of the time between the quote date and current pricing.

This was a large six-figure order. The contractor, now deeply involved in all aspects of the job, was very upset about the price increase. The electrical contractor's bid to the general contractor was firm, but the specific lighting fixtures had been specified with an “or equal” notation.

The distributor salesperson, John, who had handled all the initial quotes, asked the electrical contractor to let him personally handle negotiations with other potential fixture manufacturers. The contractor agreed, and John was able to find another lighting manufacturer to provide “equal” fixtures at the original quoted price. The contractor placed the order.

Because John did such a good job following through with the fixture order, the contractor awarded John's company the entire job's material requirements, which included large amounts of other electrical products, including wire, conduit and fittings. This was the largest single order John had ever written. This salesman took initiative, assumed responsibility and was rewarded for his efforts.


The well-known adage that the subjects of religion and politics should not be broached in business still applies.

Early in his sales career, Matt ended a sales call with a new, profitable industrial customer by inviting the customer to have a cup of coffee in the company lunchroom. Matt had developed a strong political feeling toward one of the major political parties. Feeling comfortable and confident in this social setting, Matt proceeded to hammer away about what he perceived as the negative aspects of the other political party. He felt good about what a convincing argument he had made to his customer.

After several additional sales calls to this customer, Matt was puzzled because he hadn't received any new orders. He decided to ask the buyer's assistant if there was any trouble.

The assistant responded by saying, “Do you remember that conversation you had with my boss regarding your strong feeling on politics? Well, my boss happens to be an active member of the party you were trying to discredit. Although my boss didn't tell you at the time, he considered your unsolicited strong negative comments about his party to be an insult to his intelligence. You might want to concentrate your future sales efforts elsewhere.”


Sometimes it's wise to look past short-term monetary gain and realize the long-term ramifications may be more important.

Tim, a young salesman for XYZ Electrical Wholesaler, inherited a well-established sizeable industrial account from his recently retired predecessor. Ironically, the purchasing agent at this account had also just retired and was succeeded by Tammy.

While evaluating storeroom supplies, Tammy found several standard fluorescent fixtures still in original cartons leftover from a plant addition. When Tammy asked Tim for return authorization, the still-green and shortsighted salesman told her he couldn't take them back. He explained that the fixtures were purchased from his predecessor, who got the commission on the sale. Tim went on to explain that if he took the fixtures back, the credit would be charged against his monthly commission.

When the sales manager at XYZ Electrical Wholesaler began to see sales volume drop from this long-time profitable account, he asked Tim about it. The young salesman assured the sales manager that the customer's business was just slow. The sales manager had doubts, though, and made an appointment to see Tammy.

Tammy told the sales manager how Tim refused to honor her request for return authorization. She also voiced other concerns she had about Tim's judgment. Despite the sales manager's attempts to right this wrong, Tammy ultimately decided to transfer most of her company's business to a competing distributor that had faithfully called on her company.

A big, long-term, profitable, account was lost because of poor decision-making that focused only on the short-term.


George, an outside electrical distributor salesman, made a cold call on an industrial account with which his company had not previously done business. The industrial buyer, who was also the owner, explained how his company manufactured ice-shaving snow-cone units.

George made his MRO presentation and asked the owner if he could look at the ice-shaving machine to see if he could be of service supplying the OEM requirements. The owner took George into the plant and explained how the machine functioned.

George saw that the unit case was illuminated by a tubular incandescent lamp and wondered if the heat from the lamp had an undesirable melting effect on the shaved ice. The owner agreed it did. George suggested a small fluorescent lamp, which would give off sufficient light and very little heat.

After receiving the dimensions of the lamp, the two sockets and the ballast, the owner said he could produce in-plant an enclosure for the lighting unit. The owner was very pleased with George's suggestions.

George asked if he could put together a package covering all the electrical items used on the unit, including the motor, cord and plug, switches, fittings, fluorescent lamp, sockets and ballasts. He said his company could assemble this package in a single container, store them in the distributor warehouse and ship the same day the number of units required. This would eliminate doing business with multiple sources. Instead there would be one shipment, one invoice, and immediate response to customer needs.

The distributor kept the pricing at a competitive level with good material purchasing. The two companies enjoyed a long, profitable good customer/supplier relationship.


Just before lunchtime, Bob called on a long-time contractor account and was given a large profitable stock order. As Bob was leaving, the contractor customer asked Bob where he was headed next. Bob blundered by telling the buyer he was going to lunch. Unfortunately, Bob didn't have the common sense to ask the customer to join him.

The customer, who had just given this young salesman a large non-price-competitive order, was so irritated that he called Bob's sales manager.

“After giving your salesman such a nice order, I was amazed he didn't have the courtesy to ask me to join him for lunch,” the contractor customer said. He told the sales manager that part of the role of a salesperson is to buy an occasional lunch to show appreciation of business.

The sales manager transferred the account to another salesperson per the customer's request.


A large industrial company was building a new headquarters complex. The company's engineering and purchasing departments were evaluating several fluorescent fixture manufacturers to select a fixture that would be the standard for all buildings in the complex.

Because the fixture order would be so large, the vice president in charge of all company purchases was handling the order personally. The rep for the fixtures suggested the vice president divide the fixture order between the four local distributors. The price was firm and the delivery schedule was set.

One of the local distributor salesmen, Tom, who had been calling on the company's several plants and offices for many years, on his own initiative made an appointment with the purchasing vice president. Although Tom had never before had occasion to meet the vice president, who didn't normally handle electrical purchases, Tom aggressively approached the sales opportunity.

After introducing himself and advising the vice president that he had been servicing all of the company's plant locations for many years, Tom asked the vice president if he would consider contacting the electrical buyer at each plant location and award the entire order to the electrical distributor doing the best overall job for the company.

The vice president said he would consider the request but asked Tom not to discuss this conversation with any of the plants involved. Tom agreed.

A few days later, Tom got a phone call from the vice president's assistant who requested that Tom meet the vice president the following day.

The next day, the vice president handed Tom the purchase order for the complete order. The vice president said this was one of the largest orders he had ever awarded to a vendor. He told Tom he had contacted each plant buyer asking which electrical distributor was doing the best job servicing the plant's requirements; all buyers named Tom.

The vice president said this made the decision easy. Plus, by placing the order with one distributor, the coordination of the delivery process was simplified.

The vice president ended the conversation by saying, “You've got moxie and savvy. I like your style. You won't retire with your company as a salesperson.”

He was right. Tom rose through the sales management ranks and retired as president and CEO.

Bob Finley, now retired, was the longtime president and CEO of Glasco Electric Co., St. Louis. Glasco is now a part of Rexel.


  1. Don't talk religion or politics with customers. Although the subjects might be fine when chatting with your clone, no one else will agree with you on all issues. Avoid the subjects of religion and politics in business.
  2. Do invite a customer to lunch when you end a sales call at noon and are headed to the restaurant across the street. Although many will pass on the offer, it's polite to extend the invitation. By not extending the invitation, you run the risk of offending a customer.
  3. Don't fall into the trap of only thinking short-term. One new salesman refused to take back surplus lamps from an industrial account. The new salesman's predecessor had sold the lamps to the customer, and the return would “unfairly” reduce the new salesman's current commission. The new salesperson lost the account to a competitor.
  4. Do balance long-term goals with short-term goals. Have the foresight to look past today's problem and anticipate how today's solutions might affect tomorrow's sales relationships.
  5. Do take initiative in helping customers solve problems. Whether it be bundling products or seeking better pricing from manufacturers, customers will always appreciate steps a salesperson takes to make the job simpler and more cost effective.