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25 Sure-Fire Sales Tips: Electrical Distributor Outside Sales Guide

Jan. 31, 2014
"18. Never apologize for your price. An apology will tell the customer that you think the price is too high. Your goal is to justify the price by reviewing the product’s features and benefits and the service package your company offers."

Sure, customers have more options than ever when shopping for electrical products, options that don’t always include full-line electrical distributors. But whether the new source of competition is AmazonSupply, Google Shopping for Suppliers, W.W. Grainger, an energy-service company (ESCO) or a new online competitor no one has heard of yet, full-line electrical distributors have some inherent advantages. Many of them are related to the knowledge full-line electrical distributors should have of customer needs in the local market and their ability to service those needs with a time-tested package of product knowledge, local inventory, job-site delivery, credit and other value-added services.

Building and maintaining these relationships and differentiating your company from these alternate channels of supply comes down to local touch that a good salesperson at an electrical supply house can provide. To help readers do this, Electrical Wholesaling’s editors analyzed the many sales tips published in the magazine over the last few decades and came up with 25 evergreen ideas that we feel will still work in this new digital era. Do you have others? Send them to [email protected] and we would be glad to publish them in an upcoming issue of the magazine and online at


1. Sell yourself. The basic foundation of any customer-salesperson relationship is trust. If you lose a customer’s confidence, it’s very hard to regain.

2. Know your stuff. Customers expect distributors to know more about products today than ever before. Basic product information is just a few clicks away for any customer. It’s no longer good enough for a salesperson to drop off a few product brochures with customers and expect them to find the information they need. What customers really want from today’s salespeople is assistance in applying the product to their particular applications.

3. Know the customer. Salespeople must know customers’ buying influences, which brands they prefer, how they install them and in the case of an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), how they use them in the products they manufacture. In his book, “Thinking Outside the Bulb,” Mike Dandridge, a former Rexel salesperson who now runs, a sales training and consulting firm based in Temple, Texas, urges distributor salespeople to research their customers’ business challenges and problems. “Earn a reputation as a solution supplier, and not a product pusher,” he says. “Customize a solution for an individual client, and you could have a customer for life.”

4. Listen when the customer speaks. You can learn more from customers by listening to what they have to say about applications or problems than by dominating a conversation on a sales call with a product’s features and benefits. If you are doing more talking than listening on a sales call, you are not doing it right.

5. Examine your company’s package of value-added services. Go to and check out EW’s checklist of “50 Value-Added Services” and grade your company on how many it offers. Also check out “EW’s Guide to Add-On Sales,” which will remind you to ask a customer for products related to the ones they order. For instance, if a customer orders electrical boxes, the salesperson should always ask if they also need box covers, mounting hardware, wiring devices, wire connectors, fittings and tools.

6. Focus on fast response to the customer’s questions. With the fast pace in today’s I-need-it-now business world, you will be judged by how quickly you get back to customers with information such as pricing, delivery dates and answers to technical questions. It’s best to under-promise and over-deliver with your responses. One of the easiest ways to put smiles on the faces of customers is when you tell them you will get back to them with the information they need by noon, and you call back within the hour.

7. Use more than your gift of gab to seal a deal. Salespeople too often rely on their silver tongues to sell products and don’t back up their sales pitches with product samples, customized literature, application videos and other sales tools. In sales, seeing is believing, and providing sales support materials or product samples makes it easier for customers to visualize the sales solutions a salesperson offers. While there’s no substitute for getting a product sample in the hand of a customer, tablets, smartphones and other communication tools provide instant access to digital support materials like installation videos, spec sheets on PDFs and other online product information.

8. Take a genuine interest in the customer’s business. Subscribe to the trade magazines that cover the customer’s industry, and occasionally send copies of articles you think may be of interest to the customer — along with a handwritten note. While text messages, emails and voice mails have their place as the most common forms of communication, well-timed handwritten notes can cut through all of this digital clutter when you want to drive home a point, or just say “thank you.”

9. 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. They aren’t going to get this type of help from AmazonSupply.

10. Be positive. People like to be around positive people. “When you come into your customer’s place of business, they don’t want to hear your kids are sick or about your aches and pains,” says Bob Finley, formerly president of Glasco Electric Co. in St. Louis. “They have plenty of problems themselves. Salespeople should put on a positive front.”

11. Develop relationships with people from all different departments within a customer’s company. Having an in-depth network of customers is another core advantage that distributors can have over alternate channels. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket by just calling on your buddy. If or when that person leaves, you will have to scramble to keep the business if you haven’t developed other business relationships.

For instance, at an electrical contractor, make sure you know the personnel in the estimating and purchasing departments. You must also meet the field supervisors, electricians, credit managers and other people who may have a say on a buying decision. And as you are selling energy-efficient lighting retrofits or automated systems that tie into HVAC, water and other building systems, you will most likely have to prove the return on investment to a company’s CFO, accountant or other financial folks.

12. Never take a customer’s business for granted. Mike Dandridge learned this important lesson from a customer. After calling on a customer for several years, he finally got the business. That customer told him, “If you work as hard to keep my business as you did to get my business, then you will always have my business.”

13. Never forget “WIFM.” WIFM stands for “What’s in it for me?” Everyone has their own WIFM. Whether the customer is the purchasing agent, treasurer or chief electrical engineer, he or she still wants to do the job better. Figure out how to help them do that.


14. Scope out the market. Take the time to examine the various channels for electrical supplies in your market and how their value-added services differ. One of the most valuable tools for evaluating these is the “Electrical Marketplace Pyramid,” which you can find at You will probably be surprised at how many different types of companies other than full-line electrical distributors sell electrical products.

15. Evaluate the competition. You should always have an updated analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of key competitors. This analysis should include an evaluation of their customer relationships, sales team depth and longevity and vendor offerings.


16. Sell least total cost. One strategy that helps when a customer asks you to beat or match a quote is to sell him or her on the concept of “least total cost.” To do this, you must be able to prove how the value-added services your company offers actually save the customer money in the long run. Examples of these services might include your company’s credit and return policies, knowledgeable inside salespeople, a 24-hour hot line, emergency delivery, application assistance and expediting.

17. When dealing with price objections, make sure the customer is aware of the full range of values your company offers. Emphasize those values of special interest to the current prospect. When justifying a price, focus on the benefits of buying that product from your company. The key features and benefits include product quality, cost savings, and the delivery and technical expertise that your company offers along with products.

18. Never apologize for your price. An apology will tell the customer that you think the price is too high. Your goal is to justify the price by reviewing the product’s features and benefits and the service package your company offers.

19. Put your price into perspective. You must draw comparisons with the prospect’s other expenses so he or she isn’t fixated on the price. One strategy is to give examples of the savings in energy or maintenance that the product might produce for the customer.

20. Teach customers that the price of a product is not the same as the cost of a product. The late Jim Newton of Oakes Electrical Supply, Holyoke, Mass., used to say as customers become more aware of their true costs of doing business, they don’t knowingly buy low priced products that are costly to own and utilize. Distributor salespeople need to understand price is not cost. Those sophisticated customers that appreciate the value of these services are very likely skilled negotiators. They won’t accept just any price without a spirited round or two of negotiations.

21. Focus on integrated product knowledge. Salespeople must understand how a product integrates with all of the other products the customer uses in a particular system. Few products operate in isolation. They are all intertwined.

22. Uncover the customer’s basic needs. Is the customer looking for a promotion, raise or pat on the back? Or are they just punching a clock? Once salespeople understand customers’ motivational influences, they can develop their sales strategies accordingly.

23. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Treat your customers like you want to be treated.

24. Learn from the best. List two or three salespeople you admire for their excellent sales skills. Write down one thing you can adapt from their sales approach that will enhance yours.

25. Always remind customers about the basic role the electrical distributor plays in the market. Jim Newton used to always say you can do without the distributor, but you can’t do without their services. Services such as product selection, inventory, delivery and education have to be performed by the manufacturer, the customer or the distributor. He always said whoever could execute them most efficiently should do so and be compensated for it.

About the Author

Jim Lucy | Editor-in-Chief of Electrical Wholesaling and Electrical Marketing

Jim Lucy has been wandering through the electrical market for more than 40 years, most of the time as an editor for Electrical Wholesaling and Electrical Marketing newsletter, and as a contributing writer for EC&M magazine During that time he and the editorial team for the publications have won numerous national awards for their coverage of the electrical business. He showed an early interest in electricity, when as a youth he had an idea for a hot dog cooker. Unfortunately, the first crude prototype malfunctioned and the arc nearly blew him out of his parents' basement.

Before becoming an editor for Electrical Wholesaling  and Electrical Marketing, he earned a BA degree in journalism and a MA in communications from Glassboro State College, Glassboro, NJ., which is formerly best known as the site of the 1967 summit meeting between President Lyndon Johnson and Russian Premier Aleksei Nikolayevich Kosygin, and now best known as the New Jersey state college that changed its name in 1992 to Rowan University because of a generous $100 million donation by N.J. zillionaire industrialist Henry Rowan. Jim is a Brooklyn-born Jersey Guy happily transplanted with his wife and three sons in the fertile plains of Kansas for the past 30 years. 

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