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You can create a truly sustainable advantage in the market if you bank on building customer relationships rather than the one-time sales of transactional selling.

I love a good challenge.  While talking about sales training with a sales manager from another industry, I made the statement, “Our kind of selling is different.”  The sales manager, who fancies himself as a sales expert and comes from a consumer-based background, took offense.  He challenged me to define the difference between our kind of selling and the type of selling he did.



Thinking back on the several hundred books on selling that I have read, I would characterize all but a handful as focusing on transactional selling.  Transactional selling focuses on making a one-time sale and then moving on to the next customer.  This type of selling is often used for commoditized products or services.  Think about the last computer you purchased.  Did the company create or provide anything that caused you to want to continue your relationship?  In my mind, the salesperson's goal was to make sale – period. 

In contrast, our kind of selling focuses on building long-term relationships with customers.  The salesperson's goal is to understand the customer's needs and then provide them with solutions that meet those needs over time.  That’s why the commonly used term of “solution provider” closely mirrors our world. The table below summarizes the key differences between transactional and ongoing selling.


Our type of selling is a more sustainable strategy because it builds relationships with customers that lead to repeat business. By understanding the customer's needs and providing them with solutions that meet those needs, the good salespeople of our industry create a loyal customer base that rely on their expertise forever. 

The cornerstones of success in our kind of selling include:

·        A deep understanding of the products, technologies and services sold.

·        Expertise on how the products are used by customers – Application knowledge.

·        Ability to recognize customer problems, sometimes before the customer realizes there is an issue.

·        The focus is on building relationships with customers.  This means knowing and understanding the customer’s needs and challenges.

·        Provide non-product value to customers.  This means helping individuals reach their goals and organizations be more profitable.



In a transactional selling world, prospects are clearly defined and approached as with products.  If no clear opportunities are present, the customer may go for months or even years without any kind of meaningful contact.  In contrast, our kind of selling involves regular follow-ups covering a wide variety of topics:

·        New technologies that can easily tie to existing systems

·        Migration paths to new technologies

·        Issues with equipment previously purchased

·        Training and other service needs


For new salespeople, getting started with ongoing selling is a daunting challenge. Most sales books focus on transactional selling, which refers to sales as a one-time event like real estate or consumer goods.  However, our kind of selling involves an ongoing relationship with the customer.  Building trust is crucial.  Not getting an instant order, but instead working towards strengthening the relationship with the customer can be more beneficial in the long run.  Books written for our type of sales activities are developed for experienced salespeople.  The neophyte salesperson is left to attend the long and expensive school of hard knocks.

Looking back at the cornerstones for success outlined above, new salespeople in our world need to learn thousands of products and how customers put those products to work in their process.  Further, salespeople need to understand how to approach newly assigned customers in a value-driven manner. 

There needs to be a proven process for the new sellers to begin the journey.  As I thought through these issues, I set out on a path to create a primer for a newly assigned salesperson to systematically develop the right skills required to be successful in our kind of selling.

After working with, coaching and mentoring over 200 individuals in our kind of selling, I set off on a journey to summarize what I and the young sellers learned into an easy to read and effective tool for our kind of selling.   The result was a book called The New Sales Guy Project. 

Before I go, I thought I would share the words of one of the young sellers who happens to work in for an electrical distributor and who recently went through my new book.

"Frank, I wanted to send a quick message saying thanks for providing content in the electrical distribution field. I subscribed to Electrical Wholesaling, bought your book, and even found time to listen to your podcasts.

"Being new to the industry, it’s been really challenging to find information that’s relevant or even helpful to propel a career.   Your content has bridged the gap and has been extremely helpful. Appreciate you wanting to pass your wisdom and knowledge along."



 Frank Hurtte is founder of River Heights Consulting, Davenport, Iowa, a firm specializing in “knowledge based distribution.” He has 28 years of distribution industry experience and a lifetime in sales. During his career, Frank has gone through nearly every aspect of the wholesale business. You may have met Frank in one of his previous lives — he worked in sales management for Allen-Bradley and at several senior executive posts with Van Meter Industrial. He is the author of The Distributor Specialist: Customer Champion, Profit Generator!, The Distributor’s Fee Based Services Manifesto and his most recent book, The New Sales Guy Project.

You can contact Frank at [email protected] or 563-514-1104.