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The Death of a Salesman?

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Dave Wilber

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Back to the inbox, as it is the sluice box that keeps on giving little nuggets. This one from the commercial world. 

"I'm really confused about this whole selling thing. I figured as an ex-superintendent, I would be treated fairly or at least with some respect. It's got me down and I just don't know what to do. Can you give me any advice"

I was fortunate enough to spend 7 years with Sierra Pacific Turf Supply as their Director of Agronomy and handling a sales territory as well. And of course, before and after that, I have been selling myself as a consultant.

The Sierra Pacific gig was difficult for me.  It was a lot of hours , enough phone time to cause brain cancer and many days of many miles. And every day, something new came into the mix. Don and Becky Naumann, the owners of SPTS, are amazing people and in hindsight, I didn't tell them that enough. I also got to work with Dean Kinney, an extraordinary sales manager whom I drove completely crazy with my idealistic turfheadism. And a team of 30 other unique and amazing employees. Again, in hindsight, I didn't tell them enough how awesome they were.

Even though the best salespeople in our industry are consultative in nature and approach, selling and consulting can be two vastly different things. A client wrote me an email once and told me what a shitty salesman I was, and in the same email told me how excellent I was at solving his problems and advising him. Total truth.

A client wrote me an email once and told me what a shitty salesman I was, and in the same email told me how excellent I was at solving his problems...

But I learned a lot. And I am happy to share what I think might help get and keep a commercial career on track and help with the transition from superintendent to commercial sales.

1. Your past is your past, leave it there. When you were a buyer, you were special. The Prom Date. And you got treated that way. Now you aren't a buyer. And so you won't get the same treatment you did when you were a Super. Let that shit go. You are doing this now, not that. I remember thinking, "Doesn't this person know who I am and what I have done?", as they were telling me how all salespeople are bottom feeders. The answer? No. It was up to me to hang in there, prove my worth and not take it personally. Thick skin. All that. You are here to do this now. Do it.

2. No matter what you do, no matter who you are, no matter what you are selling, there are some people who are not going to buy from you. When you figure out who that is, be nice and let them know that you will be happy to help them when they call you, but that you won't waste their time or yours in the interim.

3. Find your exclusives. Whatever you are repping, Iron, Pipe, Chems, your company should have access to something that no one else has. Or at least a large competitive advantage. Find it. Figure it out. Know it, how to demo it. This is your where you get to shine. If you are spending your time talking about and working with non-exclusive products, you are in big trouble. If the company you work for doesn't have exclusives, you may want to find a way out. You're going to starve.

4. Gross Profit is everything. Good companies are run on profits. They grow because they are profitable. Not because they just flow cash. You may think that you are tossing out big numbers, but if there isn't profit in those numbers, then its a bad move. Case in point. I got all excited about winning a big Ammonium Sulfate bid. Yay me. And the 50 tons of product that we had to handle and warehouse and deliver in batches ended up with us breaking even. Not so awesome. I could have done better with a 5 gallon pail of high quality Kelp Extract. Less gross dollars, but more total gross profit. Think about it.

Good companies are run on profits. They grow because they are profitable. Not because they just flow cash.

5. Keep the phone on. Your job  is to sell and service and the phone is your best friend. Keep it on. Answer as much as possible. Be available 24/7. You thought this being accessible thing was bad as a super, it's nothing compared to being a great rep. Nothing. Return the calls, return the texts, return the emails and don't procrastinate. Again, I learned this the hard way. Don't give a customer an excuse to look elsewhere.

6. Break-ups can lead to Make-ups. Client X makes you crazy. Friday and weekend deliveries of stuff that they "think" they may need on Monday. Always asking for freebies. "Forgets" you have an appointment. It's time to let them know that the breakup is happening. And here is the thing: they need you. They feel inferior or are insecure so making you jump over the moon is a rush for them. But when you hump 50 bags of Urea on a Sunday for an application that they "might wanna" make on Monday and that product is sitting there a week later, it's time to have a chat about why you are dating. A salesman much better than any of us once told me, "The takeaway is one of your biggest tools". I agree. You will too when they call you back. And if they don't, good riddance.

But when you hump 50 bags of Urea on a Sunday for an application that they 'might wanna' make on Monday and that product is sitting there a week later, it's time to have a chat about why you are dating.

7. Miserable people cannot make you a miserable person unless you let them. Eeyore the Super hates everyone and everything. The golfers are all assholes. His boss is a douchebag. Even the vehicle he drives sucks. This vampire will suck the wonderful life out of you if you let him. Be nice. Be quick. Handle the biz. Park down the road and look at pictures of baby animals and shake the stuff off. If you take it with you, you will become that person.

8. Your expense account is not to be abused. Once upon a time, it was customary for the salesperson to always grab the check. But that time is over. If you find yourself always picking up the tab, you are being abused. Plain and simple. There is nothing wrong with rotating the check pick-up or splitting the bill. Nothing. And if you aren't invited anymore, then you know why you were there in the first place. I know some reps who buy their way into opportunities and don't realize that they are spending a lot of money for a lot of maybes. There's nothing wrong with the occasional thank-you, but it can't be the reason you are around. That said, a couple dozen doughnuts or some other yummies dropped in the break room, or cooking some Carne Asada for the crew lunch is a worthy expense. One that I often footed out of my own pocket, and still do.

9. Knowledge is power. Learn. Every day. Be up to speed on everything in your world. Be a geek about it. Full on. With the Google Machine at your fingertips, it can lead you into a level of expert that makes for really good conversations. Along those lines, learn the competition. Know their offerings. This doesn't mean you get to run them down. It just means that you understand what is and what is not. If you are weak in any area, reach out to as many of the technical resources you need to until you are are sure that no one who comes in the door of whatever facility you visit is more up to speed than you. This is the heart of Consultative Selling. It's awesome being a resource, an expert. And it's also awesome when you teach someone how to really use what you offer and they stop asking about prices.

Learn. Every day. Be up to speed on everything in your world. Be a geek about it. Full on.

10. Some days just suck. Just like when you were growing grass, some days are glorious. And some days are total horseshit. I spent 4 hours stuck in traffic one day, only to finally get out of that mess and end up in the middle of a roadside fire started by an overheated RV. When my vehicle filled with smoke and everyone was driving the wrong way to run from the blaze, I walked into a Starbucks down the road, covered in ash and sat down and cried. I was determined that no one, on the face of the planet, could have it any worse. Guess what. They do. And guess what else, no one cares about your woes. You must dig deep to be in sales. And if you can't or won't or the magic is gone, do yourself and everyone else a favor and find another gig.

11. Be proud of your work. A while back, I wrote a blog post that was called, "Take the Dark Side and Shove it". You can read it here, about 35,000 other people did.  Along with some net spiders and bots. But what I was saying in that think space holds true today. Being a sales rep in the turfgrass industry is good and amazing work. Hard work. Not for the weak of soul or faint of heart. And if you find yourself in those shoes, be proud. And as I point out in that piece, everyone in every position in our business has to sell, something. 

You got this!

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OK, here are a few more:

1. McCormick’s 2-Step Path to Sales Success for Newbies:

  1. Don’t bullshit anybody. If you don’t know the answer to something, tell the customer you will find out and get back to him.
  2. Get back to him. Instant credibility. Cheap, simple and easy.

2. If calling on an account that hasn’t done much business with your company, don’t try to sell him a fleet of greensmowers (or the bulk of his EOP) for example) right off the bat. Sell him a string trimmer, flymo or sod cutter, and service the hell out of that. That’ll get your foot in the door.

3. After a significant order, send a handwritten thank you note. Does wonders for your stature with the customer.  And shepherd the order through fulfillment so support systems don’t drop the ball.

4. Don’t ignore the assistant and mechanic. They may have more sway with decision-making than might be apparent, and assistants move on to head supt positions.

Off the top of my head...

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As usual, spot on Dave.  As a consultant, I am still a salesman in the eyes of the client.  Even though I am selling myself, it is no different than if I am selling product.  Bullshit doesn't sell in the long run.  Find out what the client wants first, and secondarily what you think he or she needs.  The latter will follow if you do it right.  Well said.

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Dave & Peter,

Thank you for the advice.  After being a supt. for 36 years I am now in sales and hit some of those issues like a brick wall.

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