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Salesmanship: Professional selling

by Warren Tyler

Sales are the most critical element to the success of any business. Nothing happens until the sale is made. Yes, merchandise is important, especially if it is unique, and marketing creates the desire for a company’s products, but all this can be trumped by a professional salesperson working for a competing company. One of my concerns with our industry is that the people who run retail groups are focusing more and more on marketing and less on selling skills.

In retail there are three critical questions salespeople have to ask themselves: Who is your customer? What do they want? and What is the value of my products? Suppliers selling to retailers need to ask the same questions. In listening, observing and reviewing the agendas of distributors and manufacturers, it is obvious they put far more emphasis on product development, marketing, organizational and operational issues. All of this is essential and, all things being equal, these elements of business will win. But the fact is, business is done on a personal level and people skills win every time.

The most efficient manufacturer with the most highly developed products will lose to a highly skilled salesperson representing an inferior company. Whether consumers, retailers or buyers, people buy from people they like.

The answers to the above questions are your customer is somebody’s father, mother, sister or brother and clients should be treated as if they were related to you. The secret to success in any field is the ability to give the same love and respect to others that lesser people reserve for only friends and family. Next, retailers want to be successful and the salesperson who can demonstrate the skills to help dealers become successful will always win. This can even mean recommending products they don’t carry. This last statement will drive supplier executives crazy, but they are demonstrating extreme naïveté. Lastly, the only value to retailers of any product is what it can con- tribute to their bottom line. That is the only added value.

Years ago I worked for Mohasco Industries representing Alexander Smith. This job was heaven because I had the opportunity to visit multiple stores every day and I also knew their business intimately. Smith, at the time was a leader in contract carpet, but its residential line left a lot to be desired. It didn’t take long for dealers to understand I knew their business, was concerned for their success and would do anything to help them achieve it. I became such a part of my dealers’ operation that I basically controlled the floor with owners following my advice on what to buy rather than listening to the other reps—such is the power of people skills. My dedication to them and their business was rewarded by becoming their principle supplier.

When LDBrinkman was the nation’s largest distributor, I was training its sales force. At one NAFCD convention, its president was telling his fellow distributors to attend my sessions because they were the most important of the convention— this was especially gratifying since Tom Peters was keynoting. During training at Self Distributors, the salespeople were so impressed they had me out until after midnight at some bar discussing sales skills before the next day’s sessions. One tidbit was that all territories had an account that every salesperson hated to call on—the owner was overbearing, self absorbed and rude. The advice? Once you develop the people skills to make this guy your best friend you will triple your sales.

What I teach is people skills. Without them you are just another businessperson floating in that vast sea of mediocrity.

Call me anytime.