Fable Friday and Corrugated Boxes

Back in the 80’s, I took a job as National Sales Manager for a manufacturing firm.  We had to buy extruded plastic from another manufacturer, so one day I found myself calling on them to agree on product price and quantity for the following year, and in today’s Fable Friday I’ll share with you an important lesson I learned that day.

I had come from ten years in commercial banking, and I automatically made a judgment about the success of my supplier just by observing the plant and facilities, how modern and well-maintained everything was.  I said to the President of this large family-owned business, “You’re obviously very successful. I bet the local banks are calling on you all the time trying to win your business.”

He said, “Oh, those bankers!  They’re as stupid as the corrugated box salesmen who come in here all the time.”

This hit me like a punch in the stomach because for one, I always thought of myself as a banker and not a stupid one, and for another, he had described the ultimate commodity sales job. You see, anyone who ships a product has to buy corrugated, and there are many suppliers.  Corrugated is so common that it is bought by the thousand-weight, and many buyers will select a different provider on each order, just for a few dollars difference in price. It is very hard to differentiate yourself when you sell corrugated boxes, and that’s how this guy saw all us bankers.

Since that day I’ve learned a lot about how to differentiate myself when I sell, so that very early in the call I offer something to my prospect or client that resonates and gets me engaged in a dynamic conversation right away.  There are a number of ways you can do this, but here are two quick suggestions you can use immediately.

First, make sure you have some piece of information about your prospect’s industry and its trends that will either be interesting and relevant news, or demonstrate that you know his business.

“It looks like the current administration will push for some helpful tax breaks for capital expenditures in 2012, and it’s about time.  As manufacturing is a capital-intensive business, how is that affecting your planning for machinery purchases next year?”

Second, make sure you phrase your discovery questions in a consultative and business-like way.  Never say to a prospect, “What keeps you up at night?”  He’s heard it so many times before and will think it’s artificial and unimaginative. Instead, try saying the same thing in a more polished way,

“As strong as your planning is, two areas are always uncertain, next year’s economic situation and how the market will respond.  What concerns do you have about either?”

You know you scored on a call when your prospect has learned something valuable from you or about you.  You’ll always win when you

Think Like Your Customer!

Note to Sales Managers:  Coach your salespeople by asking them 1) What do you expect your prospect to learn from you on this call? 2)  What are the questions you intend to ask so we can try to make them as sharp as possible?

 My next newsletter will go out on Tuesday July 12th.  You can sign up for it by clicking on the ActionSystems website link to the right, and then once on the site just click the “N” (top right) for newsletter and follow the prompt.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July weekend!  Gregory

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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