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From product peddler to sales concierge Part II

Part 2

The housing crisis of the previous decade forced LBM dealers to cope in a multitude of ways. Among the many adaptations was the recognition that selling lumber alone would not satisfy profit objectives. In this second installment of the series on the “concierge” sales leader, I will describe the role of the modern salesperson as a product generalist who serves as the gateway to products and services within an organization.

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The best example of the product generalist serving as a concierge came during a sales call I observed with Jared, a star performer for an LBM dealer in America’s heartland. A sales call was going perfectly while he learned about a potential client’s business model. Jared asked the buyer at the exact right moment, “What problems are you having with your current lumber supplier?” I knew instantly there was a word added to the question which could hurt—i.e. lumber.

His timing was great, but the one word was wrong. The buyer quickly said, “There is no way you will get our lumber business. Our president’s best friend owns the lumberyard we currently buy from.” To his credit, Jared pulled out a line card, the powerful sales asset that lists all the products his company offers by category and brand.

The buyer, who happened to be the president of a large production builder, looked at the list and bluntly said, “We are not getting the support we need at all from our current window supplier. Tell me about your program.” The power of this moment is revealed by the sudden focus on a challenge important to the prospect. Predictably the conversation blossomed into a very real sales opportunity.

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The story got better when Jared noted he wasn’t the expert on windows, but would involve his product specialist. This enabled him to create a dialogue based not on product features and benefits, but instead on program development. He and the buyer discussed scheduling challenges, delays they were experiencing, options offered to the builder’s customers, and more. In short, it was a business development dialogue rather than a product pitch.

The story illuminates many ideas about the practices you can adopt as a modern Concierge Sales Leader.

Allow the client to direct you to the area of need. You might be an LBM dealer, but really you’re a BM (Building Materials) dealer with some L (Lumber) in the mix. Instead of presuming you should lead with lumber solely because it is your area of comfort and expertise, introduce your complete product line and allow the buyer to direct you to the area(s) of his or her biggest concern.

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Manage expectations first to build depth later. Competence wins. Buyers are loyal to companies that get the job done right. Your sales strategy should focus on managing delivery and service expectations of one product first. In Jared’s story, he discovered a communication glitch in scheduling and solved a problem that had nothing to do with window product features. He helped the client fulfill his most important objective—i.e. manage costs to increase profitability. The success of one product sale breeds opportunities to add other products later.

Focus on business development first. The true concierge invests time wisely. One salesman I worked with in the great state of Georgia had an assistant who complained that the salesman didn’t even know how to do a lumber take-off. I told the salesman and he said, “You didn’t correct him, did you?” In other words, he could do the take-off but realize his time was more valuable when spent on prospecting and business development. Just because you have the ability to handle the administrative task doesn’t mean you should.

The modern sales concierge is not a product expert first, but instead a business development expert. If you want to change your professional image, lead with a line card that illustrates your overall product and service capabilities. Then facilitate the dialogue that matters to your customers and act as the gateway to the services you can offer.

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