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From product peddler to sales concierge

Part  1

A funny thing happened on the way to the world of the modern LBM Dealer. The role of the salesperson evolved and, much like the proverbial frog in boiling water who didn’t realize the temperature was rising and eventually died, many salespeople have not noticed the shift. In my first three columns as the contributing sales editor for LBM Journal, I will explore how the role of the salesperson is evolving from an old school product peddler to look more like a concierge.

You know the concierge. She is the person at the hotel who helps you get what you need. She doesn’t cook your meal, drive you to the theater matinee, or escort you to the nearby park to rent bicycles. Instead, she facilitates a conversation between you and qualified service providers. A modern salesperson doesn’t need to be the blueprint reader, proposal writer, order taker, delivery person, and service technician. Instead, the modern salesperson should behave like a “sales concierge.”

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Take Sandra, a star salesperson in the Great Plains of the country. I first met her after she had built a book of business nearly twice the industry average. Not surprisingly, she complained she could do nothing to increase her sales volume. Like so many salespeople, she believed there was no time left in the day to grow new business because she was so busy serving her existing customers.

A single coaching session changed everything. Instead of trying to write every order, she was instructed to record a new answering message on her phone that included the single phrase which changed her career, “…if you are calling to place an order, please feel free to call the branch desk and place it directly.”

The results were significant. Her phone rang less as buyers phoned in orders. Her sales started to rise because she had more time for business development conversations and follow up with referral prospects. Her customers later told her they thought she wanted to take orders directly, but were happy to phone them into the branch. She discovered other tasks could be successfully delegated to benefit everyone in the supply chain. A half year later, her monthly sales doubled and she enjoyed three record months of sales in a row.

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This case study reveals the power of concierge sales leadership. The best sales leaders recognize several keys to effective team management of customer relationships.

1. Share relationship ownership The idea that the salesperson owns the customer relationship passed many years ago. LBM dealers have tried many times to hire salespeople from competitors only to discover that promises to bring large books of business along usually fail. This proves the salesperson doesn’t exclusively own the relationship. It must be administered cooperatively. The concierge shares information freely about customers and prospects while delegating tasks to the team because it’s the right thing to do for the salesperson and customers alike.

2. Schedule regular huddles Traditional communication for many LBM salespeople means treating inside salespeople as if they are sitting around twiddling their thumbs while waiting for the phone to ring. The traditional outside LBM salesperson calls in orders, lights emergency fires for others to extinguish, and dumps tasks on inside salespeople with constant ASAP requests. The concierge schedules huddles to discuss the week of work, situations with customers, and the priority of tasks to be completed as a team. This cooperation produces pricing consistency, fewer emergencies, better service levels, higher profitability, and unbreakable customer loyalty.

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3. Use problems to fix the future This is a favorite tactic of mine because it removes the persistent feeling of victimization from the equation. Every fire, emergency and mistake provides an opportunity for review and performance improvement. The concierge uses problems as focal discussion points during huddles to avoid them in the future. If you own the relationship, you are limited by the amount of work you can do. If you share it with your sales partners, your success is limited only by the number of people you engage and the quality of communication you establish as a team.

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