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If quoting isn’t selling, what is?

Bill Lee

Last month I wrote that quoting prices on initial sales calls is illogical and ill timed. On your first several sales calls, the objective is to earn trust and respect. I don’t believe either trust or respect are achieved by quoting prices. Quoting low-ball prices actually hurts you because savvy builders usually know when you are trying to “buy” an order.

Salespeople who open conversation by leap-frogging the specificity involved in a sale as complicated as building a house are overlooking the key obstacle to achieving a win-win between supplier and builder.

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I see this obstacle as a combination of relationship and trust. It takes time to build relationships. This is the reason why I designed the Six-Step Prospecting Process. It’s no accident that pricing is rarely discussed until near the end of the process.

Insightful, gross margin-minded salespeople will resist quoting prices until they are convinced their prospects have satisfied their concerns that are more important purchasing criteria than the price. Think about it: what is the benefit of buying below the market when the material you bought is not on the job when the subs arrive?

Salespeople don’t always realize how valuable services can be to home builders. Depending on the size of the jobs their builder customers manage, salespeople are frequently the builders’ eyes and ears to the outside world. Many builders rely upon supplier salespeople to stay abreast of new products, new construction techniques, and in many cases their supplier salesperson is one of their builders’ key resources for dependable subcontractors.

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But make no mistake: through an incentive compensation plan, most salespeople are dependent on making sales to earn their living. It’s one thing to have high economic values and thus be highly motivated by an impressive income, but it’s another thing altogether to allow greed to let customer care take a backseat to income.

When nine out of 10 salespeople are hired, they are taught product knowledge. They may even be taught how to do a blueprint takeoff, but it is rare that they are taught the principles of selling, how to deal with price objections and how to prospect for new business. Selling building materials is a complicated business, so especially in the first few years of selling, using price as a marketing tool is frequently all a rookie salesperson knows to do to get an order.

Servant salespeople don’t dwell on their own accomplishments as much as they dwell on the successes their customers have achieved. The words servants use are unique to their mentality. Here are some examples:

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Example 1:

Supervisor: “Philip, would you mind going over to Acme Supply Co. and picking up the special order millwork we ordered for the Underwood job?”

Employee: “I would be happy to.” (If you’re going to do something for someone, do it cheerfully.)

Example 2:

Builder: “Hey Mike, about half the screens for those windows you ordered for us are missing and I promised the homeowner we would have those missing screens on the job by tomorrow at noon. Can you make that happen for me?

Sales Rep. (Right Answer): “Yes sir. I can do that. If I get the screens to the job by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, will that work for you?”

Sales Rep. (Wrong Answer): “I have a golf match with a buddy of mine tomorrow morning that I have had set up for two weeks. How would it work for you if I get them out there by day after tomorrow?”

A servant mentality is a powerful selling tool (more on that next month). Servants not only enjoy servicing their customers, they equally enjoy pleasing the people they serve.

Bill Lee is a respected sales and business consultant in the LBM industry. For more information, contact Bill at

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