Maybe you’re the lucky salesperson in the LBM industry who never has an emergency fire to extinguish at your branch. Perhaps your customers are so organized that orders are planned, placed, and delivered without a glitch. If that’s you, then skip this article.
Now that I have everyone’s attention…
In so-called normal times, it is easy to fix a mistake or omission to an order. Your customer calls, and you pull some goods from stock and make the quick-fix delivery. What you’ve found during the past two years is that a snap correction isn’t always possible. Product scarcity has created fluctuating prices during a time when demand is rising far beyond our capacity. In other words, it isn’t a time for salespeople to casually wait for customers to place last minute orders, and yet many still do!
Here are a few tips that I have shared with clients during these absurd times.
- Work backwards: You can’t plan a project as you used to. For example, windows that were ordered after framing had begun might now need to be in the works long before the lumber has even been ordered. The important question to be asked of the builder for each product you supply is, “When do you need it?” Instead of delivering lead times and hoping the builder keeps the chaos organized, a high-performance salesperson times orders accordingly so their customers can have the product on time. Start with the end in mind and work backwards to determine the deadline decisions on all products.
- Sweat the details: Get the order right the first time. This means slowing down and asking questions. Builders are notorious for dropping problems in the laps of salespeople and expecting them to figure out solutions, a practice that doesn’t work well for either party.
You owe it to your customers to slow them down, a practice which actually saves them time and money. The mistakes that were costly in past times are now exponentially more expensive today. Carpenters measure twice and cut once. Salespeople should read twice, review in detail with their customer, and then order once.
- Use existing emergencies to prevent the future ones: This is one of my favorite lessons to share with young salespeople and inside sales leaders. It is always obvious that we should do whatever is possible to fix an emergency transpiring in the moment. Afterward, the enlightened response is to let the builder know the implications of the problem…to themselves. If the problem is costing you dearly, and you might be part of a multi-billion-dollar organization, imagine the impact to a small volume builder working from a small office at home.
I confess my fear that people will read this article and feel it simply belabors the obvious problem. We’ve heard every aphorism there is about time management. Sweat the details. If you can’t find time to do it right the first time, you certainly won’t find time to do it again. Proper planning prevents problems. These commonsense punchlines, however clever, are not common practice.
Anybody can follow up after a problem is created. The best salespeople are the ones who eliminate problems before they occur.
Rick Davis, president of Building Leaders, is a premier sales trainer in the building materials industry. His latest book, Sales Economics: The Science of Selling, is now available at buildingleaders.com. Rick can be reached at email@example.com