Tough Call: Bridging the Sales/Culture Gap

July Tough Call

What to do when your relationship-based sales reps collide with price-only buyers?

July Tough CallAs the second-generation owner of a company with four full-service yards, most of your operation is running better now than it has in your memory. Unlike many dealers, you don’t have any workers who are nearing retirement, and you’re having some success recruiting millennials, so you feel like you’re positioned about as well as possible to make the most of the current upturn—and to ride out the next, inevitable downturn.

Oddly, one of your biggest challenges is coming from George and Harold, your two top reps from your two highest producing yards. They have a lot in common. Both are in their late 40s, both have been with you for nearly 20 years, and both have been the top producer at their respective yards for the past decade. Lately, something’s changed. Instead of rising, or at least staying the same, their month-overmonth sales are declining. You’ve talked with the managers from their stores, and revenues for all of the salespeople other than George and Harold are up. From all indications, everything is fine…with the exception of their sales.

Only when you asked their managers to run spreadsheets of sales by customer did you see the problem. As your top salespeople in their stores, both George and Harold service some their locations’ biggest customers. While your top customers are still buying a lot—they’re buying less than they used to. Yet you happen to know that those builders all have more projects underway than they have in years. The question was, why are their sales down? The only ones who could answer were George and Harold, so you set up meetings with each one. Here’s what you learned:

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Your top salespeople are doing the same things that have brought them success for so many years: focusing on building a relationship with the buyers. As two of the most likable guys you know—and who are sincerely interested in helping their customers buy the right products at a fair price, George and Harold typically have no problems there. In fact, both salespeople had forged strong bonds with the long-time buyers with those builders. But those long-time buyers retired at the end of 2016. The new buyers, both in their mid-20s, have chosen to spread the buying out among more of your competitors. And neither George nor Harold can figure out what to do about it.

“It’s strange,” George said. “The new buyer is all about numbers. He doesn’t want to talk about quality, or warranties, or which products are engineered to work better together—which we know reduces callbacks.”

“It is exactly the same with my new buyer,” Harold echoed. “I used to have a good relationship with the former buyer. But this new guy is all business. I can’t figure him out, and don’t know what to do to get my sales back up.”

After talking about the situation with some other business owners, you’ve determined that the problem your salespeople are having is the same one many lumberyards have when trying to recruit millennials. There’s a big culture gap. The question is, how do you work with George and Harold to fix it before their sales drop any further?

1. Sales Training. You clearly need to find a sales trainer who focuses on selling to millennials, so George and Harold can learn to adapt.

2. Cut Prices. If the millennial buyers only want to talk price, then arm George and Harold with the prices they need to earn back the business.

3. Give it Time. Once their crews have problems with the other suppliers, the buyers will see the light, and their purchases will rebound.

4. Change Reps. If George and Harold aren’t connecting with the millennial buyers, then perhaps some of the younger salespeople on your team should be enlisted.


If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to

What would you do?

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Final results will appear in The Buzz section of the September 2017 issue.

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