Editor’s Note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople made a challenging sale despite price objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. In this Greatest Sale, John Zielke, Regional Sales Manager, Akzo Nobel Coatings in Troy, MI, recalls an early sale that taught him a valuable lesson about the dangers of complacency:
My greatest sale came early in my career when I was selling for a small lumberyard.
I desperately wanted to do business with a local tract-home builder, but it looked hopeless. The builder already had a lumber supplier – a $100 million building materials company owned by someone in his family.
The builder was blunt. “Family is family. Besides, your company only does $7 million in sales. I buy a lot of lumber, and I don’t think you have the capacity we need.”
Took the job they didn’t want
“I understand your concerns,” I told the builder. “Maybe we’d be better suited to a smaller project, where we could provide more personal attention.”
“Well, as a matter of fact we did just take on a remodeling job,” the builder said. “If you want to bid on it, go ahead.”
I knew my competitor was geared up to do a volume business, so I didn’t think they’d fight very hard for a high-maintenance, low-volume remodeling job. I was right.
I submitted an aggressive bid, and our competitor almost seemed relieved when we got the business. After all, we couldn’t possibly pose a threat to them, right?
For me, the real value of that small deal was the opportunity to be in daily contact with the customer and showcase our service. All of the things that made the project unappealing to the volume supplier – the constant change orders, the need to schedule and reschedule multiple small deliveries – worked in my favor.
I was in constant contact with the builder, the crew and the architect. And one day I noticed something disturbing. The builder had specified the type of framing that he used on his tract homes. But it really wasn’t suitable for this high-end, custom job.
I met with the architect and suggested some changes that would help meet the homeowner’s expectations without adding cost. The architect was impressed and adopted my ideas. Word got back to the customer. Next thing I knew, we were being treated like family too. We got invited to the office Christmas party. And the builder’s staff started seeing us as their go-to guys whenever they had problems or special requirements.
Caught them napping
I guess my competitor never took us seriously, because they just kept going about their business the same old way.
But the builder sure noticed.
One day, he told me that he was about to get started on a condo – a huge project and exactly the kind of work we wanted. He said, “I want you to bid on this job. And if you get close enough, we’ll give it to you.”
We did, and they did.
It felt great to win against a competitor who’d started out with so many advantages. It showed me that great service can trump size or connections. And this sale reminds me never to become complacent about my accounts – no matter how solid I think they are.
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