My Greatest Sale: ‘Don’t try to kid me – soap is soap’
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My Greatest Sale: ‘Don’t try to kid me – soap is soap’

Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople closed the deal despite sales objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. Ernie Torres, a Sales Manager for Greenwich Bay Trading Co. of Raleigh, NC, tells how he made a sale to a customer who thought price was the only thing that mattered.

The scene in the prospect’s office was daunting. Competitors’ samples were scattered all over his desk. I knew them all, knew all their prices. And I knew my price was the highest.

We supply toiletries to hotels – and most of our buyers considered these products commodities. “Soap, shampoo, lotion – it’s all pretty much the same,” the purchasing manager told me. “Of course we want high quality, but frankly there are dozens of suppliers who can meet our specs. Just submit a bid.”

I knew I’d lose a bidding war. Though the purchasing manager made it clear that he couldn’t care less about our superior service or anything other than price, I had to find a way to break out of the pack and establish value.

What’s changing?
I decided to look at what was changing at the customer, because I figured change might create an opening for us.

I asked tons of questions, and identified two areas of change:

First, the hotel chain was making a strategic shift to target more upscale customers. As part of that effort, the company was developing a new logo, redesigning its rooms – and creating high-end packaging for its toiletries, prominently featuring the company’s brand.

Second, the company was taking a much more aggressive approach to cash flow. That meant they were cutting inventory to the bone and asking for weekly deliveries.

Hmm. Custom packaging and low inventories. Each strategy posed a risk, and implementing both at once could blow up in the customer’s face. That could create an opening for me – if I were prepared.

Waited for my chance
I kept in touch with the purchasing agent, but toiletries were at the bottom of his priority list. He’d found an overseas supplier with rock-bottom prices. That was all he needed to know.

Until one day, when toiletries suddenly rose to the top of his list. It was just before the busy Fourth of July weekend. And he was out of soap.

Management had planned to debut its new look in June, but had hit a snag: Top execs nixed the new logo and it had to be redone. Meanwhile purchasing hadn’t reordered, thinking the new packaging would be ready in time. Now they were stuck.

I got a frantic phone call asking if I could help out.

Emergency help
Their current supplier was no help. Their overseas operations required three months’ lead time. Normally, we can turn around jobs in two weeks. But I’d already told my management that we might have to do a rush job to win this account, and they were on board. So when the call came, I was ready.

“We can get what you need in two days,” I said. And then I really bowled him over. “And we can put your new logo on all the packaging.”

“I guess soap isn’t just soap after all,” the purchasing agent said. We got the job, of course. And we also got the account.

photo credit: jm3

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