Experience can earn trust and win the sale

The age old question: Is it easier to teach someone to sell or teach someone about the product and company selling the product? I talk to a lot of heads of sales, and often I hear them opting to hire proven sales professionals with a history of exceeding quota and then teaching them the product or service. This makes sense unless your customers expect otherwise. I was reminded of this fact in a conversation with Terry from Nucor Steel. We met at a social engagement and started talking shop. He sold steel so I had to ask more. What does that really mean? He told me he worked in Manhattan and sold mostly rebar used in construction. I pictured the steel bars about the thickness of my finger but Terry quickly corrected me.

“That’s not the steel you build with in New York City” he explained and started telling me he was selling #11s and sometimes up to #20s. Not being from the industry, I needed more details. He told me a #11 is 1 ¾ inches thick and can be 60 feet long. My eyes must have gotten big because he went on to describe the #20’s he was currently sourcing for a client that had to be in stainless steel so there was no chance of it rusting when encased in concrete. My next question, “How much did those cost?” He replied, “$8,000 a ton.” That is when I realized these were not small sales. In fact, anything under 50 tons or nearly a half million dollars is considered a small job.

My next question, “Terry, how did you learn about steel?” The answer surprised me. Prior to joining Nucor, Terry had been an iron worker. He could list famous addresses one right after another that that he helped build, creating many iconic buildings that tower through the skyline of that city.

Nucor realized the credibility a sales person with this experience brings to the interaction with buyers. Terry gets involved early in the building process when he can help the architects and engineers scope requirements and ensure they are choosing steel that won’t slow down the iron workers during the building process. This was a case when teaching Terry to sell was the best move for Nucor.

After training him, he started on the small jobs, those 50 ton or so orders. He built a strong base of customers quickly in that market with his consultative approach and his advocacy for the small guy. He still services those clients but has been promoted to the “bread and butter” deals, as he calls them. Now, he is selling deal famous addresses like 1 Trade Center, which require a thousand tons of steel rebar.

This is an industry where clients made it very clear they needed to work with a sales person with an intimate knowledge of the industry and products. The customer is the best one to tell you the skills and talents they expect in the sales professional they will invite into their office and solicit advice.

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photo by Beige Alert

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