Are Traditional Salespeople a Dying Breed?

Christina Lewellen
June 5, 2013
THE TALK...

I know without a doubt that we are a different industry today than we were just six or seven years ago. When I started with the magazine a decade ago, I remember thinking how impressive the really good salespeople were. There was so much information to learn, so many products to embrace and so many different types of customers to approach. These window and door warriors had challenges to combat, not the least of which was educating their consumers not to be wooed by the "fly by night" folks operating in the marketplace.

Today, I'd venture to guess that sales in the window and door industry are even more challenging thanks to the economic shift, continued price pressure, and the fact that windows and doors can be purchased–or at the very least, researched–online. In fact, I received an email last week from a long-time friend who shared with me, "I have spent so much time educating inspectors, architects, builders, etc., that I may have educated myself out of a job." I guess this is the unfortunate downside to teaching a man to fish.

What say you, Window & Door readers: are good, educated sales folk going extinct? Are customers becoming too focused on price to listen to a more traditional sales presentation? Are customers finding all the information they need on the web?  If so, what can we do to reverse these trends? Send me an email or post a comment to share your thoughts.

Survey Results as of 06/11/2013:

 

From my perspective, good, well-educated salespeople are becoming:

More important to customers

  

 

67%

 

Less important to customers

  

 

17%

 

I don't see much change.

  

 

16%

 

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.

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I agree that "budget" is always an important factor and, with the realignment of the construction industry in the past few years, clients have become far more aggressive in trying to drive the best bargain possible. However I disagree that price is the only thing they care about. In some cases price is the "only" consideration but that is with clients that do not care about what they are buying and this is going to be at the very bottom of the market and I don't want to have anything to do with that client.

Most clients want the best value for their money - in their budget. It's going to come down to whatever the client can afford but there are factors that are important to them and as I tell people, if you buy the cheapest window you will get the cheapest window. Nobody intentionally wants to buy something that they know is going to fail, especially if it is integral to the structure.

The internet does allow people to think they are instant experts and I love an educated client because they really care about what they are buying, but what we bring to the table as experts is the long term experience with the unexpected and "inside" industry knowledge. Every company on the internet says they are the very best at whatever they do and may or may not spend a lot of money on their website, but we know what manufacturers actually perform. What products are really best in different conditions. Who really stands behind their warranty and who doesn't? What's the history of the company? In the past few years we have seen tremendous turbulence in the industry and many companies are gone, others decided to not stand behind warranties they previously did. How well do the windows actually operate in real world conditions?

We are fortunate to be at the very top of the market and many of our projects are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and the price discussion is still a hard driven bargain. But I recently had a client who wasn't willing to spend more than $400,000 come in to see in person a product they weren't previously aware of and they said "This is what I have to have in my project" and the budget went up $100,000 on that meeting.

A really professional salesperson with all the right tools and expertise is more valued than ever before. If you are playing only on price, you have no value.

Ken Sandlin
Sunex International Inc
South Florida

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The biggest issue with them doing online research is that the customer is then faced with unmet expectations. Those who are doing the online surfing are generally not told, or explained the differences in the installation and ultimately the differences, however subtle, between windows. I have seen, and purchased, items online only to find that they were not as I viewed or expected. I appreciate a customer who has researched a windows(s) before I meet with them, but they still generally have questions. There are those whom, when I meet with them, believe they know everything about the windows and just want a price. Obviously price is always a concern, but so is a quality install and window to go along with that price. If I were to show you a picture of a car, but all you were able to see were the windows,however, the body an all else were covered, and I told you the car was $10000 would you buy it? Many folks are getting prices knowing only the peripheral information, and not the entire story. My main focus with a customer is related to one question, "how many times do you want to do this project?"

Very interesting topic Christina. My experience in the last 12 years in this business is that no matter how detailed you are in your sales presentation or how good your products are , at the end of the day pricing is what is driving decisions. I particularly have developed my own way of doing glazing estimates looking to provide the customer with the biggest amount of information, education and decision making tools and I ended up being used as a reliable source of information just to make sure the scope of work is covered, but the contracts always go to the subcontractor who is willing to do the project for the less amount of money even with no profit. Loyalty to a good product or a good supplier is not common in today's economy and I'm been debating about what else a salesman can do about it. Communications technology is killing human relations. You work really hard pursuing a project for a year or more just sending information, quotations, studies, estimates, product approvals, certifications, CAD details, pictures, custom design system drawings and analisys by e-mail, even samples by mail and you just have the chance to see the faces of the people making decisions in the last minute meeting before decision making is done, if, you were lucky enough to be short-listed, and that meeting is actually to evaulate if you covered the whole scope of work, if you have a bonding company behind you and if you can do it for the budget they assigned. I call that a bloody negotiation if you are lucky enough to walk away with the project. You are right, times have changed and sales strategies will have to change accordingly too.

I totally agree with you that price driven conversations are being more previlent but not the norm. in this economy window manufacturers like to align themselves with suppliers that they trust, suppliers that are stable in their foundation and suppliers that have innovative products and services. I visited one customer with our US rep and the customer said right at the beginning of the meeting "the only reason you are here is because of your rep". Wow it is still about relationships and thank goodness our rep has a reputation and great relationships built up. It's a tough economy out there still so price driven, low cost & no margin suppliers can have an impact but the traditional, well known & trustworthy sales people are still well grounded in success.

Doug Young, Accounts Manager
Millcraft Systems Inc.