How to Become a Succesful Steel Salesman or Company
Prior to becoming the Publisher and Founder of Steel Market Update, I sold flat rolled steel for 31 years. You can learn more about my background in the About Us section of our website. I began my career “pounding the phones” as it was known then, which actually in the late 1970’s was a radical approach to the mainline and old school service centers that used the “route” approach. The route approach was having a salesman in the territory who visited the customer base on a daily basis and either collected the purchase orders during his rounds (and in the 70’s it was almost always a male salesperson) or having the orders called in to the inside support staff.
Through the use of the phones companies found they could blanket a territory in a much shorter time, expand the amount of territory a salesperson could handle (thus increasing productivity), limit the size of the inside support staff and arrange quick targeted visits to buying or potential clients with much less wasted time.
The idea worked in the 1970’s, 1980’s and into the early 1990’s. What I found during this period of time was you could only be moderately successful pounding the phones and occasionally meeting the clients. By the 1990’s steel buyers were becoming more sophisticated working in concert with their engineers and higher management as they attempted to take “costs” out of the products being manufactured.
To be successful a salesman – at least at the upper end of the value food chain – had to become well versed in the ASTM standards for the products being sold and was better suited to visit customers in concert with their own metallurgist or one from a steel mill which normally was involved in the business.
Technical expertise and selling steel “to make the part” became all important.
In order to do that the salesperson and company management had to understand the changes which were occurring at the domestic (and foreign) steel mills. The expansion of vacuum degassing and continuous caste steels brought about more uniform steels with lower carbon content – which, if controlled, resulted in more formable steels.
There were other changes occurring in the marketplace. Mills were adjusting the look and feel of their products. A good example is Wheeling-Pittsburgh used to be known for their “Softite” brand. In reality what WP did was post anneal their full hard cold rolled creating very “soft” and formable galvanized steel.
Wheeling-Pittsburgh decided to change their pot chemistry and remove the lead from the pot. It was the trace amounts of lead in the zinc pot which produced the large “flower” or spangle we used to see on galvanized sheet steel. When the lead was removed and no other product such as antimony is not introduced in its place the mill began running “spangle free” or a very minimized flower pattern which the HVAC customers did not like.
Being in sales at the time it was important to be able to do one of two things if you were servicing markets used to receiving a regular spangle or large spangle (large flower) material. You had to either find another supplier which could produce the larger spangle – or an acceptable spangle. Or, you had to convert the customers to a minimized or spangle free product.
If, as a salesperson (or management of the company supplying the HVAC markets) and you were not well educated as to the various mills and their production techniques you found your options limited and we saw many companies actually forced to leave the market. Those companies who did understand how to deal with the issues related to spangle as well as formability were able to grow their HVAC business.
During my career I learned how important it is to keep abreast of the changes occurring within the industry – not only with my customers but at the steel mills as well.
This is one of the main reasons why Steel Market Update partnered with Iron Angels of Colorado and brought on John Eckstein (Severstal NA engineer/metallurgist recently retired), Steve Painter (Regional Sales Manager Severstal NA just retired) and Lou Colatriano (President-Long Products – Steel Development Company) to create Steel 101: An Introduction to the Making & Rolling of Steel. Combined our instructors have over 200 years of experience actively involved in the steel industry.
You can find our more regarding Steel 101 on our website by clicking on this LINK.
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