SMU Data and Models

The Truth about Selling Steel: Humility

Written by John Packard

I was reminded by an incident that recently happened to me outside of the steel industry that the hardest lesson for a salesperson to learn is humility.

Most salespeople work very hard and understand that they exist within a very competitive industry. There are other salespeople out there competing for the same business and pitching their company’s products to the same buyers with whom others are already working.

The steel industry has always been a relationship business. Steel buyers want to feel comfortable that the business they conduct with a company is going to be serviced properly and that through the salesperson they have a conduit into the company to address any issues that might arise.

Essentially, buyers do not want to complicate their lives and livelihoods by relying on sales entities with whom they feel uncomfortable and who do not have a proven track record in servicing their needs.

This is one of the reasons why it can be very difficult to break into a new account. There has to be time and energy invested in developing the trust needed between the client (represented by the buyer) and the supplier (represented by the salesperson).

Over time relationships do develop and the salespeople who go about nourishing these relationships will begin to do actual business. Prices are quoted, negotiated and business is placed and the orders are serviced.

End of story – right?

What is important to remember is the business that is being placed is at the whim of the steel buyer and their company. Sales people need to be very careful that they do not fall into the trap of thinking that they (or their company) are entitled to the business or guaranteed the last look at a competitor’s pricing.

Every new account sold was previously the account of someone else. That account is always vulnerable to solicitation by your competition and a sales person’s failure to understand that dynamic is doomed to have a Traumatic Sales Experience.

The Traumatic Sales Experience is when the salesperson discovers that this is business and the steel buyer is not their buddy!

Nurture your business relationships, service your accounts, get to know what direction your clients are heading so you can anticipate their needs and try to expand your relationships beyond the buyer if possible.

Each day should begin with an awareness that today may be the day when you may lose an order; it may be the day you lose an account. Disappointing as it may be it is the reality of being a sales person.

Enjoy your success, save for a rainy day (as it will come) and be humble to the possibility that others out there are working to take your accounts away from you (just as you should be working to take business from your competitors).

I have seen sales people literally throw temper tantrums when the deal didn’t go their way. In this day of social media, don’t be so foolish to think that taking out your frustrations in writing will ever help you win customers or build lasting relationships with new accounts.

Social media can be a tremendous tool in promoting your brand, developing a reputation of being well-informed and trustworthy and it may provide you the opportunity to get inside the walls of a seemingly closed-minded buyer.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that social media is the place to vent frustrations – even if you believe the audience to be small or not related to your customers. Filter, filter, and filter any posts that you might make that could be interpreted as being negative either to you, your company or any customer (or potential customer). The Tramatic Sales Experience can be exacerbated by the use of social media.

It may sound illogical, but I have already seen (outside the steel industry) frustrated sales people question the actions of their clients (or past clients) on blog posts. In doing so they open themselves up for criticism and they damage their reputations as trustworthy individuals.

Be humble in your actions. Learn from your mistakes as well as from the talents of your competition.

Don’t ever think that you are entitled to a company’s business as there are always choices.

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