SMU Data and Models

The Truth About Selling Steel: Lead Generation

Written by John Packard

I recently had dinner with the owner of a Midwest based flat rolled steel service center. During the course of the conversation the subject of steel sales and, specifically, the development of new sales leads came up. I am sure this is a topic that many service center managers reflect upon on an almost daily basis. They wonder, as our dinner companion did, how do I get my sales team to bring in more “qualified” customers?

The discussion I had was centered on the frustration this particular service center owner had with a sales person who brought in an inquiry on a product which was not part of their direct portfolio of products sold into the marketplace.

From a sales persons perspective it was a solid inquiry for a product which fit into the generic category of products sold by that service center. In this case it was light gauge Galvalume and the company he represented was primarily focused on medium to heavy gauge hot dipped galvanized products. Another coated product and the company’s sources included Galvalume producers.

However, this distributor was not interested in competing in a market already flush with competitors (including mill direct).

The question being asked of me was did I know of anyone who could provide a list of the type of accounts that fit his company and that his sales people could then pursue?

My response was there are consultants out there who will do market research within industry segments for a price (and it could be quite expensive). However, lead generation is a major part of being a successful sales person.

In the old days (and I am dating myself here) you could buy Harris InfoSource International industrial guides (owned by D&B) which came as a hard cover book. The guides could be purchased by state and then the information was broken out in a variety of ways: by city, by SIC code (standard industrial classification), by product and in alphabetical order.  

Another popular source of information was the Thomas Industrial Guides (big green books) as well as the D&B credit rating books. I know the Thomas Guides are no longer published in book form but can be found under the byline online.

This information is now available online where, for a fee, you can purchase contact lists with company names, contact names, phone numbers and in some cases email addresses. I have not used these services so I cannot advise you if the information gathered is worth the time and expense. There are a number of lead generation companies out there that are essentially taking data which has been compiled (for example by Dunn & Bradstreet) or from various state agencies where you can stockpile a listing of leads.

As with many things, if you don’t know the correct questions to ask, then any information you generate could be nothing more than generic “stuff” without the meat needed in order to solicit the company’s business.

There are other ways to conduct a search for new business leads. I happen to be a believer in a the more personal approach to sales and sales research: attending conferences & expositions.

Based on my experience, having sold steel for 31 years, the first step would be to evaluate what your company does and does well, what products does the company sell on a regular basis, what products does your company have access to, what equipment does your company possess which can add value to base products, what are the core industries serviced by your company and does your company have core customers who would be willing to provide case studies as to how well your company performs?

Once you have a guide as to what business your company currently supports and does well then you can begin to dig for leads.

o    By industry: In my opinion the easiest way to be successful is to build on the company’s prior successes. If your company is actively selling to the automotive industry then you want to spend your time researching like type companies within the geographical footprint your company is able to service.
o    Similar Industries & Products: If your company does a good job servicing a company that is building electrical junction boxes then you should look at other types of metal enclosures (appliance, construction products, tool boxes, transportation equipment, etc.)
o    Through recommendations: a happy customer will sometimes recommend another company that should be a customer of your company. Don’t forget to ask for leads.

I am a big believer in networking and one of the best places to network is through industry events (such as our Steel Summit Conference but also industry events such as Metalcon for the metal building, roofing and siding industry or the National Coil Coaters Association for those involved with painted steel). Each industry has at least one group of like companies to deal with industry issues.

While attending industry related events, many times you may come across niche players (products or product changes) which would not normally be on your radar screen.

When working a trade show, the biggest issue I see as I walk the floors is the lack of interaction between sales people and potential customers. You want to dig in and find out what kinds of materials are being used to manufacture products, where the steel buyers are located, name and phone numbers/email addresses, etc.

Once you get company information, as well as any information you can glean regarding the steel buyer(s), then you begin the qualification process of selling.

We offer a full sales training program where we cover these and many other subjects. At the moment the SMU Sales Training workshop is only being offered on a company specific basis (custom program). However, we would be interested in conducting a service center program if there are enough smaller distributors, or those who only need to send a couple of people at a time, interested in the concept. If you (or your company) is interested in learning more please contact us at: or at 800-432-3475. We also have some information online under the Events tab on our website.

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