The Truth About Selling Steel

The Truth About Selling Steel: Sales Stories

From time to time Steel Market Update writes an article that seems to touch the collective nerve of the steel community. A number of our articles which we have published under the “Steel Buyers Basics” title fit in that category. The article we have shared with both our Steel Market Update members as well as those in our social media network, and is collecting the most comments and continuing on with a life of its own, is the one we published in late April 2014 entitled: “The Truth About Selling Steel: The First Sales Call” The response to that single article prompted us to add a new category on our website called: The Truth About Selling Steel which is focused on the steel sales side of the ledger. You can find the new sub-menu tab and past articles on the subject under the Resources section of our website.

We posted the article on our Blog and then went out to social media (Twitter and LinkedIn) and posted a link to the article and an open invitation for people to comment.

The subject of the article was personal in nature – John Packard’s experience learning how to qualify and to sell – and yet universal as each salesperson goes through the process of first, understanding, then believing in the product they are selling, and finally being able to truthfully represent both the product and their company to prospective buyers.

The postings prompted a number of responses and we thought it would be interesting to share some of them with our readers and the larger steel community.

“Truth about selling steel comes in many forms, at least that has been my experience(s), which have been many, and varied. First, the Sales Trainee(s); all from Ivy League Schools, all wore hats (in those days), and all were destined for Pittsburgh. Of the Trainees I worked with, one became President of a Cold Finish Bar Producer; one became the biggest clown in the office, and one went to Pittsburgh, and bankrupted the corporation. Next, there were the Order Takers, having seniority as their only asset. Then came the martini guys, who could drink their customers into submission. From corporate to warehouse; the talent was separated from the WASP (White Anglo Saxton Protestant) Schooled Professional, to the quick thinking, joke telling, knowledge handler, service oriented masters.

"The distribution level brought a whole new group of talents. The Flim-Flam Salesman, who could talk any customer into anything, cause he would not stop talking, and pestered the poor customer into submission. The High-Roller, who drove the best car, dined in the finest restaurants, and gained his business by impressing the customer. I knew one, who had a zoo in his back yard, it even included Lions and Tigers. The High-Roller often wore more jewelry than one store could own.

"Mixed in the middle, was the Sports Guy, who knew everything about every sport, but nothing about what he was selling, and he was not supposed to. Too much knowledge was not beneficial for the aims of the business. One customer was allowed to win every annual golf tournament; he never knew, he was the only participant. Another elected to sell by giving 'green stamp' points for purchases; points were redeemed for personal items selected by the purchaser.

"All, in all, there are many types of Professional Sales; the best book written by Alcoa in about 1960. Mostly, each individual had, and has to find their own level, of where they would like to operate. I found early, that a balance of knowledge, and whole hearted honesty, is the best way, not to be caught in an embarrassing situation by the customer. The customer is your customer, and sometimes friend, which you may enjoy all of your life (mine go back over 45 years). Sometimes, the customer is the adversary, demanding your best, out of yourself.

"Where I have dealt with most, if not all; rewards come when a customer request your aide, or remembers to call you after 25 years. For we are all in the same game, feeding the kids and paying the rent.” Dave Hancock

“Often sales people and buyers just do not tell the whole truth. Example a buyer says he has a price 20% lower, and that part is true, however either the material is import which they cannot use or the delivery time is too long to meet the needs. Or the salesperson has been given a delivery of 10-14 weeks and they advise the customer the delivery will be 10 weeks sure. The correct questions must be asked to issue a valid comparison.” Jerry Leneck

“I think there are few good steel salesmen around!!! I am now on the other side, and directing the procurement in my organization (as well as sales), with million $ metals raw materials purchases, and I am so unimpressed with the quality of sales people! Not only are the questions wrong that are asked, often there are no questions? Not the way I was taught!!!” James Terhune

“It's always great to hear stories from other salespeople and there are a couple of good ones in this dialog. As for lying - everyone has a 'tell'. If you study a person, you can observe it, but it takes time and quiet observation. Since I have no reason to lie, I usually close based on my sincerity. Do they lie to me? Well, I really don't care and don't believe it matters. I offer the best prices and service based on what information I can gather. Buyers have the right to negotiate, so I assume we will banter a bit and settle on a deal eventually or not. Ultimately, it's a numbers game - the more calls you make, the better your chances of increasing sales.” Deb Vlasak

“Lying doesn't get you far. You might gain an order or a chunk of business but it's very short lived. Reputation and trust are lost forever! Doing business with honesty and integrity has a much longer shelf life based on my experience.” Olena Turner

“Dinner with large metals buyer, at classy place with my wife and his fiance. Order for couple hundred grand, stainless and aluminum sheet, at bar, given on a bar napkin. Leaving in parking lot, the buyer tries more than a light kiss to say goodbye to my wife. I jumped over the car, and lifted him by his lapels, and said 'orders not big enough Pete!!!' We all laughed, my wife got mad/but got over it, and this became one of my largest customers!!! Still tell the story with friends, and my wife still gets mad!!!” James Terhune

We welcome your comments and stories of your own as we are finding that there are lots of fun incidents which happened in others lives that can be used in the process of educating younger salespeople and purchasing people. You can send your stories to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or feel free to add them to our LinkedIn group which is called: Steel Market Update.

If you are a LinkedIn member you are welcome to join our LinkedIn group which is conveniently called: Steel Market Update. To find our group just go to the search feature at the top of the LinkedIn page and put in our name. Click on the Steel Market Update group link that will come up and then, once there, click on the "Join" button. We also have a Twitter feed and the name we use on that is SMUsteel.