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Olsen on Sales: Selling Without the Wood

How can I sell when I can’t find anything to sell much less what my customers are looking for? This is the number one comment from my students (since about March of 2020) when we talk about challenges.

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How can I sell when I can’t find anything to sell much less what my customers are looking for? This is the number one comment from my students (since about March of 2020) when we talk about challenges.

Selling Without the Ball

In basketball there are players that have to have the ball in their hands to make an impact on the game. They can be great players, but they also can limit other players because they need to have the ball so much. There are other players who can impact the game with or without the ball in their hands. They get rebounds, steals, assists, put-backs, hand—heaven forbid—play defense. They impact the game without having the ball. These players are almost always better than their ball-dominant counterparts, more fun to be a teammate with, and have more impact on the team game of basketball.

Sales can be the same way. Many sellers have to have a physical product to sell before they can sell it. Master Sellers sell ideas, markets and future product that has not yet arrived; they sell without the ball.

Pulling Firm Offers vs. Chasing Inquiry

As salespeople in the lumber market, it is absolutely necessary that we know how to get our customers to give us Firm Offers. The worst Firm Offer in the world is better than the best Inquiry. Chasing Inquiry is one of the most time consuming, least profitable things we do as sellers. Pulling Firm Offers from customers is important for success as a salesperson, but especially in markets where supply is tight.

Pulling a Firm without the Wood

When there is no wood readily available, we take print + freight + profit = and quote the customer a number that we think is possible.

Us: “Good morning Sue. 2×4 #2 16’s are super tight right now. We last sold at $950/MBF on those two weeks ago. We’ve got enough in your inventory to last until the end of February, but mill shipments are out to mid-March.  We would have to pay $1250/MBF out of distribution, so I think we should make an offer at $1125 on three trucks to take care of March. Can you give those to me firm for two days?” (In super-tight markets we need time to find the wood).

Sue: “You mean you don’t own it? Why don’t you go find it and come back to me with your best deal?”

Us: “Sue, I’d love to, but that strategy just isn’t working in our current market. By the time I find it and hang up, call or email you, wait for you to get back to me, the wood will be gone. Heck, the wood will be gone the second I hang up with the mill, which is why I need a firm number from you, so I can pounce on it when I see it. Even if my company buys the wood on that call, by the time I get back to you one of my co-workers will have the wood sold, because they are getting Firm Offers from their customers also. That is the strategy that is working in today’s crazy market. So, can you give me a firm for two days, on three trucks of 2×4 16’s for mid-March shipment?”

Sue: “Why do you need two days?!”

Us: “I have 10 co-workers who are pounding the phones looking for wood all day every day. Trying to get a mill to cover an inquiry is a loser. Hitting them with Firm Offers has a chance. That’s why I need it firm for a couple days. So, can I have them firm?”

Sue: “Yes. Keep me up to date on what happens.”

Pulling a Firm in Down Markets

Let’s say the market on 2×4 has run from $800 to $950/MBF and has stalled out.  Our customers don’t want to buy at the top, but they still need wood for the future.

Us: “John, the market into us today is hovering at $950.  Customers are taking a break but will be back in soon. Why don’t we hit a couple mills firm at $905 for March shipment and see what they will take?”

As markets change, Master Sellers change with them to sell more.