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Olsen on Sales: The Power of Suggestion

MANY SELLERS who call themselves “relationship sellers” are really in a “master/servant” relationship with their customers. These sellers are raised by non-salespeople who were the customer their whole lives.

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MANY SELLERS who call themselves “relationship sellers” are really in a “master/servant” relationship with their customers. These sellers are raised by non-salespeople who were the customer their whole lives. And what did these parents/lifetime customers teach their children? “The customer is always right!” I would amend that to “The customer isn’t always right, but they are always a partner and should be treated as such.”

The number one fear of sellers is the fear of being too pushy. Is being too pushy a sales mistake? Absolutely. Overcoming objections is one of the highest selling skill that is delicate and fraught with not a small amount of danger. A student of mine said, “Overcoming objections is hard because it feels like arguing.” I told her, “It feels like arguing because you are not comfortable when you do it, which in turn makes the customer uncomfortable.”

Hustle & Service

When we are new in the industry it is difficult to use the power of suggestion because we don’t know enough to suggest much. In this stage of our relationship (building) with customers, we hustle for them and do our best to cover their specifications.

Many sellers stop developing their sales skills after learning to “hustle and serve.” Some of these salespeople are wildly successful; most of them are charismatic, “charm” sellers. I tell these sellers, “You are going to be successful in sales because you are so charismatic. You don’t have to do a lot of the things I am teaching you, but if you do add these tools to your arsenal, your success will happen faster and bigger.”

I also tell my students, “If you are Mr. or Mrs. Charisma, good for you. In my experience, the “charisma sellers” are about one in 40. So, statistically speaking, you need to work on your sales technique.”

Hustle and service are very important to succeed in sales, but they are just two of the tools available for us to bring more value to our customers and more sales to ourselves.

The Power of Suggestion

Master Sellers spend time learning the overall industry they sell in and the different industries they sell to. Master Sellers are businesspeople who sell not just slingers of product.

Master Sellers understand their customers’ desired outcome of using products. They also learn the options the industry can provide to delivered that outcome and begin to suggest those options to their customers. Often these suggested products/options can bring a lot of value to customers. These salespeople set themselves apart from the mass of “product/hustle” sellers. They get out of the “$5/MBF and a cloud of smoke” business.

Because they bring long-term creative business value to their customers, they also get last look on commodity items that are traditionally competitive.

Examples to suggest:

Species. Customers are switching species now more than ever. There will be times in the market where traditionally southern yellow pine markets will be better served by SPF and vice versa. Spruce buyers have many options:  WSPF, ESPF, SPF-S, Euro. In addition, some spruce buyers will substitute Hem-fir for spruce if the spreads are right.

Customers have a preference, but if the spreads are right, they often will switch. The Master Seller takes the customer’s inquiry, but comes back with creative options that can make their customers more competitive and profitable.

Another example would be 1×6 D Select DF VS 1×6 D/BTR Fir Larch. If we have a customer who uses 1×6 D Select DF and we can switch them to 1×6 D/BTR Fir Larch, we will be saving them anywhere from $500 to $750/MB depending on the markets for both, but typically D/BTR Fir Larch will trade for much less.

Note: Some products seem like a good alternative but don’t work for the customer’s application, so we may have to send an LTL unit sample before ordering a full truckload. This isn’t a “bait-and switch.” We never send an alternative to a customer without speaking about it up front.

Grades & Yields. We may have a manufacturer who is using a certain grade to make a product. We may be able to suggest an alternative grade that will make them more profitable.

For example, we have a customer buying 2×4 8’ utility and cutting them to 48” pieces. Let’s say they are paying $450/MBF and getting an 85% yield. Net they are paying $517/MBF per usable piece. ($450 x 1.15).

If we can find them a high-quality economy for $390/MBF that gets a 75% yield, they would only be paying $487/MBF per usable piece ($390 x 1.25). This is a savings of $800 a truckload. (We would have to calculate the time lost on broken pieces in production and waste removal, but in theory a money-saver for our customer.)

Spreads. Some customers will switch products, lengths, species and grades based on spreads. They may prefer SPF to SYP, but will switch if the spread is right. Master Sellers know what the spreads must be for their customers to switch, and study those spreads daily.

Hustle, Service and Suggesting

Hustle and service are important elements of value that we bring to our customers. Master Sellers hustle, give great service (as partners, not servants!), and also bring value by suggesting more competitive products and options to their customers.