This is the first in a series of Special Reports on how individual dealers upsell products. Tom Miller has been selling doors and windows for more than 30 years, the last 22 of them at Appleton, Wis.-based Window and Door Central, the company he founded in 1991. Here are some things he's learned along the way.
"A lot of what we do is consultant selling. We sell complicated products with a lot of options, and we pride ourselves on being experienced and educated. There isn't too much we haven't seen and done."
About 70% of the dealer's sales are to pros, and the number one thing Miller demands is an educated sales team. "If you don't know what the offerings of the manufacturer are, you don't know what to present [to the customer]. You have to have an educated sales force and stay current.
"We aren't always going to be the least expensive, but we like to help our guys have a competitive edge, something that puts them in a better light with their customers. By showing the builder or remodeler the advantages of a prefinished product, which is an upsell, that can give him an advantage [over his competitors]."
Miller believes strongly in presenting his best options to the customer first, rather than working his way up the ladder of options. "You go with the best product for the application," he says. And of course, he notes, "the more expensive the product, the better the margin."
Whether Miller and his team are working with new clients or established ones, the dealer says that eliciting information is one of the most important variables in selecting the right product for the customer and ultimately making a sale. "I don't think you can ask too many questions when it comes to the sales process." Not only do salesmen need to ask questions of their customers, but they need to ask the right questions, Miller says. "I keep harping here about asking questions, but you do have to listen to the actual answers, not just flap your jaws."
For instance, 'What do you like about your current dealer?', 'Does he meet your needs?', and 'Is the quality what you expect?' are all questions that allow sales reps the opportunity to gather good intel and then showcase their own company's products and explain how those products can meet and exceed what the customer's current supplier is offering, the dealer says.
"You just can't go out there and do a canned presentation," he says. It bores the customers, and a bored customer won't buy.
"I had an opportunity to drive to a meeting with a builder, and during the drive he got some calls from sales reps asking if he had anything to bid. He was annoyed. I said, 'What if I called you saying I had something to show you that is efficient and unique and in your field?' He said: 'That is something I would listen to.' "
"The product lines we sell are all about upselling," Miller says. "It's easy for us to upsell. By having a solid background in the product and understanding what the customer wants, it's not that difficult. It's always in the back of the mind how far can you push it." A good salesperson has an instinctive feel for where the red zone is for a particular customer—that point in the conversation where the customer might start backing away, and say, this is getting way out of hand here, expense-wise, maybe I don't need this at all, the dealer says.
Sales reps also have to know when to give up.
"There are only so many hours in the day and so many fish in the barrel. If a fish refuses to get caught, then you have to go to another one. It's time to walk away," Miller says. "You can't keep accepting defeat over and over again. If this one person just refuses to do business, you move on and don't take it personally.
"One of the simplest things is asking for the order," he says. "Yet it's something reps sometimes forget to do. Ultimately nobody wins. You've got to ask for the order."
Miller admits it's very hard to find good sales reps, men and women who have that perfect combination of sales skills and industry knowledge. "You have to have a good blend, but of the two, product knowledge is the easier to teach. But you do have to have a little sawdust in your veins. You have to know how these contractors pull on their boots in the morning."