In the profession of selling, speed can be the enemy of profit. Yet a significant percentage of salespeople still rush reactively to indulge customers and prospects, much to the detriment of company profits.

Your objective as a Sales Leader isn't to become a "pricing machine." Yet time and time again, salespeople show up at offices and jobsites only to limit their influence by making a bid opportunity their primary sales objective, frequently uttering the words, "Do you have anything I can bid on?" Salespeople with this limited and rushed sales approach should recognize that this is the very behavior that causes combative price negotiations, leading them to believe that sales success is "all about price."

The next time you feel yourself rushing to submit a price, stop and ask yourself how you became so pressured to do so in the first place. You will discover that builders strive to speed you up, in part because it's to their advantage and in part because they have yet to encounter a sales representative who has adequately justified any alternative method for conducting business. The builder is able to reduce his involvement in the pricing process and therefore feels little commitment to the process and the necessity for conducting business with a quote machine. Additionally, the builder can shop the market efficiently by encouraging multiple suppliers to vie for business. If you make the sales process solely about bidding for business, the builder will be happy to oblige.

From the salesperson's perspective, the costs and frustration mount as the sales process speeds ahead. The salesperson finds that he works harder and harder to achieve less by spending time on quotes that fail to yield tangible results. Because the salesperson has made pricing the focus of the conversation, combative negotiations ensue and a resentful attitude often develops. Expenses to the supplier increase as inside sales support staff costs escalate, and the risk of mistakes rises if the supplier should ultimately win the business. As speed and reactive behaviors increase, sales organizations begin to feel the pressure to react faster and faster. Thus, the success of the business relationship can only be achieved when a salesperson learns how to slow down the sales process.

Plan Ahead

Before submitting pricing information to a contractor, lay the groundwork. Key points to examine include consideration of the contractor's delivery expectations, volume, ability to pay, loyalty, service expectations, jobsite location (which affects the cost of making deliveries to the supplier), and return policies. But there's more–much more. Pricing discussions also should include clarification of contract details, duration of pricing levels (i.e., when price increases can occur), terms, discounts, procedures for variance purchase orders and more. Considering all the factors that go into a high-quality price offering, it certainly seems that the ability to slow down the sales process should be an important selling skill to develop.

Take time to learn your customer's business. Besides the fact that it is important to know your customer's business practices, it is beneficial to take time to learn simply to show how much you care. You will discover that a builder who is unwilling to take time to talk about his very favorite subject in the world–his own business–is going to be very reticent to invest time in your favorite subject: the sale you are hoping to make.

You should discover how your customer takes goods and services to the market and how it manages project details. You should understand how your customer's organization functions and the methods by which your internal support staff–inside sales, delivery, accounts receivable–should expect to interact with the customer. Only when you conduct this detailed level of discovery are you in a position to open a new business relationship.

Follow these steps:

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders, Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409. E-mail: 1. Strive to really understand the project details. If you assume that all projects and builders are alike, then you certainly will fail to learn the many ways in which homes are built in our industry. It is essential that you take time to obtain all the important details of a project you are quoting before you quote the project. A high-caliber Sales Leader strives to get all the project specifications, including product details, construction scheduling, and names of key people involved in the project. A great Sales Leader strives to understand the nature of the builder's current relationships with suppliers, such as the reasons for doing business, the type of sales representation currently being offered, levels of loyalty to current suppliers, and how a relationship with the builder can produce mutual profits for the customer and supplier.

2. Give your inside people all the information. After you have armed yourself with the information from customers and prospects, take time to calmly explain project details (see "Give and Take," January, page 48). The small amount of time you invest prior to quoting a project will produce abundant results in the long run.

The key to leadership success is often found in the details, which inherently requires you to slow down the selling process. Take the time to learn more about your customers and prospects and, when you feel the pressure to speed up the sales process, remember that everyone, including your customer, loses when mistakes occur. Slow down and sweat the details in order to increase the profits.