This is the second in a series of Special Reports on how individual dealers upsell products. As vice president of sales and marketing for Syracuse, N.Y.-based Erie Materials, Steve Syron spends the majority of his time in the field working with customers and sales reps. The dealer, which has 10 locations (including a distribution center) serving customers in northern New York and Pennsylvania, is ranked No. 20 in the ProSales 100, and posted $182.8 million in total sales in 2012, 99% of them to pros. Here’s how Erie treats the art of the upsell.
“As the pie has shrunk down in the northeast, the whole key is to get the greatest amount of dollars out of every sale, so upselling has never been as important as it is today,” Syron says. “The sales you do get, you have to maximize every opportunity.”
To that end, training is one of the most important things the dealer does. “We spend a huge amount on training,” he says. Syron has brought in experts from both Sandler and Dale Carnegie Training to hone his reps sales techniques, as well as brought in LBM industry sales consultants to lead seminars for his people.
“I think a lot of people have cut back on sales training. That’s a huge mistake,” he says. “You have to have knowledgeable people in the field.”
Erie’s sales reps are trained to ask consultative questions and provide solutions, says Syron. “The worst trait a salesman can possess is a preconceived notion that a customer isn’t a candidate for a high-end product.
“It hurts our industry when salespeople go out every day with the notion that everybody buys the lowest number,” he says, and moreover, “it’s not true. If you can point out the differences in a high-end versus a commodity product, in most cases, your buyer will go with the higher-end product.”
To make sure Erie reps know the latest about the products they sell, the dealer requires manufacturers to come in and train inside and outside salespeople. Salespeople at the different locations also get together during bi-weekly sales meetings, where they share tips and techniques they have employed successfully in the field. Syron also uses role play during sales meetings as a training tool.
“We will actually assign salespeople several high-end products, and they will have to get up in front of their peers and do a presentation presenting those products. We figure if they can do that in front of 40 or 50 of their peers, then we know they can do it in the field.”
Erie does offer incentives to the sales staff in the form of spiffs—but only on high-end products. “We don’t incentivize for commodities,” he says.
“A big problem in upselling in today’s world is everyone is time short. Our sales time has become what I call elevator speeches. If you can’t sell something in two or three minutes or less, you are lost.”
He acknowledges that it’s hard to find good salespeople. “Our best people come from our inside sales counter. If you are an outside sales person, you are expected to be on the road five days a week, eight to 10 hours a day.”
The dealer’s reps drive vans—”we call it the road office,” says Syron—which are well-stocked with literature and samples. “A lot of companies send their guys out in trucks. I’m sorry but that sounds like a delivery guy, not a salesperson.”
Erie’s sales managers are also on the road, constantly assessing their sales reps’ performance, noting how they interact with customers, and pinpointing the areas they need help. When a need is identified, “we don’t ignore it. We’ll pull [the rep] off the road for extra training,” he says.
The dealer has also spent what Syron calls an “exorbitant amount of money” on its showrooms, which are fully kitted out with high-end products. The company uses the showroom as a lure to woo new contractors, and show them high-end goodies that can enhance their—and Erie’s—bottom line.
“We do a VIP night specifically aimed at new contractors. We invite one or two into our showroom after hours and we go through all the products,” Syron says. Following a visit to the warehouse, where the contractor can view the depth of inventory on hand, the dealer wines and dines them, and then sees them off homeward, complimentary gas card in hand to ease the pain at the pump. A jacket with the Erie logo arrives in the mail following the dinner as a thank-you for the contractor’s time.
The dealer wants their contractors to use its showrooms as a resource. If they send in their homeowner customers, “we’ll make sure they have literature and warranties, we’ll give them everything but the price; we’ll leave that up to you,” Syron says.
“I think some of our best upselling opportunities come when a contractor says, “Would you meet with my homeowner and tell them about options.” More and more often, he says, Erie’s contractor customers are asking the dealer’s sales reps to do just that.
Erie’s goal is to be a sustaining resource for their customers, “a part of their business, not just the guy who shows up with the Yankee’s score and the lowest price.”
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