I recently did a sales meeting for a new client that frustrated me on several levels. I was encouraged by their decision to move forward and the latitude I got to design the program. But I was perplexed by some of the responses and attitudes I encountered during the training.

Mike Butts This is a multilocation business that serves new construction, high-end remodeling, and retail consumer sales. It has excellent demographic identification of its customers, owners who are engaged in the business, a sales manager who is pro-active and enthusiastic, and a large and talented sales force. What's not to love?

This particular company believes in sales specialization. Outside sales reps handle the rough package and most other components, but they also have millwork specialists, cabinet specialists, and specialists in lighting, floor covering, fireplaces, etc.

Here's the situation that got under my skin. We were discussing product penetration and account management. I had been evangelizing organic growth (anybody surprised?) and selling deeper into the house package with every product you can put on the jobsite. My personal philosophy is that if your company sells it and the customer uses it, he should be buying it all from you, no exceptions. And no, not every builder has an uncle/cousin/sister/half-step neighbor in-law who works for another company.

One of the salespeople spoke up and shared a horror story we've all heard before: "I worked for three years to develop a customer, began selling framing packages, and then turned over a cabinet order to the kitchen department," the sales rep said. "They dropped the ball, screwed up the order, and I lost the customer. I had to work for two more years just to get his business back. I'm not going to give the cabinet department another chance to cost me business."

Any chance he's the only outside sales rep in the country who's had this experience? I didn't think so. I've heard of this happening not just at this company, but in a number of cases and in discussions with some of the brightest minds in our industry.

The rep was adamant that he would not promote other departments; he sells house packages and controls his customers, nobody else is invited to his party. But guess what? They aren't "his" customers. The customers belong to the company, and if the company decides that a full-service package is in the offering, the salesperson's job is to sell that package, everything from rough framing to light fixtures to carpet. If that's what the owner or manager wants, your job in sales is to carry that flag and plant it firmly in the yard of the customer.

How do you do this? Hold both yourself and the other product specialists accountable for service. In this case, if the cabinet department dropped the ball, the outside sales rep is on point with this customer. It's the sales rep's job to get the situation resolved to the best interest of the customer and the company. Smooth hurt feelings and continue with business. Don't shut out the rest of the company over one situation.

In these tough times, we cannot allow a salesperson, or any employee, to hold the company hostage by refusing to follow policy, promote goals, or adhere to standards. We have to fight hard enough for every dollar earned. We can ill-afford to leave anything on the table (or in the cabinet).

Account management is just that: managing your accounts to achieve maximum product penetration and the utmost of customer satisfaction. If another department drops the ball, pick it up. Somebody needs to get it over the goal line and score.

–Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich.-based LBM supply consulting and training firm.
E-mail: [email protected]