When it comes to peddling new products, there are two types of salespeople: the driven innovators who pound the pavement with every new widget and gizmo in an attempt to woo even the biggest skeptics, and the followers who have no interest in learning about the newest product or doing what it takes to sell it.

Doug was a follower. He made good use of the line, “I could have supplied that to you!” after someone else waited out the bumps of new product introductions and opened a contractor's eyes to a new innovation.

Bob, on the other hand, didn't know any better, or at least, that was his excuse. New to the industry, he had never heard of product failures and supply chain conflicts. All Bob knew was that he needed to sell something or he was going to starve! Let's just call him motivated.

No matter what product or service his sales manager gave him, Bob took it out and sold it. And I mean really sold it with a great big “glad to see you” smile—no matter what his clients threw at him. Bob brought out finger-jointed trim boards; his clients broke them to prove the joints wouldn't hold. He showed fiber-cement siding; they broke it just to see what was inside. He presented primed MDF trim; they cut, nailed, and broke that, too.

Even though they would laugh and make fun of the “new stuff” he was demonstrating, Bob would smile and thank them for their time. Then he would ask for an order. Sometimes he got one, sometimes he did not. No matter what, each time he would head back down the road to his next prospect and do it all over again.

I thought this guy was clueless. But one rainy day Bob was showing off some wire-ventilated shelving. A contactor exclaimed, “Bob, you finally brought me something I can use! I have been looking all over for this stuff!” He grabbed the sample, dropped it on the floor, and used it to clean the mud off his boots. This was the moment of truth; I was sure Bob would explode. Instead, he smiled, took out his order pad, and asked, “How much do you need and when do you want it?” At that moment, I saw a level of professionalism that has never been matched.

Contractors began buying Bob's new products. Whether you call him clueless, motivated, or the “new guy,” there's no doubt that above all, Bob is a pro. He knows a few things about how to be a professional salesman. Every time contractors do their own “product test,” they're displaying interest. When they ask you tons of questions, they're showing desire. When they are satisfied that the product is acceptable, they are adding their own conviction.

Product innovations are made to solve problems and challenges contractors face every day. It's important to trust your company to sort through all of the new products and services, and to trust your customers to make informed product selections. But unless you're peddling them with pride, you'll never put them to the test.

Bob became recognized as an industry leader. And while he still takes a lot of teasing because he is always showing something new, he is also always taking product orders. You'll never hear him say, “I could have supplied that.”

Bill Hofius is senior vice president of Norcross, Ga.–based Ply Mart. E-mail: [email protected]