From the Jewelry Counter to the Janitor’s Closet

Categories: Distribution, Sales & Marketing

By Leah Waldrop | September 9, 2014 << Back to Articles

Recently, a gentleman wanted to purchase a pair of earrings for a female companion. Knowing that she likes earrings, he went to a couple of shops looking for a suitable gift. The only problem was he knew nothing about earrings or what his friend might like.

At most of the stores he visited, the salesperson would show him their stock of earrings, but because he was unsure of what she might like, he held off on purchasing a pair. Finally, he visited one shop, and instead of just showing him what was on display, the salesperson began asking a series of questions. For instance:

  • Is the lady tall or short?
  • Is her hair dark or light?
  • Is her complexion dark, fair, or light?
  • Does she have a favorite color?
  • Is she full-figured or petite?
  • Is her face round or thin?
  • How much would you like to spend?

This went on for a few minutes. Then, the salesperson brought out a pair of earrings and said, “I think she will be happy with these.”

Since the salesperson had spent so much time with him and asked a variety of questions, he trusted her recommendation. And it was a good thing he did; his lady friend loved the earrings and wore them just about every time he saw her.

What’s the Lesson?
While there have been many changes in the cleaning industry, many distributors are still taking orders rather than asking questions, listening, and truly understanding the needs of their customers. Many experts call this latter form of selling “consultative” or “consultive” selling. But what it really is, especially in today’s world of distribution, is professional selling.

If we analyze what happened with our friend looking for a pair of earrings, we can see how effective professional selling works:

  • Most of the salespeople he met simply showed him their stock of earrings; these salespeople were order takers. They asked no questions and assumed the gentleman would find a pair of earrings he liked even though he had already told them he knew nothing about selecting earrings.
  • The last salesperson was a professional seller. She asked questions, picturing the lady who would be wearing the earrings and, in so doing, what would make her happy and look her best.
  • Trust developed between the gentleman and the last salesperson. He trusted her recommendation, purchased the earrings, and in this case made the right selection.

Taking the Time
“Distributors must learn to do the same with their customers,” says Brian Peters, president of Peters Supply, an Elmira, NY-based jansan distributor. “Selecting a degreaser, for instance, is certainly not as romantic as selecting a pair of earrings. However, for the end customer, when the distributor takes the time to understand their unique needs, it goes a long way and helps the customer make a well thought-out decision.”

Peters adds that in the end, the customer selects the best degreaser for the job and, “when consultative selling is properly applied, the distributor leaves behind a positive impression on the customer. They know that the distributor has put their needs and budget first in mind.”

Additionally, trust evolves over time. Assuming the degreaser is efficient as well as cost-effective, the client now trusts this distributor, making for a much easier selling process going forward.

Some distributors might respond to this conclusion by saying that price―or, more specifically, low price―is the key variable customers focus on in their experience. However, according to other distributors, price is possibly the fourth or fifth priority—not the first.

Making the Process Easier
Asking the right questions and taking the time to understand the client’s needs is paramount. Equally important is helping them actually make the right product selection. When it comes to cleaning and similar products, this can be a bit more complicated. To help its distributors, one manufacturer advised they compare the manufacturer’s products to the customer’s current products. The client would usually select the product that custodial workers valued most, while also meeting cost and performance concerns. This system works out in many instances, but occasionally it can be difficult to find customers willing to accept a trial-and-error process.

New web-based technologies and dashboard systems that essentially eliminate trial and error are proving to be an effective option in this regard. Employing consultative selling and comparing what products are in use now with what the customer’s needs are can help to ensure the best product for that customer is selected. And while the process might not be as gratifying as selecting a pair of earrings for one’s significant other, don’t be surprised if the customer is just as happy as receiving such a gift.

About the Author.

Leah Waldrop is marketing manager for Afflink’s eLev8® system. Afflink provides an array of comprehensive sales and marketing solutions to more than 300 distributors and 200 supplier organizations of jansan, packaging, safety, and office products. Waldrop can be contacted via Afflink’s Web site at