Are Your People Selling the Right Products?

That’s Rich! By Rich Lindblom

The other week I was chatting with a BrandSource dealer friend of mine and I think we had a pretty revealing discussion.

Naturally I asked him the standard opening question: “So how’s business?” “The good news,” he answered, “is that we’re selling a lot of merchandise. The bad news is that even though our warehouse is full of machines, our delivery truck is only going out half-full every day.  And the bin for ASAP deliveries just keeps growing every week.”

I was kind of confused by his answer. “Well, are your salespeople selling the right products?” I asked. Now it was his turn to be confused, because he clearly did not understand the meaning of my question.

“I’m not sure what you mean, Rich,” he replied. “Like I said, we’re selling machines, but the problem is that the manufacturers don’t have anything in stock. It seems like every time we sell something lately it ends up being on back order.”

Feeling the need to dig deeper, I asked, “Why isn’t your sales team selling what you have in stock?” 

Sadly, he answered, “I don’t know.” 

So I asked him, “Did you ever actually tell them you wanted them to sell the stuff that you have in your warehouse?”  

“Isn’t that just common sense?” he responded. “Do I really need to tell them that?”

And just like that we had gotten to the root of the problem.

No matter how obvious it may seem, if you want your sales staff to prioritize the selling of certain merchandise you need to tell them that, and occasionally remind them of it as well.

A good leader doesn’t leave anything to chance, and regularly shares with his or her team the things that are important.  You need to constantly communicate to your staff the issues that impact your company.  Even the best employees in your organization can’t read your mind and therefore they don’t know what you are thinking.  Don’t assume they know what is in your company’s best interest, and the anecdote above is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. 

With manufacturers and distributors having very little inventory for most of 2020 and with the situation not likely improving until mid-2021 at the absolute earliest, it is more important than ever to make sure your salespeople are selling the merchandise that you have in your warehouse today! 

Afterall, merchandise that’s collecting dust in your warehouse doesn’t do your company any good, and neither do sold pieces that aren’t going to be delivered for several months because they’re on back order with your manufacturers.

Communicating your wishes to your sales staff is a great start.  But instead of just telling them what you want them to sell, how about incentivizing them to do it?   

This is exactly what I ended up recommending to my dealer friend in the discussion above — I suggested he set up a spiff program to incentivize his salespeople to sell in-stock merchandise. 

It doesn’t really matter what type of commission structure you’re currently using; you’ve just got to figure out a way to prioritize the selling of in-stock merchandise. Maybe you reduce the commission rate on items that have to be ordered, while at the same time increasing the commission rate on items that are in stock and available for immediate delivery. 

And for those of you that don’t currently pay any commission, maybe this is the time to start. Just put a flat dollar-amount spiff on top of anything they sell that is in stock and ready for delivery. 

Best of all, it’s a win-win-win situation: Your company delivers more machines and keeps turning dollars; your salespeople make more money; and your customers don’t have to wait months for their purchase.

At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself, “Are my salespeople selling the right products?” Because if they aren’t, it may be your fault, not theirs.

Rich Lindblom is a former principal of Advanced Maytag Home Appliance Center in Schaumburg, Ill. He recently sold the 64-year-old family business and retired after four decades in independent retail.