Everyone Sells - "Inside Sales"

January 11, 2010

By Matt Michel

Sales are not merely transaction related.  If you want to get anything done in your company, you have two choices, you can do it yourself or you can get others to do it.  If you’re the boss, you can order others, but it’s far better to elicit them.  It’s far better to “sell” your idea.  The truest “inside” sales is selling within your own company.

An Engineer’s First Sale
I was fresh out of Texas A&M, working as a project engineer for the Turbo Refrigerating Company.  After spending months collecting test data for heat exchangers connected to a leaky ammonia refrigeration system (if working around a leaky ammonia system isn’t a way of hazing the new kid, I don’t know what is), I practically jumped out of my skin when I finally got the chance to design something. 

My first shot at what I considered real engineering work was to design a 12’ X 12’ X 5’ sump to sit under a bank of flat plate heat exchangers.  It’s trickier than it sounds.  The sump was essentially a sheet metal jigsaw puzzle TIG welded together.  It had to be load bearing.  It also had to provide pathways for the insulation that would be sprayed into it to mix and turn rigid, adding to its load bearing properties.

It took me a long time to figure it out.  But since I paid about half of what every other engineer was making, the company was still getting a good deal (or so I thought).  Finally, the design was done.  I gazed at the blueprints and thought this big sheet metal box was the most beautiful piece of engineering anyone had ever done.  It sure looked great on paper.

I completed the bill of materials and released the working drawings to the shop.  About a week later, I was paged out to the shop floor.  I was excited.  It was the first time I’d been paged on the plant intercom.  I was sure they wanted me to come out and look at my masterpiece.

I half skipped to the shop floor and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw what lay ahead.  The plant superintendent, shop supervisor, press brake operator, his assistant, and two or three other guys were all standing around a big pile of very expensive 304 2B stainless steel.  They did not look happy.

Uh Oh
Johnny Laird, the Marine-Corps-drill-sergeant-turned-shop-supervisor took the lead.  In Marine Corps terms, he explained to me how I had just designed something that couldn’t be built, how they now had a big pile of useless scrap, how I was going to have to do it over, and how I better not screw up again.  I still get shudders thinking about it.

But it looked so good on paper, I thought.  Where did I go wrong?

To The Rescue
I was worried.  I was scared I would get fired if I messed up again.  Mike Mosher, one of the senior engineers noticed I was a little depressed.  He was pretty empathetic for an engineer (I didn’t think I was crying all that loud). 

With Mike’s guidance, I redesigned the sump.  When I finished, I showed Mike the prints.

“Show it to them,” Mike suggested.

“Who?” I asked.

“The guys on the floor.”

I gulped.  I didn’t want to admit to Mike that I was more than a little afraid of “them.”  I was  especially terrified of Johnny Laird, the Marine-Corps-drill-sergeant-turned-shop-supervisor. 

“They’ll tell you if something’s wrong,” he said.  “If they buy what you’re selling, you’ve got it made.”

Selling?  I’m not selling anything, I thought to myself.

“If they don’t buy in,” he continued, “You’re in trouble.  They can make just about anything work or not work.  It all depends on what they want to do.”

Shop Floor “Marketing Research”
I swallowed hard, and took a set of prints to the floor.  The first guy I approached was the press brake operator.  I went to him because the last time I saw him away from the shop, he actually smiled and waved.

“These bend allowances won’t work,” he said.

“But that’s what’s in Machinery’s Handbook.”

“I don’t care what it says in a book.  Those bend allowances won’t work with this press brake.  Remember what happened last time?”

“Okay, what will work?”

He told me.  I made the changes.  The welder told me what he needed.  I adjusted the design, even though it took a lot of work. 

One-by-one, I visited each station that would be involved with the production.  One-by-one, I listened to what they had to say and made the changes they requested if possible, no matter how much extra work it meant for me. 

If I couldn’t make a change, I would explain why and ask, “Is that okay?  Can you still make it work?”  I wouldn’t leave until I got agreement.

I don’t know if the design was much better than the first one, but it greased through the shop without a problem.  I followed Mosher’s advice with everything I designed.  Before releasing the drawings, I would run them by everyone in the shop who would touch them.  I “sold” the design to the guys who had to make it work.

After that first disaster, I rarely had a problem.  I was rarely paged.  I learned how to design faster, but was never as fast as the other engineers because I always took the time to sell the design to the shop and to make whatever changes I could to make the lives of the machine tool operators a little easier.  It was a good trade-off.  While it took me longer upfront, I didn’t have rework to contend with.

Johnny Laird, the Marine-Corps-drill-sergeant-turned-shop-supervisor, even became a good friend.

Sales Lessons
It was years before I realized I was engaged in sales at Turbo.  My title may have said, “Project Engineer,” but I was really a salesperson.  I had to learn several key aspects of sales, whether selling others in your organization or selling your products and services outside your organization…

Prepare – Just as I learned to spend more time in the early stages of a design, time spent up front in the sale will increase your success rate and shorten the process in the end.  Know as much about your prospect as you can.

Listen – Zig Ziglar says God gave us two ears and one mouth and that’s the proportion we should use them.  It’s more than that.  Many salespeople have trouble listening.  They hear, but they don’t “listen.”  The buyer will often tell you what you need to do to close the sale, but you must “listen.”

Compromise – Sometimes you cannot compromise on a sale, but often you can.  Even if it makes more work for you, be willing to compromise on the things that are not important.  If you would rather, don’t think of it as compromising.  Think of it as being flexible.

Gain Agreement – Gaining agreement is little more than closing the sale.  At some point, you’ve got to close.  Ask for the order.  When you get agreement, shut up before you talk yourself out of the sale (I’ve done this more than once).

Do What You Promise – My shop floor “sales” were effective because I did what I promised I would do.  This built my credibility and made future “sales” easier.  Reputations matter.

Make Friends – The best part about sales, whether internally or professionally, is the ability to turn sales relationships into friendships.  Once this happens, it doesn’t even feel like sales anymore.  It’s two friends trying to work together to solve a problem and fill a need.

Remember, everyone sells.

Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.
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Copyright © 2005 Matt Michel

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