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What’s Your Company’s Sales Culture?

in Columns/Marketing/Sales

by Tom Woodcock

Tom Woodcock

Webster defines “culture” as: “a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Most interesting is the concept of shared values.

Every company develops a sales culture. Whether by plan or accident, a culture will be established. This culture directly relates to the way customers are treated and approached. Some companies mistreat customers and don’t even realize it. This is because they’ve developed their culture without regard for the effect their choices will have on customers. That type of culture can stunt a company’s growth and profitability. Others companies bend over backwards to please their customer base. They go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to serve them. That breeds both customer loyalty and increased profitability.

How do you establish a positive, progressive sale culture?

It starts at the top. Ownership sets the rudder in regards to the value they place on their client base. They establish the priority level of customer needs and the parameters of service. They get involved with the client base and assist in the sales effort. The more detached ownership is, the more opportunity for customer abuse or neglect. Owners that are absent from the sales effort cannot expect staff to place a proper prioritization on clients. If it’s not important to ownership to be involved, why would you expect the employees to place proper value on them? The good thing is that the weight of ownership helps minimize the time commitment the owner needs to make to sales. A little attention from the president of the company can go a long way towards making the clients feel appreciated.

Next up, upper and mid-level management. Direct supervisors must reinforce a customer-first focus to their staff. They must encourage staff to freely communicate issues that develop with clients. A belief that management isn’t as concerned with customers as internal issues causes staff to focus more on paperwork than customer retention. Management also must have contact with the client base and be willing to support sales staff in servicing them. The thought that insulating management from the customer base may make a manager’s life a bit easier is understandable, until numbers drop!

Adjacent to management is the sales and business development personnel. Those individuals become the immediate face and personality of the company. This is why strong people skills are so critical to a company’s sales efforts. Internal relationships with management and support staff also are integral to a successful sales culture. That means this group actually has three customers: the true customer, management, and internal support staff. Failing to adequately invest in any of those relationships can inspire negative impressions that filter down to the buying customer. You’ve probably seen it in the common tension between sales and administration. Business development people feel the support staff is there to “make it happen” for them, while the admin folks believe the sales personnel are out there just “playing around”. I see it all over the country within GCs, subs and vendor firms. It’s a poison that kills customer trust.

Finally there’s the support staff. This can be everyone from the person doing invoicing to field personnel. A great sales effort can be completely dismantled by unhelpful, arrogant staff. The pleasantness of a good sales relationship is fast forgotten when dealing with a short-tempered collections person, a cocky driver, or a belligerent field worker. Often those individuals have more regular contact with the customer base than the sales personnel! It’s remarkable how when invoices are fought over and change orders questioned repeat business dissipates due to issues created by support personnel. Often those issues go unknown or unreported to management.

To practically begin developing a profitable sales culture you must enact a few basic steps:

  1. Determine the company sales philosophy, which is set by ownership.
  2. Set regular corporate sales meetings to reinforce the philosophy.
  3. Monitor staff implementation of the philosophy.
  4. Create an environment of free customer information exchange.
  5. Set a central CRM program to capture customer information
  6. Survey a sample of customers to verify how the philosophy is being experienced.
  7. Adjust, account, correct, and replace if necessary.

The vast majority of companies will never invest the time or effort into consciously developing their sales culture. They will continue to go with the flow and watch their profits shrink as they race to the bottom to be low. They will blame the customer for their profitability issues and blame suppliers for high material pricing.

Customer loyalty is not a thing of the past. There are companies with strong profit percentages. The reason? A sales culture that looks at the customer first permeates through the entire company and has the correct corporate priority. How did your company’s sales culture come into being? I’d love to know, wouldn’t you?

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide and author of “You’re Not Sellin’, They’re Buyin’!” He can be reached at his website: or at 314-775-9217.

Setting Annual Expectations

in Columns/Marketing/Sales

By Tom Woodcock

Tom Woodcock

As the holidays pass and we barrel into the new year, companies scramble to forecast next year’s performance. Numbers will be thrown around, projections made, and hopes elevated. Ownership will almost always demand better results in either revenue or profitability, or worse, both. Then the great master plan is formatted and presented at a company meeting. At that point, virtually everyone walks away leaving the sales team to make it happen.

Kinda comical if you really think about it. Marketing budgets get cut, entertainment expenses reduced and owner engagement wanes, yet you’re tasked to increase business. “Do more with less!” is the new company motto. You sit there wondering how you’re going to pull it off, if at all. It might be easier to just start making your excuses now as opposed to when the projections are blown. It seems to be an annual ritual. The real question is how do you project what an upcoming year will hold?

Projections can be very strategic or de-motivating in nature. Most are unrealistic in scope and cause unnecessary sales stress. Many have no formulation on how to achieve the numbers. Whether revenue, profitability or expansion of customer base, projecting results without having a plan is a shot in the dark at best. There are a few key areas related to sales that will require a strategic approach. Otherwise, reaching a projected goal will be a seat of the pants proposition. Hitting these main points will at least allow you to hit the basics:

  1. Market Conditions: Understanding and calculating what is taking place in your specific markets is paramount to setting your company’s sales rudder. Is demand trending up or down? Are there economic factors that dictate market direction? Has the customer base shifted in need or demand? These are important questions to answer. These influences can send you in the wrong direction if not addressed.
  2. Historical Sales Data: I find many organizations evaluate their sales teams via gut reaction. You “feel” like someone is doing a good or bad job and approach that person accordingly. The sales data may reflect the opposite of your impression. It’s impossible to project where you’re going without knowing where you are. What’s the starting point? What increases have you been averaging year to year? If historically you’ve realized a 5 percent increase year over year, you’d better have some strong data supporting an expectation of a 20 percent increase for the projected year. Unrealistic growth is never realized.
  3. Ability of Sales Personnel: Being realistic with the talent and work ethic of your sales team can assist in determining what you can truly expect that team to produce. Are they seasoned veterans? Developing rookies? Maybe a combination of both? Break the team down by individuals and measure the past contributions of each to your sales total. Use that as a baseline then incorporate the information you attain in the first 2 points and project growth. Combining the individual results will give you a company-wide figure. It’s useless to predict a high level of growth when you don’t have the players to get there. It’s like expecting your nine-player baseball team to hit 90 home runs when no one has ever hit more than five. It is just not possible.

If you’re diligent in at least these three areas, you can expect to make reasonably educated forecasts. Hitting projections will fuel the motivation tank. Over analyzing causes paralysis, insecurity and mistrust. Set your direction and stick with it. Be sure everyone clearly understands the requirements and the result of hitting or missing goals.

Recognizing that your company can fall into the trap of letting external factors dictate your success will keep you working on your strategy. You really do control your growth, not Wall Street or the next President. Rising above circumstances requires more than effort. Having a strong sales strategy tied to that effort has virtually a zero percent chance of failure. Of course each company has its own idiosyncrasies that can affect success, but having your sales ducks in a row can mitigate the negative and extenuate the positive. You are in control.

I’ll be sitting with the companies I work with over the next few weeks setting projections. Owners will argue with me and want to push the numbers. My response will be; “Okay, how are you going to pull that off?”. That will at least light the fuse. From there, reality will kick in and we’ll end up with a good, aggressive, yet achievable projection. Which, truth be told, is exactly what both they and you need. Don’t give in to the wishful thinking of pie in the sky expectations. The eventual result is a bad taste in your sales mouth.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: or at 314-775-9217.


Butts in the Seats Marketing: Don’t Obsess Over That and Miss Your Existing Client

in Columns/Marketing/Sales


Stephanie Woodcock

When do owners usually start thinking about marketing? When they need to get more business, correct? When they experience a lull or change in the market or business climate that spurs them to say to themselves (and I’m paraphrasing), “Hmmm…I need to get more butts in the seats.”

But what if owners look at the purpose of marketing a little differently? What about those “butts already in the seats,” so to speak? In other words, what about those customers they already have?

In traditional marketing there is a sales funnel. We market to the masses through traditional and non-traditional means – radio, television, billboards, flyers, social media, electronic marketing and signage. The sole purpose of this broad-reaching campaign is to “catch” as many in that large end of the funnel as possible. Then we keep marketing to that captured audience through drip marketing and ta-da: out comes a sale at the small end of the funnel!

What if we flipped that funnel upside down and started marketing to the core business base we already have? This outlandish idea also flips the definition of marketing on its head. I can hear the objections now (again paraphrasing): “Why spend all that money on customers I already have? I want more and new customers. I’m looking to differentiate and move into new markets. I’m looking at my numbers, and I need to increase volume and sales by XX percent.”

Marketing is part of an overall strategic culture of a company. If part of that strategy and culture is appreciating those longtime clients and the core business we already have, we can transform our sales approach. By spending time and marketing dollars on our core customer base, we help instill a sense of ownership, loyalty and “brand love” with our clients. We fill up that small end of the funnel, invest in our greatest resources and trust they will help spread our message.

While there is a time, place and strategy for marketing to the masses and filling up that large end of the funnel, sometimes we can miss the forest for the trees in the process.  We are so concerned with getting more butts in the seats that we become obsessed with the seat – the height, the cushion, the proximity to other seats and the emptiness. We can’t wait to pack the room with a new, fresh audience of future customers ready to buy that we miss the low-hanging fruit of what we already have.

Part of our marketing plan should be focusing on existing customers and going beyond the status quo in our marketing efforts. If we concentrate our marketing message and dollars on helping our existing customers feel special, they will gladly spread our brand for us. When we start appreciating them, we reap dividends in referrals. Plus, we get to build on an already established platform of trust.

I am a big advocate of referrals and the power of word of mouth. In fact, research shows that 70 percent of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels he or she is being treated. My company has grown through just that – referrals and word of mouth. I have a select few who I thank often for helping me grow (you know who you are). Then I try to do a good (great) job for my clients and see where else that word of mouth takes me. While I like to display your marketing message in as many creative ways as possible, nothing, absolutely nothing, beats word of mouth.

But clients need something to talk about. They need to see a new marketing campaign, a new website or be invited to a carefully orchestrated open house. They need to see a marketing plan in action and feel like they are an essential, intrinsic part of it.

If we market to our clients, if we create a VIP club and appreciate them with our marketing dollars, clever marketing messages, promotional giveaways, happy hours or simply thank-you messages, if we appreciate them the way they deserve, that upside down funnel will start churning out new customers.

We essentially market to the masses as well. We do it through our customers.  Our core clients tell other new, potential customers about the loyalty and brand love they have towards us and ta-da: out comes more sales. In other words, our powerful word-of-mouth message and our strategic culture of making our customers our primary focus helps increase the volume of our sales.

We are no longer marketing to sell to the masses. We are marketing to appreciate our current customer base: the people who keep the lights on. Then we will realize that this forest has a lot of trees. Plus, those new customers we get through word of mouth have been vetted and already believe in our strategic culture because they have started with trust. It’s a beautiful thing when marketing goes from selling to the masses to appreciating the most important.

I’m not advocating removing all marketing to potential new clients. However, I am proposing a new way of approaching marketing. It begins with a company-wide culture of appreciating clients. In this type of culture, the main goal is appreciating those we already have rather than despairing over those we don’t have. Potential customers know when they are being oversold to. In the same way, they know when they are being appreciated. How we frame our marketing messages to both segments can make all the difference.

With this approach, the new clients will come. They will wonder what all the fuss is about. They will see all those butts in the seats and wonder why they are all being treated so well. Instead of being sold to, they will see and hear all about the brand loyalty and brand love that they are missing out on.

Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “Well done is better than well said.” We can say all we want in our marketing messages, but the people who have walked through our doors and experienced our service and product firsthand are the best messengers. They can testify to the fact that our companies are “well done” as opposed to just “well said.”

Stephanie Woodcock is president of Seal the Deal Too, a St. Louis-based marketing, creative & communications firm. She can be reached at .


Cold Calling is Dead, Networking Lives

in Columns/Marketing/Sales

By Tom Woodcock

Tom Woodcock

For decades, people have tried to find business through the painstaking process of cold calling. I battle old school sales managers all the time who swear that cold calling is the way to go. Think about it: Do you like someone coming in and interrupting you –when you’re in the middle of working on a project – and trying to sell you tools? No! Then why would you think someone else would?

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up as a salesperson by cold calling my little guts out. Back in the day, we had no choice. Our lead source was the Yellow Pages. We hoped we would be greeted by a cordial receptionist; more often than not, the prospect’s building sign was the only advanced information we had. This made cold calling not only necessary but mandatory.

The ability to get advanced information on today’s potential customer is at its highest level in history. Via the web, you can secure company information, market presence and even contact information. This eliminates much of the need for a cold call. The issue here, however, is that you lose the physical presence with your would-be customer.

With that in mind, you need to find a way to accomplish this in-person connection in order to gain your initial meeting with the prospect. The best way to do this? Go backwards in order to move forward. Use your associations, organizations and chambers of commerce as resources. Yup, that’s right. Pools of people. Add your own customized network of contacts and you have a leads machine. Consistently attending events, happy hours, business breakfasts and business group meet-ups is paramount to finding opportunity. There are some qualifiers, however, to keep in mind so you don’t waste time and effort:

  1. Customer-rich? Does the event appear to be attracting customers or potential customers? Though often you’ll never really know until you attend, promotional media will give you an indication of the function’s target market. Customer-rich environments are always your best shot at direct business opportunities.
  2. Network development potential? Are there going to be current or potential network contacts in attendance? These are individuals who also sell to your customer base. They can be great sources for introductions and inside information. Your personal network should include a high concentration of these types of individuals.
  3. Association affiliation? Events that are hosted by associations are often well attended. They tend to cater to specific groups, so it’s a bit easier to qualify attendees. Many times the events are limited to members and their guests, but every so often they’re open to visitors. Grab those opportunities.
  4. Known host? These are events hosted by well-known individuals or companies in a particular industry. People will attend because they know historically that this host has strong networking meetings. Some hosts have a knack in setting up these programs. Why reinvent the wheel? Take advantage of their expertise.

Simply using these four criteria will produce results. At that point, it comes down to your personal approach to networking. You have to develop a methodology that you’re comfortable with and matches your personality. Some people can simply own a room. Others? They need a good, structured plan of attack. Either way, it’s best to attend with a little information and strategy. Here are some tricks to get even more bang for your buck:

  1. Get there early. Check out those nametags and select a couple of targets you want to approach.
  2. Ask for permission to call. Politely asking if you can contact a potential client goes a long way. Do not be challenging or confrontational; you’re hoping to obtain permission to contact them.
  3. Use your existing network. Connect with those who are already in a network relationship with you and leverage that existing relationship in order to meet new contacts. This is the easiest way to gain new contacts.
  4. Stay late. A lot happens after the scheduled meeting is over. Those who hang around tend to be more open and share more freely in their discussions. This can provide an inside track on potential projects or opportunities.

I’m a firm believer in the power of networking. I feel that if you combine a good physical network of contacts with a functioning electronic network of them, you’ll have the basis for a well-oiled, lead-generating machine. Finding business opportunities should be a primary goal that all companies share. Without leads, there aren’t sales. Without sales, there aren’t projects. Without projects, there aren’t contractors. Continually priming your network will result in a steady stream of leads and prospects. Undervaluing the power of networking can not only be shortsighted but may result in your business’ decline. Forcing a “cold call first” mentality displays a dated sales approach. It also reveals a weakness in network development. With the increase in communication and social connection, it is far easier to find as well as secure sales leads than it ever was.

The final piece of the networking puzzle is this: Be sure to follow up on the information you secured at the networking event. This, of course, is assuming you gained some information. What good is information that you never act upon? It happens all the time. Taking the time to make the phone calls and get the appointments is where the real rubber meets the road.

Not turning networking information into business is inexcusable. The discipline to attend networking events must be followed by the discipline of acting upon the results. A healthy sales effort includes between four to eight networking events per month. That’s roughly 50 per year! I find it hard to believe that kind of networking commitment will not produce results. As a matter of fact, I know it will because I do it myself. The results have been impressive, and it will always be a part of my sales regimen.

How’s your network producing?

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide and is author of “You’re Not Sellin’, They’re Buyin’!” He can be reached through his website, or at 314-775-9217.

Build Brand Love by Taking it Up a Notch from Good to Great Marketing

in Columns/Marketing/Sales


Stephanie Woodcock

Companies hire marketing firms for many reasons. Some are obvious. They want to freshen their brand, broaden market awareness, increase lead generation, drive sales and “take it up a notch.” Many times companies decide to reach out for help in marketing when they want to gain a foothold in a new market, have an upcoming anniversary, notice a drop-off in sales or need a whole new brand and direction. While all these goals and needs are important, there is no “silver bullet” marketing technique that will stun the customer base into handing over their business. Before results can be measured, we need to step back and evaluate why we want those results. What is our real motive and measure of success?

Effective marketing requires a “long game” approach, where both parties sit down and assess the big picture and long-term goals before diving into the details. It’s more than listing sales goals and last year’s YTD numbers. It’s about asking key questions such as the following:

  • How does my company’s brand, big or small, make a difference and impact in the world?
  • How does my company’s vision align with the vision of my employees and my company’s culture?
  • What does my brand provide customers and employees beyond a product or service?

Answering these macro-level questions is the start of building Brand Love. Surprisingly, many times a mission statement is just words on a wall, not a company culture and daily vision. Brand Love embodies that mission statement with a sense of purpose and connects employees and customers around that purpose.

Brand Love is when a customer experiences a bond with a company’s values and mission through its messages. This is marketing at its best. It’s when the message goes beyond selling and connects clients to the real reason and vision of that company’s driving goals.

Brand Love is achieved by building on brand loyalty and can be accomplished through a variety of marketing objectives. This is where the marketing professional can dive into the details.

Good marketing helps create brand loyalty. Many companies have a good, solid marketing plan that helped gain a loyal following. Great marketing helps create Brand Love. Fewer companies achieve this kind of recognition. Brand loyalty is when customers trust your services and reward you with their repeat business. Brand Love engages the clients, tells a story and offers a clear, concise vision that is more than a product or offering. It creates a partnership with its customers and enables trust, security and hope in its brand. This keeps a customer for life and protects against the commoditization of the company’s product or the clients coming and going with a particular salesperson.

This is a good indicator whether or not a company has achieved Brand Love. If a key salesperson leaves a company and takes much of his or her book of business, then that company hasn’t done a good job at creating a partnership and trust with its clients.

Building Brand Love requires more than bullet points on a sell sheet. It requires a vision that aligns with the goals and internal culture of the company and a vision that is consistent, transparent and relevant. No touch point is too small to build Brand Love and tell the company’s story.

One exercise I conducted with a client helped differentiate between brand loyalty and Brand Love. As a team, we came up with 10 different touch points or marketing techniques to unroll our recent campaign, such as lunch and learn sessions, sales flyers, social media, event engagement and electronic blasts and contests. Each one of these techniques was designed to provide helpful information about our product and would help create brand loyalty.

Then we created two columns and explained exactly what we wanted to achieve through that technique and how each would create both brand loyalty and Brand Love. This exercise was really helpful in showing the difference between the two. It forced us to look beyond the obvious marketing tool and “take it up a notch.” One is based on logic – on features and benefits. The other is based on emotion – on engagement and instilling a sense of purpose. The insight gained through this exercise was immediate. Now with each new marketing objective and message, we think first about what we can do to make it a little better and increase our Brand Love. It’s taking the marketing techniques from good to great.

The overall goal is still achieved. We broaden our market awareness and increase our lead generation, but we also deliver our message with an extra level of care. We try to surprise and delight our customers rather than just promote or sell to them. While it may not be the “silver bullet” of marketing, Brand Love safeguards against commoditization, creates a community with the client base and adds to overall long-term goals.

Stephanie Woodcock is president of Seal the Deal Too, a St. Louis-based marketing, creative & communications firm. She can be reached at .

Contractors: Did You Know That Your Whole Company is Selling?   

in Marketing/Sales
Tom Woodcock

Sales is an all-inclusive, company-wide effort. Anyone having direct or indirect contact with the customer influences the customer’s buying experience. Failure to demonstrate value in virtually any area of the company can cause the customer to head in another direction. Departments such as accounts receivable, reception or even transportation (drivers) play a bigger role than many companies realize. Direct contact positions such as project management and estimating can acutely affect the customer experience. In construction, so much of the focus is on the project itself. The scope, schedule and costs are at the forefront. What can be lost in the details is what the customer is feeling throughout the project. Not having the sales skills to handle customer personnel may mean the company’s front-end sales efforts have been in vain, and prolong the endless cycle of having to be low bidder. That’s if the relationship isn’t damaged to the point of elimination from the bid list.

Taking the time to train all company personnel in relation to their role in the sales process accomplishes at least three key objectives:

  1. Creates a Company Sales Culture – Many companies sell but few have an actual sales culture. A company-wide sales culture is an understanding that sales are the most important aspect of any business. Cultivating and protecting customer relations is a top priority. The desire to meet and exceed customer expectations permeates all departments and personnel. This ensures the customer will feel well served and appreciated. All staff responsibilities are measured against the ultimate impact on the sales experience each and every customer has.
  2. Breeds a Unified Team – If everyone is pointed in the same sales direction with the same sales focus, a sense of achieving a common goal is realized. Staff members hold each other accountable and encourage one another. Sales and administrative personnel respect each other’s role. Employees become more supportive of each member’s role, knowing the sales success of the company is at stake. Understanding this affects everyone’s financial position.
  3. Instills Customer Confidence – Customers notice the sales cohesiveness of the company and feel they are being taken care of. Though basic in nature, trust and security are a big part of the sales experience. The more consistent the communication is company-wide, the more secure the customer base will remain. Customers entrust the company with their projects and funding. Consistency is the core of sales trust.

The strength of a company’s overall sales effort can make the difference between strong and weak profitability, growing and flat revenue and large or small market share. These are the drivers of business success. Having an entire company that understands the critical nature of sales and respects the role each person plays is exceptional. I rarely see it in my travels, but I have witnessed it in the construction industry. Contractors who engage in these practices reach high levels of sales success. Many achieve it for generations. An authentic sales culture becomes more than just the company culture; it establishes a firm’s corporate identity. This becomes the company to beat, the contractor no one wants to bid against. When that company is spotted on a bid list, competitors drop off and choose not to bid. These are the elite contractors. Sales excellence permeates project performance, estimating and vendor relations. It is not a stretch to link a strong sales culture to virtually every aspect of the business.

Finally, a strong sales culture can drastically influence your marketing results. Marketing in itself cannot become a sales effort. However, a marketing message embraced by a staff well trained and educated on the importance of sales goes a long way. Employees reinforce that marketing message when speaking with customers and even go out of their way to communicate it and this can magnify the overall marketing campaign, gaining greater reach and penetration for the firm. The thought that your marketing isn’t working because your internal staff doesn’t perceive the sales value is a foreign concept to most contractors. It would be like working for Apple, supporting Apple’s marketing campaign but buying a Samsung for your personal use. That one sale makes a difference, small but real. A staff that understands the importance of each customer – and even more so, each sale – will embrace the marketing message.

Making sure team members are aware of the role each plays in the sales process is an indicator of a company with a mature sales culture. Most will think it’s trivial and do nothing to improve the climate. They’ll continue to irritate the customer base and wonder why they have to fight for every project, often placing the blame on the customer. It’s not that they don’t want results; they simply won’t invest the time or resources for the training. Those companies that do will create an edge very few will be able to compete against.


   Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide and is author of “You’re Not Sellin’, They’re Buyin’!” He can be reached through his website, or at 314-775-9217.

Don’t Accept the Slow Season

in Sales
Tom Woodcock
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock

Winter is approaching. Work conditions will decline, ground will harden and everyone goes from holiday mode to winter blah. No one is spending any money and projects are scarce. Time to hold your breath and ride your line of credit through this annual recession.

Not so fast!

Throwing in the towel before the season even changes is awfully defeatist. The real course of action is to dig down deep and drive your sales effort. Opportunity may slow down, but it doesn’t disappear.

I’ve worked with enough contractors to know the difference between those that thrive through the winter and those who starve. The firms that go hungry are those that resign themselves to the norm and do nothing to move the bar. The true winners are those that look for every sales vehicle possible to get in front of the customer base therefore, opportunity. They gain a presence physically, electronically, and proactively. They’re not sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring or surfing the Internet for hours at a time. They understand that it takes work to find the projects that break over the winter. Not just those that bid this time of year, but also those that begin.

There is always pressure to go with the historical processes that the construction industry has sustained. Get fat over spring and summer then hibernate over the winter.

I refuse to let my clients accept this logic. We sit down and develop aggressive sales schedules and implement them. We keep the company accountable and review the results. Areas that we feel are the most likely to produce opportunity get the greatest sales attention. We then attack from a selling perspective and don’t let up. These opportunities may take more face-to0face customer time but often we’re the only ones actively pursuing them. This presents a great opportunity to steal a regular customer from a competitor.

Most people think that when they are actively engaged with a customer on a project, they’re selling. Not true. That’s servicing.

It’s what you do with customers when there isn’t a project on the table that falls into the sales category. It’s easy to communicate with a customer in the middle of a summer project. There are details to cover and schedules to meet. That’s a main component of a contractor servicing their client. It’s much more difficult to communicate when you’re not reviewing those elements, to actually talk to your customer on another level. Because of that difficulty, few people actually do it.

So this is the scenario: few people are actively calling on customers, you have time, and projects exist. Seems like an ideal situation for securing some business.

The challenge is to have the discipline and the plan to go after it. The first step is eliminating the “slow season” mentality. I’m not sure about you, but I prefer to be busy year-round. It can make sales projections easier and growth more possible when you gain business every month of the year instead of just nine.

Once this becomes part of your sales program, it tends to grow stronger year after year. You begin to recognize the vertical markets that produce opportunity during the winter months. You can then continue to develop your approach and marketing efforts to capitalize on the seasonal opportunities.

It is kind of like landscaping in the spring and summer and plowing snow in the winter, a common practice in property maintenance. Translation in construction terms: ground up in the spring and summer then renovation in the winter. That is just an example.

You can superimpose that formula on almost any construction trade of dynamic, if you’re willing to. That’s the rub. It’s easier to simply ignore this opportunity and kick back. Some see it as a time to catch their breath business wise. In reality, it’s more like holding your breath.

Investigating which market segments are progressing indicate where projects exist. Developing a sales approach to those markets and enacting it can unveil opportunities. Few people do this kind of sales work in the proverbial slow season.

The size of your company is irrelevant if you truly prioritize the sales effort. Breaking the trend is the most difficult part in conjunction with extending patience till results begin to occur. Selling is never a situation where you simply snap your fingers and the business magically appears. It requires planning, effort, and diligence, especially in a season that traditionally is not productive.

Anyone can secure business when there’s plenty for everyone. The real sales professionals secure it during the leaner times. When the bit players disappear and the field opens up, more commonly known as the Slow Season!

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: or at 314-775-9217.


True Sales Support

in Columns/Sales
Tom Woodcock
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock

I understand sales personnel need to be as accurate as possible before moving transactions to sales support. The better the information on the front end, the better the support effort on the back. With that being said, true sales support is tough to find.

The sales process may vary from company to company or product to product, but each sale has a process. Securing the customer and landing the deal are only the first steps. In construction, there are many additional facets to the sales transaction, any one of which can make or break the transaction.

Efficiency in the sales process directly relates to the customer experience and success rate of the corporate sales effort. Don’t let paperwork, material ordering, or communication with subcontractors interrupt the project or sales schedule. Not keeping the customer first lets details get bogged down in procedures or red tape. Throw a dose of company politics, mixed with mutual disrespect between sales and administration, and a mess develops. This can cause customers dissatisfaction and frustration, which often ripens into negative reviews and lack of referrals. Perish the thought of ever getting another project if that customer has recurring business.

Many companies have brought me in to help generate greater business volume. They want a full backlog of work at great margins. They tend to feel their front end sales approach is the problem. Often, I find their sales process is lacking or broken. There is no sense of urgency, little initiative to help the selling party and often resistance to sales if the documentation isn’t perfect. Whether it’s an issue of control, lack of understanding of the customer’s experience, or a perceived respect problem, the customer takes the hit. This can manifest in delays or cost overruns.

Support personnel need to understand that securing business in a sales environment is the most important aspect of any business. No sales, no paper. Not that their position isn’t critical, but those charged with getting business are there to do just that. Internal support networks are built to do just that, support. They end up making the sales agent look like a rock star, or incompetent.

The reinforcement of the commitments made by the sales rep goes a long way towards the establishment of the company’s credibility. By counteracting the sales person’s commitments, they send the customer the message that the rep is less than genuine and the company is inefficient.

I’m very aware of the fact that many sales agents promise the impossible, but that’s a different topic. Doing everything that you can to meet the customer’s expectations, if at all possible, is the essence of great sales support. The easy thing to do is to not perform and then blame the sales individual. That may be accurate, but it’s not optimum for the company.

I’ve mediated many battles between sales and support, some of them pretty nasty situations. Mutual understanding and respect for each party’s role in the sales process closes the gap between them. Good communication back and forth, verbally if feasible, clears up discrepancies. Avoiding condescending tones, venting, and blaming shows a higher level of business maturity. Few companies take the time to cultivate this type of environment. They let these internal relationships develop organically hoping for the best. Rarely do they end up with the result they hoped for.

Merely stating that you need cohesion between sales and support isn’t enough. It’s a daily practice that needs to be nurtured and reinforced. Ignoring a problem can result in delayed transactions, disgruntled employees, and loss of personnel, all of which are detrimental to a strong sales effort. Investing in training on the internal customer for sales personnel and the critical aspect of sales for the support personnel can bring an awareness of each party’s role.

Companies that work to develop the relationship between sales and support end up with a smooth flowing machine. They achieve a higher standard and set the bar high for competitors. This all takes self-evaluation and effort to be successful. Companies willing to practice this development will enjoy the fruits of it: high morale, extra effort, and increased revenue. Not to mention the value it brings to customers.

The reasons are critical. Gaining separation from the competition is not just the result of value, which is what is often taught. It is also the culmination of team effort, a value proposition rarely taught and seldom seen. The greater the customer experience front to back, the greater the value they perceive. This can reduce competitive influence and breed loyalty.

True sales support is simply part of a more profitable equation. The alternative can only result in more price competition and number shopping. Usually, contractors blame the customer for this behavior. In reality, looking internally may be the solution. Interesting to realize that the way we interact with one another in the sales process is so influential on the sales success of our companies.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: or at 314-775-9217.

The Risk of Selling on Cruise Control

in Columns/Sales
Tom Woodcock
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock, Seal The Deal

As companies in the construction industry begin to see life in their sales, they take a big sigh of relief. Finally they have some breathing room. No more stressing on every bid opportunity. Contractors are filling to the brim with work and the insane pricing war is coming to an end. They feel they can sit back and wait for the phone to ring. To be honest, it is ringing more.

Not so fast! Thinking you can put your sales effort on cruise control can be a tragic mistake, a quick way to declining revenues and shrinking profitability. The concept that a sales effort can simply be turned on and off is a flawed philosophy. Any true sales forward company will tell you they are always selling.

Opportunity can be elusive. When it’s plentiful, everyone’s happy. When it’s not, panic can ensue. I regularly challenge my clients to keep pushing the envelope on their sales efforts.

Don’t become lax in approach, financial commitment, or time commitment. It’s easy to do and it is extremely commonplace in the construction industry. Why does it occur? There are some very common causes:

Tangibility: Sales has many intangibles. Sales work often seems fruitless. Most people don’t understand the cumulative aspect of sales work. The construction industry is notorious for wanting A to B results. I put A effort in therefore, I should get B result. You’re fooling yourself if you believe this is the reality of selling. Much of the fruit of a strong sales effort is difficult to trace to a specific action. That can drive owners nuts. They want to try and justify a sales event, lunch, or ballgame.

The sales agent states that the investment was worthwhile, but the bid or order is a long time in coming. This is where I see many companies back off on their efforts and shift into cruise control to handle what simply comes to them. A couple months pass then the well is dry. I’ll have clients that will stop working with me and feel they’ve got it. Then, a month or two down the road, sales are down and the bid requests aren’t flying in at the same high rate. Since sales is far from black and white, contractors struggle with the lack of tangible results.

Fatigue:  Sales work takes effort, such as going to events you’ve been to before or meeting with clients and tracking customer data, to name a few practices. Consistently practicing these disciplines, along with repetitive presentations of competitive differentiation, can sometimes border on monotonous. That can tire even the most enthusiastic of sales personnel. Losing occasional evenings or weekends can be a challenge, especially if you can’t immediately see the results of your efforts. It’s much easier to rest and handle what you have. The more tired you are of selling, the easier it is to stop doing it.

Buy In: Having a staff that doesn’t buy into the effectiveness of sales work can produce pressure that makes that effort even more challenging. People that don’t sell for a living, and are in a support position, can kill the sales drive by challenging the need for a strong selling effort. Selling is a team effort. Getting each department or staff member in lock step is important to maintaining a continuous sales plan. Then all members work together to keep each other accountable in pursuing quality opportunities.

Simply coasting along and not looking to be innovative and consistent in your sales approach can result in a severe drop off in business, especially if the market shifts or competitors target you specifically. Trust me, it will happen, usually before you can get a handle on it. The key is to create a sales culture that permeates the company front to back.

Thinking you’ve locked in your sales direction and believing you can back off on your effort is not a beneficial mentality. Whether done consciously or not, it can result in a deficiency in future sales direction. Panic is no foundation for going after business. Customers sense it and it causes companies to do crazy things, like bidding at cost just to have activity. I’ve seen this happen on many occasions.

Thinking you can slow down or stop selling and fly on cruise control may seem okay, but in reality it is a bad decision. Keeping a good, consistent sales plan based in customer engagement will prevail. Even if you don’t have the capacity to take on more projects, you’re communicating with your client base about exactly where you are. This makes you a desirable option. When you have the room to do so, you can grab the opportunities. The last thing you want to do is disengage with the customer base. Reengaging can be a difficult proposition, which is all the more reason to avoid hitting cruise control.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: or at 314-775-9217.

Sales Systems, Uhhhh…Really?

in Columns/Sales

By Tom Woodcock

So you’re telling me a sales system will take your business to the next level?

Your customers will adapt to your systematic approach to selling? Your people will work the system to a tee? Their personalities will freely flow in the confines of a step by step process? Plus you’re being promised a close rate of 80 percent if you incorporate this program?

All you have to do is spend 10, 15, 20, or 100,000 dollars to get the results you want? Plus, it works in any industry, just watch!

Then you go through the seminars, your people whining or fake telling you they love it all the way through, and “voila!” no results.

The only growth is in the sales system provider’s bank account.

I’ve gone through all of the biggies. There is a good point here or there, but in reality, you and your team are responsible for sales success.

I probably just ticked a bunch folks off that invested in one of these program formats. Believe me, that’s not my intention.

I’m just passionate about sales and hate when companies burn good money trying to make their sales dynamic a formula, especially in the construction industry, where you have a bidding pricing structure. Throw in the nature of the customer base and there isn’t a formula in the world that will create an a to z result if you follow all the steps there within.

I’m even seeing as young, inexperienced trainers implementing those programs. They’ve been trained on the teaching components and philosophy, but have little experience closing deals and finding opportunity. But they sure know how you should do it!

Okay, what’s the alternative? Get the Zig Ziglar type and rah, rah my employees to success? Well, I am one of those types at times, but I go a bit deeper.

Some people have an innate ability to connect with people. They own the room, make friends, and quickly gain trust. I couldn’t give you the percentage of people that fit in this category, but it may be larger than you think. These people are relatively receptive to sales and, with some training on sales basics and a decent CRM program, they’ll thrive.

For those that do not have quite the same skill set, selling can be a challenge, but successful nonetheless. Solid product knowledge, a good marketing plan and specific customer sales strategies can be worked effectively.

The greatest factor in driving a group to sales success is motivation. It is that simple.

Even a great rep is only going to have a 30-percent-to-40-percent close rate. That’s a lot of rejection. This can cause people to avoid sales work, make excuses, and reduce customer contact activity.

The more optimistic and genuine an individual is, the greater the results. Positive attitude and enthusiasm can overcome technical sales mistakes. They still require positive internal sales meetings and an industry specific, outside sales trainer to come in and reinforce company goals on occasion. But, that is much more cost effective and time conserving than buying into a “sales system.”

Much of what brings sales success is common sense. There is a certain amount of blocking and tackling, but in all honesty, it’s not very complicated.

Innovations do come into the sales process and those need to be evaluated and then implemented when effective. The problem is the more complex the sales formula, the less people will apply it.

Companies that try and force selling into a structured program negate the human aspect of sales. They insist that if you properly walk a customer down a certain path, you’ll get the desired result. That works in mathematics, but not in sales. Hard closing, cold calling, and making the customer uncomfortable make no sense when trying to get a customer to choose you.

Ask yourself this question; “Do I like being hard closed, cold called, or made uncomfortable?” Then why on earth would anyone think their customers would.

I’m fairly certain any sales organization reading this article is saying my name in vain. They’re probably trying to discredit me as an old fashioned sales guru who just doesn’t get it.

Zig! Hearing that up in heaven?

The thing is, I accomplished more in sales by being myself, supported by the companies I sold for and staying true to sales basics. Throw in a little creativity and BAM, sales success.

So, if you’re spending a ton of money on a formulaic sales system and you’re not satisfied, cut your losses. If you love it, awesome! My question to you would be two-fold. Are the promised results there? Are your people really embracing it? Obviously I’ve seen plenty of proof to wager the answer to both questions is “no.”

Maybe it’s time to go old school. Trust the talent you have or you’ve hired and work to support them internally as much as possible. The results may be pleasantly surprising.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: or at 314-775-9217.

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