Training to Be a Lion
Bradley Hartmann shares his perspectives on improving sales techniques
In the most recent SBCA/JBREC Structural Building Components Survey (sbcacomponents.com/jbrec), 68 percent of component manufacturers indicated they are expanding their sales and marketing departments in 2023 to mitigate softening demand in their markets. With this clear shift in focus, I turned to Bradley Hartmann, one of the leading sales gurus in the building material industry, for some advice.
Bradley has contributed sales-focused articles to SBCA Magazine in the past and has published several books for building material sales professionals. Building material sales are currently a popular topic, and Bradley’s time is a similarly hot commodity. Fortunately, we had a chance to sit down and talk through some of his perspectives on having success selling in this industry.
There is certainly a lot of literature out there on sales techniques. What is unique about building material sales today that you find you are spending your time talking about?
We recently exited a time when money and profits in this industry had never been better. After 12 years of continual growth, it’s clear our industry’s sales muscle has not been working very hard and has atrophied. Many of the people I work with have hired sales professionals who have never known the feeling of being unsuccessful.
The challenge is our industry is not populated by people who have a lot of extra time for reading and seminars, so it’s important when talking about sales to be laser focused on a single issue.
Given current market conditions, prospecting for new customers has become a very pertinent topic.
When talking about customer relationships, sales professionals use words like “hunters,” “gatherers,” and “farmers” to describe what they do. You prefer to use the word “prospecting,” why is that?
I understand the “hunter” versus “farmer” concept, but feel it often oversimplifies something really important—the activities we expect sales professionals to do. Only a small number of people, maybe five percent, is naturally wired to go out there and shove their foot in the door, have conversations, deliver value, overcome objections, and land new clients. That means in order to do these activities well, most people need training. Most companies haven’t been training people to do this in recent years because things have been so good.
I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between a customer and a prospect. I wanted to make sure sale professionals in our industry have a good understanding of the differences between being an account manager and a sales professional. Keeping an existing customer happy is not selling. Let’s call it what it is.
You assert you must risk a “no” to get a “yes”. What do you mean by that?
I believe you must present something new for potential customers’ consideration. By that I mean, did you put the person in the chair opposite you in a position in which they had to say yes or no? If you’re not doing that, then you’re not selling anything. You’re just talking. Sales are about progressing through a series of micro-commitments in which the other person has to signal that you two are in alignment, whether that’s establishing the need or the solution that you can provide.
You also say that if a company is selling on price, they don’t need sales staff. I take that to mean if a company is hiring a sales professional, they don’t want to be the lowest cost provider. What is a sales professional supposed to sell, if it isn’t price?
I’ll start with the wrong answer, which is quality products, hardworking people, or better service. Everyone says that, so you’re not presenting a customer or prospect with a choice. Every sales professional needs to know how they stack up against the competition. They need to understand the value their company provides and how that value translates into meeting a prospect’s needs in a way others can’t. If an organization isn’t doing something to differentiate itself, its sales professionals are going to struggle.
Sales professionals also bring themselves to the table. They need to know what makes them unique and how to demonstrate they can bring something to the relationship that no one else can.
"You know, there are over one billion sheep on the planet, but only 25,000 lions. Lions are scarce, and so are the kind of people to whom this mindset comes naturally. But that mindset is the difference between account managers and those who go out and sell their company’s unique value and bring in new business."
— Bradley Hartmann
For sales professionals, you argue they really only have two choices, to be a lion or a lamb. You encourage individuals to choose a lion’s mindset. Why?
This concept comes from a quote in one of my favorite books, The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino. In it he wrote, “I was not delivered unto this world in defeat, nor does failure course in my veins. I am not a sheep waiting to be prodded by my shepherd. I am a lion and I refuse to talk, to walk, to sleep with the sheep.”
This is about mindset. It’s about sales professionals telling themselves, “I’m going to be assertive; I’m going to be confident. I believe there’s a need for us in the market.” It is about having confidence in themselves, their company, and the product they are bringing to market. This is also about having pride.
You know, there are over one billion sheep on the planet, but only 25,000 lions. Lions are scarce, and so are the kind of people to whom this mindset comes naturally. But that mindset is the difference between account managers and those who go out and sell their company’s unique value and bring in new business. Because it doesn’t come naturally to most people, they need training and a systematic approach.
You constantly emphasize that every existing and potential customer has NFPOs (needs, fears, pain, and opportunities for growth). Why is this an important mantra to repeat?
I feel the most successful sales professionals know what is limiting the growth of their customers. They care about these things. They spend time reading articles, researching trends, and consuming analyses. They understand the problems their customers can’t always readily articulate. Sales professionals need to gather that knowledge and then focus on the things they can influence or have some control over, and the approach prospects with real solutions.
You talk a lot about getting around the word “no” because so often it’s a reflexive response. How would you summarize this technique?
Too often, salespeople will put in all the work, but then accept the first rebuff. That’s admitting the prospect’s time is more valuable than your own. I want to help everyone fight through that. You can acknowledge you are interrupting prospects when you reach out to them, but you need to quickly move beyond that and give them a pathway to an easy yes. Acknowledge up front that you’ve done your homework. Couch it as a small commitment to see if you are a good fit for their organization.
I often suggest requesting a nine-minute follow-up conversation because it’s something that gets people’s attention. Personalize it however you want but develop an approach that fights the natural reflex to say, “No, I’m too busy to listen to your sales pitch, even if it could revolutionize my business.”
At the end of the day, you argue a relationship is more important than price. What’s your advice to sale professionals looking to develop solid relationships with their customers?
First, be useful. If someone articulates a problem, find a way to solve that problem, even if you can’t do so directly. Maybe they can’t source a building product you don’t sell. Make some phone calls to your contacts and find a source for them. They’ll remember you as a problem solver. Second, it’s not enough to be trustworthy. You need to be bringing new ideas to the table. Sales professionals need to make themselves invaluable to the customer or prospect.
Bradley has published several books exploring these topics, including his latest, Professional Sales Field Manual 11-18: Prospecting. You can order copies on his website at bradleyhartmannandco.com/books. He also has a weekly podcast, The Construction Leadership Podcast, in which he explores many of these concepts with guests from different sectors of the construction industry.