"Say, you're a funny salesman!" exclaimed the business man. "Here I make up my own mind that I need two motor trucks and decide to buy 'em from your company. Then I send for a salesman. You come down and spend a week looking into my horse delivery, and now you tell me to keep my horses. What kind of a salesman do you call yourself anyway?"
"What made you think you needed motor trucks?" was the counterquestion of the serious, thick-spectacled young chap.
"Everyone else seems to be turning to gasoline delivery. I want to be up to date."
"Your delivery problem lies outside the gasoline field," said the salesman. "Your drivers make an average of ninety stops each trip. They climb stairs and wait for receipts. Their rigs are standing at the curb more than half the time. Nothing in gasoline equipment can compete with the horse and wagon under such conditions. If you had loads of several tons to be kept moving steadily I'd be glad to sell you two trucks."
"Suppose I wanted to buy them anyway?"
"We could not accept your order."
"But you'd make your commission and the company its profit."
"Yes; but you'd make a loss, and within a year your experience would react unfavorably upon us."
So no sale was effected. Facts learned during his investigation of this business man's delivery problem led the salesman to make suggestions that eliminated waste and increased the effectiveness of his horse rigs.
About a year later, however, this business man sent for the salesman again. He contemplated motorized hauling for another company of which he was the president. After two days' study the salesman reported that motor trucks were practicable and that he needed about five of them.
"All right—fill out the contract," directed the business man.
"Don't you want to know how these trucks are going to make you money?" asked the salesman.
"No; if you say I need five trucks, then I know that's just what I need!"
A new kind of salesmanship is being developed in many lines of business—and particularly in the rebuilding of sales organizations made necessary by the ending of the war and return to peace production. "Study your goods," was the salesman's axiom yesterday. "Study your customer's problem," is the viewpoint to-day; and it is transforming the salesman and sales methods.
Indeed, the word salesman tends to disappear under this new viewpoint, for the organization which was once charged largely with disposing of goods may now be so intimately involved in technical studies of the customers' problems that selling is a secondary part of its work. The Sales Department is being renamed, and known as the Advisory Department or the Research Staff; while the salesman himself becomes a Technical Counsel or Engineering Adviser.
Camouflage? No; simply better expression of broader functions.
As a salesman, probably he gave much attention to the approach and argument with which he gained his customer's attention and confidence. But, with his new viewpoint and method of attack, perhaps the first step is asking permission to study the customer's transportation needs, or accounting routine, or power plant—or whatever section of the latter's business is involved.
The experience of the thick-spectacled motor-truck salesman was typical. Originally he sold passenger cars. Then came the war, with factory facilities centered on munitions and motor trucks. There being no more passenger cars to sell, they switched him over into the motor-truck section. There he floundered for a while, trying to develop sales arguments along the old lines. But the old arguments did not seem to fit, somehow.
It might have been possible to demonstrate the superior construction of his motor truck; but competitors would meet point with point, and customers were not interested in technicalities anyway. He tried service as an argument; but that was largely a promise of what motor trucks would do for people after they bought them, and competitors could always promise just as much, and a little more.
Company reputation? His company had a fine one—but motor-truck purchasers wanted to know the cost of moving freight. Price? No argument at all, because only one other concern made motor trucks calling for so great an initial investment.
So Thick-Specs, being naturally serious and solid, began to dig into motor trucks from the standpoint of the customer. He got permission to investigate delivery outfits in many lines. Selling a five-ton motor truck to many a business man was often equivalent to letting Johnny play with a loaded machine gun. Such a vehicle combined the potentiality of moving from fifty to seventy-five tons of freight daily, according to routing and the number of hours employed; but it involved a daily expense of twenty-five dollars.
The purchaser could lose money in two ways at swift ratios, and perhaps unsuspectingly: He might not use his full hauling capacity each day or would use it only half the year, during his busy season. Or he might underestimate costs by overlooking such items as interest and depreciation.
Thick-Specs' first actual sale was not a motor truck at all, but a motorcycle, made by another company. Within three months, however, this motorcycle added two big trucks to a fleet of one dozen operated by a wholesale firm. That concern had good trucks, and kept them in a well-equipped garage, where maintenance was good. But at least once daily there would be a road breakdown. Usually this is a minor matter, but it ties up the truck while its puzzled driver tries to locate the trouble.
When a motorcycle was bought for the garage, drivers were forbidden to tamper with machinery on the road—they telephoned in to the superintendent. By answering each call on his own motorcycle—about an hour daily—the repairman kept equipment in such good shape that valuable extra service was secured from the fleet each day.
The salesman-adviser did not originate this scheme himself, but discovered it in another concern's motor-truck organization; in fact, this is the advantage the salesman-adviser enjoys—acquaintance with a wide range of methods and the knack of carrying a good wrinkle from one business to another. He brings the outside point of view; and, because modern business runs toward narrow specialization, the outside point of view is pretty nearly always welcome, provided it is honest and sensible.
In another case he had to dig and invent to meet a peculiar situation.
There was a coal company working under a handicap in household deliveries. Where a residence stood back from the sidewalk coal had often to be carried from the motor truck in baskets. This kept the truck waiting nearly an hour. A motor truck's time is worth several dollars hourly. If the coal could have been dumped on the sidewalk and carried in later, releasing the truck, that would have saved expense and made more deliveries possible.
A city ordinance prohibited dumping coal on the sidewalk except by permit. Coal men had never tried to have that ordinance changed. But the salesman-adviser went straight to the city authorities and, by figures showing the expense and waste involved, secured a modification, so that his customer, the coal company, got a blanket permit for dumping coal and gave bonds as an assurance against abuse of the privilege. Then a little old last year's runabout was bought and followed the coal trucks with a crew to carry the coal indoors, clearing sidewalks quickly.
This salesman-adviser's philosophy was as simple as it was sound. Confidence is the big factor in selling, he reasoned. Your customer will have confidence in you if he feels that you are square and also knows what you are talking about. By diligent study of gasoline hauling problems in various lines of business he gained practical knowledge and after that had only to apply his knowledge from the customer's side of the problem.
"Put it another way," he said: "Suppose you had a factory and expected to run it only one year. There would not be time to get returns on a costly machine showing economies over a five-year period; but if you intended to run your factory on a five-year basis, then that machine might be highly profitable.
"In sales work it was just the same; if you were selling for this year's profit alone, you'd close every sale regardless of your customer's welfare. Let the purchaser beware! But if you meant to sell on the five-year basis, then confidence is the big investment, and the most profitable sale very often one you refuse to make for immediate results."
He had a fine following when the draft reached him; and during the eight months he spent in an Army uniform he utilized his knowledge of gasoline transportation as an expert in Uncle Sam's motor service. Upon being discharged he returned to his job and his customers, and to-day the concern with which he is connected is taking steps to put all its motor-truck salesmen on this advisory basis.
War shot its sales force to pieces—the Army and the Navy reached out for men and tied up production facilities; so there was nothing to sell. But war also gave a clean slate for planning a new sales force.
As old salesmen return and new men are taken on for sales instruction, this concern trains them—not with the old sales manual, by standard approach and systematic sales argument, but by sending them out into the field to study gasoline hauling problems. They secure permission to investigate trucking methods of contractors, department stores, wholesale merchants, coal dealers, truck owners hauling interstate freight, mills, factories and other lines of business. They investigate the kinds and quantities of stuff to be moved, the territory and roads covered, the drivers, the garage facilities. They ride behind typical loads and check up running time, delays, breakdowns, gasoline and oil consumption.
Engineering teaches people to think in curves. This youngster had to make a curve of the grocer's trucking before he could visualize it himself. His curve included factors like increase in stuff that had been hauled during the past three years and additions to the motor equipment. When you have a healthy curve showing any business activity, the logical thing to do, after bringing it right down to date, is to let it run out into the future at its own angle. This was done with the grocery curve, and its future extension indicated that not more than three months later the grocery house would need about four more five-ton motor trucks.
Closer investigation of facts behind the curve revealed an unusual growth in sugar hauling, due to the increase in supply and removal of consumer war restrictions. And that grocery concern bought additional trucks for sugar within two months. With the insight made possible by such a curve a salesman might safely have ordered the trucks without his customer's knowledge and driven them up to his door the day the curve showed they were needed.
"Here are the trucks you wanted to haul that sugar."
"Good work! Drive 'em in!"
What has been found to be sound sales policy in the motor truck business applies to many other lines. Yesterday the salesman of technical apparatus sought the customer with a catalogue and a smile—and a large ignorance of the technical problems. To-day that kind of selling is under suspicion, because purchasers of technical equipment have been led to buy on superficial selling points and left to work out for themselves complex technicalities that belong to the manufacturer of the equipment.
In the West during recent years a large number of pumps of a certain type have been sold for irrigating purposes. Purchasers bought from the catalogue-and-smile type of salesman, hooked their pumps up to a power plant—and found that they lifted only about half the number of gallons a minute promised in the catalogue. Manufacturers honestly believed those pumps would do the work indicated in their ratings. They had not allowed for variations in capacity where pumps were installed under many different conditions and run by different men. The situation called for investigation at the customer's end; when it was discovered that these pumps ought to be rated with an allowance for loss of capacity a half to two-thirds of the power, due to friction and lost power.
It might have been dangerous for the salesman to show up again in an irrigation district where a lot of his pumps were "acting up," armed only with his catalogue and smile. But when an engineer appeared from the pump company to help customers out of their difficulties, he won confidence immediately and made additional sales because people felt that he knew what he was talking about.
The superintendent of a big machinery concern found that his expense for cutting oils was constantly rising. Salesmen had followed salesmen, recommending magic brands of the stuff; yet each new barrel of oil seemed to do less work than the last—and cost more in dollars.
One day a new kind of visitor showed up and sent in the card of a large oil company. He was not a salesman, but an investigator of oil problems. The superintendent took him through the plant. He studied the work being done by screw-cutting machines, lathes and other equipment operated with cutting oil. Where salesmen had recommended brands without technical knowledge of either the work to be done or the composition of the oil, this stranger wrote specifications that cut down the percentage of costly lard oil used on some work; and he eliminated it altogether on others.
Moreover, he pointed out sheer losses of oil by picking up a handful of metal cuttings from a box, letting them drip, measuring the oil that accumulated and recommending a simple device for reclaiming that oil before the waste metal was sold.
This new viewpoint in selling is developing in so many lines that to enumerate them would be to make a national directory of business concerns manufacturing milling machinery, office devices, manufacturing and structural materials, equipment for the farm and the mine.
People who purchase such products have been accustomed to meeting two different representatives of manufacturers: First, the salesman skilled in selling, but deficient in technical knowledge.
"This chap is here to see how much he can get out of me," said the prospective consumer to himself; and he was on his guard to see that the visitor got as little as possible, either in the way of orders or information.
The other representative came from the mechanical department to see how present equipment was running, or perhaps to "shoot trouble." He was long on technical knowledge, but probably dumb when it came to salesmanship.
"This fellow is here to help me out of my troubles," said the customer. "I'll see how much I can get out of him."
Presently manufacturers of equipment woke up to the fact that their mechanical men—inspectors and trouble shooters—had a basis of confidence which the salesman pure and simple was rapidly losing. Moreover, the technical man gained a knowledge of the customer's requirements that furnished the best foundation for selling new equipment.
The salesman discovered the technical man and went to him for tips on new equipment needed by customers whose plants he had visited. The technical man also discovered the salesman, for it was plain enough that equipment well sold—skillfully adjusted to the customer's needs—gave the least margin for trouble shooting.
So there has been a meeting of minds; and to-day the salesman studies the technicalities, and the technical man is learning salesmanship, and their boss is standing behind them both with a new policy. This is the policy of performance, not promises—service before sales. Under that policy the very terms salesmanship and sales department are beginning to disappear, to be replaced by new nomenclature, which more accurately indicates what a manufacturer's representative can do for the customer, and gives him access to the latter on the basis of confidence and good will.