In part one of a two-part series, learn the seven steps required to improve the selling skills of your showroom salespeople.

As I travel the country doing seminars and showroom consulting, I am appalled at the lack of selling skills exhibited by showroom salespeople. And guess what? For the most part, it isn't their fault.

Very few companies offer any kind of formal selling skills training. Most do a pretty good job on product training, albeit most of that is simply on-the-job training. Quite frankly, I'm at a loss as to why companies don't spend the time, energy and money necessary to make their salespeople more productive, better at their jobs. Product knowledge is only half of what needs to be taught. Contrary to the popular myth that "salespeople are born," selling is a learned skill. It needs to be taught.

There's a direct correlation between productivity, compensation and selling skills. Lack of selling skills = lack of productivity = lower compensation (more on this in a moment) = less profits for your company.

I recently had the wonderful experience of developing and presenting a "Professional Showroom Selling Seminar" to 55 Kohler registered showroom salespeople. The reception and the reaction were terrific! Most members of the group were experienced (two-plus years) showroom salespeople and most had no sales training. They were like sponges. It was almost as though they couldn't get enough. There was a lot of interaction and role playing, which has to happen in learning. My hope is that we can take this seminar "public," as there's a huge need for it.

The last Showroom Survey done by Supply House Times was in 1997. It showed the average compensation for showroom salespeople was in the low $30s or less. It also found that individual monthly sales averaged in the $30s. Companies are paying for what they get! If they took the time to teach professional selling skills, productivity would increase, and compensation should move right along with it.

The wholesaler is used to outside salespeople calling on the plumbing trades averaging a million plus dollars a year in sales. Showroom people (for the most part) won't/can't achieve these numbers -- but plug in the gross profit figures and it balances out.

Here's an example:

A. Outside contractor salesperson: $1.2 million year @ 20% Gross Profit = $240,000 Gross Profit $

B. Showroom salesperson: $670,000 year @ 36% Gross Profit = $241,000 Gross Profit $

By growing sales and margins via learned selling techniques, the showroom salesperson will grow sales and profit dollars -- and then should be compensated on a par with the outside trade salesperson. That makes sense, doesn't it?

Okay, let's look at some of the basics. It would be impossible to do justice to this wonderful subject in two 1,200-word articles. But if we can whet your appetite for more, we will have done our job!

What is selling?

It's been said, "Nothing happens until the sale is made." Think about it: If products aren't sold, they sit in the warehouses. No transportation is needed; accounting has nothing to account for; and industry comes to a standstill. The entire process starts with the sale.

1.Selling is the process of moving goods and services from the hands of those who produce and distribute them into the hands of those who will benefit most from their use. For example, from the manufacturer to the distributor (showroom) to the plumber or home builder to the homeowner.

2. Selling involves persuasive selling skills on the part of the person doing the talking (showroom salesperson to homeowner).

3. Selling is supported by print, audio or video messages that sell either the particular item or the brand names as being something the receiver would want to have. (Manufacturers and showrooms advertise in various media to pre-sell their products and services.)

The most successful plumbing distributors and showrooms in this country have superb selling organizations. They rise and fall on the quality of their sales efforts.

There is no limit to where you can go in your selling profession if you are properly trained and skilled in the art of selling.

If you can read this and understand me -- you can sell! Selling is like any other relatively simple skill: First, you have to let go of the fear. Remember the first time you got on a bike or tried to swim? There was an initial fear, but once you learned the basics and practiced the techniques you achieved a comfortable level. Selling is exactly the same!

The biggest obstacle is attitude. If you think you can't, you won't! And vice versa.

Selling skills can make or break you in whatever endeavor you choose. They can make the difference in getting the promotion, the new job, the girl or the guy of your dreams or having to settle for less.

Seven steps to selling

Any selling effort involves a series of stages before the deal is finalized.

1. Prospecting. Find clients and entice them to come into your showroom. This is unlike the wholesale side of the business, where salespeople go out and "knock on doors," then tell their story. Most showroom salespeople count on advertising or word-of-mouth to drive clients into the showroom.

2. Original contact. This may be done via mail or phone, by calling on the client or at the initial "meeting and greeting" in the showroom.

3. Qualifying. This very important part of the selling cycle involves learning all you can about the client and why he or she came into the showroom. At this time you can talk about your company, products and services. This phase tells you how much time and effort to make with the client.

4. Presentation. Now you're really into selling -- yourself, your company, your products and services. You're selling quality, features and benefits and establishing why the client should buy from you.

5. Addressing concerns. This is also known as "meeting objections" -- making the negatives go away. Being a good listener, picking up on roadblocks and making those negative concerns diminish to the point of writing the order is part of a salesperson's job.

6. Closing the sale. Write the order! Isn't that the whole purpose of the exercise? Too many showroom salespeople see their job as helping the client make their product selections. Too many quotes sit in "pending files" waiting for clients to give the go-ahead. Good selling is being proactive and making the sale happen!

7. Getting referrals. The No. 1 means of advertising should be referrals from happy clients to friends, relatives, neighbors and others. This is your biggest opportunity for potential future business.

These are the major points in selling. My Showroom Selling Seminar spends a significant amount of time in each of these areas.

In my next column, I will write about the "winning-edge theory." This theory simply states that the difference between top performers and mediocre performers is very small. Top performers do certain things just a little better each and every day. Small improvements can and will equal big rewards.