Article contributed by Joe Lehr, Glissen Chemical
People have said to me forever: “So Joe, how do you find business?” My answer was always: by looking for it.
Sure today there’s all kinds of computers and technology, but the reality is nothing has changed. It still means old school selling: doing whatever it takes to make contact with a person that wants to listen to you. The goal hasn’t changed because it’s our job as sales professionals to figure out what the best approach is to reach that target customer. I don’t need LinkedIn or Facebook to accomplish the goal of building a profile of my target. What position does the decision maker for my product line have in a company.
The next step is to build the words I need to sell my products. My goals for creating my pitch is to mold the words I am going to need to get him/her to listen to me for just one minute. It’s funny, the game hasn’t changed. When I started years ago, the first question was hey kid let me see your catalog. Well, we had one product and I would pull out a single sheet. I can’t tell you how many times they would tell me to come back when I had a full catalog to show them. We buy from XYZ Chemical, here’s their 125 page catalog. Nothing has changed because today the same thing happens with a website and in many cases the buyer won’t even talk to you. It is all email or text.
I learned very quickly that I wasn’t selling chemicals. The product I had was a specialty product for the foodservice industry. I would ask Mr. Dealer, do you sell glasses, dishes and pot and pans? Great how do they get cleaned? I have a product that can do a is far superior for washing bar glass ware than any product in the United States of America. I don’t need a catalog, I only need one sheet because my product which you might call chemicals, but I call a specialty product is simply the best. This is about where your customers come both the glass and a specialty foodservice solution to remove lipstick and grease and fat.
I want them to come to you Mr. Dealer to buy the glass from you and then figure out how to clean a glass so that the beer they are pouring doesn’t go flat. Before too long, he’s asking me about is it a powder or a liquid. He no longer looking at me as a chemical salesman.
What has changed in foodservice is who is ultimately selling the glass and cleaning solution to the end-user restaurant/foodservice professional. For years, we had the traditional equipment and supply dealer who I looked at as the “hardware store” of the foodservice industry. That owner was responsible for selling glasses, dishes and pots and pans to restaurants in his local community. In most cases these were family businesses with somebody that wanted to listen. I’m not going to start singing that “good old days” tune. But what I am going to say is that in many cases the priority of today’s newer buyer has become money and margins with quality second.
I find today that you simply need to work a little harder and be creative. The business is there but as I said at the beginning, you need to look for it so that you get that extra 30 seconds to tell your story. So what I have done is to come at it from this new age buyer’s perspective. Simply put, how can my products help you make money. This is not my hobby, I still take it very personally, this is how I make my living and put bread on my table. So I am here to help both of us make money. Even though you like to text and email, our common goal hasn’t changed: we both make money by providing a specialty product (not a chemical) that tells you customers you won’t settle for anything but the very best.
What I have always enjoyed is the process of trying to get better with every sales call I have made over my seven decades. To this day, if I go three days without an order, I hear those guys from the 50’s and 60’s telling me to come back with my catalog. To me, the rejection was simply the motivation to dig in and get more creative. Even with all of the technology today, it’s still the answer.
I’ve always gone back to basics of my selling process as well. The goal of the creativity was to get the opportunity to go “on stage” and get the five minutes I needed to tell our story. I was never an order taker. Every time I see a distributor it is “showtime” to perform. The applause is an order. It is interesting, throughout my career, I watched other salespeople in action. I learned more from those that I found disgraceful than from those who knew what they were doing.
It’s interesting the common characteristics of great salespeople haven’t changed. I worked to copy how they dress, speak and present their line to the buyer. I saw a salesperson chewing gum on a call and to this day I have never chewed gum again. Another time, I saw a guy calling on the same accounts wearing a shirt that clearly he had been wearing for the week. I made sure that when I got back to my hotel that my shirt was cleaned and pressed. Indeed to look sharp and raring to go to perform for my buyers.
A key ingredient that has never changed in old school selling is attitude. Salespeople need to build their own personal definition of success.
I call it being successful within yourself. When you really feel that you have done something really important and you start to make money with it, there’s simply nothing like it. For me it started with the foundation that my Dad (Eugene) who was also my boss taught me about HONESTY, INTEGRITY and QUALITY and yes pounded the desk when he got to “YOUR WORD IS YOUR BOND”.
There are those who may have looked at my business and said why isn’t he 10x bigger. My definition of success involved having Fridays off with my bride of 63 years and having a very different life outside of work. I’m asking you to look inside yourself and build and live your definition of success.
For 70 plus years, Joseph “Joe” Lehr has been a pillar of the Metro New York restaurant and foodservice industry. At the helm of Glissen Chemical, Lehr has built the Brooklyn, NY based company into a national manufacturer of the industry’s highest quality detergents. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or via phone at (718)436-4200.