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Executive Editor

Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional, 202.365.9070

The Future of Sales

Selling has never been easy, but it’s far harder today than it was even a few years ago

August 04, 2017

My father was a salesman at heart. He held a civil service job for most of his life, but he was always selling something as a way to earn a few extra dollars. While he was dating my mother, he owned vending machines that for a few pennies or a nickel dispensed a measured quantity of peanuts or perfume. After they married, and for a few years on either side of 1950, the year I was born, he managed a team of salesmen who went house-to-house selling a first-of-its-kind childcare product called the Baby Butler. It was a unique, “not sold in stores” roll-around high chair that anticipated the needs of the burgeoning number of young parents of my Baby Boomer generation. My two younger siblings and I all ate our first solid food in the comfort of the Baby Butler’s padded, high-back seat, and we learned our letters from the alphabet etched into the chalkboard on the reverse side of the spill-proof mica top.

The sales pitch was all about convenience, and safety, and peace of mind. The telescoping legs meant you could adjust the height to avoid stooping. Less stooping was also a benefit of the lip formed by the natural wood frame because it kept blocks and balls and other baby toys from rolling off the edge. And the aforementioned wraparound spill-proof mica tabletop also prevented messy spills and food splatters from landing on the floor—even less stooping. Wheels made it easy to move the Baby Butler from one part of the house to another without having to lift the baby out, and the wide, blocky design ensured that no matter how rambunctious baby got, the high chair wouldn’t tip over. My father never gave up selling—at one time or another he sold fluorescent bulbs in pink- and green-tinted pairs, an early attempt at generating “warmer” light; then there were Visan food supplements, Hoover vacuum cleaners, and Niagra massage chairs, one of which still graces my mother’s living room. But he did give up his Baby Butler business not long after my sister was born, when I was about 3 years old. His official reason was that he didn’t like being on the road away from his young family, and he believed that we all would benefit from a reliable government job that provided a steady, albeit smaller, paycheck. Over the years, however, as he obliged our requests for stories of the good old days, it became clear that another reason—perhaps the more important one—was that he just couldn’t find a salesman who could sell as well as he could. To him, selling was easy. It was a process, and people who couldn’t master the system were a great source of frustration for him.

But selling is never easy. I think he enjoyed it so much and was so good at it that he discounted how hard he worked at it—learning everything there was to know about the products he sold, practicing his presentation over and over, and rehearsing his answers to customer objections. But selling back then was easier than it is today. Hey, who am I kidding: It was easier five years ago than it is today. And it’s getting harder to find, train, motivate, and retain a salesperson who’s as good at selling as you are.

Sales Support

I don’t usually plug Pro Remodeler’s events in this space, but I’m making an exception for the Extreme Sales Summit because, among the long list of problems remodelers have talked about with me over the last 12 months, sales is the No. 1 issue.

So, if your prospects lack urgency, if your sales cycle has doubled or tripled in length, if Millennials are still an unsolvable mystery, if you can’t find a decent salesman or can’t train the ones you have, if you’re still toting a ring binder into sales calls or if 3-D rendering is a mystery to you, then you can’t afford to miss the Extreme Sales Summit. Our conference theme is Sell Into the Future, and we’ll be exploring things my father couldn’t have imagined in 1953.

Disruptive change happens fast, and you don’t see it coming. You can level those odds in two days at the Extreme Sales Summit this September. My father would have wanted to be there.

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