Mike Damora is vice president of sales and marketing at K&B Home Remodelers, in Succasunna, N.J. Reach him at madamora@kbhomesnj.com. Follow him on Twitter @madamora.

Oh, Those Fuller Brush Days

Hey Mr. Sales Rep, what do you have in the trunk of your car? Let’s hope it’s nothing more than a spare tire.

June 08, 2016

A long time ago, we used to have a saying: “You can’t sell from an empty car.”

What that meant was that you couldn’t properly present your product and close business without the necessary equipment. It would be like going into a gunfight without bullets. I’d come out to the car with the rep before they set out on a sales call and I'd have my checklist with me. I’d have him open the trunk, and we'd check that everything needed was in there:

Window/siding/roofing sample? Check.

Pitch book? Check.

Parts kit? Check.

Heat lamp? Check.

Flashlight for attic inspections? Check.

Kill book? Check.

Wait ... Kill book?

The kill book was a scrapbook the reps were strongly encouraged to keep. It consisted of all the dirt on all the competitors. Say the prospect mentions that she’s also talking to XYZ company.

“XYZ Company?” (Tone mingles shock, horror, disbelief.) “They’re still in business?” (Pause, head shake.) “You didn’t give them any money, did you?” (Tone of alarm. Now, pause.) “Because I saw in the news where they were indicted for fraud and … wait, I have the clipping!”

Now the kill book comes out, and all the sins of XYZ are on display for the prospect to see.

Multiple Trips

This was a lot of stuff to carry; so much that the last thing you want to do is try to drag it all into the house at the same time. You’d scare the prospect half to death. They’d see you lugging in all that apparatus and think: Oh my God, he’ll be here for hours.

And we would!

So instead I’d excuse myself at different points during the sales call and go back out to the trunk for … the parts kit or the heat lamps and the Btu solar reader with extra batteries and the backup bulbs.

“The reason the window we sell is the best on the market, is … wait, just a minute, I’ll be right back and I can show you.”

Then I’d be out to the trunk of the car retrieving product samples. Not just a sample of our window but also a sample  of the cheap, plastic, hollow, all-vinyl, noninsulated windows that we told people our competitors were selling.

You’re thinking: What if they don’t let you back in the house?

I just came and went. I didn’t ask for permission.

Deep in the Linoleum

All that stuff takes up a lot of real estate in the kitchen. I’m dug into the linoleum, camped out with all the equipment on my side of the take, them on the other side of the table. And as I launch into the company story, that is, how wonderful we are, the prospects now know it’s going to be a long evening and their energy begins to go into a slow fade.

There were 35 pieces in a window, and a salesperson’s job at the company where I worked was to show the homeowner every one. Not 34, but 35. From there we pull out pieces of capping and talk about the 80-pound tension alignment clip.

“And what that means to you is that this window is never going to come out of alignment. If it does, you can call us up and we will be happy to …”

On average, we’d be there about two hours. The longest I was ever in a house was six. Not a happy night.

Plodding and Pointless

Today, if you hauled all that stuff into the house you’d look like the Fuller Brush man. Something right out of the ’50s. Millennial homeowners would be in shock. I can already see them rolling their eyes.

There’d be no point in this show-and-tell performance you’re about to put on for them because they’ve already gone online and done the research before you even showed up.

Instead, appear with a clipboard and a laptop or tablet. That’s it. You’re there because you may need to explain a few things.

What I do is I bring in a laptop and an extra monitor. I’m looking into the laptop and I’ve set the monitor up so it’s facing the homeowner. There is no company story. I don’t remember the last time I did that. The whole company story was about building credibility, and I need to have that credibility in place—that is, our reviews—well beforehand or I probably won’t even get in the house.

On the first visit, I’m there for maybe 15 minutes. I ask: What do you like best about the exterior right now?

Sometimes they say: nothing at all.

OK, good. Now, what do you want most in the new exterior? Curb appeal? An updated look? Maintenance free?

How long are you planning to live here?

I’m going to design whatever we do around your needs.

This isn’t all about me saying how great I am and how ours is the best product.

On the second visit, I could be there a 30 to 40 minutes. Or I could be there as long as the homeowner wants. I build the proposal on the screen right in front of them. They know their budget and we work with that.

And because you’re not pounding them, the homeowner is relaxed and can speak freely.

Today everyone in the market is jockeying for position. The new entrepreneurs, like Uber and Airbnb, use technology to connect the dots. I don’t need a kill book, the internet is my kill book.

And if your position is the heat lamp and the sample kit and here we are on Page One of the pitch book, you’ll be a stegosaurus. Unfortunately, you’ll probably be in the middle of a presentation when you realize it. Just like that dinosaur was probably munching on a mouthful of jungle leaves when the freeze hit.

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