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My Favorite Sale

As proven by these two sales stories, the same approach is not always the best method to close the deal. A customer service rep and a salesperson explain how they mixed things up to satisfy the customer.

Internet Gamble Pays Off
By Kathy DeWitt

Our company doesn’t normally deal with government contracts, but we recently jumped at a chance to bid on one. For the past few years, Cass Hudson Company President Eric Larson has been registering on Central Contractors Registration (www.ccr.gov), a government Web site, hoping for the opportunity to bid on a large project. The odds were against us—even if we’re selected from the 373,101 active vendors in the database, there’s still no guarantee for our bid to be chosen.

We got lucky this summer when we received an e-mail asking if we wanted to bid on a contract for casters to be sent to Unicore, a company that fabricates products for penitentiaries. The casters were headed to prisons in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, where inmates put them on carts for the U.S. Postal Service.

I responded quickly to the e-mail and developed a rapport with Unicore personnel, who assisted with the bidding process. Because I submitted the bid early, I could consult with Unicore about any errors in the paperwork, which they helped rectify.

I then approached Albion Industries Regional Sales Manager Kerry Eason to help develop the casters, which required a special-sized top plate for the 5-inch x 2-inch wheels and a 3/8-inch bolt instead of the normal 5/16-inch bolt. That also required special bolt-hole patterns. Albion personnel already knew the specs for the project because its sister company, Colson Associates, had gotten the same contract in the past, which helped us come in low on cost on its bid. The 80-page application was tedious, but I answered every question and double-checked everything. I believe it was that attention to detail that landed the sale.

The project called for 80,000 casters for the mail carts. A large portion of the contract was awarded to an import caster manufacturer, but because the company had to ship the casters overseas, they wouldn’t arrive for 12 to 14 weeks. We told Unicore we could put the first shipment in their hands in three weeks, so we ended up with the preliminary section of the project—a $250,000 contract for 19,000 casters. We shipped everything on schedule in June 2005.

We may have been lucky to get the job, but our skill in satisfying the customer in a timely fashion really made the difference.

Helping a High-Tech Company Get the Bugs Out
By Patrick O’Brien

Listening to your customers is vitally important to sales, as most salespeople know. But this case was different: I had to tell the customer.

This past summer was really hot in Chicago, and Westell, a company that manufactures phone modems, had problems with the heat in its 80,000 square foot assembly building. Because the company manufactures electronic components, the plant is high security, so they couldn’t leave the doors open. Plus, with their facility running 24 hours and a pond on the property, leaving the doors open would have resulted in a bug problem almost immediately.

Bug doors

Bug screen door lets air in while keeping insects out.

In addition, the employees are union and insist on certain working conditions, so it was a sensitive situation. It could have cost the company a lot of money if they didn’t act fast. When Westell called me at Container Systems to talk about the problem, they wanted to install fans. But I knew just what was necessary.

As a result of working with Goff’s Enterprises on another project, I recently had reviewed some of their literature and remembered that they manufactured a spring-assisted bug screen door that could solve Westell’s problems. But when I brought up the idea and showed them the advantages, Westell was skeptical. That wasn’t the kind of solution they were interested in. It seemed too simple. It would never work.

Two weeks later, they called again, and this time they wanted the bug screens. I contacted Goff’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ed Cooke and faxed him the order. Goff’s was backed up with production because of the high temperatures. I expected my order of two screens would be put at the end of the line, but when I explained the problem, Ed got them for us in seven days. We sent a special courier to pick them up in a van to speed the process.

Our crew installed the doors in one day. Because the doors are spring-assisted, they can be rolled up like a blind when tugged on, and they don’t compromise the necessary width or height needed to load and unload fork trucks and semis. The doors are made of a mesh material, so fans work to draw air through the bug screens, keeping security maintained while also keeping the employees cool. It cost Westell a few thousand dollars to solve the problem, versus $50,000 or more for air conditioning or loss of production time.

It was a simple solution to a serious problem. Westell is very, very happy with the results, and I’m happy that I kept pressing the bug screens in spite of their initial refusal.


Kathy DeWitt Patrick O'Brien Meet the Authors
Kathy DeWitt is customer service manager at Cass Hudson Company in Indianapolis, Indiana. Patrick O’Brien is territory manager at Container Systems in Westmont, Illinois.

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