Marketing Matters Featured

10:07am EDT July 22, 2002

Q. I sell a product that is used by contractors. Typically the contractor will call me for a quote that he can use in preparing his bid. However, once the contract is awarded, he puts my product out to bid, and I am forced to compete on price. How should I handle this?

A. The next time the contractor asks you for a quote, ask him up-front what’s going to happen in the event he gets the contract. Will you automatically get the business at the price you’ve quoted, or will it go out to bid?

If he tells you that you will get the work, make sure it’s understood that the work will be at the price you quoted. In fact, I would be leery of this response and check his answer with a statement similar to the following:

“I appreciate that, but I have this fear. You probably wouldn’t do this, but a lot of times when I’m dealing with other contractors who request my help in responding to a bid, they come back to me and ask me to lower my price once they get the job. If I’m not willing to lower my price and someone else will, does that mean I will lose the business?”

If he tells you that he’s going to have to put your part of the contract out for bid or shop it around to whoever offers the best price, simply hold up a mirror to his face (figuratively) and gently ask him this question:

“Bill, I’d really love to do business with you, but I’m not sure I understand what you’re telling me. Let me see if I understand. You want me to help you get this contract by putting together a proposal for this part of the project, but if you get the job and somebody else is willing to sell you these items for 10 percent less, she is going to get the business instead of me?”

Bringing to light the ridiculousness of this situation is usually enough to get them to agree to give you the work, but not always. If he insists on putting it out for bid, I would nicely suggest that he get a quote from the other guy and, if the contractor gets the job, you’ll be happy to beat the other guy’s price. At least this way, if you have to cut your price to get the business, you won’t be helping the competition or wasting your own time on “unpaid consulting.”

Q. I have a lot of inexperienced sales representatives on my staff. What can I do to get them to perform at a higher level of competency?

A. Contrary to the popular myth, successful sales reps are made, not born. My answer may sound simplistic and self-serving, but I think you need to provide them with the right training. I think it’s amazing that we hand new sales reps a briefcase full of literature and expect them to succeed with little training outside of product knowledge.

The experience of a friend of mine aptly illustrates this point. Upon graduating from college, he decided to pursue a career in sales. His two roommates had decided to become professionals, with one planning to be a dentist and the other planning to practice law. On the day before their graduation, the three were discussing their plans following graduation.

My friend asked the roommate who had decided on dentistry where he was planning to go to dental school. He then asked the future lawyer what law school he was planning to attend.

The lawyer and dentist then turned to my friend and jokingly asked: “So, where are you going to buy your briefcase?”

Selling requires the same degree of professionalism as any of the traditional professions. You cannot expect to achieve a higher level of competence without providing training in the strategies, techniques and psychology of selling, in addition to product knowledge.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm. Send your comments and questions to Larry Lewis via fax at (724)933-9112 or e-mail at He can be reached by phone at (724)933-9110.