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Most Building Materials Salespeople Can’t Sell Virtually

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Most Building Materials Salespeople Can’t Sell Virtually

At a recent Whizard Summit event, I met Mark Allen Roberts of OTB Sales Solutions. He came as an attendee, but I was so impressed with his approach that I asked him to speak to the group.

When building materials companies want to grow their sales, they frequently hire a sales training firm. That’s not a bad thing, since everyone can benefit from improving their skills. However, Mark taught me that there are three problems with many sales training programs.

  1. They take a “one size fits all” approach to sales training. The most common mistake companies make is hiring a sales training company with little or no experience in the building materials industry.
  2. Even if they have building materials experience, the skills they teach may not be the ones your company needs. “How to Close” or “Overcoming Price Objections” are important, but if you aren’t getting enough new opportunities you can’t use the skill of closing.
  3. Due to the Coronavirus, the skills of selling haven’t changed but the methods of selling have changed. Virtual selling is taking the place of face-to-face sales calls. No one has enough experience with this to be able to teach it comprehensively. You can get advice about Zoom, email and social media but we’re all figuring this out as we go, which means we’re months away from someone having a comprehensive quality program for the building materials industry.

In his career Mark has assessed thousands of salespeople and he shared two amazing facts with me.

“Only 41% of salespeople can sell virtually.”

Since March, Mark has assessed a few hundred salespeople. Due to the Coronavirus, he now assesses their ability to sell virtually. I don’t think this is surprising, but he found that only 41% of salespeople can sell virtually.

A number of companies have asked me to help them improve their virtual selling skills. Working with these companies, I have found that younger salespeople are very comfortable with virtual selling because they live much of their personal lives virtually. They just need to be taught how to use the virtual world for selling versus sharing details about themselves.

Among the salespeople who are not comfortable with virtual selling, I have found there are two groups. Most of them want to learn how to sell virtually. And then there is a group of usually senior experienced salespeople who are not interested.

That “Virtual Selling Is Not For Me” group can be divided into two more segments. First, there are the people close to retirement who view this as too much effort or starting over. Unfortunately, many of these people are looking to retire before they should.

The second type are the ones who are very successful based on the number of sales they deliver. They attribute this to their relationship skills, which they see as face-to-face interactions that may involve sales calls or entertaining the client.

They see virtual selling as a threat to their identity or position. Virtual relationships can be just as strong as face-to-face ones, but this type of salesperson tends to believe that customers buy from them because of their relationship or how they entertain them more than the value of the product or the company.

Most of these salespeople are waiting for things to get back to normal, which is not going to happen.

“30% of salespeople should not be in selling.”

The second piece of valuable information Mark shared with me was that 30% of salespeople should not be in selling. It basically means that they may have some skills but they really don’t enjoy selling.

This is not something you change. Training them will take a mediocre salesperson and just make them less mediocre. Identifying and replacing these people should be a priority.

When I work with building materials companies, I occasionally come across a salesperson who should be replaced. The rest of the sales team gets varying results that I can chalk up to their experience or the territory they have been assigned.

I have taken the position that the company has some process for selecting and hiring their salespeople. My job is to increase the overall opportunity so that all of the salespeople benefit.

Now that Mark showed me that 30% of salespeople shouldn’t be in sales, I will be asking the companies I work with how they are assessing their salespeople.

Many companies rank their salespeople by sales volume. They draw the line at a sales number and announce that anyone below that line is not a good salesperson. If they have been with you for a long time, that may be an okay way to make this assessment. For newer employees, however, there should be a better measure in place.

In addition to this, Mark and I have both seen many companies make a lot of other mistakes.

Mistakes with Sales Leaders

  1. Are they growing the business or adding new customers? Or are they just babysitting some large customers? Great salespeople aren’t babysitters. If that’s all they’re doing, you may need to reclassify them as Great Account Managers.
  2. If you’re making your numbers, it’s easy to coast along and miss opportunities.
  3. How much longer will they be with you? Are you setting yourself up for a decline when your sales leacders retire or leave?

Mistakes with Underperforming Salespeople

This is where you are most likely to find the people who shouldn’t be in sales.

This is also where you can find your future Rockstars. The reason they’re underperforming is that they’re not getting what they need to succeed.

I am amazed at how poorly trained new salespeople are and how little support they get. I frequently get emails from new salespeople asking for my advice because they’re not getting the kind of help they need. I try to have a phone call with all of them.

When I talk to them, I sense that they are committed. They want to be successful for their company but don’t know how. They were given product and process training, rode along with a senior salesperson for a few days and then sent out on their own. I give them some advice that is focused on how to better understand and meet the needs of their customers.

I also tell them not to get discouraged. Building materials is a great place to build a career, because really talented people don’t consider building materials. I tell them to stick with it and if they get good, there are many other companies that would like to hire them.

Mark shared with me is that 50% of salespeople receive no sales skills training. The result is that they have strong product knowledge but little if any sales skills. These are transactional sellers taking orders. When the economy is good they are hidden by revenue. However when the economy is poor you can quickly identify them. The good news is many can add value with training and coaching. However there is more to sales than knowing “ how” to sell.

Learning from Mark has been a real eye-opener for me. If you’d like to learn more about his process or these subjects, please contact Mark directly at by phone 330-413-8552 or email

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About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.