A few years ago, I was given an assignment by the board of a major chemistry company, operating all over the world with own subsidiaries as well as many agents.

Their problem was low profitability despite selling huge volumes. I did what I always do – I started by visiting several of their subsidiaries and agents. And on each such visit I demanded to accompany some salesmen on their normal customer calls.

Soon I came to realize, what all salesmen had in common with their contacts on the client side – it was the lack of chemical knowledge.

A terrible discovery! How could that be possible – it’s like a car salesman without a driver’s license…

Well, what do you think happened during those customer calls?

Prices and discounts were the immediate subjects to be discussed. I was amazed by this absurd situation. I forgot to mention, that all clients also were in the chemistry business. Here we have two well-dressed gentlemen with nice and modern ties – trying to fulfill their duties – without any chemical knowledge!

This discovery was even more ironic as both the selling company and the purchasing ones were equipped with sophisticated laboratories and of course lots of chemists. This became the foundation in the continued work!

I reported these findings back to the board and suggested a change in the ways of working. After some hesitation, my proposal was accepted – if I myself could convince three subsidiaries to test it (typical Swedish mentality, by the way).

It meant a complete new sales approach, which was to redirect the sales efforts from seeing purchasers and instead inviting the customer’s chemists to work-shops with our own chemists.

My proposal was so dramatic and immediately hated by all sales departments! They meant and said: “shall those chemists in their white coats do our work? To hell with the consultant!”

Three subsidiaries were finally convinced and accepted to test it for six months. They were all fully convinced, that after those six months things would be back to normal and best of all, that consultant gone!

That did not happen. No, instead the work-shops were highly appreciated by the chemists on both sides. They laughed, made new tests together, shook tubes and occasionally even had a few beers together.

The business changed completely. It was a real success! After only three month the results were so convincing, that the board ordered all subsidiaries immediately to change to this way of working. The agents could of course not be ordered – instead they were shown the increased profitability with no volume losses, and then immediately changed to the new model.

Many salesmen left the company to become “discount-distributors” with other employers. Others started to study chemistry.

So, what was this true story all about?

  1. Business-situation identified
  2. New sales strategy implemented
  3. Sales effectiveness improved