I have a real treat for you today. I just got off the phone with Paul Boitmann, president of global sales at Newell Rubbermaid. He's got a sales team of around 1,500, moving about $6 billion in consumer products every year.
Why should you care? I'll tell you.
The sales profession is currently facing a period of extraordinary disruption. As products become more like commodities, sales professionals are struggling with customers (and channels) that can order stuff over the web -- usually from a competitor that's offering it cheaper.
I can't tell you how many times I've received heart-felt emails from sales pros struggling with competition underpricing them. The frustration out there among sales professionals is so thick, it's like a soupy fog.
So here's what's cool about this interview.
Boitmann handed me the keys to sales success in a commodity market. He described specific sales techniques that Rubbermaid is doing to keeping revenues and margins up, even in a market that's full of cheap knock-offs.
This is the kind of information that you simple can't get anywhere. Seriously, what Boitmann had to say blew my figurative socks off. So, if you're ready for a REAL eye-opener, read the interview by clicking on the link below.
- Geoffrey James: How did you get involved in sales?
- Paul Boitmann: When I was a kid I worked in an auto store in small-town Texas. I was the guy who was up-front selling tires and then I'd go back and put them on your car. I really enjoyed the sales experience, so when I attended the University of Texas, I got into marketing. I later ended up at Black & Decker and then came to Newell Rubbermaid. I love the sales path and stayed with it my entire career.
- GJ: How is Newell Rubbermaid's sales force structured?
- PB: We're structured around 13 global business units (GBUs), each of which handles brands in a particular product category. For example, our Baby & Parenting GBU consists of the Graco, Teutonia and Aprica brands, which include products like car seats, strollers, highchairs, and play-yards. In addition, our major channel customers, like Staples and Wal-Mart, have top level executives assigned to work directly with their top management. I myself have global responsibility for Wal-Mart, for instance.
- GJ: Why did you structure according to brand?
- PB: Newell Rubbermaid has a diverse portfolio of more than 40 consumer and commercial brands made up of a large range of products. For example, we sell both industrial cutting blades used in factories and hair care products. Our sales model assumes that the sales rep will become an expert on a product category, which would be impossible if they were forced to know about so many different product types.
- GJ: What do you mean by "expert in a product category"?
- PB: This is a key point. Our retail channel partners have been telling us that they want our reps to be more than just knowledgeable about our brands. They want them to help them improve the performance of their entire product category in that store. Because of that, we train our sales reps to understand the issues that retailers face when trying to make a particular store category successful. While we want to own the category as a whole, if this means giving a prominent display to a competitor's product in order to maximize the performance of that department, that's the recommendation that we would make.
- GJ: How do you reconcile that with the need to move your own product?
- PB: The issue here is trust. Our goal is to lower the risk for the retailer, so that as much product as possible moves through that department in the store. To do that, we try to understand the general behavior of the consumer of that product type, and help the retailer analyze the data that they've gathered about how consumers behave and shop in their environments. Building up that trust makes it easier for us to make the case (and be believed) when our own products are the best choice to limit risk and maximize the effectiveness of the shelf-space.
- GJ: How do you differentiate your products?
- PB: We do an extraordinary amount of consumer research into the kinds of things that consumers want in these product categories. We then come up with truly innovative products that have differentiating factors that consumers want. With our Sharpie markers and pens, for example, we offer a wide variety of colors and sizes so that people can express themselves more colorfully. People like that and respond with brand loyalty.
- GJ: What role does the sales rep play in this differentiation?
- PB: That's a major factor. Our sales reps not only understand consumer insights and behavior and the reasoning behind our product designs, but also have the skills and training to work with the retailers to make that differentiation into something that lowers the risk of carrying the product. We're essentially offering a solution to the problem of "how do I make this category profitable" rather than just supplying them something to resell.
- GJ: How is this different from the way your company used to sell?
- PB: Many years ago, the philosophy here was similar to that of many other consumer products firms. We would push products into the channel and hope that it sells, maybe with some advertising to the consumer to create demand. That model just doesn't work anymore, because retailers simply can't afford to buy inventory that isn't going to sell and they deeply resent "channel stuffing." It can take years to recover the bad reputation that results, and it's the exact opposite of the trust that we want to build.
- GJ: How do you make sure that your sales team is up to the challenge?
- PB: First, we generally hire directly out of college. We go to various universities and look for "A" players who have huge potential. We then bring them into the company and let them try different roles in the sales and marketing organizations until they understand how the company works and build up expertise. We provide an upward path so that they have a reasonable expectation to advance their careers all the way up to vice president.
- GJ: What about sales training?
- PB: We have a comprehensive internal Sales Excellence training program that consists of three curricula. Sales Excellences 101 is our training tool for entry level employees, and it teaches the basics of sales technique. Sales Excellences 201 extends that to include consultative sales models. Sales Excellence 301a program we developed in partnerships with the University of Chicago business school is probably the most exciting part of this initiative because we bring in our senior executives from sales and marketing and the presidents from each of our global business units. Our objective is two-fold -- First, to make sure Sales has a seat at the table as we develop our corporate strategy, and second, to make sure we incorporate our consumer insights and market knowledge into our selling processing making our strategy that much more relevant.
- GJ: Thanks for spending the time to speak with me.
- PB: Happy to help