It was close to 15 years ago when I received a phone call from my best friend Justin Clark. He and I had grown up together in a small town in Indiana and had both gone to college for Exercise Science. We loved working out and both wanted to be trainers, but after a few years, Justin went to work in sales for a Janitorial and Packaging Supply Distribution company. He was already crushing it in his sales role and was asked by company leadership if there was anyone else like him that could come in and make an impact. He called me.
“Hey man!” Justin shouted. “What would you think about moving to East Tennessee and selling toilet paper and box tape?”
“Sounds like a really crappy job Justin,” I answered. “Not sure that sounds like the direction I see my career going.”
6 months later, after my marriage to my incredible wife, we moved from Birmingham Alabama to East Tennessee so that I could start my career in the JanSan/Packaging sales industry.
My onboarding process with this southeast distributor was much like many other supply distribution companies. I was given 10 days of product knowledge training, given my territory, my territory sales plan and patted on the back and told “Go Gett’em Champ!”
How can I hit my sales plan? I don’t even have any customers!?!?!?!
I had no clue what I was doing, but I never missed hitting my sales plan. Little did I know that as I was navigating this new world of janitorial and packaging supply and equipment sales, I was creating the strategies to increase sales, maximize profitability, and drastically improve the customer experience.
Now I get to take those lessons and train teams and individuals throughout the different distribution industries from all over the world.
What an honor.
If It’s Not Broke…
My grandpa once told me, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
In my young eyes, he was one of the most brilliant and terrifying men I knew lol. He was my hero, so I listened to him even though I didn’t fully understand or agree with what he was saying. If there was a better, more efficient way to do it, or if it could be improved… isn’t it as good as broken?
Several years later, this confusion was on full display. I was in high school, sitting in my math class waiting for my latest test to be returned. I remember feeling incredibly confident in my work, but then I was handed my paper….
0 out of 100!!!!
I was floored!!! Are you kidding me!?!?!? How did I miss every single question?
My mom was going to kill me! I walked up to the teacher, completely and totally confused.
“I thought I did great on this test. I felt so confident. How could I get every problem wrong? I thought I answered every question correctly.”
“You did,” he answered.
“Yep,” he replied.
“Then how did I get every problem wrong?”
“Your answers were correct, but how you got the answers isn’t,” he responded. “That’s why you missed them all.”
Excuse me? My answers are correct, but how I achieved them wasn’t, so am I wrong? Does it really matter if I did it differently but still got the correct answers?
I had found a way to do the problems that made sense to me. It was more efficient and comfortable. Why does it really matter if I did it differently?
When I started into packaging supply and equipment sales, I was met with the same mentality as my grandpa and my math teacher.
This is how you sell packaging. This is how we do it. Do it like this.
My first packaging sales manager, Keith was like this (he actually reminded me a ton of my grandpa). Keith had been in the industry for years and had experienced a great deal of success. He was one of the founders of the packaging division at the distribution company I was working for and he was dedicated to training the reps he recruited to his team exactly how he had been trained. I was 3 years into my packaging sales journey and begun to really find my groove. When the new division was created and I moved into the role of Packaging Business Development manager, I started reporting to Keith where it was made clear that my way of doing things didn’t meet his traditional mindset of the industry and I was going to be forced to comply.
Keith taught me so much about the packaging industry and I know that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him. What I also learned from Keith is that times change, people change and how we do business constantly changes.
“What got you here, isn’t going to get you there.” – Marshall Goldsmith
This has to be one of my favorite books and speaks so much truth. The packaging industry has been around for a long time. Companies have created incredible products and markets and professionals have created incredible lives for their families by doing it a certain way, but as Grant Cardone says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
This mentality is prevalent in all types of distribution companies. “This is how we’ve always done it, so this is how we are going to do it,” is a statement that I’ve heard over and over. Industry vets and leaders are tied to their old ways of doing business and are very reluctant to any type of change. They invest loads of money in innovation and new products, creating features and benefits that drive value to their customers, however in many cases, they refuse to look at how they can do business and sales differently.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying anyone should change just for the sake of change but changing because you want to is much easier than changing because you have to.
When I look at distribution, whether it be packaging, electrical or any other, change is needed. Keeping and recruiting younger talent is getting more difficult due to this lack of innovation and change. Our customers have changed how they work, quality, make decisions and choose vendors. The traditional sales processes where professionals are solely focused on turning and burning, selling the highest margin products to get the highest commissions will no longer work. It’s time we change.
Over my last 15 years I’ve fought, respectfully, traditional thinking in the packaging industry and believe we have an incredible opportunity to serve our customers better, helping them achieve their goals while simultaneously growing sales, margin and customer retention.
It’s time for a REMIX.