Having the right salesperson can be transformative
For most businesses in the hardware retail industry, growing sales usually starts with prospecting
Mon May 25 2020
Looking at salespeople, most businesses find themselves having to choose between generalists who have a good understanding of the sales process and wide experience, and specialists who have deep industry knowledge, but a more limited grasp of general sales principles.
Jason Howes is that rare individual with a great deal of experience in the timber and hardware industry, but who has also reached out to gain a broader understanding of what sales is, and how it really works.
Given that, it is hardly a surprise that he has chosen to bundle that knowledge up, and offer his services as an executive "sales coach", with his own company, Arrow Executive Sales Consultants.
The issue he has had to tackle is this: If sales are so crucial to the success of most businesses, why do so few of them spend sufficient time engaging in developing the best sales team right from the outset? Businesses can often be ultra-rational about supply chain, distribution, and even marketing, but when it comes to sales, they revert to "gut instinct" and taking bets on their assessments of individuals.
Everyone knows a great salesperson when they meet him or her. But finding someone who has the potential to be great, or who can become a reliable top performer in a consistent environment is actually a lot harder - and it is unlikely that pure gut instinct, on its own, is going to get you there.
While Jason's early working life seems on the surface to be like many people who gained their experience in the hardware retail industry through trade training as a young person, one element that shifted him towards broader and more senior roles was the opportunity to work with a number of industry mentors. His mentors have included such industry stalwarts as Peter Dallimore, Peter Hyne and ChrIs Woodhouse.
Not surprisingly, Jason has deep roots in this industry with some connections going back almost 30 years, almost to the beginning of his career. This is something he remains quite proud of and draws on frequently for his own business.
The path Jason has taken to where he is now has not always been smooth, but resilience and a strong survival instinct helped him to reach a place where he can offer his clients valuable advice on how to enhance their sales function.
Jason also knows how to appreciate a "full circle" moment. He started his first job as a sales rep when he was 19, at Coastway Timber, where he looked after builders in his home town of Tathra (NSW). That followed on from his time as a sales and merchandising trainee. Placed on TABMA (Timber and Building Materials Association) training, he had learned how to provide detailed estimates for frames and trusses.
When Hyne Timber purchased the company in 1990, it saw potential in Jason and offered him a number of different roles. He soon moved to Brisbane to start a new job in wholesale. It was there that he began selling on the road and discovered exactly what prospecting was all about, through experience. He said:
I remember going into places cold calling and a) I didn't know exactly or as much as I should have, and b) I was doing something that I'd never done before.
It is something of a poignant memory today, because now that he has his own company he finds himself, in a sense, right back where he started: prospecting once again. As he describes it:
...Lately, I've been able to look back and ask myself, 'Right, what did I do well then? And where did I struggle?' And ... I made a lot of mistakes, in particular, not qualifying [sales leads] enough or quick enough. But I was persistent. I'd keep coming back ... and I've always been competitive and that flowed through to my work as well. When it came to prospecting, I was pretty average. [But] the more I prospected, the more success I had.
Persistence and self-development have played a big part in his life. After gaining a diploma in marketing to expand his skillset, he applied to be the key account manager at Hyne Timber. After missing out on it that first time, he stepped into the position a year later. It was a senior managerial role, and significant achievement for someone who was only 30 years old.
While he was working there, Hyne Timber was expanding into Victoria and the southern markets. Jason had responsibility for the buying groups. He said:
It was a fortunate time. There was a lot of growth with Mitre 10 and Home Timber & Hardware ... Natbuild became a lot bigger and so did HBT, I dealt a lot with Tim Starkey at HBT, another great legend.
To help take better advantage of the growth, Jason segmented the different accounts as a way to make better use of them. He explained:
As a project, we classified each of the stores into classifications based on: Do they fit our preferred client model for supply and distribution?
This led to better performance by the sales team, because they could focus their efforts in areas which would provide the best result. As part of that process, he saw himself as an active manager:
I worked very closely with the sales team to support them. I also liked to get out and spend time on the road with the reps and work with them to ... develop and prospect new business.
In addition to the independent groups, Jason dealt with Bunnings soon after it took over BBC Hardware. He worked with senior merchandising, buying and category managers on behalf of Hyne Timber. During this period, Jason believes he won major contracts using consultative selling techniques, finding gaps in the market and providing solutions.
His time at Hyne Timber proved to be productive because he was involved when both the Tuan and Tumbarumba Mills expanded, and the T2 launch. At the Tumbarumba Mill, Jason was part of the senior management team during the upgrade.
Winning major contracts attracted the attention of Woodhouse Timber. Woodhouse offered Jason an opportunity too good to refuse so he became the company's national sales manager.
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