By Gary Coon

I’ve had the pleasure of working with highly successful business people most of my adult life. I’ve also had the good fortune of exchanging ideas with many talented sales people both in and outside of the water treatment industry. Of all that I’ve learned during my 30 years in the trenches, I would like to share with water dealers and their sales managers the 10 lessons I believe to be the among the most important. Before getting into the thick of the matter, permit me to tell a few true stories to illustrate some of my thoughts.

One day, I was having a conversation with an auto dealer. We chatted as we stood in the showroom, watching people wander in and out. “See all those people,” he said to me, “All those people are my customers.” In an instant, more of reflex than reflection, I uttered (much to his surprise), “Permit me the role of the devil’s advocate and suggest they are not.”

The point I went on to make was that whenever a prospective buyer enters a dealership they are approached by a salesman. If the salesman excels at his presentation, the prospect makes the purchase and becomes a customer of the salesman. If the salesman doesn’t close the deal, the prospect drives down the street and becomes the customer of some other salesman. When it’s time to service the car, the new owner becomes the customer of the service department. If the service department’s service is unsatisfactory, the customer hunts around until he finds a dealership that provides acceptable service and he becomes their customer. The fact is, the dealer (and/or the general manager) rarely interacts with customers at all. They seldom participate in the sale, and only occasionally get involved with service. It’s the same in the water treatment industry.

So as a dealer, if the people who acquire your company’s goods and services are not your customers (and by this I mean yours personally), do you even have customers? The answer is yes: your customers are your employees. When you hire someone, it is because your organization has a need. And the hiring process includes selling the prospective employee on becoming part of your organization. After they go on the payroll (assuming they work out) your job is to continue selling them on the merits of staying.

Lesson 1: Treat your employees as though they were your best and most valued customers. Let’s face it, without them you’re basically out of business.

Back in the early 80s, I had risen to the rank of Assistant Sales Manager for a moderately successful water dealership in Texas. I had acquired enough skills of the trade to do well. These skills earned me a tidy income of around $1,100 per week. Mind you, I was working on straight commission plus a $25 override on sales made by people I helped recruit and train. So, the more sales I made—and the more sales made by the new recruits—the greater the monetary reward enjoyed by myself and the dealer.

Looking to the future, my first order of business was to save the down payment needed to purchase a home. I was sitting in my office one morning daydreaming about the American Dream, when suddenly the owner marched through the door. “Gary,” he said, “I’m not comfortable paying you this much money, so I want you to make fewer sales.” (I assure you, I am not making this up). “Huh?” was the only response I could muster at that precise moment. I learned later that I was earning nearly as much money as he was paying himself, and this somehow offended his ego. I took a job with a different dealer soon thereafter.

Lesson 2: People don’t work to service someone else’s ego. Don’t let yours interfere with the prosperity of your employees. In the end, it will only interfere with your own. And when you show up for work, leave your ego behind. More often than not, an overbearing one produces a lousy businessman, a lousy negotiator and an even worse consultant.

My third tale has to do with something that happened before I became the Assistant Sales Manager. I was paid a fair commission on a whole-house water system installation with the promise of a $200 bonus on my eighth install and a $400 bonus on my 12th. Well, 11 installs later, the last day of the month arrived and I was hunting my 12th. Without warning, my car suddenly developed an engine problem. I was lucky it ran long enough to get it to a mechanic. My sales manager picked me up at the repair shop in his brand new Mazda RX-7 and gave me a ride to the office. Upon our arrival, he suddenly turned to me, handed me a lead, and gave me the keys to his new car. To this day I can’t remember if I made that 12th sale, but I will never forget that he let me use his new car to run that appointment.

Lesson 3: Although an honest wage for an honest day’s work goes a long way toward making an employee feel appreciated, sometimes the heartfelt support of a manager or an owner means 

I used to work for a man who came into my office every morning to say, “Good morning, Mr. Coon.” This happened at the start of every day without fail. Most mornings he added how much he enjoyed my attitude, my good humor and how much he appreciated my hard work. He repeated this sentiment so often that it sometimes lost its luster. But when a better opportunity for me came along, he gave me a ticker-tape parade sendoff with the promise that if there was ever anything I needed to ensure my continued success, if he had it, it was mine.

Lesson 4: Rejoice when you bring someone on board whose talents enhance your business; but celebrate with reckless abandon when one of your own finds a greener pasture. This sincere pursuit is the surest way I know of attracting the best and the brightest. And in my experience, the best and the brightest always leave prosperity in their wake. Dedicate yourself to this philosophy and more of the best and the brightest will show up at your door.

My remaining thoughts require little if any illustration. To me, they’re just common sense.

Lesson 5: People work for a living: they don’t live for working. They labor to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and provide an education for their children. I’ve never known anyone to lie on their deathbed lamenting, “Oh, if I could’ve only done one more sink presentation…made one more sale.” Nobody does that. Remember this and use it to moderate the demands you make on your employees.

Lesson 6: Sales Managers—have you ever cut enough slices of grandma’s tasty apple pie to get 110 percent? Nope. So stop asking your sales force to give you 110 percent. It’s not possible and it makes you appear mathematically challenged. Ask your sales force to do their best and then do everything in your power to help them make their best better.

Lesson 7: Managers—you are not responsible for some else’s work, unless of course you are doing their job yourself. You are,however, responsible for finding, managing and training people who can effectively do the work. Realizing this distinction can save you a lot of anxiety and is an important key to running a business.

Lesson 8: Save. When I began selling water softeners, the very first thing I did was put aside enough money to sustain me for six months. In the wake of the last couple of years, I suspect we have all learned that prosperity sometimes takes a break, so it’s always wise to keep enough money on hand to comfortably sustain yourself until prosperity gets its second wind.

Lesson 9: Always be more generous than the occasion calls for.

Lesson 10: Should you lack the necessary skills to inspire your employees to show up every morning with a joyful spirit, at the very least, do nothing to discourage them from showing up at all.

Thank you for your attention. Good luck, good selling and above all, have a great day.

About the author
Gary Coon, a 16-year veteran of the water conditioning industry, has successfully trained hundreds of sales professionals in the water treatment industry. His seminars, ‘What They Mean by What They Say’ and ‘The Theater of Selling Water’, offer instruction in closing methodologies and presentation techniques. Learn more by visiting


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