By Gary Coon

If you have been in the world of selling for more than a month, you’ve probably been lectured on the importance of staying on top of your game. As a newcomer to the water treatment industry, the lecture I endured included a tale about a young man who one day decided to pursue a career as a lumberjack. As the story goes, the strength and stamina of youth quickly makes the young lumberjack the top producer. A few weeks go by and his production begins to wane. Concerned about his lagging performance, he seeks the council of a seasoned co-worker. “So,” mused the older lumberjack, “when was the last time you sharpened your axe?”

This fable makes a valid point, but its lesson is incomplete, as a crucial aspect is not addressed: although a sharp axe is important, knowing how to wield it is something altogether different. By this I’m referring to technique. The words we use in a sales presentation are of critical importance, but how they are delivered can mean the difference between an easy sale and a siege. The same is true of props. How we utilize them is of no less importance than those we utilize. Here’s how to put these principles to use in a training regimen that routinely ensures top performance in new salespeople.

As a new hire in the business, I began my training on a Monday and was expected to be ready to take a lead on the following Monday. During the seven days in between, I was required to learn a 30-page presentation that included what to say before and during the sink demo, an explanation of the water treatment system, information about the company, and a formalized close. Above and beyond that, I also had to digest enough about water chemistry to pass for a professional. Those of you who have gone through this process, either as a trainee or a trainer, are already aware that the training syllabus affords little time to teach staging and finesse, and that real training begins the day after a new salesperson’s first night in the field.

Many new salespeople come out of the starting gates as thoroughbreds, only to transform into glue factory candidates with the short passage of time. As a fledgling assistant sales manager, this left me perplexed because I always believed in the old adage that ’practice makes perfect.’ So I started calling the new hires in one at a time to give me their presentation. The result: after about three weeks of running leads, their presentations were unrecognizable. And after listening to each, I honestly wasn’t sure if they were trying to sell me a vacuum cleaner or a fire extinguisher. Of one thing, however, I was certain: a water conditioner was not in the mix. I quickly recognized that I failed to emphasize the importance of re-reading the presentation every night for the first 30 days in the field. Memories are fallible. Consequently, with every passing presentation, more of the material was omitted, or (to make matters worse) more was made up. This is a recipe for disaster because carefully crafted sales presentations are designed to convey important feature benefits that create value in the minds of potential customers. Unrealized benefits only short-shrift value and leave the prospect vacillating over the price. Revisiting the presentation daily preserves its integrity, and usually after a couple dozen sales calls and 30 reviews, it becomes as easy to recite as one’s own name and address. As a sales manager, you may even consider hosting a daily review for the first few weeks to ensure review compliance.

The following is a technique I used to triple a dealership’s closing average virtually overnight. Inspired by the belief that the only difference between an actor and a salesman is that a salesman doesn’t get paid for a bad performance, I placed two salespeople in a room along with a video camera on a tripod. I instructed both to tape their presentation as they gave it to the other (I left the room so as not to fray any nerves). I repeated the process until everyone in the dealership was videotaped.

At the conclusion of the taping sessions, I sat down with each salesperson and reviewed their performance. When I noted a problem with posture, body language, facial expression, word selection, the use of a prop, etc., I stopped the tape and conjured up a reasoned critique and an effective remedy. This technique works like magic. When a salesperson slips into a slump, haul out the video camera. It’s a training tool I highly recommend.

I hope I’ve made a convincing case for the importance of knowing what to say and how to say it, what to do and how to do it. But mastering these things is not enough. The question of confidence still remains, because only with unshakable confidence can you hope to reach the top of your game. Here are two things that fortified my confidence as a young water treatment salesman:

  1. Of all the years I spent in the water treatment industry, I’ve never been able to come up with a reason why everyone shouldn’t have clean water his or her home. What’s more, I have yet to meet the person who could give me that reason.
  2. Even if a sour economy drives the unemployment to 20 percent, 80 percent of the people will still be working, and they all need and deserve clean water for cooking, drinking and bathing.

Armed with these two unassailable convictions, I was not to be denied. I drove to my appointments, walked to the door and said to myself, “I wonder if these people realize they are about to invest in a water conditioning system?” Even if I didn’t make the sale, I never failed to make the case for clean water; and to this day, my confidence remains steadfast and unswerving.

One last thought: every day, the gods of commerce remind me that there are three kinds of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who let things happen and those who wake up one day and say, “What happened?” Rest assured that a sharp axe and a practiced swing tempered by confidence will always keep you in the right company. 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 water treatment sales professionals.. 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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