Successful specialty gas professionals consistently use sales techniques and systems to increase their performance. Of course, it is essential to understand the chemistry, operations and distribution of your products. However, long-term success requires attention to the systematic behaviors that keep new, profitable prospects in the sales pipeline.
Here are examples of key systematic behaviors I have observed from the best specialty gas sales professionals.
Respect and Thank Your Customer – Ed Pyle
You worked hard to find and cultivate your valued customer. You genuinely appreciate the trust he/she places in you to solve their problems and contribute to their success. Tell them. This respect goes far beyond being nice to them or showing interest in their hobbies and personal/professional lives. This includes looking out for their best interests and aligning your organization to serve them.
Someday, there will be a problem with your specialty gas or delivery. This problem might well be out of your control and not actually caused by your company. Nevertheless, look at the problem as an opportunity to be a solution provider for your customer. This is a chance to show real respect and genuine concern for them. If done well, the problem will be solved in a way that enhances your relationship with your valued customer.
Do not miss an opportunity to genuinely thank your customer for their business and listen for opportunities to better serve them.
Silence is Worse than “No” – Ed Pyle
The time will come when you need to give your customer bad news. It might be a price increase, delivery delay, non-conforming product, etc. No one likes to give or receive bad news; however, remember that a failure to communicate in a timely manner with your customer is WORSE than bad news. It shows cowardice and disrespects the customer. When you have bad news to give, do not delay. Remember the diaper principle: Delayed bad news is like a diaper that needs changing — it never gets better by postponing the responsibility to deal with it.
Sales/Safety Surveys – Marti Hython/Don Bobyk
You are the specialty gas expert and you know what a safe lab looks like. (If you don’t know what a safe lab looks like, consult your suppliers — they know.) Develop a specialty gas safety survey and offer it to your customers. Be sure each instrument is using the correct gas, grade and regulator. The benefit to your customer is that they get a second set of eyes on their laboratory process. This could help them solve quality or safety problems of which your customer may not be aware. Often, this will present an opportunity to sell a solution. Solutions might include: cylinder handling carts, regulator switch-over systems, higher-purity carrier gases, innovative delivery options, etc.
Keep Your Eyes Open and Ask Questions – Ron Corns
Look for opportunities to tour your customer’s facility and lab. As you are walking from the reception area to the lab, keep your eyes open for sales opportunities that are being filled by someone else right now. These opportunities may be small bulk chemicals, competitors’ products, innovative gas packages, etc. You never know what you might find, and it might be an opportunity for you to help your customer with new supply options.
“Do you want fries with that?” – Anonymous
When your customer orders a new or replacement cylinder, be sure his auxiliary needs are also being met. For example, if your customer requested a special mixture, consider what else they may need:
- A NIST traceable certificate of analysis
- An ISO 17025 accredited certificate
- A regulator, flowmeter or gauge
- Special purity guarantees
- Special handling instructions
These value-added items may be essential to your customer and improve your sales as well.
Be Interested in their Applications, Instruments, Processes and Problems – Terran Bergdale, A-OX
Some lab personnel are insulated from the procurement process and may not exercise much discretion in the purchase. However, if you can find the actual user of the gas, you might learn a lot about their real needs. Ask about their process, how they calibrate, what impurities they have the most trouble with, what they would most like to see in a supplier, what would help them avoid downtime, etc.
Check out their Instrument Manuals – Terran Bergdale, A-OX
Sometimes a lab will want to buy less expensive gas (e.g. 99.99 percent helium) as a support or carrier gas. Review the instrument manufacturer’s operating instructions and determine if the grade of gas is really best for their application. Often, an inferior gas can cause damage or void a warranty. This is also true of laser mixtures. A less expensive (non-guaranteed) grade of gas may not be in the best interests of your customer.
Get familiar with their Vocabulary and Basic Concepts – Terran Bergdale, A-OX
You will not likely become an expert in your customers’ applications, but you can become an expert at selling to them. Listen to their vocabulary and get a basic understanding of their processes. For example, they may prefer the words “span gas” over “calibration gas.” The scientist may also take offense if you call his/her beloved GC/MS a “machine.”
Have a Formal Prospecting Process – Don Bobyk
Use your best efforts to find the specialty gas users in your target area. Consider using professional lead generation systems if you can refine the leads to people who need your help. LinkedIn and other social media sites often have search capabilities you can use to identify the influencers/decision makers in local companies. If you know the types of professional associations your best customers belong to, search those association websites. Some membership lists are viewable by the public.
Search your existing customer database and identify the types of businesses already buying your gases. Then, search your market area for similar types of companies or industries. This is like cloning your customers. For example, if you sell carrier gases to a forensic lab, look for all the other forensic labs (and other medical, environmental and metallurgical labs) in your market area. It is highly likely that you can offer solutions to these new prospects as well. They may even use similar instruments.
Specialty Gas is Everywhere
You can find specialty gas sales opportunities in unlikely (and nearby) places. Grocery and specialty stores need helium for balloons. Fire departments, safety professionals and maintenance shops need portable calibration gases. Carbon dioxide monitors are being installed in many restaurants, and these monitors require calibration gases. Hospitals may buy their medical gases from other companies. However, their maintenance shop might not be covered by the contract and may be able to get better service from you.
Sell What You Can Make
Your best service and greatest margin will come from specialty gas products that you already produce within your company. Be sure you are fully selling what you produce locally.
Make What You are Selling
After you have maximized the sales of products you already make, look for opportunities to make higher grades or different mixtures of similar gases. For example, print a list of all the specialty gases you are buying from other companies. Sort the list by sales volume. You may be able to produce some of these outsourced gases yourself with little or no further investment. For example, you may already have the production and analytical capabilities to make Air, Zero or higher grades of nitrogen, air, carbon dioxide, argon, etc.
This internal survey could also identify other higher volume/margin products that you do not presently have the capability to produce. With additional investment in production or analytical equipment, you may be able to bring these products in-house. The potential benefits are improved margin, improved delivery and potentially lower inventory requirements.
Consider how these techniques could help you improve your sales and your margin. If you need more information or would like to be invited to the Specialty Gas Sales Essentials webinars, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.