Fostering product enthusiasm and a sales-oriented culture

March 23, 2020 By    

Every propane marketer shares the goal of selling more propane – but how to accomplish this is a complex question.

The answer is summed up with a quotation from Philip Kotler, professor emeritus of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management: “The sales department isn’t the whole company, but the whole company better be the sales department.”

I first saw this quotation in the 1980s outside the office of the president of Thermogas, then the fourth-largest propane marketer in the industry. I thought at the time it sounded good but was unrealistic and certainly did not apply to the people in the controller’s department.

However, over the past 30 years, my thinking has matured. Kotler’s quotation is an imperative for every company whose priority is growth.

A sales culture

Experience has taught me that a sales culture is not created by following conventional textbook growth practices, such as setting arbitrary goals over which nobody feels a sense of ownership. Neither is it created from watching boring sales training videos. Instead, a sales culture must begin with leadership that instills confidence and enthusiasm for the products and services propane provides.

Is it possible for a propane company to build the energy that makes “educated believers” of employees so that everyone sells? An environment of excitement and confidence in what we sell captures the hearts and minds of employees and encourages them to come to work excited to serve customers and be ready to solve the customer’s energy needs with propane.

Consider the myriad products our industry has to offer today – tankless water heaters and gas logs, for example. All economically improve the customer’s lifestyle. Our employees should be confident in guiding a customer toward the purchase of a product proven to improve comfort and energy usage.

Today’s leaders must beware of falling into the trap that if a job title does not include the word “sales,” then selling is not part of the job. Changing this mindset and the capacity to educate the customer must start with the employees who are the face of the company – the customer service representative, sales staff, service tech and bobtail driver.

Each employee, in a unique way, is a trusted expert in the customer’s eyes. Each employee should be trained on how to recognize the sales opportunity and guide the customer to the right solution. Sadly, many employees outside the sales staff have not been trained on how their job fits the sales process.

Starting point

If you are a propane business owner or manager interested in creating a more sales-oriented company, do the following as a starting point:

  • Observe your employees in action while on the job – do they walk and talk like it’s merely a job, or do they exhibit enthusiasm and excitement about providing customers with the best energy solution?
  • Ask your employees if they know which is better for the customer – propane or electricity – and can cite compelling reasons for their answer.
  • Does your company provide excellent customer service? Are customer service issues such as out-of-gas incidents and callbacks on installations merely seen as part of the business, or are you committed to doing your very best with each customer? Studies show that dissatisfied consumers will share their lament with eight to 10 people.
  • Does the condition and branding of your company through equipment, employees, advertising and facilities tell the market you offer something the customer wants to buy and that you are open for business?
  • Does your office staff see its connection to the company’s growth?

If your answers above are mostly no, you’ve at least begun the fix by acknowledging the work ahead to build a sales-oriented organization. Propane has an awesome story that your market is waiting to hear from all of your employees.

Randy Doyle is a 30-year propane industry veteran who serves on the PERC council and the NPGA board of directors.

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