In between the regular interview episodes we’ll continue to release sample stories from the book like this one. You can either listen to the episode and hear Paul read his story, or read the full text below.
Best Practices vs. ONLY Practices
By: Paul DiVincenzo
Many of these terms should sound familiar to you if you’ve been in sales or business for any length of time…. Let’s see if you recognize some of them: best practices, role plays, phone block, activity, leaderboards, KPIs. I have been lucky enough to be a top seller in two Fortune 500 companies over the past 15 years of my sales career. Every day, I have someone ask me what my Best Practices are for prospecting, selling, managing my numbers, career matters, etc… I usually let them know it’s not that easy and that they should focus on the fundamentals for now. Recently, I’ve been thinking about what I do that really does make a difference. Obviously, my sales success has come with a lot of hard work and with that, some great recognition internally at the companies I’ve worked for. It’s interesting to watch the same lingo go around and around, mostly by sales leadership and, in many cases, businesspeople in general.
The one that stands out to me which offers a significant improvement for people that are looking to excel in sales is best practices… The reality of sales is that if you stick to the standards of activity, follow up, professionalism, and great manners, you should be pretty successful. However, if you really want to go from average to being consistently at the top, it takes creating something called “only” practices. This means creating significant differences between what ONLY YOU can or will do for the customer and the sale. It will push you ahead of your internal and external competition for sustained success. I can’t remember where I heard this term originally, but when I did, I knew right away that’s exactly how I’ve been in the top 10% year over year for almost 17 years. I didn’t know what I did differently from any other salespeople for many years. However, after thinking about it, the short answer is that I am willing to do more for my customers than anybody else every time to exceed my numbers and make as much money as possible for me and my family.
When I first started in sales at the Cintas uniform sales division, I took over a territory in the Palm Springs California market which was heavily driven toward hospitality. This includes many hotels and resorts. I focused primarily on selling customers uniforms as a service; this means that the company rents uniforms for their employees vs. purchasing them. We pick up and deliver uniforms each week, as well as wash, clean, inspect, and repair or replace them to a condition that is wearable and acceptable in a hotel environment. Many of these hotels are 4-5 star resorts. This service has a lot of attention to detail and the back end of the business is highly standardized. In other words, we have a very small and limited selection of uniforms, compared to the purchase options, and when it comes down to design elements such as color patterns, there weren’t a lot of options. It’s a bit of a joke in the industry, however, it’s really true, as you can only carry so many colors and maintain that inventory at a profit level that makes sense. I was selling to the Hyatt Grand Champion resort in the Indian Wells area of Palm Springs California. Although they had some maintenance people that would wear our standard uniforms, I was told by the Director of Rooms that the housekeeping department (typically a purchase-only program) wanted to chat with me, as they wanted to wear dresses with matching aprons along with a Hawaiian pattern that needed to be sewn into the garment to match some of the decor in the hotel. By the way, they didn’t want to purchase it; they wanted to rent it and have me offer it as a uniform as a service…! As I heard the customer describe what they wanted, I almost fell out of my chair, because this was unheard of in our industry. There were so many hurdles that I simply didn’t know where to start; however, the total opportunity in the sale could cover my sales number for just under a full year of sales. Because I was in such shock, it was actually a positive in the strategy. I didn’t talk at all during the meeting; I simply listened, took notes and let the general manager of the Hyatt know that I would find a way to make this happen. His eyes lit up when I said that, because later I found out he had met with every other uniform company in our area, including a rep from Cintas, that all said no just as quickly as I said I would find a way to make it happen. We shook hands and I left the office, almost passing out in the 115° heat in the Coachella Valley area of Palm Springs. This project was so far outside the norm that I didn’t know how I would get it done. It included learning about sourcing garments from across the country and outside the country, working with designers to have a pattern made, and gaining consensus internally that our company would produce this garment with a sufficient enough quantity for us to rent it (I didn’t know any of this at the time).
I called my sales manager and let him know we had an opportunity to close one deal that could cover almost my full year of sales quota/projections and that it was going to take something extraordinary for us to get it. He didn’t have a clue what was about to happen. I went home that evening to my newborn son, who was only about 2 ½ years old at the time, and I thought to myself, you have to make this happen, you will make this happen, you will find a way.
In the following weeks after the meeting, I began to educate myself on all the capabilities of Cintas beyond my day-to-day selling job. I investigated what our supply chain opportunities were, where the dress was being manufactured, how long it took for the dress to be manufactured, and how much fabric it would take to create the trim and all the other elements. However, I had no clue what they were prior to that meeting. I had conference calls with designers, conference calls with manufacturing, conference calls with distribution and maintained engagement with those people, letting them guide me with their expertise. As I went through this process, I gained significant experience beyond what I would normally garner and have been able to use that knowledge for over a decade after that for sale in many other sales. This knowledge has allowed me to stand out from anybody inside my company or from competition about this particular category of our business. I didn’t know at the time, but this is a key component to my overall success in not hesitating to jump in and learn a significant amount of information beyond my normal job scope, which will create a unique expertise for me that I can offer as value to my potential customers and current customers. Pushing yourself into the unknown is the best way to create “only” practices for yourself that you can then have for future use against your competition.
After my month-long education in the garment business, I was able to gather up all the information necessary to put together a business model, present that internally at Cintas, and create a pricing structure that didn’t exist prior to the sale. I then went to the customer and was able to explain to them all the elements going into their production model, including hard goods design elements, and tie that back into how they wanted their resort to stand out from the vision created by the general manager. They didn’t hesitate when I proposed a custom pricing structure that ended up being four times higher than any other program in the marketplace. I had delivered as promised. They approved it within two weeks including a multiyear agreement for services. I made Presidents Club my first year with Cintas that year, as well as rookie of the quarter and rookie of the year. That singular experience created a foundation of “doing whatever it takes” that I have utilized consistently in hundreds of other sales over the course of my 15+ year career with the company. This has helped me earn Presidents Club and Diamond Level recognition for multiple years and has allowed me to be fearless when it comes to looking into the future, creating something new and highly valuable for the company and my customers. Every day I’m creating, looking, and executing on only practices. By using this strategy consistently, I have been able to uncover new markets for the company, create new positions for myself within the company, and gain promotions and salary increases over the course of my career that other people have not been able to accomplish. This has not only allowed me to be in the top-selling rankings in my company; this has also allowed me to be viewed by the executives as a leading contributor to the growth of the organization.
- Never lower your or the customers’ expectations.
- Say Yes and figure it out for the customer.
- This will push you to learn more.
- By learning more and being resourceful you’ll gain experience, tools, and resources which you can re-use to leapfrog your competition (other reps and competitors).
- Create and track your “only” practices from these experiences and push to expand those so that you will be offering experiences, knowledge, expertise, and the ability to execute on it where your competition will still be speaking features, benefits, and lower pricing.
Want more from Paul DiVincenzo? He was the star of episode 40: Top Cintas Sales Executive – Paul DiVincenzo – Relationships, Focus, Adaptability and Action