Greg Helfrich | Building the Sales Process Into the Company, Rather than the Salesperson

Greg Helfrich, national operations manager at Elrus Aggregate Systems, had a simple question: His salespeople were good a what they did. So, why were some able to sell at list price, while others couldn’t?

That kick-started an ongoing journey to create improvement. They already had decent sales training. But sales training is general, not specific. The key to Greg’s success was beginning with an analysis of his salespeople’s challenges:

For one thing, they had no standard for prioritizing high vs low-quality prospects. Nor did they have enough insight into the value ELRUS created for customers. Without that, getting customers to understand the value is not easy.

You can get all the details in this episode, including:

* How salespeople learn to speak the customer’s language

* Ways to differentiate your commodity from other commodities

* A scientific approach for analyzing and prioritizing prospects

* How to make sure your sales force communicates your true value

* And more
Listen now…

Mentioned in This Episode:

The link to the charts Greg described is at the bottom of the page.

Episode Transcript:

Michael Webb: Some people talk about selling to senior-level decision-makers, making calls, and selling based on value. Other people talk about process tools and measurement of data, systems thinking, and analyzing causes and effects. But not very many people talk about how these things can be brought together to motivate people and create wealth for everyone.

This is Michael Webb, and welcome to the Sales Process Excellence Podcast. I’m delighted today to introduce you to Greg Helfrich. Greg is the national operations manager at ELRUS Aggregate Systems, and he’s the operations manager not just for Canada, but also for the U.S. Welcome, here, Greg.

Greg Helfrich:  Thank you. Glad to be here.

Michael Webb:  Yes. I wanted to invite you here because … I wanted to invite Greg here. He has a story that I know a lot of the audience are going to be interested in. Greg had purchased my book, Sales Process Excellence, and as I chatted with him on the phone, he started describing a way that ELRUS has sort of a sales process, a method of selling value, and it’s very well thought out. I knew that a lot of people would like to hear about this, so Greg, give us a little 30 or 45 seconds here of your background, how you got to be where you are.

Greg Helfrich: Sure. I got into consulting on an operations and lean perspective after leaving the food industry back in the late 90s. I was trained in Six Sigma and SERD Consulting, and I was doing some supply chain consulting for ELRUS. They just said, “Well, we’d really rather have you just work with us.” I joined as national operations manager in 2008, and the position has evolved from being really strictly working in manufacturing and process supply chain and engineering to now being responsible for sales and marketing. My education is in marketing.

But, as we expanded into the United States and grew, my role just basically evolved with it, and so, I wasn’t necessarily in charge of marketing all that time, but just got more and more involved. And because I was a buyer, I just had insights into how our customers were thinking, and I could bring something to the table. This is where it just basically evolved from.

Michael Webb:  Okay. In your role here as national operations manager slash sales VP, I guess, right?

Greg Helfrich: Pretty much. I’m essentially chief operating officer, is really, if you had to give it a conventional title. We’re not huge on titles here, and so we just haven’t changed much.

Michael Webb:  Okay. You serve the mining, rock quarrying, road construction industries up there?

Greg Helfrich: It’s primarily, yeah. We like to say that everybody needs to make big rocks into small rocks in mining, everything, like concrete and asphalt are ubiquitous, they surround us everywhere and all that rock has to be quarried or mined out of a sand and gravel operation process and it looks simple but the specifications for rock for say, asphalt or concrete are really quite tight. The shape of the rock, how it has to hold together within that mix is really quite defined and it’s getting harder and harder to make those specifications. The equipment evolves over time to make the product that’s required to make the roads and the houses and what have you that we live in. The consumables or the parts of the machine are also very complex in terms of how they sort the rock into different sizes and what have you. Everybody, when they look at somebody else’s industry always thinks, “Well that’s kind of simple” but there’s usually a lot more to it then we think. This industry is one of those. On the outside it looks simple but rock is not just rock.

Michael Webb: I really like your opening there, making big rocks turn into little rocks because I learned a ton from a fellow a long time ago who is an expert in continuous improvement and he would say that’s what we’re doing in continuous improvement inside companies. We’re helping people take the big rocks, big problems that they have and break them down into little, manageable problems so that it all adds up.

Greg Helfrich: I listened to a fellow the other day who set the world’s treadmill record for 12 hours and I can’t imagine running on a treadmill for 12 hours. I think he ran 80 some miles in 12 hours on a treadmill. One of the people said, “How can you do that?” At 3 seconds in I’m thinking to myself, “I’ve got 11 hours, 59 minutes and 57 seconds left.” He said, “Anybody can do anything for 5 minutes.”

Michael Webb: There you go.

Greg Helfrich: “That’s how I did it.” The rock analogy, I’ll have to use that because that does make sense. Anybody can do anything for 5 minutes or when you break big rocks into small rocks, anybody can figure out how to do it.

Michael Webb:  Right. Looking at sales, trying to figure out how to get your customers to buy and pay enough to be able to make money off of them, that can be a big rock also. That’s kind of the problem you’re are trying to solve here. Tell us what you faced when you started into this part of the business there at ELRUS. What did it look like to you as the operating executive that lead you to develop this program?

Greg Helfrich: Let’s go back to what triggered it. In Canada, we’re an incumbent in Canada. We basically were part of the founding of the industry back in 1975 portable crushing equipment was a very undeveloped industry and Roland, the fellow that founded the company was that typical entrepreneur. He saw a problem because he was a crushing contractor and he was really unhappy with what he was dealing with and he solved the problem. He went and built, he built equipment or had it built for him and wound up selling it before he could get to use it. He never really got to use his own equipment. He built some equipment, showed it to a friend, the friend said, “I want that” and then after three or four episodes he’s like, “Well, hang on a second here. I might as well get into the equipment business because I’m building something people want.” This business got started. It never really needed a serious marketing and value proposition work or marketing work because Roland sold it and he knew everybody in the industry and life went on. We expanded in the United States, after Roland’s death in 2013 and we probably underestimated or overestimated our reputation and brand equity and things that people automatically do when they enter a new marketplace, they assume it’s underserved and they assume that people know about them.

We had some difficulties in getting going and people to understand who we were and the differences we made. That was our big rock. How do we get people to see us as different or see us as a viable alternative to who they use now and I always come back to a process. If you’re having a failure of results, it’s your process. Sometimes it’s your people but you need to look up the process first. What is it about our process that is not delivering the results? I spoke to some of the buyers and I started to figure it out. Really, that’s where I came to and a fellow that I work with named Barry, Barry and I came to that it’s a multi-layered issue and let’s break it down into the buyers, the product offering and then the company overall and how is it that value, what do people value, how do they define it, how do they measure it, how do they prioritize it and so that’s what led us to this homegrown approach and it works. We’re happy with what it’s delivering and we’re making changes based on it. I can’t say that this is something we’ve known for decades, this is something that really has evolved in the last year and a half within our business is this three-layered approach to what do buyers value, what is our value and then how do we communicate that.

Michael Webb: Okay. Very good. As we get into that, we’re going to get into some details of it here. Help us understand how are you guys organized? I know you have, isn’t it seven locations in the US and three in Canada? Something like that?

Greg Helfrich: No, flip that. There’s eight in Canada, three in the United States and eight in Canada. We’re primarily in the western United States. In the continent of North America, primarily in the west we get sand and gravel. Sand and gravel is glacial tilt. You’ve got rocks and sand and what have you. Basically it’s like an open-pit mine. You haul this stuff to the machines and it separates the sand from the rock and then processes the rock. That’s how you get sand and gravel. In the east you tend to have drill and blast, quarries and south Georgia has a number of them that supply Florida and others where they’ll blast rock or limestone out of a face and then they’ll process that rock. Our specialty is really rock processes equipment that’s on tires. Wheeled, portable equipment. It’s a real feature of the western half of North America because it’s primarily sand and gravel where we derive our rock products from in the west. It’s used, wheeled portable is used in some quarry applications but it’s more often a stationary plant that’s affixed to the ground that’s used in a quarry application. As I said, our focus is really on the western US, primarily northwest Pacific, Washington, Oregon, places like that.

Michael Webb: Are you selling to contractors who are building roads? Who are you selling to?

Greg Helfrich:  We sell to contractors that build roads, we sell to construction companies that are vertically integrated that have the quarries and the gravel pits and also build roads. We’re selling to contractors who just crush, who go in and crush for people who are the resource owner. You’ve got everybody from the Lafarge Holcims of the world who are vertically integrated construction companies that do concrete and what have you, to small independent companies that will go in and crush a couple hundred thousand tons for a landowner who happens to own the resource and he’ll sell that to a Lafarge in some cases. It’s quite a varied group of customers.

Michael Webb:  The salespeople, are they located in these offices that you have scattered around?

Greg Helfrich:  They’ll report to one of the offices, many of them work from their houses.

Michael Webb: Okay.

Greg Helfrich: Some of them are six and eight hours away from that office but they’re closer to where their customers are.

Michael Webb: Okay. How many salespeople put together?

Greg Helfrich: You got me by surprise there. There’s three primary salespeople in the United States and about 13 in Canada.

Michael Webb: Okay, fair enough. Now, how did you experience this problem as sort of the quasi-leader of sales that they weren’t selling value. What was happening?

Greg Helfrich:  Well, it really comes down to pricing. What I saw was that some people were able to sell at, call it list price. Some people couldn’t sell at list price. Why? One of the things that came to me too was that when you’re dealing with some of these large companies and you have supply chain departments, why were we not getting into those supply chain departments and what is it that was preventing us from closing a sale once we got into that supply chain department? This was really the genesis of it was why is this one guy successful and the other person is not successful when both of them are very competent salespeople or I believe to be competent salespeople. Why in this particular region were we having problems? It was just understanding why there was inconsistency in results, process variation that led me down this path. It was really, why is this one particular person successful and not successful and what is this process and what is this person’s process and what is that person’s process?

This is where I really came to the realization that number one, we didn’t really have a sales process or it wasn’t consistent across the board. Number two, we didn’t have, our sales processes, sorry, that existed, were also not comprehensive. They didn’t go back to the customer stage where they realized that they needed to make a change. Our marketing process and online presence really wasn’t thought out to the genesis stage where I’ve got a problem, now I need to do research. What are we enabling the customer to do research on our website or are we just trying to sell product? These are things that we came to through the investigation and reading your book was, it was funny because I’d read the book after I’d done some of the investigation and now I can just put names to some of the things I learned. I got to some of the realizations, I looked at the book and I’m like, “Yeah I really wish I would have read this six months ago because I probably wouldn’t have needed to bang my head against the wall for hours and hours trying to figure this out.” Necessity being the mother of invention really is how we got to this layered approach that we take at this point in time.

Michael Webb: Okay. Now, a lot of people in your position would start looking around for sales training. Why didn’t you do that?

Greg Helfrich: Well, we did actually. We did do some sales training. But what happened was, it was typical, it was traditional, it was actually some good sales training. It was, we wound up talking to some people that do training to our customers on how to differentiate their rock products versus somebody else’s rock products. You’re really selling a commodity and how do you differentiate your commodity from somebody else’s commodity? We took that training and it was really valuable. We did do some more training with some other people and the feedback was, “This was valuable but I’m still missing something.” I said, “Okay what are you missing?”

He said, “I’m missing the story. I get that this is how you sell value or here’s how you talk about value, here’s how you deal with objections. Here’s how you get your nose in the door and here’s how you organize your day. I get all that. It was great training and I’m glad I went down that path and thank you very much for spending that money. But how am I different or how are my products different than somebody else’s? I still can’t formulate that argument in a way that’s coherent. Talk about features and benefits but what’s the difference it’s going to make? Which buyers are going to get it and which buyers aren’t going to get it and how do I, in some cases, I need to learn how to speak their language and in some cases, I need them to start learning how to speak our language. How do I do that?”

It wasn’t comprehensive enough. The training we did and I’m going to suggest that this is the same training that most people offer and is out there and what have you, just didn’t get into the granularity that was required to make a customer realize the difference between one of our products and another one of somebody else’s products and the difference that machine can make in their economics and their operations and their safety and all those things. Part of it was, we realized the way we trained and oriented people in the beginning was incorrect. We weren’t spending near enough time having them understand our difference but Michael, one of the things we really understood through this process is that we didn’t understand our difference well enough either. We didn’t understand, we didn’t understand the value that we can deliver as well as we needed to. We talked about features and benefits but we couldn’t quantify what the difference was, those features and benefits would deliver for the customer. This was the big aha for us is that we were not able to articulate our value well enough.

Michael Webb:  You think of this big rock of variations of sales peoples performance and some can sell at list price and some can’t. You gave them some sales training thinking that would help break that rock down into something more solvable and it did in part but then you had salespeople saying, “There’s something missing. I understand the logic of that but how do I deal with all this variation I’m facing as a salesperson, different products, different sales situations, different types of customers?” You broke that down into what is value? When you realize that you don’t know what your value is to the customer, am I following this correctly?

Greg Helfrich: Yep. The customer didn’t know what value was to them either.

Michael Webb: Good.

Greg Helfrich: What we found was is that there’s a lack of understanding of what value is in our industry at least and possibly in others.

Michael Webb: Yes.

Greg Helfrich: We couldn’t communicate it and other than them picking favorites because they like somebody, they actually didn’t know why they were buying, making decisions either. What we came to is that we believe that value, at least in our industry, if you imagine a normal graph you’ve got an X-axis and a Y-axis. On the Y-axis is the incremental economic impact of a product to that customer. Does it make a financial difference to that customer, that product or service that you sell? We have some products that do make a financial impact over and above other people’s products. We have products that really don’t make much of an impact. They’re not much different than somebody else’s products. Then on the X-axis, really we come down to trust factors. If you look at your offering, does it make an economic impact? If it doesn’t make an economic impact or an incremental economic impact, pardon me, can they trust your organization to support the product? Can they trust your organization to help them when they’re in a bind, those are the kind of things that are on that X-axis, the fuzzy stuff.

We started to realize that we have an economic, an incremental economic impact in some cases that we’re not doing a good job of explaining. In the cases where we don’t have an incremental economic impact, we’re not explaining how we support and make those customers successful on the trust factors or keeping them out of jail I guess is one of the phrases we’ve used. When they break down we’ve got somebody who can be there in an hour to help them figure it out when they can’t make specification. We can help them. It’s a multidimensional, we had to understand what value was on our end before we could communicate it well on their end. It’s really interesting to talk to customers and ask them lots of questions and why do you value this and why do you value that? What you find is that customers really don’t understand why they make buying decisions sometimes either. I guess that goes back to an assertion that somebody’s always made that buying decisions are psychological and justified economically after the fact.

Michael Webb: Yeah, there’s more to it than just financial measurement. There is the trust factor, there’s the clarity factor. You talk about this little diagram, we’ll put a slide or two up on the website to accompany our conversation here for those people who might be driving a car and be visual and want to see it. The way you described it here, I think if I’m looking at the right diagram, that the Y-axis, going up and down on the left side is a measurement system. Their ability to know the value and the X-axis across the bottom there is buyer’s acumen. Right? Is that what you’re talking about?

Greg Helfrich: Yeah. There’s three graphs we use to basically put this out there. The first graph is buyers. On the Y-axis you have their measurement system, their ability to differentiate value or economic impact and on the bottom you’ve got their acumen, so their understanding of the difference between cost and price and their understanding of the value of say, support and their understanding of the value of technical advice, the fuzzy stuff on the bottom. The fuzzy stuff is always on the X-axis by the way when you look at those graphs. That’s for anybody who is going to … One on layer you’ve got buyers. On the X-axis you’ve got their acumen or their ability to weigh out economic arguments and differentiate between suppliers based on what they know and what they don’t know. On the Y-axis you have their measurement systems. We have customers out there that have the measurement system that allows them to know the lifecycle cost of everything they use. These guys are…

Michael Webb: … sophisticated customers.

Greg Helfrich:  Yes. They are the ‘A’ customers in my mind. These guys know what they need, they know the economic impact, they know, they’re willing to do experiments because they know what something will do if it does work out. There are, great measurement systems make great buyers. That’s the first layer. The second layer is products. On the Y-axis again, you have the incremental economic impact of that product. We have products that in some cases will last 10 times longer than other products in the marketplace in a particular application. Those products, in some cases, are priced three times what the other product is priced at but when you think about it, three times the price for 10 times the life, the cost is a lot less. Those are really unique products. Then we have products that have no real economic impact difference between other products. They’re commodities like everybody else’s commodities. But you’ve got to have them. We look at commodities, how we differentiate on commodities is the old saying you can have it good, fast and cheap. Pick any two.

Michael Webb:  Right.

Greg Helfrich: We try and have it on hand and we try and make sure it’s decent quality but we always have it on hand. When someone’s broken down you’re the hero when you’ve got it in stock. It may be a bearing that anybody can get anywhere but one day you’ve got it and three other people don’t have it because they’re sold out. You’re the man that day. We tend to get that business because we’ve got it in stock. The third graph really comes down to the whole offer that your company offers versus somebody else’s. On the left hand side, it’s really the same graph as the buyer or pardon me, as the products where it’s what is the economic impact of your products and services or the portfolio of your products and services? On the whole, can you make an economic impact to that customer that’s above and beyond what a competitive offering is? This is something you have to understand holistically about your company.

Do you have products that have an economic impact and do you have products that don’t have an impact? On the whole, can you make an incremental economic impact on those customers? If you can’t, some can’t just because of the nature of what they sell, the bottom X-axis, which is trust factors or nonproduct attributes, your support, your service. That’s your only way to differentiate and it’s harder to differentiate on that X or pardon me, on that X-axis because now you’re talking about things that are fuzzy and hard to measure. How do you measure support?

Michael Webb: That’s one of the reasons why many companies pursue operational excellence because they sort of have gotten into a place where they are a commodity, everybody in their industry is a commodity and they seek refuge in, “Well we’re going to be shipping on-time more often, we’re going to have more consistent quality, we’re going to have shorter lead times.” It is a hard way to live but it is a way to compete.

Greg Helfrich: Yes, absolutely. There are ways, the nice thing about that X-axis or the fuzzy things is that there’s always a way to differentiate yourself. You can always figure out a way to differentiate yourself, even on things that are, if your product can’t be differentiated, I remember, I was a commodities trader. For 10 years I was a commodities trader for a company out of San Francisco called Wilbur Ellis Company. We differentiated ourselves in the commodities trading world by having the best invoicing system going. We would put out an invoice the next day and our invoicing was 99.997% or Six Sigma correct all the time. We got business, our wheat was no different than anybody else’s wheat and we didn’t grow the wheat. We just traded it. We got business from a lot of other companies because of our invoicing, because they didn’t have to have a staff of 30 people to sort out invoicing messes that would happen. Something like that can be a differentiating factor if you can’t have an economic impact.

Understand that sometimes your price can be an economic impact. If you figured out a way to manufacture at a lower cost and you can offer a better price and still make money, you do have an economic impact. It’s the combination of the two but if you have a great economic impact, you’re hard to deal with and your invoicing is never correct and your service is crappy…

Michael Webb: … Entropy, right? Everything devolves and stuff is going wrong all the time. That’s the world that salespeople live in.

Greg Helfrich: Yeah. It’s hard to run a good show. It’s really a sign when you see businesses that are 30 and 40 years old, I toured a business here in Indiana early in the spring. These guys have been in business for 80 years. They are not the most technologically advanced company out there in their product. They do things, in some cases, the old fashioned way and in some cases, there’s better ways to do it. I’ll tell you, when you break down, they will put a guy on a plane or charter a plane if they need to, to make sure you’re looked after. Their reputation is sterling. You can overcome, they overcome I would say mediocre product development in some cases. They’ve got a tried and true product that works, it could be improved. It’s not a stellar product but boy, I’ll tell you, they’ve got a reputation of when you’re down, they will hold your hand. They make sure you get back running as fast as you can and they deal with things. They will move heaven and earth.

Michael Webb: That goes back to that old adage, it takes the whole company to make the customer happy. Not just operations, not just the sales department. Let’s get back to your sales department. You had these people in the field. They had differing skills, differing views of the world and here you come up with these three different essential characteristics of value, the variation in the customer, his ability to measure. The variation in the product and their impact and then the variation in I guess the whole package of the company’s offering. Have I got that right? Those are the three?

Greg Helfrich:  Yep.

Michael Webb: How did you translate that into something that makes money for salespeople?

Greg Helfrich:  The place we started was the buyer. The impact it had, when we explained it all, all three graphs or all three concepts and everybody intellectually got it. It didn’t take any time at all for people to get it. It was like watching, it was water is wet. It was as true as that. People just got it. In the presentation, in the first run we had in January with these concepts, there was about 30 people in the room and everybody was nodding their heads. We went through it and we said, “Okay now where do you start?” The where do you start is the buyer. What we decided was that we need to stop spending less time with buyers that have really poor measurement systems and poor levels of acumen, the people who just won’t get it. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to tell them they need to go away or anything like that. We just, if you call and you need something, we’ll treat you nicely, we’ll make sure you’re looked after but we’re not going to discount and we’re not going to chase your business because you may never get it. You’re not speaking our language and we’re not going to speak your language.

Michael Webb: You needed a way to help salespeople to prioritize buyers along this particular axis of quality or axis of value. If they can detect and measure the value to them, if they had a measurement system and they could detect what was really financial value to them, then you’re going to prioritize them higher.

Greg Helfrich: Yeah. What it was is if you could spend less time, if you consciously spend less time with people who will never get it or won’t get it, you can spend more time with the people that will and you’ll get a higher share of their spend. That will be a higher margin, generally a higher margin spend with a lot less problems.

Michael Webb: Okay.

Greg Helfrich: Our goal is to get a higher share of spend from the buyers who get it, who have great measurement systems, who have preventative maintenance systems, good measurement systems, good business systems and high levels of acumen. If we concentrate our time on those people, we’ll get a higher share of spend and we’ll do better as a company then trying to be everything to everybody. As a salesperson, you’ll be more rewarded by getting that higher share of spend with the people who get it. That’s really where we started.

Michael Webb: Did you make a tool for them? What did it look like?

Greg Helfrich: We didn’t really make a tool but we said, “Okay here are some of the signs. If your buyer does not have a preventative maintenance program, they just fix things when they’re broken or they don’t have a system, chances are good they don’t have a measurement system either.”

Michael Webb: That is an observable thing about them that gives the salespeople an anchor. I can point to that. Okay. I can ask the question to uncover whether they have that. Okay, that helps. Good.

Greg Helfrich: When you drive in the yard, what do you see? When you drive in the yard do you see piles of gravel and what have you everywhere? Do you see machines that are broken down that are in the same place they broke down a while ago? What do you physically observe when you drive on-site? Those two things, what do you physically observe when you drive on-site and do they have a preventative maintenance program were two insights that most people just needed to, “Aha, I get it.”

Michael Webb: Good, good.

Greg Helfrich: Sometimes you drive in when something broke down where it’s going to look crazy but on the whole, what do you see when you drive in? Do they have a preventative maintenance program? Because if they’ve got both of those things there’s a really high chance that everything else is going to fall into place.

Michael Webb: What you just described is a perfect example in your world of what I was trying to write about at the beginning of chapter three, where you had those observable qualification criteria. I presume then that you created similar concrete, observable things around each of these three categories. Is that fair?

Greg Helfrich:  Yeah. What we did is we brainstormed on what do you see when you drive in the yard to differentiate buyers. The other thing is, one of the guys suggested if it doesn’t have a preventative maintenance program, I generally don’t spend a whole bunch of time trying to sell really high-value products. I basically leave them with a line card and go on my merry way. That led us to products. We started talking about and we had to come up with a way of differentiating products. We came up with the products that delivered the most economic impact and were the most unique we call diamonds. Diamonds are really those products, when the iPhone came out it was a diamond. It was unique, it had economic, it had impact, it was unique. We look at products, can a product deliver an incremental economic impact to that customer that nobody else can deliver? Is it unique? By virtue of being one it’s probably unique anyway. Those are our diamonds.

In the middle we have staples. They have some economic impact, other products probably have good economic impact too. You can differentiate them slightly. They have an impact but it’s very hard to measure in some cases. They’re not necessarily as unique. But they’re not necessarily ubiquitous either. We call those staples. We used soap as a good example. Soap is everywhere but some people pay $20 a bar and some people pay for. Some people pay 50 cents. We use that analogy. Then in the bottom you really have commodities where they’re ubiquitous, everybody’s got them and they really don’t have an incremental economic impact in the marketplace. Wheat’s wheat is essentially or water is water is essentially what we said. In those products, we compete by having them in stock when people need them. That’s our biggest thing is we’ve got to have them in stock.

We like inventory because in a world where nobody likes inventory, we like inventory because when you got it, you’re their friend. This was our way of, what’s our catalog, what products have we got, what products do we need to develop and this was the observable characteristic that we talked about when it came to products is how unique is it and then we got people thinking about portfolio. How do you now put this all together and when you go to a customer what do you focus on and what do you look at in their operation where you can fit? How does your portfolio match their needs? It was a really good exercise. We’ve seen some serious results from it. It’s interesting that we’ve got customers that don’t have the measurement systems and don’t have the sophistication and they’re now coming to us as we start talking about this and saying, “Help me. Help me build a preventative maintenance program.” “Help me build this.” It’s been a really, really interesting journey and it’s just really getting going. We’re working to develop some tools that will help customers actually develop some of the measurement systems they need and some of the preventative maintenance of other systems that will help them become better operators.

Michael Webb: We have just a few minutes left here. Can you give us some examples of the results that you’ve achieved? Then we’ll wrap up.

Greg Helfrich:  Well, one sales guy, salesperson, what he showed was that he was able to take the time, he dropped some, he went from a frequency of some accounts from monthly to every six months and spent more time on a customer who has a fantastic measurement system and they really get value. His share of spend has gone, we estimate from about 40% with this one particular customer to about 70% because he’s just able to, it’s just amazing the result. A couple of the customers he spent less time on phoned him and said, “Why aren’t you out here?” He said, “Because you don’t have the ability to measure some of the differences in our products and what have you. I know they can make an impact but until you can measure them I really can’t do anything.” They said, “Come and help us develop this measurement system.”

Michael Webb: Talk about voice of the customer. That’s awesome.

Greg Helfrich:  It was a win-win. We’ve had a number of other circumstances where people have said, “I’ve spent less time with these guys and they still continue to buy. They’re buying just as much as they did before but now I can spend time with the people who really get it.” What we’re finding is that when we spend more of our time with the people that get it, those people are coming to us and saying, “Develop this for me. Help me with this.”

Michael Webb:  Go ahead.

Greg Helfrich: Totally changed the conversation from a product conversation to a profitability conversation-

Michael Webb: I can imagine.

Greg Helfrich: … so our people are becoming-

Michael Webb:   I’m sorry I keep interrupting you. I want to jump in because there’s an observation that I can hear some hardheaded executive owner of a company listening to this conversation going, “But that’s all common sense. How come they weren’t doing that before? Why did you have to go through all this elaborate Six Sigma stuff to do that?”

Greg Helfrich: I  wish I could give you a smart, curt answer except that some obvious facts are not that obvious.

Michael Webb: Yes, they’re not.

Greg Helfrich: Or they’re obvious in the rearview mirror. I guess that’s the way I would put that one, is that there’s so many things in this world that you see, you have the benefit of hindsight in saying, “Well I know that.” Well, yeah but at some point in time someone didn’t know that and there’s a lot more to, there’s always more to it than yeah, it’s common sense, you should know it. There’s a lot of things that are common sense that people just don’t know. I mean, look at diet and exercise. Yeah, it’s common sense. North America has got a hell of an obesity problem. Tell me how common sense helps you.

Michael Webb: Exactly. Exactly. I have talked to a number of entrepreneurs who struggle because they have some salespeople who can sell the most elaborate, most expensive stuff and others who struggle to sell the basic stuff. They work with those people, bringing in those big numbers but then sooner or later, life happens and that person has to leave. All their knowledge that they built up and their relationships go with them. They struggle saying, “How do I build this stuff?” The process should be in the company. When a salesperson comes in, they’re the arms and the legs and the mouth but how do we build the knowledge into the company so that the salespeople can be more effective. Your example describes that just wonderfully well.

Greg Helfrich:  Well, thank you. We’re seeing an impact with it. If you use these, you’ve got to figure out your own system but this system might work for some, selling a physical good, this system that we’ve developed could probably work for a lot of people. You put your buyers through it and you put your products through it and in the end, you can put your salespeople and say can you work within this system? If you can, you should see results.

Michael Webb: That system is, I guess I would say in Sales Process Excellence we frame out the bones, the skeleton of what are the components such a system has to have. Would you say that that’s fair?

Greg Helfrich:  Yes. Absolutely fair because when I looked at our system, our system assumed that the customer was going to call you in the first place. That’s changed. People do their research online and we’re looking at, it was symbiotic. I read the book and I looked at it and went, “Well, we’ve defined our sales process from the point in time where someone calls us but we haven’t defined it backwards to the point where hey, I’ve got a problem and I need to do some research.”

Michael Webb: Right.

Greg Helfrich: We needed to go back and do that.

Michael Webb: You cannot define the sales process from the point of view of the salesperson. You can’t do that anymore.

Greg Helfrich: No. You can’t define it from the point in time where you got a phone call because what you’re doing is that you’re reinforcing your own bias in a way that it’s just like the guy who is looking for his keys, the guy comes along and says, “Why are you looking here for your keys?” “Well, because there’s a light here.” Keys were lost 25 feet away but he’s underneath the streetlamp because that’s where the light was.

Michael Webb: Yeah.

Greg Helfrich:  Just defining your sales process from the point in time where you have contact and you have communication, you’re missing the point. There’s a whole world out there. Those are the known knowns. Now you’ve got the known unknowns that you have to work with.

Michael Webb:  I think that part, upfront interaction and giving customers the information that they’re looking for and putting it in the places where they are looking, is that the next part of your sales process that you guys are working to build out or is there some other bottleneck or challenge that you think is equally important?

Greg Helfrich: No, actually you nailed it. That’s exactly where we’re focused right now is 20 years ago you got a call when the customer said, or when the customer realized he had a problem 20 years ago you got a call that minute. Now you get a call when you’re one of two or three that they view can solve the problem. The whole world has changed. You don’t get a call when they have a problem now. You get a call when it’s determined that you can possibly help them solve their problems. The level of research done online is way different now and yes, this is something, that’s exactly what we’re focused on right now is that how do we nurture people through that research stage?

Michael Webb: That is super.  We could, I’d like to follow up with you. Thought leaders like yourself who are inventing solutions based on your experience and experimenting with it and having your salespeople answer the questions so that they themselves have some ownership in it and do some of it, would love to see how you do in the future as you work with the problems. I’d like to invite you back at some point in the future when you’re ready to tell us about that. Would that be all right?

Greg Helfrich: Sure, absolutely. We’re working on some stuff right now and we’re going to start rolling it out late summer. This time next year we should have a really good feel for how some of this stuff worked and the impact that it’s had. I’d be happy to come back.

Michael Webb: We’re going to take the, you sent me a few slides before our call here today. I’m going to try to boil these down into one or two pages and with your permission, you make sure I got it right and we will post that on the podcast page so that the audience has something to look at to go along with the conversation we had.

Greg Helfrich:  Certainly.

Michael Webb: If someone wants to learn more about ELRUS or get in contact with you, how would they do that?

Greg Helfrich: ELRUS is real simple, E-L-R-U-S .com is the website. Myself, just Greg Helfrich, H-E-L-F-R-I-C-H on LinkedIn. You can get ahold of me. The best place is LinkedIn. That’s easy peasy. You’ll see a guy with thinning hair on LinkedIn and if you want to learn more about what we do in the industry, A great website about quarries and rock crushing and what have you is the Ontario Sand, Stone and Gravel Association, OSSGA. They have a great website in terms of how rock product is derived, the process it goes through, things like that. There’s other national, NSSGA, which is the National Sand, Stone and Gravel Association in the United States also has a really good website understanding where rock products come from and how they’re used and processed and stuff like that.

Michael Webb: Super. Thank you very much for volunteering this information and your time and describing your journey. I really appreciate it. I know that many people out there who come from seemingly mundane industries but they’re way more complicated than they look on the outside, a lot of people are going to benefit from hearing your story.

Greg Helfrich: Thank you. I hope they do. Anybody who has any questions, by all means, reach out through LinkedIn and I’ll do the best I can to help answer your queries.

Michael Webb: Super. To you and to everyone who is in the listening audience, good luck and good selling.

Click here for the charts Greg described above: Prerequisites for Selling Value V4

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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