Profile - Multimillion-Dollar Success

A Distributor Gives Tips On Remaining A Top Performer

Dennis GerlichWhen Dennis Gerlich started his career 30 years ago, he was thrilled to get any order he could. "I would drive across town for a $25 commission," he says. "I didn't have a long-term plan. I was just focused on the moment."

One of his best early moments came when he visited a machine shop in Houston. The only item the owner was sure he didn't want was a calendar. "I said to him, 'If you ever change your mind, call me,' " Gerlich remembers. "I got a call two or three months later, and I'm still selling calendars to that same company today."

Gerlich, now a regional vice president for Counselor Top 40 distributor Halo Branded Solutions (asi/356000), sells a lot more than calendars today, of course. A consistent multimillion-dollar-a-year producer, he explains below how he keeps his edge.

Q: What's something you've learned that helps you sell more effectively?
A: For years, I worked very hard to become a better salesman. I attended seminars, read articles, books and newsletters, and listened to tapes. I tried most of the suggestions, but one stands out. The suggestion was to take a small tape recorder into a sales call and listen to the presentation afterwards. I really got a surprise when I listened to the conversation. I interrupted the client repeatedly. I was so fast with the answers that he didn't even finish asking the questions. Learn to listen and even if you know the answer, slow down and at least act like you gave it some thought.

Q: What have you done to build your client base?
A: If you provide excellent customer service, your business will build itself. It does help to be aware of opportunities and to ask open-ended questions. The exchange could be as simple as this: Me: "Is your business up over last year?" Client: "Yeah, about 20%." Me: "That's great. Did you guys get a great new client, come out with a new product or service, or are you just making more calls?" Client: "Nothing has really changed. We're just putting more pressure on our sales staff to get out there." Me: "I guess you are like every other company. You get most of the sales from the top 20%. What are you doing to recognize your top achiever?" It is really that easy.

Q: Any tips you can offer about successfully closing deals?
A: When the buyer says he or she is ready to place some orders, be quiet and get out the pen. I have made many joint sales calls in the past 30 years, and I have seen salespeople talk the buyer out of ordering.

Q: You increased your sales 59% in 2011. How?
A: The best way to increase sales in any given year is to make sure the prior year is a lousy one. The year 2010 was not my friend, but I did not give up; I did not go home early. I kept working. It also helps to be in the business a long time. You never know who might call with that "pick-me-up order."

Q: How do you follow up with clients to make sure they're happy with orders?
A: I either call or go see them. I do not e-mail. E-mails are impersonal and at times can seem dismissive. A telephone call connects you to the client in ways the computer cannot. You can tell if people are interested in you by what they are saying and how they are saying it. I also use this time to probe for business and ask for referrals.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who has had flat sales for several years?
A: Look at yourself first. Are you working a full day every day? How are you dressed? Are you interested in the clients you have? Can you tell people what you do in just a few sentences? Are you engaged in ongoing sales education? Do you look at things from the client's perspective? Also, ask for referrals the first time you make a presentation. Most people wait until they get the first order and do a good job and then they ask for the referral. That is backwards.