It is easier than ever today for customers to source products. Information is a mouse click away and unless you want to build an atom bomb in your garden shed, most things can be bought online.

Should we in the distribution business despair at the near universal availability of information and products/services? The answer, of course, is a resounding no.

Intelligent salesmanship is not about selling things, it is about building relationships and solving customers’ problems. It involves building successful long-term partnerships that deliver real value for all concerned over a sustained period.

The fashionable term for this approach is consultative (or collaborative) selling. The traditional approach to sales focuses on selling things, and puts the product at the centre; in the consultative approach, it is the customer and their needs that are at the heart of things.

This represents a fundamental shift in focus and approach. It takes you to interesting places and opens up conversations that would simply not be possible by the traditional product-based approach.

It is a truism, but your own level of success will never be greater than your customer’s. This means developing a deep understanding of your customer’s business needs, and being intimately aware of the challenges and opportunities they face. We can then use our specialist knowledge and unique network to help solve their problems and help them grasp new opportunities. We can then both grow.

Rather than looking upon your company as a business with a lot of warehouse space and delivery vehicles, it is much more helpful and creative to think of your business as your customer’s research and development department.

My own company has taken something of a pioneering approach in this area, investing in teams of highly experienced technical specialists in the fields of air conditioning chillers, air handlers and heat pumps. Highly experienced in their areas, the teams keep abreast of all key technical developments and ensure customers are kept informed about solutions that may benefit their business. We also carry out field trials and technical assessments of new technology and materials, to verify manufacturer’s claims and provide independent insights on how best to apply new products in practice.

As a result, we are able to give customers unique support and help them adopt new technology successfully. The customer benefits from authoritative knowledge of a specialist area important to their business. This in turn deepens the relationship and builds trust, producing a virtuous circle that benefits both companies.

Is the investment in time, trouble and shoe-leather worthwhile?

A recent study of more than 20,000 companies revealed that a totally satisfied customer contributes 2.6 times as much revenue as a somewhat satisfied customer; a totally satisfied customer contributes 14 times as much revenue as a somewhat dissatisfied customer; and a totally dissatisfied customer actually decreases revenue at a rate equal to 1.8 times what a totally satisfied customer contributes to a business.

The findings should come as no surprise. Think about your own experience on the receiving end of excellent service, compared with half-hearted or downright poor service. We greatly value and appreciate good service. It is something that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Robert Franklin is Climate Center’s national sales manager - refrigeration