Are You in a Product or Sales Rut?

“The most unprofitable item ever manufactured is an excuse.”

John Mason

The office furniture industry today is a blend of many others including, but not necessarily limited to, design, fashion, technology, construction, service, environment, hospitality, education, health, transportation, and probably others I’ve missed. The point is, that there are many opportunities for business and even more choices of suppliers.

Too often, however, salespeople get stuck proposing and selling the same things over and over and as a result, miss new opportunities or worse, leave the door open for a competitor. It’s critical for salespeople to keep up with trends in today’s workplace and also keep an open mind when it comes to working with different suppliers.

With so many choices of products and suppliers to explore, it can be difficult decide which ones will offer a sustainable base of business and which will have a limited appeal; which products will lead to additional sales and which will be “one and done.”

To address this situation, it can be helpful to work from a checklist to help determine which ones will have the best chances of meeting the long and short-term needs of your clients and your dealership.

Here are some ideas you might want to take into consideration when selecting your product partners:

1. What are your primary reasons for choosing a particular product or supplier? What are your client’s criteria? Do they match? Make a list of the most important criteria and compare them. For example, here is a list of criteria you can consider:

- The important strategic alignment factors you value

- Applicable business policies

- Any constraints – management directives, government regulations, contracts already in place, and other commitments

- Product quality

- Price reliability

- Return policies

- Lead times

All of the above may be important but some are more important than others. Make sure you are prioritizing your needs and those of your customers.

For example, quality may be most important. Surprising to some, cost is often a low priority. If a supplier offers poor quality, long lead time, late deliveries, etc., does it really matter how low the price is? It’s probably time to look for some new alternatives.

2. Does the product you are showing meet the current and future needs of the customer and solve a specific problem?

Your product must address a need or an opportunity. You need to know how your products or services benefit the customer. It must have a real value that customers can identify, want, and need…and in the customer’s terms.

Often, the product solutions shown to customers are no longer relevant. Salespeople must not only analyze how the customer works, but also keep up with trends that affect the workplace. Showing a customer a corner work surface was cutting edge in the 1990’s. Not so much today. Open plan systems are actually a throwback to the offices of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s. Great for some applications, but not for others.

Salespeople today have to keep an open mind when it comes to suggesting a product. They should never rule out showing a product because of a personal prejudice or bias.

3. Do you know how to present solutions to your clients when a similar product exists? Do you know what to do when you’re bidding against one? Do you know where to go when a customer requests a product not in your current line package?

First and foremost is knowing and understanding your unique selling proposition. Your unique selling proposition is the one thing that makes your product different than any other. It’s one of the reasons consumers will buy your product even though it may seem no different from many others just like it.

When a client asks for a product you don’t currently sell, do you have the resources you need to find it? (INDEAL members do with the Specification Service program). It is very important to be able to respond to non-standard requests, as not being able to often opens the door to competitors. That said, not every opportunity is a good fit for the dealership, so it’s important to know from which ones to walk away.

4. Selecting new suppliers. As I’ve written, it’s important to continually look at new suppliers and see how they can fit into your product offerings. Bringing them into your program has many benefits.

Many new products allow for add-on sales, often at higher margins.

New products give the salesperson a good excuse to contact all their existing and potential customers as well as the local A&D community.

New product roll-outs are a great way to host an event and also get your customers and the A&D community to view you and your dealership for more than your standard products.

New products allow you to get into opportunities with less competition or areas that haven’t been touched by your competitors yet. For example, INDEAL has products that address the trend in adding recreational equipment to the workplace; products like Killerspin (Ping Pong tables) and Holland Bar Stool (bar stools, pool tables, shuffleboard and Foosball tables).

Before adding new suppliers to the INDEAL program, they go through a thorough screening process. Salespeople and dealers need to also assess any suppliers they want to promote.

Here are some additional criteria you can use to assess new products/suppliers as well as existing ones:







Lead Time




Customer base

Financial health

Social responsibility

Product development






You can probably add some more items of your own to this list, but it should give you a good start.

Salespeople must stay open to new products and services as the workplace evolves. Many products and services that were once mainstays of the office furniture industry have all but disappeared.

“A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one.”

Henry Ford

Jim Heilborn is a business consultant specializing in the office furniture/products industry, working nationwide with dealers, manufacturers, and service providers. Jim has been associated with INDEAL for over seven years, specializing in training and dealer development. Jim can be reached directly at or 716.828.8235.