Sales Superstar



The art of keeping it personal

by Jeff Gardner, Maximum Performance Group
In this two-part special, Jim DiCenso, a heavy hitter from the Land of Lincoln, reveals how a focus on relationships saw him become top dog at his firm.

Jim DiCenso has been a sales professional in the office products industry for 18 years. He lives and works in Springfield which is about 100 miles north-east of St. Louis and 200 miles south-west of Chicago. Springfield is the capital of Illinois with a population of 116,000. It’s the 6th largest city in the state of Illinois and the 205th largest in the nation. Springfield is not considered a major market; yet, DiCenso is delivering some big market results for his employer, Midwest Office Supply.

In 1989, DiCenso was selling medical supplies when he was approached by a friend he had known since High School, Steve DeMarco. DeMarco was the owner of DeMarco Business Products, a relatively new company which had only been in existence since spring of that same year.

DeMarco asked DiCenso to join the company in September of 1989 and he accepted. The early days were financially lean for DiCenso; not only was he the company’s first and only salesperson, he also cleaned their offices on weekends to earn extra money.

DiCenso then went on a roller coaster ride that represented the state of the office products industry in the 1990s. DeMarco Business Products was sold to American Loose Leaf in the mid-1990s which then became part of US Office Products and later went bankrupt. In 2000, Midwest Office Supply was established by eight former employees as equal partners. DiCenso is one of the partners. Throughout the years and after all those changes, he has maintained a large book of business.

In 2007, DiCenso’s sales were $2.6 million. And with the help of a focused business plan, he’s keen to get over the $3 million hurdle in 2008.

Many salespeople would be satisfied with $2.6 million, because after all that in itself is a significant accomplishment. DiCenso agrees, saying: "It’s a hard trap because at times you get complacent and comfortable at that level. Another challenge is that you end up being forced to do a lot of servicing issues. There are days that I get frustrated because I’m spending time on things that don’t really increase sales. But sometimes those are the things you simply have to do to maintain customer relationships."

The fact that DiCenso recognises the difference between servicing and selling and is still pushing to gain more sales after 18 years in business is what puts him in that top performer echelon.

What are you doing to grow your business?
I still make cold calls although I’d rather not. I try to use as many warm leads as I can.

What do you mean by warm leads?
Using a friend to help get me in the door of an organisation, for example. I have lived in Springfield my entire life and I know a lot of people. So when there’s an organisation that I’m trying to get into and I haven’t had any success with my own prospecting programme, I ask someone I know if they will find out who the buyer is and put in a good word for me.

When you get a warm lead like that it can take weeks off the process of closing. Because every decision-maker is busy, they just don’t have time to see every salesperson that comes by. However, if you come in recommended, they will take the time to see you.

How do you get a warm lead referral?
I’m not one to force my business on someone. For example, I’m not constantly talking about office supplies with the guys I golf with. But what I do at some point throughout our relationship is that I will ask them: "Who does your ordering- or "who do you buy from-, but it’s not at the first meeting. I’m very particular about that, the last thing I want to do is come across as too pushy. It’s a matter of building trust with them over time.

Who has made an impact or contribution to your success in selling?
My other partners here at Midwest really contribute a lot to my success. I look to Dan Salisbury in our company as a mentor and for his business insights. My other sales partners, Kevin Gaffney and Dave Holmin, have been very integral to my sales success, because we all help each other. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.

That’s one key to our organisation, we’re all working together here. No big customers come on board without us going to Jeff DeMarco to check on how we can better serve them through our technology. DeMarco is always right there side-by-side with us. It’s a group effort on everything we do.

If Holmin or Gaffney are busy working on a big customer and they need help putting together a presentation, I will be in the conference room helping them. I want to see them succeed too! It’s not just because we are all partners and it benefits the business, it’s because I’ve known these guys forever and they’re friends of mine and the better they do, the happier I am.

Why are you successful? What specific factors play a role in your success?
Any good salesperson has to be a good listener. When I meet with customers, I’m constantly trying to make it about them. I ask a lot of questions and make them the focus of the interview. When they have a project they need help on, I find the best solution, not the one that’s going to make me the most money, but the one that’s the best value for them.

What is your approach to growing sales with current customers?
We do really well around here with our customer analysis and reporting. DeMarco is great about making us aware about customers that are buying all their toner, but not buying their copy paper from us or other customers that are just buying copy paper from us but not jan/san.

We have that information to go into our customers and show them what they are buying and are not buying from us. And then we just ask them, how can we get that business from you? You’d be surprised about the number of times we ask for additional business and our customers tell us they had no idea we carried the category.

How do you keep yourself organised?
I have a BlackBerry, and the good part is that I don’t physically have to be at my desk to answer my emails. Technology has made us so much more efficient, with cell phones and BlackBerrys your office is with you everywhere you go. With our wireless laptops we have access to our company system anytime we need it.

What is your favourite book and what is one valuable thing you learned from it?
I try to read as much as I can. Right now I’m reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell. I just finished Good to Great by Jim Collins, that’s a really good book. Collins’ hedgehog concept is our model around here. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I sell pencils. I like to break it down to the simplest component you can.

To be continued…

In Part 2 next month, DiCenso reveals his typical working day, his best closing lines and how word-of-mouth saw him win a $100,000 contract from under the nose of a rival.
Don’t forget to contact me with your suggestion for a top performing salesperson, to be featured in an upcoming article. Good selling!