Business Tips on Built to Sell by John Warrillow

A series of Business Tips from the book:Built to Sell
Built to Sell
by John Warrillow

Don’t generalize: specialize. If you focus on doing one thing well and hire specialists in that area, the quality of your work will improve and you will stand out among your competitors
— John Warrillow

If you think you can appeal to all customers, you will gain no customers Niche markets work so much better.

When I first started my sales rep business, my niche was Lewis & Clark Gifts. I had producers and buyers all over the Lewis & Clark trail buying my products. But as time went on (and the Lewis & Clark Commemoration was ending), I changed my niche to Idaho made products — and have stuck with that ever since.

Folks know what I am about because my business name and website is Idaho Gifts Wholesale!

Later on, when we starting our gourmet food business, we became the “Idaho Rednecks”!! Our humorous verbiage and our striking labels were a winner. And the products tasted good! We attracted lots of sales because we were targeting gifts for men — and focusing on a specialization!


Relying too heavily on one client is risky and will turn off potential buyers. Make sure than no one client makes up more than 15 percent of your revenue.
— John Warrillow

I learned early on the importance of this tip. Although, I never fell into this trap, I knew several who had when I managed the woodcraft co-op store in the 90s.

A few of these woodworkers marketed very hard to get sales from large stores such as Costco. One fellow finally landed the account and got such a large opening order that he ended up dropping all his other accounts to fulfill this huge order. When Costco did not re-order, he was unable to get his smaller accounts back!

Another producer, hired a bunch of folks to help him put his new large order together. He arranged a loan for the materials needed. With his new workers lined up everything was looking looked good. Expectantly, at the last minute, his big account canceled the entire order. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I heard from mutual friends that he went bankrupt!

Some sad stories, but they hit home …. check your big accounts and make sure you could survive if they ever stopped ordering from you.


Owning a process makes it easier to pitch and puts you in control. Be clear about what you’re selling and potential customers will be more likely to buy your product.
— John Warrillow

I am a big believer in systems! The ones I have set up save me much time and money as they streamline what I do on a regular basis. Systems can help with shipping, billing, sales presentations, bookkeeping and many aspects of your business.

“Being clear about what you’re selling” applies to your sales presentation. Have you ever watched a Vitamix demo at Costco? The demonstrator knows everything about the machine, what it can do, and even make samples on the spot! He/she is very clear about the features and the benefits of owning a Vitamix. Never once have I heard a demonstrator tell the folks to buy one! The sale is done THROUGH the demo.

When you sell a product, work out a system that sells. Share the benefits of your widget — demo it, if necessary (I gave gourmet food samples to the buyer — not a sample jar, but opened a jar and gave them a spoon!). Once your have you pitch perfected, you can use it over and over again with success!


Two Sales reps are always better than one. Often competitive types, sales reps will try to out do each other. And having two on staff will prove to a buyer that you have a scalable sales model, not just one good sales rep.
— John Warrillow

Sales people are known for their competitive nature — take advantage of that! Even if you have outside reps, you can use this tactic.

I am not really a competitive person, by nature! I know, as a sales rep, I competed with myself, but never really with another sales rep until one day ..

I was the first and only rep a growing candy company hired several years ago. As they grew, they hired more outside reps and put a sales manager in place to assist and mentor their sales. She decided that she would run a small contest: Whoever placed the most orders within a certain time frame would win a box of their best chocolates.

You didn’t have to ask me twice. Not only do I LOVE chocolate, but I was not going to let this new group of sales reps outsell me — after all, I had been with the company for years! Needless to say, this ‘non-competitive’ sales rep won the contest and the box of dark chocolate bars!

I am sure the candy company found the contest a success for their business as well.


Hire people who are good at selling products, not services. These people will be better able to figure out how your product can meet a client’s needs rather than agreeing to customize your offering to fit what the client wants.
— John Warrillow

If you are hiring an outside sales rep, hire someone who sells to stores where similar products to your own are sold. Don’t expect a fashion rep to sell your greeting cards! And if you customized your products — which can be a wonderful selling point — develop parameters around what you will or will not customize.

I worked with companies, including my husband’s gourmet food company, who would customize product label for stores and resorts. I encouraged these companies to systematize their label offerings and pricing.

As a sales rep, it is very hard to sell a ‘concept’ — at least for me! Having a well thought out template to work from was better than having the buyer give me an abstract idea of they wanted. Systems like these eliminate the back and forth conversations as well as define the important parameters of what a producer can and will do.

Make selling your products as easy as possible for your sales people — whether they are in-house or independent reps.


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