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How One Distributor Killed Its Sales Titles and Grew Sales Faster

How One Distributor Killed Its Sales Titles and Grew Sales Faster

February 6, 2019

Earnest Machine is a Cleveland-based fastener wholesale importer that sells through distributors. Kirk Zehnder, the CEO of the 71-year old company, says that, “Over the last 10 years, we’ve been through a major renovation of how we do business, why we do business and where we’re heading in the market.” 

At a time when every distributor is wrestling with how to adjust the traditional sales model – no matter what form – I’m fascinated by stories of the results and how leaders are tackling a tough issue. When it’s a story about a 10-person sales organization that sees big gains in productivity and culture in a relatively short amount of time, I get almost giddy. 

Why? Because there is no tougher or more important challenge for many distributors today than transitioning the traditional outside sales model into a flexible and nimble selling organization where digital plays an important support role. Far too many distributors have a disconnect in one or more parts of their current sales model – strong siloes where the outside salesperson has all the customer relationships locked up; misaligned inside teams; self-defeating web sales policies; conflicting compensation models and more! 

After attending MDM’s last Sales GPS conference in June 2018, Zehnder got some clarity around how an integrated sales model could work, and more importantly, how to make the transition. “The most revolutionary thing we did was to eliminate the titles ‘inside sales’ and ‘outside sales’,” Zehnder says, “and instead build teams based on the right people doing the right things to connect with customers, maximize their opportunities and deliver the best customer experience possible.” 

“The elimination of the inside and outside sales titles really addressed a big issue that exists at most companies, which is they don’t want to work together,” Zehnder says. “In fact, they don’t like each other one bit.” So Earnest Machine created three teams, each with 90-100 accounts. They were even able to redeploy an inside sales manager because of the team-based communication and orientation. 

There’s been a big culture shift in a short amount of time as well. “There was a shift in productivity, but also a shift in understanding that what I’m doing today is part of a greater good,” Zehnder says. “It’s not just work being thrown at me. We have people that are covering for each other.” 

The shift to teams is allowing Earnest to focus on an initiative on top-decile accounts that Zehnder also gained clarity on at the 2018 Sales GPS event. “That’s something we’d been talking about, but never had a real science behind that,” Zehnder says. 

You can hear more of Kirk’s story in this five-minute podcast interview I did with him (see below). You can hear a lot more of his story and discuss your challenges with him and many other distributors who are sharing their challenges and successes in their respective sales transformation stories at our Sales GPS conference Feb. 20-22 in Las Vegas. We have a great agenda with a focus this year not just on what you should do, but also on the steps you can take now to update your sales process to make it more agile and profitable. There are lots of takeaways: successful sales playbooks, compensation plans, and several stories from those who have been getting results from their sales transformation efforts. 

I hope you can join me, Mike Marks of Indian River Consulting Group, and many other great speakers to network and learn the latest on how to build a stronger sales team. 

Please contact me at if you have any questions about our event. I hope to see you soon!

Listen to Kirk's story below

© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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