Joe Rubbelke recounts the training session he delivered at th eUniversal Unilink conference

Helping vs Selling

Joe Rubbelke, Mountville Mills, has been a longtime supporter of Universal Unilink Members. As both a presenter and participant in conferences past and present, he brings a unique and valuable perspective. Take a minute to see how you can apply the principles he shared at the conference.

During a recent route training session with an industrial laundry, I started the session by asking a question, ” How many of you guys love to sell?” Care to venture a guess at how many people raised their hands? Typically, it is fewer than 20%. My question to you is what do you think the percentage is for your route team? Do they love to sell? This article will suggest a different way to discuss the selling process with your route professionals.


During your next route meeting start by asking your route professionals what comes to mind when they think of selling. Some common answers are car sales, telemarketing and other “high pressure” selling professions. I can literally see the sweat forming on their foreheads as we talk about selling. The truth is that put simply, our route professionals dislike selling. They are service people. Most of them think first and foremost about taking care of the customer. Selling is a bother that the company is always bugging me to do and is a waste of everyone’s time. It’s fair to say that in the eyes of most route professionals the word “Sale” and “Sell” are four letter words. Does this come close to defining most of the route professionals on your team?


It’s not a bad thing that your route professionals do not like to sell. As long as they retain business we can live with the lack of route growth right? Why not change the game? Why not change it in a way that has meaning to your route professional and the way he/she goes about doing their business every day. Eliminate the words “Sale” or “Sell” from your vocabulary and replace them with “HELP”. Our route professionals understand help. It’s what they do every day. From this point forward we will not ask that dreaded question, ” What did you sell today?” Instead, we are going to ask, “Who did you HELP today?”


Your route team has to understand a few things about themselves. Each day they go to work with a tool box. During a training session I ask the group, what is the most important tool they take to work every morning. Is it their price? Quality? Service? Their dazzling personality? The answer is these are important tools, but when you put them all together and add a large measure of service you have the single most important thing in business…TRUST. When you are trusted, you are part of your customer’s team. When you are trusted, your opinion is sought out and valued. When you are trusted you act more in the role of a consultant. It may be hard for our route professionals to believe, but the business owners and managers they call on every day do not have all of the answers. They might act like they do, but the really good ones are ALWAYS looking for a good idea. It your route professional truly believes he is trusted by his customers, the stage is set to HELP them.


Here are a few tried and true ways your route professional can ask a customer to try a sample. They are aggressive without being abrasive.

  1. “HERE…” That’s right you simply hand your customer the mat and say “Here”. Most customers will say something like “What’s this?” That leaves the route professional an opening to respond with a statement on why this mat will help them. He could say, “This is our new anti-fatigue mat. I thought it could really help the people who stand behind the cash register or hostess stand. I’m going to leave it with you for a week at no charge.”
  2. “I Noticed…” Start a conversation with “I noticed”. It could go something like this, “I noticed you have a scraper mat at your front door, but not at your side door. I’m going to leave you one to try out for the next week.” Another could be, “I noticed your ice machine is leaking water on the tiled floor (and creating a slip hazard). I’m going to leave you a Comfort Flow as a safety precaution, because we do not need anybody slipping on wet floor.”
  3. “I’ve got an idea…” Here is where your route professional can really leverage the TRUST factor. As we said earlier, most business owners or general managers are constantly on the lookout for a great idea. In this scenario your professional simply says, “I’ve got an idea”. Most contacts will respond by saying, “Oh? What is it?” This allows the route professional to say something about how his product can help his customer. “I see your folks standing behind the parts counter. Why not let me put an anti-fatigue mat for them to stand on? It will help them be more productive throughout the day.”
  4. “I hate selling…” I saw a presenter share this idea last year and I think it is among the most powerful ways to help a customer. This is PhD level helping. You tell your route professional to have a conversation with your customer that goes like this…”Mr. Customer, I need your help. You see I hate to sell. I know you are busy and I don’t want to bother you all the time, but there are products we carry that I know can help your business. How would you like me to show you these products in the future?” You have just asked your customer for the keys to the kingdom. If he trusts you, he will tell you exactly how to proceed with showing him new products


Here’s the good news. Using these approaches will work not only for mats, but also for most products in your line including jackets, tee shirts, hats, paper products, air fresheners and soaps. The key is to tap into your route professional’s internal desire to help his/her customers and your willingness to drop “sale” and “Sell” from your vocabulary and replace it with “Help”. Never again at check in time will you say “What did you sell today”, instead try, “Who did you help today?”

Joe Rubbelke, Mountville Mills
Call (615) 594-9961 or email to jrubbelke(at)

Photo: copyright MCG Photography