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Differentiating in a Commoditized Vertical

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In this insightful episode of Full Funnel Freedom, special guests Mike Wolf and JP Acosta from Delgado Stone Distributors are welcomed. The conversation unravels the strategies that have positioned Delgado Stone distinctively in a commoditized industry, underscoring the importance of exceptional customer service and a collaborative approach among sales, customer service, and marketing teams.

What you'll learn:

  • The innovative strategies Delgado Stone employs to differentiate in a commoditized industry.
  • How an unwavering commitment to customer service and product integrity forms the cornerstone of Delgado Stone’s success.
  • The essence of synergistic collaboration among sales, customer service, and marketing teams.
  • The pivotal role of technology in streamlining processes and fostering work-life integration.
  • How a culture of learning from failure and genuine customer interactions underpin Delgado Stone’s sales philosophy.



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Actively Involved in Understanding Markets and Customers

[0:00] We're actively involved in their marketplace, regardless of where they are. We have regional salespeople in those markets, creating business, understanding markets, understanding masons, understanding architects, how and why are they using material or specifying material.
So our team is encouraged to learn and understand about their market so they can provide influential feedback to our authorized dealers, which in turn help them sell more material.
Welcome to the Full Funnel Freedom podcast. If you are listening to this, you are likely, leading a team responsible for generating revenue. The purpose of Full Funnel Freedom, is to support people like yourself and keep your funnels consistently reliably full.

[0:43] Music.

Introduction of Mike Wolf and JP Acosta from Delgado Stone Distributors

[0:50] Welcome to the full funnel freedom podcast. I'm your host Hamish Knox today.
Super excited. Cause I have two guests on at the same time for the first time ever.
Uh, they are Mike Wolf and JP Acosta from Delgado stone distributors in Brookfield, Connecticut.
Now let's hear from one of our affiliate partners.

[1:12] Free offer for listeners of the full funnel freedom podcast.
I've got a report called Three Ways to Ensure Your Sales Cycle Doesn't Sputter in the Last Mile.
You can get that at slash sputter.
It's incredibly frustrating as sales leaders when our sellers get a deal almost across the finish line, but can't quite push it to the finish, even though they've promised us that it's coming in real soon.
So go get your free report, Three Ways to Ensure Your Sales Cycle Does Not Sputter in the last mile at forward slash sputter.
Now, back to the show. So my two guests today, JP is the Director of National Sales.
He's been with the company since 2018 and leads a remote sales team across the country.
JP has helped increase revenue by more than 150% while increasing the national presence of Delgado Stone distributors.
Mike is the CEO.
He has been with the company since 2016 and has started in customer service and marketing.
He moved into operations in 2017, became the chief operating officer in 2019, and then was named CEO in 2022.

[2:26] Mike, JP, welcome to Full Funnel of Freedom. Thanks Amish, we're excited to be here.

Mike and JP share their career journeys and how they joined Delgado Stone Distributors

[2:31] Yeah, this is gonna be super fun. I'm excited to have two guests on at the same time.
We can bounce back and forth on this. I've given the audience like the 30,000 foot view of who you are and what you're doing today. So JP, I'll go to you and then we'll go to Mike.
Take us down a couple of levels. Tell us a bit about your journey, how you got to where you are today. JP, please go ahead.
Sure. First of all, first off, thank you for having us. We really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.

[2:58] With that said, I'll do a quick wraparound about what I've basically gotten to the position I'm into now.
So out of college, always wanted to be in the finance world, ended up working my way through finance, starting in some of the smaller shops, got up to some of the bigger names, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, which was fabulous, spent an 18 year career there. And then it was it was time to move on. It was it, was it had played out course was great opportunity, loved every minute of it. And it actually was the precursor to setting up to be able to do sales today. So with that being said, I was on the golf course for a couple years and, and Mike reached out and he told me about this wonderful opportunity with a place that sells stone and I actually asked him, you can make money selling stone?

[3:48] I said, are you serious? Are you picking up out of the back of the yard or where is it coming from?
So without saying too much, he basically said, there's a wonderful opportunity here that I think we can use some of the background that you have to help create a sales team and develop relationships within our industry that needs it. It was an opportunity. It basically was a void that needed to be filled, certainly in his estimation and with his experience within the industry. So So I gave it a whirl and six years later, here we are doing a great job of building relationships and making a difference in our industry.

Building relationships and making a difference in the industry

[4:23] Love it. Very cool. Thank you, JP. So Mike, you started in de facto the mailroom, as they used to say, and you've worked your way up.
So tell us a bit more, take us down from 30,000 foot. Tell us a bit more about the story of Mike Wolfe and how you got to where you are today.
I moved back up to the area.
My fiance, now wife at the time, was up here and really was looking for a job and walked in the door, met with the owner, Brendan, and he had a couple of companies.
He's like, yeah, we got an opportunity at this other company that I have and got in and really just learned from the ground up.

[4:59] And that curiosity to understand a business and see an opportunity, really getting in early on and going from, I think we had somewhere around 60 authorized dealers at the time in 9 states to where we are today, which is 25 or 6 states and 100 plus authorized dealers and also Canada.
It's really been an exciting journey and with great people on the way.
There were great people in the beginning and we continue to build on that.
You never know, I guess. I don't think any of us went to school for natural stone sales or natural stone products, But here we are, and it's a great opportunity to work with great people throughout the country and continue to grow personally and professionally.

Mike's journey from entry-level to CEO

[5:45] Very cool. What an amazing story. So when we first met, we were talking about the fact that, and JP, you kind of alluded to it, like y'all are in a commoditized industry, right? Like stone is stone is stone. I get that it's not, okay. I get that it's not.
So when you are seeking to differentiate yourself in what your buyers are going to look at as a commodity, where are some of the things that you start with? And Mike, I'd love to hear from you, and then JP, if you'll add some color to it afterwards.
Sure. You're right. And in a commodity, how do you stand out? How do you differentiate? How do you add value and convince people that you can add value? And so as we've looked at it.

[6:26] There was one noticeable gap that we saw and that was customer service. And so we started building on that. And it goes really as far as I responded to an email and someone thanked me as though I invented email myself. I was like, I'm just responding. And I enjoy telling that story, but it's a reality. And it's something we've continued to build on and pride ourselves on and doing that consistently. And then we took that consistency and quality and integrity that we have.

[6:54] Into the product side and continue to build that way.
And then credit to our sales team and customer service marketing to go out and understand the other businesses, our authorized dealers, so that we can fill that need. Or maybe other suppliers of the commodity couldn't. And that's really our journey and how we've been able to differentiate. Appreciate that. Thank you for sharing that. So JP, add some color commentary to that because as you're leading the sellers directly, what are some of the things that you're encouraging them to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis in order to keep their funnel consistently full? Well, one part just to touch on what Mike said, I think that it really stands out and allows us to have the conversation that you're talking about is one of our core values is integrity, right? Mike tells a story about the one time he had 20 pallets lined up outside, by the way, 20 pallets is a lot of pallets. But anyway, there was basically a truckload worth of

Integrity as a core value and standing behind the product

[7:49] material outside the yard. And he went through that entire 20 pallets of material. And he said, this isn't good enough. So the word integrity sticks out because we stand behind our products, right? We not only do we take pride in it, but the.

[8:02] Quality of it helps us stand out, right? He literally had the entire team, break down those, open those pallets, break them down, re-palletize them, make sure we had quality material before it was sent out.
So creating that sense of a quality material before it leaves the yard, that quality check that other competitors and or just, it's just what we do, right?
And behind that product is really something that we take pride in.
And in addition to that, you know, when we go out to our dealers and, you know, we're to your question about the funnel. So what we can do is when we go out to the dealers, one of the things we ask is, what separates us from our competition? What can you depend on us?

[8:38] And one of the most commonly, I guess, phrases that's mentioned is once your material leaves our yard, we know it's not going to come back. In which that does, it takes pride in the fact that they even stand behind our material. Not only do we, but our dealers do as well. And having them

Reinforcing the idea of a quality product through dealer feedback

[8:52] say that back to us when we ask those questions, reinforces the idea that we know we're putting not a product quality product.
100%. So are JP most of your sales through dealers or 100% of your sales through dealers?
Great question. Yes. 100% of our deals are through our authorized dealer network, which is stems all across the country from Sonoma County, California, Kenny, Kenny, Bunkport, Maine, down through North Carolina, Virginia.
It's a, it's a wide array of, of dealers, but yes, we obviously could take the route when we have a project in an area that does not have a dealer and we could go direct instead that, we use that as an opportunity to create a relationship. So we look in the area, see if there's any authorized dealers that sell masonry material. And as you can imagine all across the country, it's a necessity. What we do is we seek out that relationship. And funny enough, when you walk into a dealer with a deal in hand already, they're apt to listen. Yeah, fair. Absolutely.
I would say that it's a much different conversation. Absolutely. Now, JP, like that's a channel, right? You're selling exclusively through channel and they're not in place.
Right? They literally don't have to listen to you. So getting that great feedback is amazing.

Building Strong Relationships with Dealers

[10:03] How do you continue, aside from the things that you've already mentioned, how do you actually encourage your dealers to continue to put your products forward when they literally don't have to and you may not be top of mind? Yeah, that's a great question. Actually, that's one of the things we offer as one of the core reasons to do business with us, right?
So when I go into an authorized dealer, we don't just expect to put a stand in the front of their showroom, per se, and be like, oh, just sell our material. No, we work hand in hand. We consider every one of our authorized dealers a partner. What is a partner means it's a give and take, right? So not only do we expect them to send our material, but we're actively involved in their marketplace, regardless of where they are. We have regional salespeople in those markets, creating business, understanding markets, understanding masons, understanding architects, how and why are they using material or specifying material. So our team is encouraged to learn and understand about their market so they can provide influential feedback to our authorized dealers, which in turn help them sell more material. And then we drive that business through that channel.

Key Performance Indicators and Consistency for Revenue Growth

[11:10] Oh, that's brilliant. I love that. That's a great insight because as more stuff goes to the channel, I've heard plenty of people talk about the frustrations of, well, we signed an agreement and now we're not getting any business or whatever it might be. So those are some great insights for our audience today. Thanks for sharing that. So Mike, as the overall, the big boss and the person who you have a sales leader in place to grow the revenue generated inside your business, as the overall leader, and without putting you and JP on the spot, what are you looking for on a weekly, monthly basis to give you the confidence that your business is heading in the right direction and the revenue is still going to grow and sustain? Yeah. I mean, there's a few things.
And I think everyone knows... Well, anyone who's been in sales... I started in insurance sales.
There's a reason I'm not in sales anymore. It's not easy. And one of the things we focus on and part of the quality and the support that we provide is how can we set our sales team up for success. And because that ultimately sets the customer up for success and they continue to.

[12:14] Support us and market us and are comfortable using our product and recommending our product.
So, but we focus a lot on leading KPIs and looking at, okay, what kind of activity we have and really doing it consistently. And we're not in a micromanaged environment. We're not sitting in there looking over everyone's shoulder, right?
Everyone's got a role. into their targets.
You know, we have our weekly meetings. For me, I'm a planner. I look for that consistency.
JP will tell you, I look at the calendar, right? I want to see what our team's doing. And when it's there, it adds a level of confidence, I think, for myself, but also the entire team. And so.

[12:53] That consistency of that activity and knowing for the sales team, knowing they can go out there and that they have the full support, it's a product that they can be proud of.
And I think when you're in sales, going out there, if you're not passionate about the product, or the product doesn't have the integrity that you're willing to put your name behind, it makes it a tougher sales process. So really, how do we set them up for success?
And then let them go out there and do what they do. Because again, it's not easy being in sales.
And so we set them up, give them the tools and resources. We work as a team, collaborate, and they go and execute. And that's really what's driven our growth over the past 6-7 years.

[13:31] Very cool. Thank you for sharing that with us today. JP, I'm curious, your product could literally be described as old as dirt. I mean, literally, that's right. That's what you're selling. And technology is becoming a bigger and bigger thing. We have AI and we have tech stacks and sales tech stacks that keep growing and growing and growing. So what role is technology playing now in your world as a sales leader who is managing these regional salespeople this channel so that you don't have to be running around on planes on in a vehicle all the time to make a better use of your time so you can actually support your team the way that you want to. What's technology look like in your world these days and how is it changing?

Leveraging Technology for Sales Efficiency

[14:12] We have workflows that we work with in-house that automate some of the initial contact between potential customers that allow us to free up time to actually focus on developing the relationships, which are in our mind more important than any other part of this.
If you don't have a relationship.
You know, when things are going great, everyone will buy from you, right? But it's the time when.

[14:35] It's crunch time. And I think we're entering part of that season now, or not part of that phase, I should say. The strength of that relationship is going to pan out. So by automating some of the systems internally, that allows our sales team to, as you touched on, right, with the technological advancements, allow us to spend our time with our dealers, our masons, really understanding about them, you know, how to make their job easier, things of that nature.
So from that perspective, it's freed up time.
I don't think JPL tooted his own horn, so I'll jump in here for a minute.
But when we look back at how we started, we wouldn't be where we are without technology.
We started where the sales team was based out of Brookfield, Connecticut, where we are.
And they could only access dealer information, customer information by being in the office.
And so recognizing that and starting to make the change to cloud-based and doing some things that way, really started to open our eyes and we could understand into JP's credit where he said, I think we can have our remote workforce where now they're in that region.
It reduces the travel, right?
There's less time in the car. They can focus on more of the important things and supporting the dealers versus going around and driving from Brookfield to Southern New Jersey or Maryland or up to Maine.
And all of that time in the car. So it makes a big difference in setting our team up for success because there is that work-life integration.

[16:02] And if we can allow them to spend more time at home, shorter travel and be there for the customer and the dealer, it makes a big difference.

[16:11] Very cool, I love that phrase, work-life integration. That's right, there's no balance.
It's all about integration and it sounds, yeah, thank you for tooting JP's horn on his behalf around us.

[16:19] Setting the team up for success and making them that much more efficient.
JP, I want to circle back to you really quick, a double click on the whole, when things are going well, everybody buys from you because you came out of finance, right? And I'm sure you, you know, relationships are really critical in that world as well. And I'm sure you went through a couple of peaks and valleys in the economy. So tell our audience of sales leaders a bit more about how you ensure that that relationship remains whole in the good times and the bad.

[16:49] Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, what it comes down to is part of, if you look at our core values on my screen there, it's living that every day. It's that consistency of being a resource for them, being there when they need it, knowing they can count on you when they pick up the phone, whatever it is. It's not just showing up some of the time and not showing up the rest of the time. In the hard times, you have to be able, it's very easy to answer the phone when things are going great, right?
That's the easiest part. However, when things go in the other direction, you have to be the first one to answer that phone and make sure that you can reassure your client that you're going to stick behind them in through thick and thin, regardless of the scenario.
And they know that they can count on you because at the end of the day, they're making a living as well.
And if they can count on you, that's going to separate you from the next individual, whoever that may be.
Amen. I love that. Thank you, JP. Mike, a question for you in terms of the relationship that you have with your sales leader, because that could be a tough transition for a lot of executives where maybe they were leading the sales team and they bring in a sales leader, or there was a sales leader existing, then they became the top dog, so to speak.
So how do you ensure that you are, of course, holding your sales leader accountable to growth, at their job while at the same time setting them up for success as well. What are some tips and insights you would like to share with the audience on that? That's a loaded one.

Supporting Sales Team and Continuous Improvement

[18:16] I wish it were so easy to say like, here's one thing that we do, but over the course of the seven years or so and the success that we've had, there have been highs and lows and trying different things. And really, it's being there to support JP and our sales team for whatever they need and really listen. Understand they're out there, they're meeting the customers, getting their feedback, and hearing what's going on and making the adjustments.

[18:48] JP likes to tell people that I'm never happy, but the reality is I want to understand areas of improvement for us. And he recognizes that and that's something that's instilled in our team. So being supportive and help guiding and asking him questions so that he can discover the answers on his own and bring that to the rest of the team. But what happens is we come together, we set targets. I'm not setting the targets for them. It's, look, you guys understand your market, you understand the industry, let's come together. I can help, I can add insight.

Setting Targets and Supporting Success

[19:20] Here's what we're capable of producing. But look at our customers, look at what we plan on doing. And then.
Working and supporting them to achieve those numbers and beyond.
Because like most people, there's commission involved, there's bonuses involved, but we want to set them up for success that way.
Beautiful. I really appreciate all those insights and it comes down to listening and supporting and asking the right questions.
Support, right? That's it. It's my job to lead, but also to support.
A hundred percent. You're doing that based on what I'm hearing is gathering information as opposed to my tummy thinks that this is the right thing to do and having reactions.
Don't bring me data, don't bring me feelings.
I love it. I love it. I mean, I'm having a blast with this visit and we could probably talk on and on and on and our audience would probably turn off at some point.
So I got a few questions for both of you to wrap up. So the first one, JP, I'd love to hear from you first and then Mike.
If you could go back and coach younger self, you can go back as far as you like and you can say, hey, younger JP, younger Mike, you're going to be here in 2023, right?

Learning from Failure and Embracing the Journey

[20:23] You can have this awesome role, you're going to be with this awesome company.
You also are going to have a lot of scar tissue and bumps and bruises.
What would you coach younger self to say or do differently so you get to the same place but with fewer bumps and bruises? JP, I'd love to hear from you first.

[20:37] Sure. Use failure as a tool to drive your success, right? As opposed to sitting there and saying, well, I failed at it and using that as a negative emotion.
It's the greatest ability to learn when you're in those situations, whatever that is.
Matter what it is, right? Don't look at failure as a negative. That would be, I think, the best piece of advice I could give myself, because the more you fail, the more you learn.

[21:04] I'm not advocating failure as the goal, right? That's not what I'm saying. But using those times of failure or setbacks, if you will, use those as a teaching tool and don't be afraid to fail.
Love it. Yeah. Mindset is win or learn. That's one of the first things our clients hear from us is you win or you learn. And yes, we're certainly not advocating that you go out and attempt to have a lot of learnings.

[21:25] We want them to happen along the way. So Mike, same question for you.
What would you go back and coach younger self to say or do differently?
It's tough to follow that.
I'd have to say embrace the journey.

[21:35] And what that means is there's going to be highs, there's going to be lows.
There's a lot of things that go on that you may not have control over.
And really focus on what you can control.
And that's your response to the things that you can't control.
So for me, it's that patience, understanding that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
And really just not necessarily to enjoy the lows, but embrace them and use them as learning experiences to piggyback on JP and continue on and grow. And these things are temporary, keep moving forward.
Very cool. Thank you, Mike. So JP, back to you. And this will be the our closing question for the day. Something to plug, a closing bit of wisdom, another insight that you'd love to share with the audience about anything we've talked about or something that we haven't quite touched on quite yet. The floor is yours.

Building Relationships and Seeking to Understand

[22:24] Yeah, I would say, certainly from a sales perspective, right? My biggest piece of advice would be, it's not about the sale. It's about how you grow that relationship. Sales is a function. Developing a relationship is what creates that function, right? So it's not your job to go into any situation and sell things. If you go and seek to understand when you develop that relationship, you'll get way more out of that conversation. It'll be much more productive and you'll create a longer lasting, deeper and meaningful relationship.
First rule of sales, don't be selling out of the box. Fair. Well, JP, thank you for sharing that with us. Mike, same question to you. Something to plug, closing bit of wisdom, floor's yours.

[23:03] Yeah. Approach things with that seek first to understand mentality and ask why. I think if you're curious about your customer and really take the time and be genuine, you'll learn and you'll grow it and the reward is the success. And that follows when you execute those basics. We say execute the boring basics, but being fundamentally curious and genuine and asking why, so how can you support others?
The reward is the growth that.
That you'll have. And it's not always easy, but it'll follow.
Amen. Amen. Love that. Guys, this has been an absolute pleasure. I loved when we first connected.
I'm looking forward to carrying on conversations offline. Thank you both for being on Full Funnel of Freedom podcast today. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.
We had a great time. Thank you.

[23:52] What a fantastic episode with Mike and JP. I really appreciate them sharing their insights with us around a lot of different topics.

[24:03] Tell me in the comments, do you ever wanna have two guests again?
That was a bit of an experiment. I had a lot of fun.
Tell me what you think, and if you want us to have multiple guests on one episode in the future.
My takeaways for today, number one, how do you differentiate when you're in a commoditized world?
And I say to my clients all the time, we are all commodities in the minds of our buyers.
It does not matter what we sell, we are a commodity in the minds of our buyers.
So I love how Mike and JP leveraged customer service as a way of differentiating in a commoditized world.
I also really appreciated how they leveraged technology to support their sellers where their sellers are and to support the business because the business needs the information that the sellers have and the sellers don't necessarily want to be driving back to the office or working through cumbersome systems.
So I love the fact that they have really clear technology to support their sellers, give them the information that they need, Mike and JP, in order to run the business.
And lastly, really appreciated Mike's comments on how, as a CEO, he can best support JP in his role as sales manager without getting in the way of JP's relationship with the sellers so he doesn't unintentionally damage JP's credibility.
Those were my takeaways. Tell me what yours were in the comments and socials and look forward to connecting with you next week on the Full Funnel Freedom podcast.

[25:30] Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Full Funnel Freedom podcast.
You can continue to support us by leaving us a review and a rating, sharing this episode with a couple of sales leaders in your network who you care about.
I'd love to connect with you. I'm easy to find, Hamish Knox on LinkedIn.
Also, if you'd like a free 15 minute call with me, go to forward slash how to Sandler until we connect on the next episode, go create full funnel freedom.

[26:02] Music.