Grainger Inc: Sales Insights Lead to Customer Loyaly

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What is W.W. Grainger Inc? How did Grainger successfully use a challenger strategy?

W.W. Grainger Inc. was an MRO company (maintenance, repair, and operations) that used their insights in a successful teaching pitch. W.W. Grainger Inc. used a Challenger Selling technique—to teach the customer something new about the business—in order to differentiate their company, build customer loyalty, and increase sales.

Sales Insights From Grainger Inc.

Once you’ve agreed on your company’s unique benefits and you’ve created a set of insights to teach customers, the next step is organizing your material into an effective teaching pitch.

An effective teaching pitch follows a formula, but it also has an emotional component. Your pitch must tell a compelling story incorporating suspense and a few surprises. It’s like an amusement park ride that takes customers through a dark tunnel before showing them the light at the end: your solution.

An effective pitch must engage both the rational and emotional parts of the customer’s brain in order to get a decision. It speaks to logic but also triggers the customer’s dismay at the money being wasted or the risk they’re exposed to. See how Grainger Inc. used a teaching pitch to improve their sales and business value.

Commercial Teaching in Action

W.W. Grainger Inc. is a distributor of maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) equipment in the U.S. and Canada. It stocks several hundred thousand products like tools, pumps, and electrical equipment that companies need to keep their plants operating smoothly.

Its customers typically bought individual items reactively, based on past purchase patterns and need. Grainger wanted to establish itself as a solutions provider or strategic partner rather than a transactional supplier. To do so, it needed to change the way customers thought of the company and about their own operations.

Grainger Inc. needed a story about how the company could help customers save millions by properly managing MRO spending. In tracking customer purchasing, Grainger Inc. learned that customers were handling purchases inefficiently. This provided an opportunity to teach customers something new about their business—they could save a lot of money by thinking strategically about MRO spending.

To ensure that this insight would lead customers to buy from Grainger rather than other suppliers, the company analyzed its unique benefits and found that Grainger’s combination of capabilities—for instance, its efficient delivery system and wide range of items always in stock—made it unique. 

The company built these insights into a teaching pitch: “The power of planning the unplanned.” Rather than starting with Grainger’s capabilities, it started with changing the way the customer thinks about MRO spending. The opening slide laid out the presentation:

  • What we want to share with you
  • Industry studies of MRO purchases
  • The challenges of unplanned purchases and how they impact your bottom line (productivity, service gaps, unused inventory)
  • Grainger’s solution to these challenges

Here’s how Grainger’s pitch applied the rules of Commercial Teaching:

  • Step 1: The warm-up started with a slide listing numerous typical customer challenges, such as production line issues, maintenance, and safety.
  • Step 2: The reframe slide identified another challenge customers hadn’t thought of. It showed that over 40% of MRO dollars were spent on unplanned purchases, which customers hadn’t tracked. 
  • Step 3: In the “rational drowning” step, Grainger Inc. showed why the problem mattered—customers expended time and effort searching for and buying the items each time they were needed. Typically, customers bought unplanned items from many different suppliers; managing the multiple relationships was expensive. Often, the processing cost exceeded the price of the time.
  • Step 4: To create emotional impact, Grainger presented a slide showing “the pain chain.” It depicted how meeting unplanned needs—for instance, contacting multiple suppliers for an urgently needed, hard-to-find air conditioner part—is a long and costly process.

Steps 5/6: In the final steps, Grainger presented a new, strategic way of buying and its solution: Grainger can efficiently fill customer service gaps (the times you run out of items) across all product categories as well as save you money on overall purchasing.

W.W. Grainger Inc. successfully used a Challenger Sales teaching pitch to create business opportunities. With their unique offering established, Grainger Inc. went on to build more business.

Grainger Inc: Sales Insights Lead to Customer Loyaly

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  • Why the best salespeople take control of the sale and challenge the customer's thinking
  • How to package your company with a key insight to spark an "a-ha" moment
  • How to get the organizational support you need to maintain your sales edge

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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