Like a million other kids, Steve Bergholtz grew up dreaming of playing in the National Hockey League (NHL). While he did receive offers to play professionally, none were from NHL teams. So, he fueled his competitiveness elsewhere.

“What I did was pretend that sales was my NHL,” says Bergholtz. “My job became my adult sport. I just wanted to be the best in my industry.”

No question Bergholtz is on his way to reaching that goal. Thirty years ago, he signed on with Industrial Wiper and Paper in Chelsea, Mass., for a college internship. Over the next seven years he worked his way up from rookie salesman to partner. When in 1998 the company merged with Jacksonville, Fla.-based AmSan, Bergholtz continued his quest to be the best. In 2013, he hit $7 million in sales, his best year yet.

Bergholtz has a knack for reading people and his surroundings. For example, when he enters a school, just by looking around and interacting with the principal, Bergholtz immediately senses the facility’s cleanliness standards and what their product and service needs will be. He uses this knowledge to fine-tune his selling process and be a true consultant to each customer.

“With most sales reps, there’s a lot of time in between introducing a new product or service to when you get an order,” says Philip Correia, AmSan East Region director of sales. “Steve is very different. He’s very systemized with everything he does.”

Bergholtz will visit each client with the proper anticipated samples, product literature, a prepared quote and installers on stand-by, explains Correia. If the customer likes the product or service, they can decide on the spot, allowing Bergholtz to leave with an order. Correia describes this approach as “McDonaldized” sales.

“Everybody is busy,” says Bergholtz. “Out of respect for customers I determine what is the most efficient way I can visit them and get the point across quick.”

The McDonaldized approach continues after the sale, too. Customers are set up with online ordering and e-mail alerts about new products catered to their interests. While Bergholtz won’t stop in more than a handful of times a year, clients know he is only a phone call or e-mail away and if there’s an emergency, he’ll be there in-person within 24 hours.

“Of course if they have a problem with [the frequency of visits] you adjust,” he says. “But over time, customers realize they don’t need to meet so often because it’s running like a clock.”

With this systematic approach, Bergholtz is able to manage nearly 400 accounts. But success took more than just streamlining the sales process.
To reach such a high sales volume, Bergholtz took matters in to his own hands — and pockets. When AmSan moved warehouses to more than an hour and a half away, Bergholtz was left to work out of his house, a less than ideal scenario for him.

“I have a problem with trying to talk to a customer while someone is ringing the doorbell or a dog is barking. It’s not professional,” he says.

Instead, Bergholtz hired his own sales assistant and purchased a 2,900-square-foot shell of a condo to design to his specifications: personal office, conference room, full kitchen, large storage room and an open reception area big enough to host trade shows.

He stores all his product samples (sorted by manufacturer) on wheeled shelving systems. So when he hosts a trade show, he simply wheels out each rack and manufacturers have an instant booth. In between the events, Bergholtz practically plays Santa Claus to customers, bringing them tote bags full of new product samples and “head turners” — items clients have never seen before, but will certainly be excited about.

“When I leave, customers can’t believe the stuff I left them,” he says. “It’s nice for them to see it and then test it out for themselves.”

Investing in his own assistant and office are just more examples of the passion Bergholtz exhibits toward his profession. Correia has been witnessing it first hand for a long time, not just in the 10 years he’s worked with Bergholtz, but in the years prior when he was a competitor.

“I sold against Steve; we shared common accounts,” says Correia. “I would say to customers, ‘My product is better, my price is better. Help me understand what is special about this person.’ They would tell me, ‘He is passionate about his business and passionate about our business. He’s relentless.’ That trumped anything else that I as a competitor could sell to that account.”

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2012 Sales Leader: Bruce Browne, Penn Jersey Paper Co.