Box of Donuts Selling – Revisited

Box of Donuts Selling is Over - Blog Image for Shade's Mills Group

By Tom Fournier

I am sitting here in 2021 and looking back on something that I wrote about back in early 2019.

How much the world has changed in those two years! If box of donut selling was on the decline then, it has pretty much been eliminated now. COVID-19 had accelerated changes in sales thinking by years.

I wonder as more of the population has been vaccinated and we can begin to see our way out of this, how many sales organizations are going to go back to the way of a route salesperson still trying to sell on the basis of a regular call cycle with relationships and donuts.

Those sales organizations that have adapted and embraced new forms of selling are going to be the ones that outpace their competitors in a hyper-competitive new world!

Back to my post from two years ago:

Through years of working in business-to-business sales, many of these years as a manufacturer sales representative with much time out working with countless other sales representatives, I came across many sales representatives that considered themselves the relationship seller. They were the route salesperson who would regularly check in with their customers, with ready access to the customer’s store room to see what needed to be reordered, they always had time for a chat, they were quick to share a funny story or joke and for a really good customer they would bring in a box of donuts.

Do you have relationship sellers? If so, watch out!

That was then. The business world has changed. Those days are gone.

From a recent B2B oriented research paper:

60% of B2B Buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep. (1)

Simple or transactional orders are increasingly being routed through self-service, online channels. (2)

This must be offered or the risk will be losing these orders to pure web plays

I think this trend will continue to grow.

Buyers in key customers are working in an environment where management hierarchies have been flattened, operations have been streamlined and everyone is being encouraged to do more with less. In this hectic, fast paced environment they do not want a relationship seller coming to hang out.

How do you reach these customers?

You support them with a good, functional website. It has to have a very good customer experience or your customers will get frustrated and migrate to a site that offers that experience. Simple self service, low value transactions can and should be done through a website.

You need to generate “customer touches” that are not time intrusive.
This can be a phone call from an inside sales resource, it can be through a digital marketing strategy and by a social selling platform.

When the customer needs the support of an outside sales person (a product demonstration, walking through the elements of a complex solution, etc.) you have the regular relationship and interactions to know the timing of the need and direct the appropriate sales resource at the right moment.

What happens with your outside sales representatives? This will sound harsh, they are an expensive resource and you should not be paying them for sales for which they have had no current impact or accountability. It is too tough a business environment and margins are too competitive to be paying for legacy sales.

You need your outside representatives to be qualifying and opening new high value business opportunities and supporting high gain, complex sales with current customers. Compensation can be shifted to reflect this change in focus.

This is what your customers want and need.

They do not like donuts.

(1) Death Of A (B2B) Salesman: Two Years Later. 2017 Forrester Research Inc. Page 3
(2) Death Of A (B2B) Salesman: Two Years Later. 2017 Forrester Research Inc. Page 2


  1. Scott W Cain on May 10, 2022 at 08:56

    Tom- what a great post! People are criticizing those operations that are Invisalign in the “hybrid” sales professional. Most of those that are mocking it are or either employ many box of donuts sellers.

    • Tom Fournier on May 10, 2022 at 12:19

      Thank you! I love donuts, but they have no place on a sales call in this day and age!

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