Five Selling Skills for a Down Economy

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training, The Competition) by Don on 22-06-2010

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Greetings!  First off, let me apologize for my absence these past few months.  Work has been hectic, frustrating, sometimes rewarding and always challenging. 

Our big box competitors have turned up the heat on the independent dealers trying to capture new business in this down economy.  The result has been margin depletion’s and buyers are using multiple vendors in an effort to get the best price on every product they procure.  Service seems less important to many buyers and price is the driving force behind where and from whom customers make their purchases.  I’ve been spending more time out in the field with reps making cold calls and spending time with long time customers.  I’m finding that the long-time customer/buyer that has been loyal to you is now being directed, and sometimes forced, by management to base their buying decision solely on price.  Even when the loyal buyer wants to continue to buy from you their managers are holding them accountable for finding and procuring the cheapest price.  Don’t take the loyal customer for granted.  They are being pressured to buy on price, not service.

Getting in the office to see new prospects is even more difficult.  Cutbacks in personnel is causing employees to do the jobs of two, three and even four people.  Tensions are high in many offices and a cold-calling sales rep walking into the office is not welcomed.  Here are my suggestions for selling in 2010 and beyond. 

Pre-Call Permission- Don’t walk in unannounced off the street.  Spend a day in the office and make your prospecting calls and ask permission to stop by the prospects office at a convenient time to leave your information.  This breaks the ice when you walk in and gives you a name to ask for in the prospects office.  You can gather more information while you’re there.  Be brief and respectful and make an appointment for your next call after you determine the decision makers identity.

Patient Persistence – It is a rare thing to open a new account on the first or second call.  Where it used to take five calls on average to open a new account it now takes eight or ten calls or more.   Nearly 80% of reps quit after the fourth call.  Persistence pays dividends in the form of new business but it is the persistence that wins the business.  Don’t be a quitter, be the winner! 

Network the Customer – It is increasingly important that you network within your customers office.  When you call on your customer(s), greet and introduce yourself to everyone in the office.  From the front office to the warehouse be on a first name basis with everyone.  Not only will you gain more sales but you will create a rock solid relationship with the people that will give you insight into their business and keep you in-the-know when your competitors come knocking at the door.  The cost? Minimal.  The result? Priceless!

Survey your customer – Easy to use products such as Constant Contact make it simple and affordable to survey your customers.  Your customers are a wealth of information.  Information you need to know to be more successful.  They can tell you about changing buying habits, preferences, and other valuable information.  Keep your survey limited to ten or fifteen questions (to keep your survey brief) and be certain to include a comments field on every question.  This is very important because not all questions are so cut and dry “yes or no”.  We all love to share our opinion and you will be surprised at the depth  of information you will get with this simple add-on.  I can bet some of the replies you receive will surprise you!

Know your customer- If you can’t tell me in one minute what your customers business is, then you are going to fail.  Be specific, such as if your customer is a law firm don’t just tell me they are lawyers.  What kind of lawyers are they? Civil, litigation, divorce, children’s, criminal, traffic, insurance, what kind of practice is their firm?  Why?  Because each of these have common items and also unique items based on their type of practice.  Same thing for a doctor’s office or and accounting firm.  This depth of knowledge will tell you what kinds of products they use or may provide a solution to a problem they have.  For example we recently visited an accounting firm that used open file storage and I noticed that many of their files were beyond their capacity and falling out of the file folders.  Although they used box bottom files they used a crude form of end-tab filing that didn’t perform.  So I suggested a Smead End Tab Expanding File Pocket.  I volunteered a  few samples for them to try.  As a result they loved the product and it was a considerable upsell from their previous failing folders.  Be observant, ask questions and provide solutions.  Stop being an order taker and be an order maker!

There’s my nickels worth and I hope you get at least one good take-away point.  How about you?  What has changed in your market and what works for you?

The last word:  “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, and expect to win!” -Zig Ziglar

Those in the Know, Know This

Filed Under (OP Sales Training, The Competition) by Don on 18-03-2009

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Key To Success

In this economy, or any other, there are basic things a good rep must know.

Know your product.

Know your customer.

Know your target market.

Know yourself.

In the current economy the relationship is King and price  is Queen.  What will get you the business is what makes you different than all the rest.  Any idiot (no offense intended to all the idiots) can give the product away at overly discounted prices.  That doesn’t take intelligence.  In tough times being differentiated is a key success factor.  Customers and prospects don’t want fluff  they want genuine value and a relationship with someone they can trust who will look out for their interests and help identify areas where they can save the customer money and be different than the competitors. 

Using my ‘King & Queen” analogy you need to realize that you are living in a castle owned by the customer.  Without the customer you have no place to live so it makes sense to take care of that which puts a proverbial roof over your head!  Customers will ask for deeper discounts and you will have to make a decision on what to do.  However, customers also understand that you have to make a profit so be careful how deeply you discount your wares.  Offer greater overall value and differentiate yourself from your competitors and you will not be forced to unnecessarily discount your prices so heavily that your profits dwindle and your business suffers.  Recessions are tough for everyone and businesses are looking for bargains.  Buy smart, sell smart and position yourself as a provider of value and trust and your customers will remember you long after the recession is over.

The last word: “The hopeful man see success where others see failure, sunshine where others see shadows and storms.” -Orison Swett Marden

Why Does All This Matter?

Filed Under (OP News & Views, The Competition) by Don on 05-03-2008

A friend of mine asked me the other day why I was so critical of Office Depot so I wanted to clarify my personal position on the OD matter.  I’m not out to necessarily be critical on any one person or company.  I do however, think it is important to know, and especially for the independent office dealer channel to be aware of, current events that may or could effect their business.  Politics is about all you can find on the television newscasts these days and they don’t dare rock the boat and make the big box stores mad considering the millions of dollars they spend in media advertising.  I try to point out the good, if any, and the bad as I see it applies to our marketplace.  Most business people that I know work their collective tails off trying to earn and retain a clients’ business so I get on my soapbox sometimes when I feel like the regular “Joe’s” are getting ripped off or we as taxpayers are getting a bad deal then I think people should know.  The CEO of a company that allows deceptive or unfair trade practices to happen should be the ones held accountable.  

I’m not directly involved in the Depot audits therefore I depend on those who are to “keep me in the loop” and provide me documentation that I can in turn make available to you the reader.  I am a firm believer in competition but when the contracts are misrepresented in an apparent effort to fool people, especially taxpayers, then people need to know.  My primary purpose in this blog is to offer sales advice and ideas on how to work harder and smarter and become more successful in the office supplies and equipment business.  With that I also try to keep readers informed on what is happening in the marketplace and how to be more competitive. 

I welcome your comments any time and I sincerely hope you enjoy what you read here.  However, just like a television, if you don’t like what you read then change the channel.  If you would like to offer an opinion or have something to say in relation to the office supplies channel or sales training and motivation in general it would be my sincere pleasure to hear from you.

Staples Business Up 9% in 2007

Filed Under (OP News & Views, The Competition) by Don on 05-03-2008

With all the mess going on with Office Depot (who is now under investigation by the SEC for leaking sales information to analysts) and the audits in Georgia and California we can’t ignore the big powerhouse in the supplies market, Staples.  Staples reports Q4 2007 sales increased a healthy 8%.  Staples online e-commerce increased 14% over 2006.  If you remember Office Depot blamed a soft market and the mortgage mess as their reason for lackluster sales.  However when Staples CEO Ron Sargent was asked if those were issues for Staples he said they had looked into the possibilities this had occured and determined that those issues had no effect on their business.  Analysts asked Sargent “why don’t you be more aggressive price competitors?” To which he replied, “Price is not a differentiator…great customer service is.”  Now mind you, I personally think Staples has a long way to go to give great customer service.  This is an area that independent dealers have a significant advantage but it is important to see that Staples recognizes this as being a core principle that requires committment.

It will be even more interesting in the coming weeks to see how the Staples purchase offer to Corporate Express plays out.  On another note I’ve been informed that Office Max employees have been placed on short work hours company wide.  My source tells me that employees were told no one is allowed to work over 38 hours per week.  I don’t know if this is just regional or not but my impression was it is corporate wide.

Staples Makes Bid for Corporate Express

Filed Under (OP News & Views, The Competition) by Don on 19-02-2008

After several weeks of speculation it has been revealed that Staples has made a bid of €2.5 billion or over $3.6 billion U.S. dollars for Corporate Express. Of course CorpEx immediately released a statement stating “…this proposal significantly undervalues the company and fails to reflect Corporate Express’ prospects. We do not believe the proposal is in the best interests of our shareholders and other stakeholders. We therefore reject this proposal and reiterate our commitment to pursuing our declared strategy”.

Strategy they said? Good grief if anyone can tell me just what their ’strategy’ has been for the past five years I’d love to hear it! They (CorpEx) have reorganized and changed strategy plans more times than I can count and none of them ever made any common sense. It was mostly corporate blabbering. It will be interesting to see what the coming weeks offer in the bid for CorpEx.

Office Depot Cancels National Sales Meeting over Costs

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 26-12-2007

On the heels of their stock falling 12% a couple of weeks ago Office Depot has laid off what amounts to nearly 30% of its sales force, or about 600 employees.  This news has not been widely reported yet and therefore unnoticed by wall street markets.   I feel sorry for the employees and their families whose loss this effects here at Christmas time.  Now I read over at Peter Frost’s site that Office Depot has canceled their national sales meeting in order to save the $3 million it costs and have only a managers meeting.  That speaks volumes on how much business Depots Business Services Division has lost this year.  If I were one of their BSD reps I would have a hard time remaining upbeat and positive about my future employment at Depot.

Sounds to me like the folks at Depot need to redefine their tagline “Taking care of business”.  Independent dealers should see this as a prime opportunity to gain new marketshare and perhaps some valuable talent.

Office Depot Losses Deepen

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 13-12-2007

Once again I read today that Office Depot reports greater losses than orginally expected and their stock took a double digit dive.  They actually blamed the housing crisis in California and Florida as the reason why they are loosing money.  What about the other forty-eight states?  OD points the finger at this as their excuse while four other fingers still point back to themselves.  Let’s be realistic people, the reason you’re loosing market share is because you have no focus, poor leadership and direction.  Apparently your CEO Steve Odland doesn’t have the vision and capacity to drive sales and improve earnings.  Your customer service is paltry at best and your competition is costing you precious market share.  Nothing personal Mr. Odland but you should let someone else take the helm if this is the best you can do.

Depot’s customer service is crippled and my latest survey shows they are charging customers retail and higher on 1658 products.  Depot isn’t alone in this practice of raping customers by charging more than retail for products.  My survey also showed Staples overcharging the public and contract customers on 1441 items.  I continue to remain hopeful that the buying public and the average user-chooser that places supply orders in most offices will figure out that while these guys may sell at cost perhaps a dozen or so products they more than make up for it by invoicing hundreds of items at M.S.R.P. or more.  Don’t give me that “business is business” crap either.  Sooner or later if you over charge your customers they will find out and your business will disappear forever. 

If the housing market is to blame then why has Staples and WB Mason’s business grown over ten percent this year?  It is obvious that Office Depot, Office Max and Corporate Express are struggling to understand the importance of relationships with not just its customers but it employees also.  They need to stop blaming external ‘things’ and start looking within and identify the real reasons they are loosing market share.  I hate to admit that Ron Sargent, CEO of Staples, has been successful at growing the Staples business.  His vision and directives are clear from the boardroom to the breakroom.