Success in the Midst of Failure

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 30-05-2007

I consider myself successful.  My success is a byproduct of my many failures.  Do I plan to fail?  Of course not.  I plan my work, work my plan and endeavor to make every project a success.  When I designed and wrote my current employers web site the first eight demo sites I tested failed, miserably.  I was mad, irritated and was ready to throw the computer out the window.  (I still feel that way somedays!)  However the problem wasn’t in the computer it was in my lack of understanding how to accomplish exactly the look and feel of what I wanted the site to be.  In my frustration I took a long weekend and went camping in the mountains of North Carolina with my family and pondered my problem.  When I returned to work on Monday my mind was fresh and newly inspired.  I started all over again with a completely new look and it worked.  The site is informative, current and contains a lot of information to educate and inform our customers.  I think the site is a good example of what a lot of independent dealers lack in their own sites these days.  Information.  If you want to see the site just email me and I’ll send you the link.  (Look in the “About” section for the email address.)

Thomas Edison failed 2,000 times to invent the light bulb but he never quit.  He focused on the positives and knew that he would eventually succeed.  Many of the most successful people today have thrived through their failures.  This is especially true of sales people.  Bouncing back from failure is crucial for your long term success.  Don’t concentrate on what went wrong, instead focus on what was learned from your mistakes and strive to meet your goal.  There is no mistake you will make that some other intelligent competent individual hasn’t already made.  Keep your attitude on the positive and look beyond the problem.  There is a little treasure chest in every failure and it holds the opportunity to learn and grow from those failures.  Greet your failures with some humor and don’t loose your perspective.  I can honestly say I have had my share of failures and I must admit that out of all those failures I gained valuable knowledge and experiences that continue to benefit me to this day.  I don’t know what failure will greet me next but I’m ready to embrace it and keep on trying to grow, personally and professionally.   If Einstein can flunk out of high school and still succeed I know I can too!

Selling in the 21st Century

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 18-05-2007

Sales funnels, pipelines, UVP’s, what does it all mean?  It means that today and tomorrow’s sales person is no longer some guy or gal standing on the street corner hawking tickets, newspapers or magazines.  The salesperson of tomorrow is tech savvy and inquisitive.  They research their prospects and their business long before they make the initial contact.  They ask questions and identify where their product or service provides the best fit.  The sale is assumed and rejection does not deter them.  They are smart enough to know when to walk away if they can’t help the customer’s business and know how to weed out poor prospects.  They are consultants and advisors with high personal expectations and goals.  Marketing people are finally understanding the need to target specific buyers not just people in general.  Men and women buy for different reasons, and the relationship is king.

Selling has become a combination of discipline, integrity, skill, research, winning spirit, teamwork and customer focus.  It has necessitated the need to close the gap between the marketing and sales teams.  Companies now have to integrate these two units into a cohesive group that must communicate, strategize and plan.  Collaboration between all company divisions is necessary to achieve corporate goals and the “us against them” mentality has been put to rest.  Welcome to selling successfully in the 21st century.

So where does your organization fit into this equation?  When was the last time you examined your sales strategies and infrastructure?  Do your internal divisions collaborate or compete?  Has your CEO or Board of Directors defined your goals and expectations and have those been passed down the channel to the managers and on to the employees?  Selling today is more than just walking through a stranger’s door with a business card in your hand.  It requires pre-planning, continuing education and mentoring by management.  It’s about dedication and integrity, motivation and attitude.  How does your sales team meet the needs of your customers?  No one wants to be sold but everyone wants to buy.  Selling now involves persuasion, problem solving and diagnostics.  Sales people have become “doctors”, they ask questions regarding the customer’s “symptoms” in order to diagnose problems and provide recommendations based on their experience.  They coordinate resources and provide solutions.

Bring your sales team into the 21st century and advance them up a notch from just a consultative approach to a diagnostic model resulting in better account penetration and ensuring greater predictability in the final outcome.

Be A Resource Not A Source

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 17-05-2007

Okay, I admit it.  I’m opinionated!  But that’s okay because we should all have very strong opinions about certain things in our lives.  Maybe it’s politics, religion, work ethics, or sales strategies.   I have strong opinions regarding sales and sales management.  That doesn’t mean I’m always right nor does it mean I can’t learn to change to meet the marketplace either.  However, I have observed quite often that sales people and sales management won’t change and are stuck doing business like they did back in the 1970′s.  Sales people have to be forward-thinking and always keen on the market changes and conditions.  They have to work smart, plan strategically and always have their sales funnel filled with new prospects.

Sadly, a lot of today’s sales people only want the sale and don’t want to go through the process of earning the sale.  They stalk their next sales victim instead of encouraging and devoting time to educate and understand the prospects needs.  As a dealer we think of ourselves as one source of supplies to our customers.  That line of thinking is okay if you have a walk-in store (transactional business) and the customers come to you.  But if you really want to earn their respect and create a real need for you and your business you have to become a resource (consultative selling), not a source.  It is already assumed that you are a source but you have to demonstrate to the prospects that you are more than that; you are a very valuable resource! 

You have to take the time to learn about their business and what their specific needs are.  Don’t rely solely on office products.  If you are not selling furniture, you are missing valuable margins.  Same thing goes with other products and services.  Maybe investing in an on-site shred truck and provide a value-added service if your customer base can support it.  Perhaps it’s a beverage service or office cleaning service.  If you don’t provide these types and kinds of services or if they don’t meet your long range business plans then think about networking yourself with those that do.  Become a wealth of knowledge and talk to the owners, CEO’s and managers of your client base.  Think of it as a selling chain with links between the CEO’s office and the guy in the warehouse.  Every link in the chain is connected and your strength lies in the connections of these lengths.  As a resource to that company the owners and employees will learn that they can depend on your skills and experience to meet their needs.

I’ll leave you today with Zig Ziglar’s definition of Success:  “Success means doing the best we can with what we have.  Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph.  Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, becoming all that we can be.  If we do our best, we are a success.  Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have.”

NC State Audits Office Depot Contract

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 14-05-2007

Many of you probably know that I live in North Carolina.  Last week the State of North Carolina Office of the State Auditor released their report detailing the state contract with Office Depot.  In another case of “see, I told you so” the report states that Office Depot over charged various state agencies $40,887 and that pricing errors continue to be an issue with Office Depot.  The audit also uncovered a large number of items that were not available and therefore substituted for higher priced products. 

As most independent dealers know the “big box” dealers have long excelled in this ‘bait and switch’ maneuver.  Although we strive to educate our customers about this practice these superstores have so engrained “we’re bigger so we are cheaper” into the consumers head that we still have a long way to go to make our customers see the truth.  One statement in the report says “Our testing of catalog prices for all 582 core items revealed a 6.5% error rate, with unit prices ranging from $.60 to $199.75 in excess of contract prices.”  Many independent dealers in NC tried to tell the Purchase and Contract Division they were making a huge mistake by leaving out the small business dealers in NC.  The whole process that awarded Office Depot was a joke.  These tactics are used by Depot and Staples and others like them every day to take your customers and to give them a false sense of low prices.  When are we as independent dealers going to get off our collective butts and do some public education about things like this?   Perhaps we should create our own advertising and marketing agency that promotes just the independent dealer channel!  Milk producers and cattle producers do it very successfully, why can’t we?  Why don’t we? Well, I’m waiting for your answer!

You can read the report for yourself at:

http://www.ncauditor.net/EPSWeb/Reports/Performance/PER-2007-7219.pdf

Lions, Tigers & Bears

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 03-05-2007

The business jungle is alive and well.  The predators have us surrounded.  What are we to do?  Office Depot, Office Max/Boise, Staples, Quill and the rest are waiting in the shadows and you are the prey.  They do an effective job of keeping us on our toes.  We spend our time reacting to their latest sales and marketing tactics instead of beating them at their own game.  They have deep pockets for massive print and media spending that most independent dealers could never afford.  Instead, we depend on our reps and our service to make up the difference.  How’s that working for you so far? 

These power channel players have done such an effective job of brainwashing consumers into believing that because they are big they naturally have the best price and best service.  Let’s be frank, their service stinks!  The majority of independent dealers I know and have spoken to can take any big box store “to the cleaners” when it comes to service.  Consumers have been “programmed” by their marketing and advertising into the belief that the independent dealer can’t compete on price.  More hogwash!  The independent dealers know these facts so why are we constantly reacting instead of acting?

We consistently give up margins on products to appear more competitive.  If you pay attention to their internet pricing you will notice that prices are constantly changing, often daily.  The manufacturers are not changing the prices every day so why are the big boxes?  Because they are doing a far superior job of market research than we are and they are making higher margins on products that we are selling at much lower margins for no valid reason.  Some of this is due to the matrix pricing we receive from our wholesalers. 

When you are in the jungle and up to your ears in predators and just ran out of ammunition, what do you do?  You improvise; you get creative and use the tools you have available.  You create your own prospecting materials with aggressive pricing on the products you know you must sell at low margins.  Don’t depend solely on the wholesalers to do this for you!  They do a good job by providing catalogs and specialty catalogs but the bottom line is you know your specific market and customer.  You need to price your most aggressive prospecting materials, not someone located in another state.  The consumer mentality has been changed, thanks to these big boxes, to the point now that consumers expect you to “give” them free merchandise just to do business or to get the order.  Again, be creative about what and how you give them these free gifts. 

Independent dealers are in a unique position to provide great customer service that the predators could never provide.  We can exceed their abilities in many ways and we can do this by educating the consumers, provide a great buying experience, build our personal relationships and be an active force in our local communities.  A few years ago I attended a table top show for a local school system.  Office Depot also participated in the event by donating the lunch meal for everyone in attendance and presented a short presentation about why they should buy their school supplies from OD.  I was there to represent the only local office supplier in their area.  I had been made aware in advance that OD would be there so I had a short PowerPoint and before I began I placed a white paper bag in front of each attendee.  I started by asking everyone to open their bags and look inside.  I said that what they found inside represents the level of personal commitment to service and their local community school system from Office Depot.  The bags were empty.  My first slide showed our staff personally delivering pencils and notebook paper and ring binders to the school children that we donated.  There were other slides that showed our community involvement and a chart that detailed how much of their local monies actually stayed in their town if they did business with OD, which of course is substantially less.  Ten minutes into my PowerPoint I saw the OD store manager leave the room by the back door.  We earned their business by being creative and sincere.  We kept their business with our service and commitment and the relationship we built over time.  You can do the same.  You already have all the ammunition you need to slay the beasts of the jungle.  I wish you the greatest success in your challenges!