Niche Selling

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 30-11-2007

One very positive thing about the office products industry is we never have a shortage of products to sell.  Previously I discussed the importance of using your personality and individual skills to make yourself a standout in the crowd and be more successful.  Niche selling isn’t anything new but it is often avoided or simply ignored.

Niche selling can be a simple as identifying a business segment (such as CPA’s, Lawyers, etc.) and learning everything you can about it and knowing what this type of business needs dictate.  Early in my career of selling I found myself concentrating on law firms.  Like most towns Charlotte, NC has no shortage of attorneys and most of them tend to be concentrated in particular areas.  So it made calling and concentrating my efforts much easier.  However, there are other niche areas that can be significant, especially to your potential earnings.  Commercial office furniture is an area many reps shy away from because it requires time, planning and patience.  In others words it isn’t a simple sale, it requires work!  Another area that is often overlooked for various yet similiar reasons is specialty filing solutions, such as rotary files and open files in medical, legal and other professional offices.  Also custom filing products that may apply to mortgage banking and medical businesses.  Even promotional products (advertising specialty) is an area that has much potential.  If you are willing to do the extra work required and learn about new solutions you too can have a niche market.

To give you an example of how sales people will resist a little extra hard work, a rep from Corporate Express asked one of our sales people if they liked selling furniture.  Our rep said (yes) they did and he replied that he hated it because of all the extra work involved and the time it took to finally make the sale.  The CorpEx rep actually asked our rep for their business card so he could refer interested furniture buyers to them because he didn’t want to be bothered!  Apparently CorpEx employees don’t have any loyalties to the company either, presuming that this is true. 

Once you begin developing this niche market and your business develops, you will find it easier to get referrals and your name will spread as word gets out regarding your work, knowledge and experience in your niche area.  Carefully examine your market and seek out the business needs that others tend to ignore and don’t be afraid to take a chance at something new and challenging.

A Targeted Selling Process

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 27-11-2007

Selling in today’s B2B market can be frustrating and rewarding.  It’s frustrating in the commercial office products industry due to several factors.  The bait-and-switch tactics of our big box competitors (which many individuals and corporations are finally beginning to recognize) and the low balling of RFQ’s from many of these same folks.  Let’s be realistic, the competition is tough, often unfair, challenging, wrought with rude buyers and demanding purchasing agents and yet with some determination, planning and a winning attitude it can be very rewarding and satisfying. 

Selling involves different processes but most of all it is about you.  By that I mean your individual personality.  You are the most powerful weapon you have and you are also your own worst enemy.  The enemy is your fear of rejection.  We all have it and we all have to control it and remain focused on our objective, winning and maintaining new accounts.  I am surrounded by many successful sales people.  Some are more successful than others because they have learned to utilize their personality and strengths to their advantage.  We’ll come back to that in a moment.

When it comes to sales prospecting for new accounts I use a method similar to the following approach:

  • Gather a list of appropriate targeted industries such as law firms, CPA’s, manufacturers, etc.
  • Research each account via the internet (and other methods) to identify business type, size, number of employees, business potential, number of contacts such as purchasing agents or user-choosers and identify their business strategy and mission statement
  • Verify buyers and contacts titles and correct spelling of names
  • Identify the prospects business objective

Finally you need to figure out where you are the best fit with your products/services.  This method for prospecting gives you valuable information on your prospect and allows you to better position yourself to help the prospect meet their business goals.  Once you have this info is the point where you use your best asset.  You!  What makes you successful is your drive, ambition, sincerity, ethics, professionalism, product expertise, creativity, all the things that make you who and what you are.  These traits and how you use them can be the single most important tool at your disposal.  After you have done your due diligence in obtaining the company info and have identified your strengths and how to position yourself to benefit your prospect the second most important thing you need to be is persistent.  Many accounts can’t be won with a single call, you have to demonstrate persistence and a willingness to overcome their concerns or objectives.  Just because the prospect told you your prices were to high doesn’t mean they don’t want to do business with you it simply means that you have not convinced them of the value of your product and your company.  People buy from people.  Zig Ziglar always says “You can have anything you want if you help enough other people get what they want.”  It took me a long time to really understand that but more than ever it applies to what we do every day.  Wishing you success in all you do, have an outstanding day!

A Green Office for 2008, smart move!

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 26-11-2007

I’ve been so busy training my newest rep that I haven’t had time to write lately and now that Thanksgiving is over it’s time to get fired up again!  I mentioned in my last post about United Stationers new recycled products catalog coming out hopefully between Februrary and April of 2008.  That’s great news because being environmentally friendly and socially responsible is going to be the in the forefront of many businesses.  If they are not currently looking to purchase recycled or environmentally friendly products they will be very soon or they will be looking to do business with a company that has a “Green Policy”.  Don’t wait on everyone else to start before you decide to join in this effort.  Here is a Green Office Guide (pdf) from the City of Portland Oregon that will help get you started. 

At this time none of the big box stores are offering anything special as far as a green policy nor are they offering a specific catalog designed for green product hunters.  I suspect however that once even one of them starts to offer this the rest will waste no time getting on board.  Although the independents don’t have the marketing/advertising budgets these guys do we can our part by not ignoring this new market potential.  I publish our company newsletter that is e-mailed to all our permission-based subscribers and each month I will be including some kind of article devoted to my “Green Office Project”.  I’ve created a new new logo that reflects this initiative and I”ll post a link to my company page when I get it all posted and tested and of course I welcome any input from you guys.  I don’t know if S.P.Richards is offering a green catalog for their customers but I am very please to see USSCO has recognized the trend for this market.  With sales predictions coming in at nearly flat for 2008 I am of the opinion that being creative and looking for new markets such as this will enable us to overcome those predictions.  I always hated someone telling me that my business will be up or down based upon “their” predictions!  I love to show them that business ups and downs are not always market driven.  Afterall, what makes up the marketplace?  People do!  We make the market and we as sales and marketing people can have a positive affect on how our business succeeds or fails.  So in 2008 think G.O.Y.A. (Get Off Your A!!) Make that one extra sales call or set one more appointment and don’t let the naysayers affect your business and remember to think green for 2008.

Steelcase moves toward the retail channel

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 15-11-2007

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This week has been a bust.  The holidays are fast approaching and the New Year is nearly here.  I’ve been busy the past two weeks training a new rep and bringing her up to speed.  She is sharp and eager to hit the road selling but I have to keep her for a few more days to complete her initial training.  Many of my 2008 projects are progressing very well.  My Green Office Project is gaining momentum and after a very productive meeting with my United rep I discover that Stationers has created a “Green” catalog comprised of 3800 earth friendly products.  That will be a tremendous help to our Project for 2008.  I have my office “elves” scouring everywhere to find information for me to use in my upcoming newsletters and for the web site.  Normally I would just look for this info on my own but some of my staff seem to really enjoy helping with some of my projects so I include them when they ask to help.

I learned today that Office Depot and CorpEx have added some new furniture “specialists” to their roles.  They are obviously going after more of the mid-market furniture business.  An important fact to point out when you sell against these guys is to remember they do NOT have their own installers.  All the big boxes contract out their furniture installs.  This practice doesn’t give the seller much control over the quality of the final job or the quality of the people doing the work.  Our office received a letter today, from a large customer, of thanks regarding one of our installers who went out of his way to make sure the customer was completely satisfied with an office chair that had some kind of unknown issue.  I don’t know all the specifics but the letter was singing the praises of how this person lived up to everything he promised and went out of his way to make sure the customer was completely satisfied.  That kind of service is what seperates the independent dealers from the big boxes!

I read a news article that stated that Steelcase, Herman Miller, Knoll and several other top notch furniture manufacturers were beginning to break away from their traditional contract furniture dealers and are beginning to make their products available to the public through other channels such as some of the big box retailers.   These manufacturers think the contract furniture dealer are not doing a good enough job bringing new sales and business in the mid-market channel.  Sounds like greed to me.  I guess the stock holders are not receiving enough dividends.  With an election year coming in 2008 I don’t expect our industry will experience much growth in the traditional supplies business.  However, traditionally when supplies slow down furniture sales increase so stay on top of your game folks, 2008 is going to be a great year for furniture sales!

This would be an excellent time to position yourself as a furniture guru to your customers and be sure they know you can service, install and personally guarantee the quality of your furniture.  Do not let the big boxes get a foot in the door of your customer.  Take advantage of any marketing materials your furniture reps can provide and don’t be afraid to ask for the order!

Competitive Intelligence

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 05-11-2007

In my early days of selling in the office towers and office complexes of uptown Charlotte I was quick to  develop certain street smarts.  Things such as who my competition was, how they go to market, their SWOT or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  Smart, street savy sales people will be far more likely to succeed in today’s marketplace and thanks to the internet there is a convenient method of research to gain market intelligence about your prospect.  This whole process involves gathering information and analyzing your competition and industry.

I wasn’t beyond “dumpster diving” in my earlier days to gain whatever competitive edge I needed.  I was hungry and needed to know everything I could about my prospects and competitors.  This less-than-enticing form of information gathering isn’t necessary today.  Instead you can probe their websites, subscribe to their newsletters and e-mail alerts, or purchase a product from them and note how you are treated in their sales process.  You can talk to their employees.  Read their marketing materials, mission statement or vision.  Discover if they are ready for expansion or shrinking.  Learn everything you can about their operations.  See how they segment themselves.  You’ll need all this information in order to differentiate yourself from your competitors and identify a niche for yourself. 

Much research can be done online about your industry and your prospects.  Read trade magazines and learn to anticipate market trends as they occur.  Be ahead of the curve and throughly research each prospect so when you make your sales call you know as much information about that company as possible and have a plan of how you can offer more value than their current supplier.  Price isn’t always the reason companies switch suppliers.  Do your homework in advance and you will gain the edge you need to make a difference and earn the business.  Ask yourself what your competition does and how you can do it better.

What do your customers want/expect?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 01-11-2007

When we think about our role as sales people we typically think we know what the customer wants or expects.  I have over 25 years of formal experience in sales, management and training.  But I have a lifetime of sales experiences.  Growing up it didn’t take long for me to learn how to “sell” my parents on the latest and greatest toy I wanted.  I love automobiles and my knack for selling had my parents worrying that I would end up being a car salesman!  I started playing the piano when I was four years old and was taking college level music studies when I was thirteen.  I could play almost every instrument in my high school band and entered college as a music major.  Instead, I fell in love with the woman I have been now married to for over 27 years and the rest is history.  I never earned that degree in music, sorry Mom and Dad.  I have now developed into a marketing role and love my job.  I get the best of both worlds, sales and marketing.  I am truly blessed!

When asked to identify what customers expect for an account manager in our industry I have come to the conclusion that the following seven things are what customers expect:

  1. Personally managing their satisfaction
  2. Understanding their business and business goals
  3. Recommending products & equipment expertly
  4. Providing support and training when necessary, such as online ordering setup and training
  5. Be a customer advocate
  6. Solve logistical problems
  7. Provide innovative solutions to their needs

You have to be part consultant and part relationship builder.  Customers expect a lot and you have to provide something very unique to earn their business.  There are other suppliers for the products you sell and price isn’t usually the objection or reason you lost that account.  Prove to your customers that you have added value in excess of price and you will emerge a winner every time.