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.

What do customers want from their relationship with you?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 21-12-2007

We preach about about how great our customer service is and we brag about how good we are at building relationships with our customers and prospects.  But do we really know what customers want from these relationships?  Selling isn’t really complicated, it’s all about building trust and fulfilling other people’s needs.  Some trainers write about this selling system and that selling system but the bottom line is, selling is about what works for you and your personality.  Let’s identify what customers what from their relationship with you.

  • Customers want to be understood
  • Customers want to feel appreciated and needed
  • Customers want to feel important
  • Customers want you to be an advocate for their needs
  • Customers want success and happiness
  • Customers want to feel emotionally connected
  • Customers attention span is short
  • Customers like to show you what they know
  • Customers want you to listen, not just hear
  • Customers want to feel valued by you and your organization
  • Customers want to associate with successful people
  • Customers want to associate with people who are willing to help them
  • They don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care

I’m sure I could come up with a few more but I think these highlight the things that matter most.  What do you think? Did I miss something that you feel needs to be included?  Do you utilize this kind of thought process when building your relationships?

Boston Man Sues HP & Staples Over $8000 per Gallon Printer Ink

Filed Under (OP News & Views) by Don on 19-12-2007

It is being widely reported that a gentleman from Boston has filed a federal lawsuit against HP and Staples for their backroom deal to sell only OEM HP toners.  OPI Magazine in an article released yesterday says that Ranjit Bedi in his filing claims that HP and Staples reached an illegal agreement between competitors to stop competing.  It also seeks class-action status.

For those of us who sell printers and their related supplies we know that manufacturers basically give away the printers only to make huge profits on the consumables in the printer such as black and colored inks.  The price of ink in an HP inkjet printer can be as much as $8000 per gallon which makes the pump price of gasoline nearly tolerable. (NOT!)  Printer manufacturers have been waging war against third-party toner makers for years.  These alternate toner manufacturers have come a long way since the old drill and fill methods initially used by many start-up remanufacturers back in the early 90′s.  The OEM manufacturers have become much more aggressive in their tactics against their competitors.

Manufacturers such as HP, Lenovo, Lexmark, Epson and others utilize technologies such as using microchips in their toner cartridges that work with the printer and can block the use of non-OEM toner cartridges.  Adding more misery and expense to and already frustrated buyer/user is a recent study by TÜV Rheinland  showed that often these chips reported the cartridge as empty when there were as much as one hundred pages in available ink still in the cartridge.  A big selling point for the remanufacturers for years was the fact that they actually filled the toner hopper with toner unlike the OEM’s.  The result was an average of 20% higher yield and cost savings that were up to 50% less than the OEM toners.  It will be interesting to see how the suit plays out. 

CSR’s plus CRM, a Formula for Success or Exercise in Futility?

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 17-12-2007

CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, software such as salesforce.com, Sage CRM, or the Goldmine product such as offered by reputable sellers like Longbow Consulting Group can be a love it or hate it relationship for you and your customers.  While salesforce.com and the SageCRM product offer an enormous degree of personalization they require  someone who has the programming knowledge for customization or you will need to invest what could amount to substantial dollars to get the product to work and perform to the standard necessary to meet the needs of most independent dealers.  While I have tried using the SageCRM product for some time it is so advanced and complicated I can’t make it perform to my standards without investing, what may amount to, several thousand dollars more.  I like the product but the issue here is that it is made to fit many kinds of industries and complicated sales processes and is very customizable to those kinds of businesses.  The Goldmine product as presented by Neil Saviano (Longbow Consulting) has already been customized to meet the needs of the typical office stationer.  It also incorporates an information funnel from your existing back office system to transfer customer information into the Goldmine product allowing you access to info that is useful and valuable.  I inquired about the capability ro integrate this kind of information funel in the SageCRM product and Sage estimated the cost to be in excess of $15K, if it was even possible.  There are other CRM products available but these specific CRM products I have some experience and knowledge in.

My bone of contention as it were is that a CRM system like any of these do have a great deal of value if used appropriately and regularly.  Staples uses, with great success, a CRM component in their systems and its function comes from a directive right from the CEO’s office.  They utilize it successfully and it drives sales.  Neither Office Depot not Office Max nor CorpEx make use of a CRM package.  A CRM package can help in many ways from reminding you to follow-up on a new customer or to highlight a potential problem customer that hasn’t ordered in sixty or ninety days.  With information that flows between your back office accounting system to your sales systems the CRM can be setup with many such reminders and can also send out email blasts or fax blasts.  (Does anyone still use fax blasts?) 

If you incorporate your CRM into reminders to your customer service team they are instantly able to identify customers that either need help, a reminder or perhaps they are over their credit limit and have just place an online order.  You can funnel info to and from your sales staff and with some CRM packages the sales team can remotely access their customer information.  Don’t cripple your staff with a lack of information, you are all on the same page and want to drive more sales to your business.  I know reps that have over six hundred accounts and I know for a fact that there is no way they can effectively mange that many contacts without some kind of contact management system.  Customers get ignored, customer service suffers and sales do not grow.  Your verbal and written statement of how great your customer service is isn’t worth the ink on the page.

Great customer service comes not only comes from great people but from the support they receive through your systems and the technology they utilize.  Who in your office champions the customer?  Are your efforts in customer service hampered by a lack of the proper technology or its function?  Have you ever called your office anonymously to place an order to see just how your staff performs?  Don’t let your efforts to provide great service be in vain.  Great technology is out there that can make your business and your customer service really stand out in the crowd. 

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.

Focus Your Mind for Selling with Passion

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 06-12-2007

Ivana Taylor over at Strategy Stew has an awesome post that she suggests marketers use to identify their signature strengths.  I think her thought process here has even greater potential for sales people who need to continually focus on their primary objective, sales.  Your attitude and motivation as a sales rep (or even us lowly marketing guys) has to remain focused on our objectives if we expect to reach our personal and professional goals.  Let’s take a look at Ivana’s tips and see how we can apply these core principles to our daily “check-up from the neck-up!”  (Thanks Zig, I love that statement)

Strategy #1: What is my company all about? What is it that we do better than anyone else? Why do our clients and customers love us? What are we in business to do? What is the passion of this business?

Your three minute elevator pitch should incorporate all the answers to these questions.  If you can’t answer these questions with absolute sincerity and personal belief in yourself and your company/products then your manager needs to whack you upside your head!  These basic answers define how you work every day and how well you relate this back to you customers and prospects.

Strategy #2: What activities absolutely, positively, HAVE to be done today, or really bad things will happen?  What activities, if left un-done, will undermine who we are, what we do, and why our customers choose us in the first place. Who do I need to contact to make sure they get done.

Like most independent dealers our first objective is to sell products.  If you’re not actively engaged in selling and prospecting EVERY day then you will not and can not continue to be a viable business entity.  You have a solid support structure in place and you know your customer(s) expectations.  Your golden rule is that you always give your customers more than they expect. You plan your work and work your plan. You are sincere and persistent.

Strategy #3: In what ways can I do these activities to promote our strengths to our customers?  What are some cool, inventive and creative ways that I can do these activities to show remind our customers of why they do business with us?

How do you go to market?  How do you prospect? What personal networking activities are you engaged in? Do you actively seek and receive referrals from your current customers and friends?  What do you do that makes you stand out from all the other office products reps out there trying to take your business every day? 

Strategy #4: What is the one thing that I can do today to improve my customers’ experience with me and my company?

This question should be moved up to number two, it’s that important. This simple question could define whether or not you will be a success or just be a survivor.  Every sales organization has exceptional successes and simple survivors.  I could not even begin to tell you how many times I have greeted a sales person who made the statement, “I’m surviving” when asked how they are doing.  Don’t be a “do-er” be an achiever!  I have been in this OP business for over 22 years and sometimes I get asked “How can you still be passionate about this business?” I’m passionate about the customers and how I can help them acheive their goals, I’m passionate about helping my company and the reps here be successful.  I’m passionate about creating new ideas and ways to present our company and our ability to meet the needs of business owners and buyers.  I’m passionate about my faith and my family.  You need to be passionate about what you do and who you are to be successful.  Be passionate and engaging when you seek new customers and they will desire to be with you and your company and buy your products.

My compliments to Ivana for a very thought provoking post. I encourage you to think and use these strategies daily to light your personal fire and be successful at everything you do.  One last passionate statement: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Get Your Green On

Filed Under (The Competition) by Don on 05-12-2007

As predicted Office Depot announced yesterday they are rolling out their new 3,000+item green products catalog.  In their announcement they stated “Year-over-year we are seeing a significant increase in the number of customers wanting to ‘green’ their purchasing practices…”  They also say they want to provide “a unique solution” to customers wanting to make their offices more earth friendly.  All this being said from a company that is in hot water in several states for massive contract violations and overcharging the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.  I continue to hope that the buying public will learn about the pricing and contracting games that these big box stores practice.  I’ve written several times about those issues here. 

I have loaded our new Green Office Project page on my company website.  All this information is available on the web from dozens of different sites.  I still have over 50 pages of information that I haven’t used at this time so there is obviously a lot of info out there if you just look for it.  I also created a PowerPoint presentation to help our reps introduce this to customers/prospects which has been well received by our sales team.  I encourage you to do the same for yourself or your sales team if this applies to you.

United Stationers is rolling out their 3,800+ Recycled Products Catalog sometime around April.  Sadly this means that Depot has a 4 month headstart on the independents.  I wish I could light a fire under United and get them to make this catalog available in January.  However, I do praise them for at least having the foresight to get this catalog in the hands of dealers.  Now if I could just convince them of the importance of having supporting flyers and html pages for e-mailing available to coincide with this rollout.  (But I’m not shy to create my own marketing materials either!) I really believe that United tries hard, and works hard to support their independent dealers.  I know from personal experiences that their internal staff and sales reps have always been very responsive and supportive for anything and everything I have ever asked.  But let’s be realistic, they are a sales company whose business is to move products.  They have shareholders that expect to make earnings from their investment and I understand that too.  However, sometimes I think the bureaucracy of being such a large company keeps them from pushing out new products, catalogs and marketing materials fast enough for dealers to get them positioned firmly ahead of the competition.   That ability is very important. 

If you haven’t considered offering your customers a green catalog and support for their green goals then I strongly urge you to get up to speed as this is an increasing desire among many businesses.  Although buyers of green products must understand up front that green products are typically more expensive than those traditional non-recycled products.  They are spending a little more to support our planet and feel good about doing it.  Remember to offer unique services in your green office push.  Recycling toners using services such as Link360  or consider partnering with local recyclers to help companies with recycling things such as batteries, flourescent bulbs, paper, etc.  Postioning yourself as a consultant allows you to be in a better position to help your customer acheive their business goals which is what the relationship is all about.