Strategies to Make You More Marketable

Filed Under (OP Sales Training, Suggested Reading) by Don on 25-03-2008

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Again, my congratulations to Ivana Taylor over at her Strategy Stew blog for another outstanding article. In her post titled “How to Use the Seven Triggers in Your Differentiation Strategy” she outlines the concepts you need to utilize in creating your brand identity and how to use those strategies to be successful in your business. Based upon a book written by Russ Granger entitled “7 Triggers to Yes!” Ivana offers an interesting post on applying the triggers in marketing kits. Today’s office products marketplace is more than just competitive it’s increasingly more difficult to be seen in the market when independent dealers don’t have the huge marketing budgets of our big box competitors. What we do have is our own competitive advantages that when used effectively can far outweigh the price objection we often hear. Let’s look at just three of those triggers today and we will discuss the others in another post.

The Friendship TriggerActivates trust and agreement through bonding.In its simplest terms this means that people buy from people, the relationship is king. The big box stores depend on the transactional relationship. You know what you want, you drive to the store walk in and hopefully will find the product that meets your needs. You receive no personal customer service and no one attempts to show you similar product(s) that may do the job for less money or perform better for the same investment. No one asks you about your project and they don’t care if you buy or if you don’t. You pay for your product and leave the store with limited interaction from the personnel. They don’t know you from Jack or Jill. No relationship whatsoever.

The Consistency TriggerAppeals to motives consistent with past actions. What do you deliver consistently? We deliver next day, our customer service people are trained and knowledgeable, our furniture staff is experienced and well trained, our furniture design services are free, I’m always in your office every two weeks, I’m always looking for ways to save you money with new products and better purchasing ideas, just to name a few. A real person really answers our phones, consistently, no auto-attendants. Think about what you do every day, every week and write down those practices and share them in all your marketing materials and on your web space!

The Reason Why TriggerGives reasons that activate an automatic “yes”. Why should I buy from you? What reasons can you give to do business with you or your dealer? What separates you from the competition? What makes you the better choice? Do you have a top ten list of reasons why I should do business with you? I include such a list in all my prospecting materials, on my company web site and I personally reinforce it in my ‘sales pitch’ when talking to others. I could probably make it a top 20 or even 30 but why spoil all the fun! I’ve got to have something else to personally offer each client to let them know their business is very special and personal to me.

How do you include these concepts in your marketing plans? Did you use a similar thought process to brand your company or yourself? Creating your brand image is easier than you think and it can make a real difference in how you go to market. Thanks Ivana for an inspiring post! Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Empathy, the Secret of Savy Sellers

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 19-03-2008

Empathy – specifically, encouraging and empowering employees to engage and relate with customers as people and fellow human beings. No company can make a customer happy 100% of the time but those who understand this critical element of the customer experience know it can make you, or break you. As sellers of commodity products the current state of the business economy isn’t exactly a rosey picture in the office products industry. It’s challenging to get sales people to understand the need to stop selling on price and to sell the value of doing business with them and their company is difficult enough. Your people must understand they need to be empathetic with their customers. I’ve stated before that we need to stop acting like a seller and start thinking like a buyer.

One of the problems with our big box competitors is they have continued to butcher their ability to adequately service and listen to their customers. In difficult times the ‘shirts’ in the corporate office have knee jerk reactions to a slowing economy and start laying off employees and shuttering departments like customer service. If just one of these corporate guys had ever spent enough time in sales they would have a clear understanding that a slowing economy doesn’t necessarily dictate cost cutting measures. The prudent and seasoned sales person knows that when business is slowing down they need to spend more time prospecting for new business and concentrate on vertical categories to grow sales.

What does this have to do with empathy? It places you on the same level as the customer. Empathy allows you to see business through the eyes of the customer. Your customer service (CSR’s) personnel should not report to the office manager or accounting manager, they should be accountable to the sales manager. Don’t act surprised, the sales manager is in the best position to support, train and mentor the customer service team. In many, if not most, occasions the customer service people talk to the customer/buyer more often than the sales people do. It stands to reason that one of the most critical relationships developed is the one between your CSR’s and the customer. Sadly, many companies sit squarely on an untapped empathy goldmine in the form of employees who report to work every day. Employees are measured in dimensions that are incongruent with the outcomes that are truly needed and valuable. With proper training your CSR’s can increase order size, promote new products and up-sell customers easily and matter-of-factly. Cabela’s, a well known marketer of outdoor merchandise views their employees as customers. Employees are encouraged to sign out products and use them thereby giving them first hand knowledge of the products they sell. If you can make your staff understand the importance of being empathetic to the customers needs you will have created a value that pales the competition. While the big boxes consolidate customer service and contract out customer service to people that are simply there to collect a paycheck you have an opportunity to create something amazing, a loyal customer advocate. All because you took the time to care.

The last word, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” –William A. Foster

Prospecting Statistics Show 48% of Reps Quit After One Call

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 11-03-2008

I wrote our sales training manual a couple of years ago and this week went back to review and update some of the information.  The material was written for people who are new to the office products industry and includes information for outside reps and for tele-sales reps.  During this weeks one-on-one meetings I have with all my direct reports a comment was made about the difficulty this rep had in obtaining new business, i.e. prospecting.  Granted that there are not many things more stressful than spending a day out cold call prospecting for new business.  I teach my reps to do their homework in advance before they ever contact the prospective company.  But that process wasn’t the issue.  The issue was that only one call was being made, no follow up calls were being made, the rep assumed the prospect would be so impressed with his information they would want to call him back for the appointment.  I guess in a perfect world that could happen, but in reality that rarely ever happens.  This rep is a very good sales person and an excellent customer champion. His problem did remind me of a page in my training book that specifically addressed his dilemma.  Let’s look at some industry statistics.

  1. It takes an average of 6 calls before the prospect buys.
  2. 80% of New Account Sales occur after the 5th call.
  3. 48% of reps quit after the first call.
  4. 25% quit after the second call.
  5. Only 10% of reps make more than three calls.

You can see that this rep was falling into the 48% category which clearly identified part of his problem.  We could actually prove that most of his new account acquisitions actually did occur after at least five calls once we looked specifically at some historical data.  Therefore, if he continued to call on the prospect every two weeks (my recommended call rate) it would take on average of about three months to open the account.   This wasn’t new information but as we all get so busy in our every day business activities he had forgotten this valuable statistic.  Don’t fall into the 48% who quit after the first call, instead be a part of the 10% who get the business because of your diligence, professionalism, and relationship building skills.

“Be careful of the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.” -W. Clement Stone

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.

Stop Acting Like a Seller and Start Thinking Like a Buyer

Filed Under (OP Sales Training, Suggested Reading) by Don on 04-03-2008

Jerry Acuff in his book Stop Acting Like a Seller and Start Thinking Like a Buyer (Wiley, 2007) makes five very good points.  Knowing that people love to buy but hate to be sold, these five rules will help you to have a greater understanding of how your prospect/customer is thinking and help you become a better seller.

Rule 1: You will sell significantly more if you think like a buyer than if you act like a seller.

Rule 2: The success of your business is linked to the desire of your customer/prospect to want to have a conversation with you.

Rule 3: The size of your business is directly affected to your ability to ask a customer/prospect questions that provoke thought and analysis.

Rule 4: A lack of meaningful dialogue is the result of many high-pressure environments that tend to create little exchange of ideas.

Rule 5: A low-pressure environment will create greater dialogue and customer receptivity.

Take a moment and place yourself in the customers position and you will begin to understand the issues that confront them and then you can begin to meet their needs and expectations.