Five Tips to Grow Your Business

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 03-05-2012

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Here are five tips to help you grow your business.  You should already be doing most of these but I hope the suggestions will help you find a new avenue or idea.  Feel free to share any suggestions you have!

  1. Communicate – Use every means at your disposal to reach out and touch your customer. E-Mail, text, statement stuffers, box stuffers, e-newsletters, weekly email blasts, social media.  Be diligent and deliberate and most of all be consistent!  Offer your value message and your brand in everything you do.
  2. Account Penetration – On average you only get about 30% of the total spend in your customers office.  Are you asking about janitorial and breakroom products?  How about stamps, printing, furniture and technology products?  From the reception room to the warehouse you have products to meet their needs.  Take off your blinders and see what you are missing!
  3. Befriend everyone – Be personal and take the time to meet and greet every one possible in your customers office.  From the janitor to the CEO and everyone in between.  You will be surprised the little tidbits of information you glean or the account you might save from your ‘friends’ in the office.
  4. Business Reviews – While this should be a staple in your sales strategies I’m constantly surprised by the reps who never do this with their accounts.  It offers up a treasure trove of information and opportunity and builds upon the relationship with the customer.  Do this twice a year with most accounts.  Accounts with more than 100 employees may require a quarterly review.  Make a big deal out of it and invite the senior managers, order placers, buyers and anyone else you can to the meeting.  Provide lunch and show them how much money you have saved them and share any ideas you have on how to save them even more money.  Bring your manager and if possible your customer service rep in on the meeting and make a positive impression on the value your bring to their business.  Bring a good PowerPoint too, it is absolutely necessary for success with the “C” level managers.
  5. Margin Management – The big boxes do a fantastic job in this arena and have proven success in increasing their margins.  Most reps set up pricing and don’t think about it until contract renewals come around again.  The big boxes manage margins monthly and in some cases weekly.  Changing your product mix and adjusting margins effectively will grow your profit margin and potentially increase your business.  Utilizing the many price matrices available can be a big asset here too.

That’s my five quick tips for growth.  I’m certain you can think of many more.

The last word: “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” -Peter Drucker

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

Sales & Marketing Must Connect

Filed Under (OP News & Views) by Don on 28-08-2008

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Many office products dealers are finally learning they have a need for a marketing person in addition to their traditional sales staff to drive business growth and help create a recognizable brand. This is great news because it means that dealers are beginning to realize they need to embrace technology and marketing concepts to have a better understanding of today’s marketplace and how to best reach out to their customers and prospects.As a former business owner I have successfully performed the functions of sales manager, delivery guy, marketing, warehouse and logistics, accounting and collections, purchasing and various other administration duties including chief cook and janitor. Obviously some of these jobs are less than exciting! I said I successfully performed all these functions but I didn’t say I was especially great at all of them. I hated the accounting piece and did not enjoy being “Guido” the past due bill collector. I can wear the black hat/suit and be intimidating when necessary, at least my son says I do it well, but I don’t enjoy that. My skills and talents are in sales, sales management and marketing/advertising. I love creating marketing materials, custom catalogs, writing scripts and ads and I used those skills to market myself and sell my products. I read many books on both topics, attended seminars and training camps and had a great business mentor that didn’t mind giving me a kick in the pants when I needed one. So here is my kick in your pants, you need a marketing person to help your sales team drive new business and account penetration if you want to succeed on today’s marketplace!

A marketing person can be a great asset to your growing business but there is a potential dilemma to your new position. The problem with many marketing people is the lack of understanding of sales. The skill set of the professional sales person and those of a marketing person are completely different, however, the successes of both are completely dependent upon each other. This doesn’t mean that a successful sales person can’t become a successful marketing person or vice versa. A successful sales person understands very well how to market themselves and their products but may not have a full grasp of things such as e-mail marketing, web development, catalog programs, advertising mediums, ad copy etc. On the other hand a marketing person may not fully grasp the processes the sales rep goes through, what the market can bear on price or market demands for specific products and their local popularity. Therein is the potential for disconnection between marketing and sales.

Don’t make the fateful mistake of considering these two functions as separate entities. They are joined at the proverbial hip and need to be closely integrated with one another. Sales must understand the relationship they need with marketing and marketing must understand the need for information from sales. When properly aligned these two groups can be a powerful force for your business. They must perform as a close knit team with the same goals and objectives. Marketing can provide valid, qualified leads, great prospecting tools and materials to aid in account development and penetration. All this is accomplished with the help and guidance of sales. Sales can provide market information back to marketing regarding product needs of the marketplace, information regarding competitors, customer perceptions of new products and future growth. How well these two teams work together to accomplish their goals can result in great success or failure depending on the nature of their relationship. Like all relationships they must be nurtured and encouraged. Empower them but hold them accountable equally. One last word of advice let your marketing person do the task they are responsible for. They are not your fill-in for your other office personnel such as showroom sales person, receptionist or receiving clerk. I’m not saying they are too good for those duties but they deserve the same respect as do your sales and accounting people.

The last word: “Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.” – W. Clement Stone