Are You Surveying Your Customers?

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 09-07-2010

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This is a busy time of year for me as I’m busy planning our marketing strategies, catalogs and flyers for 2011.   I typically use my past experience(s), seek the input/opinions of my field reps, and listen to suggestions from our first call wholesaler regarding any new programs they offer plus my various research throughout the year to create my plan.  While I’m comfortable with these procedures I decided this year to do things a little differently.  I normally survey our customers via email survey at least once per year and this has always been very revealing and provided much feedback.  This year I decided that I would visit some customers and ask them what kinds, or types,  of marketing materials (catalogs, flyers, emails, etc.) they prefer.  The results were most interesting.  Let me explain.

I’ve been in this industry since 1985 therefore it is easy to guess my age.  Age is important because most people our ages do not shop and make purchases the same way many of our customers do.  Since I’m a bit of a computer/technology geek I don’t necessarily fit this description.  If you’re out in the market you soon realize that buyers of business products are getting younger and the age group is usually between 25 and 40 years of age with the majority of orders being placed by someone in the front office or the receptionist.  This age group grew up with computers and the internet, this is their comfort zone.  Have you noticed that most, if not all, cell phone advertising is directed toward the 18-30 age group?  Does it not stand to reason that if this is the age group placing orders for the products you sell, then it makes sense to target that age group in a form and fashion they prefer?  Absolutely!  So, I went into the field and talked at length to customers and asked them specifically how they shopped; do they look at catalogs, do they prefer to shop online or in a book, what catalogs they liked or preferred, and how did they want to place their orders?

This line of questioning was the basis of my visit and obviously there were more questions directed at their responses but in the interest of time I’ll make the results brief.  Many of the replies were expected, and suspected, but they made valid much of my previous research.  Here are the responses:

95%, preferred only a single (yearly) list-priced full line reference catalog.  98% preferred a monthly sales flyer over a quarterly flyer.  86% preferred to place orders online.  94% preferred to shop and/or search prices online.  82% found the mail-in rebates in flyers created a desire to purchase the product to receive the “Free” item.  When specifically pointing out a mail-in rebate for a toner cartridge that required the buyer to purchase two cartridges to qualify for the free offer, 97% chose to buy two just to receive the free offer and 99% of those who send in for the free offer take the offer home for their personal use.  98% said they wanted to recieve at least one email sales flyer per month while at the same time noting that our big-box competitors email them weekly.

On a final note I also showed many of the 25-35 age buyers my catalog cover choices for 2011 because I wanted to see what they specifically found attractive.  100% said they didn’t like covers with ‘people’ on them.  100% didn’t like covers with a cartoon because they said the cartoon is only funny once.  95% didn’t like covers with animals/pets because they didn’t think it was professional.  One cover selection I personally liked (and was my #1 choice) because it looked like a magazine cover was turned down by 99% of those polled.  Why, I asked.  Their reply?  We don’t read magazines and it looks like a magazine. I was disappointed, but enlightened.

There were other questions and replies of which I made many notes and I’ve made some changes to my plans for next year based on these replies.  I’m still hedging on the social media stuff like Twitter and Facebook but I’m busy studying up on how these channels can improve our business.  The point is to actively engage your customers in whatever means appeals to them.  Not one single customer refused to talk to me and all of them were delighted to be a part of the process.  I took the time to explain what I was doing and why and I encouraged them to speak their mind, there was no right or wrong answer.  I found the time to be well spent and extremely valuable.  I encourage you to do the same, to actively engage in surveys and polls to your customers and I can assure you that it will be a learning experience. 

The last word: “Life’s up’s and downs provide windows of opportunity to determine your values and goals.  Think of using all obstacles as stepping stones to build the life you want” -Marsha Sinetar

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

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.