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Business Management

Boosting Your Business, Part One

Motivating you and your staff optimizes sales.

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Approximately five years ago, I visited a Louisville, KY-based signshop owner. After unsuccessfully competing for several, large, fleet-graphics jobs, he said that, not only was he losing every bid, he wasn’t even in the game. In many cases, winning selling prices were lower than his raw-material costs.

That really shouldn’t come as a surprise — big companies have tremendous buying power. Why waste your time on jobs that you’re unlikely to win? Despite biblical stories, the smart money is still on Goliath.

A former boss, Gordon McAllister, advised me that, rather than trying to score the big sales, concentrate on discovering those opportunities you and your competitors are neglecting.

Work the phones

Unearthing these sales gems requires prospecting — investing time on your telephone, PC or laptop. Your goal should be to build a base of customers willing to pay your price.

Existing customers could provide some business opportunities you routinely miss. Have you really investigated all of your customers’ graphics applications? If you’re selling a client fleet graphics, could you augment your sales by also offering window or interior graphics?

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A lucky few have made fortunes overnight. Get-rich-quick schemes usually crash and burn, and big sales that net financial windfalls seldom develop. People I know in our industry, who own luxurious homes and drive exotic cars, didn’t hit the jackpot with one big sale. They made their money by working longer, harder and smarter than their competitors.

There’s no easy way to generate sales. If there is, I haven’t discovered it. In this article, I’ll outline a step-by-step process that many graphics providers and salespeople have used successfully. This plan involves setting personal and company sales goals; prospecting to unearth opportunities; discovering who makes decisions for your potential customers; determining how you can satisfy the prospect’s needs; learning how to professionally state your case; and providing the service needed to maintain business.

That’s quite a list, and it entails a great deal of work. But by following this step-by-step approach, you can influence the outcome of the sale and control your own destiny and fortune. $image1

Due diligence

My perfect salesperson was, on the surface, an unlikely candidate. Jerry was short and thin (about 135 lbs. soaking wet) and didn’t have a college degree. What’s more, he had no previous sign-industry experience — I think he trimmed trees before becoming a salesman — and was humble and soft spoken.

I probably wouldn’t have hired him. Yet, beneath his exterior, Jerry is intelligent, tenacious and courageous. Most of all, Jerry worked hard; five days a week, 50 weeks a year. Salesmen like that are rare.

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Unlike Jerry, most salespeople I know create excuses not to work. Mondays are filled with expense reports and paperwork. Midweek, sales take a back seat to running errands. Fridays, they wouldn’t dare disturb a prospect who’s pondering weekend plans.

In contrast, Jerry handled his paperwork on the weekends. During the week, he was on the road when his competitors were just waking up. By 8 a.m., Jerry was outside the door of his first prospect. He averaged 12 sales calls per day.

Jerry didn’t usually make the big sale. Instead, he made numerous little sales that averaged $5,000 per day, at 20% commission. His annual revenue always topped $1 million, making him more than $200,000. Hurray for the Jerrys of this world! They deserve every penny.

Successful selling is more than just a numbers game. But, if you don’t step up to the plate and swing the bat, the hits won’t come. Roger Jacobs, president and CEO of R Tape (South Plainfield, NJ) is fond of saying, "A funny thing happens when you go out and make a sales call. You start making sales."

A tale of two salesmen

Although some people are better suited for sales, I don’t believe that salespeople are "born." Fifteen years ago, I hired and trained two very different individuals, whose careers took divergent paths.

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Ed was a "born" salesman; he was tall, handsome and charismatic, and he dressed the part. My boss thought he looked like a Harvard Business School graduate and told me to hire him.

Terry, on the other hand, wasn’t blessed with the same natural gifts. He was overweight and not particularly charming. However, he was detail-oriented and possessed time-management skills. Also, he showed undaunted determination to achieve his goals. If I told him to do something, he wrote down the task and accomplished it without fail.

A devoted husband and father, Terry felt responsible for providing a higher standard of living for his family. What could be a better goal? Today, Terry remains a successful and respected salesperson with the same graphics company.

So what happened to Ed, the "natural"? After some initial successes, he wasted his time on moneymaking schemes. He had dreams of financial wealth, but he didn’t want to work.

Like many other glib salesmen, Ed tried to wing everything. With no direction, he drifted from one job to another. Instead of working, he partied. His marriage ended in divorce, and, after a couple DUI convictions, he lost his driver’s license. The last I heard, he was working odd jobs as a handyman. The world is full of talented people like Ed who never amount to anything.

Success in sales, or anything else for that matter, takes more than talent. You need to set goals and develop plans to achieve them. Further, you need to establish a timetable for putting those plans into action, and then take action. If you don’t do these things, there’s no hope for you.

Money motivated

The people most successful at selling fleet and building graphics have been obsessed with accumulating financial wealth. These people dedicate themselves to learning everything they need to know about the business to achieve their dreams. They have exceptional knowledge of design, raw materials, manufacturing processes and installation procedures. And they pursue their dreams with persistence, passion and an unshakable confidence that they will succeed at any cost.

The vinyl-graphics industry, like any other, centers around making money. It’s not about making the most aesthetically pleasing design or working harder for job satisfaction. The best salespeople realize that money is the best motivator.

This is why, historically, top salespeople work on commission. The equation is simple: If you make the sale, you get paid; if you don’t, you won’t. When sales equate to feast or famine for themselves and their families, salespeople make sales with a greater sense of urgency, intensity and commitment.

If you need to hire a salesperson, hire the hungry ones that will seek and devour opportunities with avarice. Give a real salesperson the opportunity to make money, and he will take care of himself and your business.

If your salaried salesperson isn’t giving you a good investment, terminate him or put him on straight commission. In most cases, firing is your best option. Trying to motivate an unproductive employee, with poor work habits or weak character, is usually futile. More importantly, keeping a poor performer often demoralizes other team members.

Marketing 101

A popular adage says, "Success depends on planning your work, and then working your plan." In many organizations, the plan becomes a formal marketing strategy. This plan should simply and clearly establish your sales goals and outline the action steps required to achieve them.

The plan must also define marketing and sales activities in specific, easily understood and measurable terms. More importantly, everybody involved needs to read and understand the company goals, the activities required to achieve them, the timetable for accomplishing assigned tasks and each individual’s responsibilities as part of the team.

To help motivate employees, explain why attaining individual goals is critical to your organization’s success. Most importantly, put the plan into action and review the plan regularly so everybody stays on track.

To monitor such a program, maintain weekly marketing and sales records. This activity report should include the number of records added and deleted to your sales database; the number of qualifying phone calls made; the number of direct-mail packages sent; advertising inquiries; the number of sales calls; and quotations and orders.

In addition to a report, rolling sales forecasts should be maintained. A sales forecast is an excellent way to record opportunities and monitor salespeoples’ performance. A forecast also helps prevent missed opportunities.

Each prospect should be listed in the rolling forecast. This forecast can be easily formatted and maintained as a spreadsheet file. The file should list fields for the account name, annual revenue potential, the probability of getting the business and each month’s results. Multiply the potential by the probability, and enter the projected sales amount in the month that the prospect is likely to make his buying decision. Review the forecast and the sales-activity report with key members of your team each week. It will continually remind you of what you’ve done and need to do.

Prospecting

Telemarketing can economically unearth new customers and protect existing ones. Telemarketing is no substitute for face-to-face selling, but it’s certainly an effective tool for uncovering opportunities.

Telemarketing qualified potential clients helps determine: which companies operate, for instance, a fleet of vehicles or a chain of stores with an existing graphics program; who has purchasing authority within these companies; and when they are likely to purchase these products.

Software

Accurate recordkeeping is critical for telemarketing and sales. If you aren’t using a contact database program now, look into one. Programs such as ACT are reasonably priced and popular with many salespeople. With Microsoft Outlook or Access, you may not need a special program.

Marty, one of our salesmen at International Graphic Films, has used Outlook since he started with the company. With it, he can print mailing labels for direct mail, and send blast faxes and mass e-mailings. He can also schedule any follow-up activities, such as sending direct mail or arranging a sales call.

Another plus is the program’s simplicity, so there’s virtually no learning curve for anyone with even minimal computer skills. Above all, use some type of program.

In the software’s detail screen, list any pertinent information about your competitors, especially those currently providing the graphics to your prospect. In your notes, include the competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. Also note any changes that might be occurring within the account, such as reorganization, or changes in titles or duties, that could potentially help or hinder your prospects for future business.

In the profile of a vehicle-graphics customer, include the size of the prospect’s fleet, type of vehicles, and business objectives and marketing themes. Also, keep notes regarding customers’ personal information, such as education, business background, family, interests and hobbies.

Does the prospect feel obligated to his existing supplier? Understanding your prospect as a person changes the playing field from a sterile business atmosphere to a personal relationship. Remember, a key to selling is creating a climate in which the prospect feels comfortable and confident doing business with you.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with selling to a friend. As one trailer dealer once told me, "Make money from your friends, because you’re sure not going to make any from your enemies."

Direct mail

After the prospecting phone call, follow up with, at the very least, a letter. This reinforces your telemarketing efforts. Include printed literature that shows the quality of your work. You might even include some of the vinyl manufacturers’ brochures, explaining the value of graphics.

When developing direct-mail materials, understand your audience. To whom are you selling, and what do they really want? You can structure your marketing message in various ways. Appealing to potential clients’ egos — and, in turn, their sense of pride in how their business is represented, including a graphic program — is one option. Or, focus your message on the public relations and advertising value of effective commercial graphics.

Advertising, direct mail, newsletters or even a short letter of introduction helps open many doors to decisionmakers who would otherwise be inaccessible. Marketing should create a favorable climate that makes prospects receptive to hearing your sales message. Regularly sending newsletters or direct mail, for example, helps build your company’s name recognition and credibility. It also acquaints would-be customers with your products and services. Plus, direct-marketing materials help prospects recognize your name and company when you call for an appointment.

Direct mail should emphasize the primary benefits prospects will derive from doing business with your company. The message needs to provide the decisionmaker a reason to give you some of his valuable time to listen to your presentation. What value do you offer? What makes your sales proposal unique and different? What sets you apart from your competition? What are your company’s strengths, and how can you leverage them to your advantage?

Before writing your letter of introduction and calling prospects, collect information about them. During this intelligence gathering, try to discover why they might want to change their graphics vendor. Remember, if prospects are content with their current program, you really don’t have an opportunity.

I worked for one very successful sales manager who always sent prospects a letter before calling. If he noticed a graphics problem, such as vinyl that’s edge-lifting, cracking, or fading, he would photograph the failure and send the picture with his letter. In the letter, he would merely state that he wanted to call this problem to their attention and would like an opportunity to discuss ideas for preventing recurring problems.

A few days after sending the letter, he would follow up with a call. Using a letter with photographs was his technique for gaining prospects’ attention and disrupting their homeostasis. If you don’t shake things up a little, there’s no reason for potential customers to change the status quo.

Of course, not everyone we target has an acute problem, so we can’t always save the day with innovative graphic solutions. Many of our prospects are perfectly satisfied with their existing graphics programs. In cases such as these, you might consider sending prospects a photograph of a competitor’s new graphics. Nobody likes to be outdone by a rival company, so the picture might generate interest and give them a reason to want to talk to you.

Next month, Jim will discuss how to make effective cold calls, survey a prospective client’s inventory and deliver a knockout sales pitch.

Jim’s Tips

* All the talent in the world won’t overcome a lack of hard work.

* If you hire salespeople, pay them on commission.

* Telemarketing is a valuable source for information, prior to making sales calls.

* Use database software, such as ACT, to track existing customers and prospects.

* Create direct-mail campaigns that will grab potential customers’ attention. If you see graphic problems on their vehicles or in their stores, take pictures and send them with the literature.
 

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