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Optimizing Your Shop’s Sales

How to get past those sales hurdles

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A few years ago, a signmaker explained her problems getting past receptionists, which prevented her from speaking with prospects. Regardless of who you are, getting past the "gatekeeper" is a difficult hurdle. Receptionists and secretaries are often instructed to screen their boss’s calls. Many such veterans have heard every sales pitch imaginable, and you’ll rarely outfox them. Intimidating or bullying a receptionist doesn’t work either; if you push, be prepared for that person to push back. Rather than treating gatekeepers as adversaries, treat them with respect. Often, they don’t get the credit they deserve on the job. Try to make them feel important. One salesman I know introduced himself and said, "I need your help. I design and manufacture truck graphics. To whom should I speak?" He followed by asking for a convenient time to call or see that person. Open-ended questions helped make this person feel comfortable. In many other business-to-business sales, gatekeeper interaction requires time and effort to understand the intricacies of the prospect’s internal structure and buying process. Telemarketing yields some answers, but you can’t build relationships with a phone call. Nothing replaces face-to-face meetings. Making the call Within large companies, many players usually influence purchasing decisions. During graphics sales, the president, advertising manager, marketing manager, fleet manager and purchasing manager could all be involved. Fleet managers often schedule the trucks for installation, and they manage the program. The advertising or marketing manager is responsible for maintaining corporate image, and the money could come out of his/her budget. Purchasing managers act as gatekeepers to screen out unqualified vendors. And, of course, the company owner or president exercises final say. So, you need to understand company dynamics. You’ll often need to state your case several times to those with influence. If you don’t pull all key people into the process, someone may sabotage your efforts. Although the company president may like your proposal, others within the organization can kill the deal. These individuals typically implement major graphics programs. Many prefer the status quo; it means less work for them. To understand an organization’s complexities, try to cultivate a guide or sponsor. This person can help you navigate potential minefields. Your sponsor may be someone with whom you’ve previously done business. This ally can help you identify decisionmakers, avoid time-wasters, alert salespeople to problems, and help track progress during the selling process. Your sponsor mustn’t necessarily work for the prospect. For example, if you’re selling fleet graphics, you can glean valuable information and guidance from leasing-company salespeople. They know whom to contact, as well as who’s buying what and when. A former sales manager encouraged me to start each morning by taking a leasing salesperson out for breakfast or coffee. In many cases, industry friends will gladly recommend you to companies looking for a dependable, professional graphics provider. A network of contacts can inform you when changes occur, such as employees changing positions, or when a company buys a fleet of trucks or builds new stores. A business’s graphics purchases are usually an ongoing process, involving many different components, decisionmakers and contracts up for bid. Harvesting all account opportunities requires persistent, close contact. Identify individual opportunities and target each as its own sale, and develop an individual strategy for each component. Solid surveys Fleet- or building-graphics surveys and initial sales interviews help gather critical information. In these initial meetings, the salesperson must learn the key players who influence a buying decision; what, if any, problems they’re having with their current graphics vendor; and their decisionmaking structure. For some programs, a graphics survey helps develop an account strategy. A survey can unearth the current program’s graphics, such as fleet, wall, window, floor and POP applications. A survey can also identify strengths, weaknesses, inconsistencies and deficiencies in current programs. Subsequently, you can develop suggestions and designs for improvements. Major changes (or problems) trigger key opportunities, such as a new logo or a new advertising program. When inspecting current graphics, examine the decals’ conditions. Durability problems can result from wrong materials, improper substrate preparation, poor application techniques, incorrect cleaning methods or harsh environmental conditions. Solutions to these problems are prime opportunities for sales. Photograph cracking vinyl, edge lifting, tenting around the rivet heads, fading and other problems. Your sales presentation should provide solutions — material recommendations, engineering and processing alternatives, or care and cleaning recommendations. Removing old vinyl graphics and installing new decals can always be problematic. Faraway fleets and stores can further complicate the program. Learn where the vehicles and stores are located, and when they’re available for installation. Discern what problems the customer has faced and procedures used in prior applications. Naturally, indoor facilities are advantageous. Some programs require storing, packaging and shipping decals to various locations. Typically, the fabricator provides the customer with a monthly inventory report that lists beginning inventory, materials sent and ending balance. Because programs requiring storage can be very complicated — and create unhappy customers should problems arise — ask detailed questions to learn and understand their expectations. Appropriate questions include: * Is the customer satisfied with the current program’s management? * What would they change about their program? * What types of program complaints have they received from their other corporate locations? * How quickly do they receive their graphics following a release or order? When gathering information, understand prospective accounts’ climates. Do they have a reason to change? You win graphics programs when existing programs have problems: product performance, customer service and program administration. When corporate graphics become outdated and require a facelift, design can be a selling tool. Sometimes, price alone can spur change. However, customers will rarely change suppliers to save a few pennies; besides, who needs that sort of client? The willingness to change indicates dissatisfaction. Understand the problem, and then define remedies in your sales proposal. If a prospect enjoys all aspects of his present program, you have little opportunity for business. The only way to alter the company’s homeostasis is to demonstrate hidden problems or potential trouble. Your sales proposal should then solve these problems. Persuading decisionmakers Some compare the sales process to an attorney presenting a case before a jury. In the survey process, you collect evidence. The sales presentation involves making your case. Next, the deliberation phase begins, and, finally, the buyer — acting as the jury — weighs your proposal’s merits, and gives the ruling, hopefully in your favor. When developing contractual agreements, fully understand the customer’s application, the project’s durability requirements, the environmental demands the graphic will endure, and, in the case of digital printing, the level of photorealism and color reproduction the customer will accept. Equally important, the sales presentation must demonstrate to the customer that you can satisfy these needs and expectations. Accurately convey the finished product(s) your company can deliver. Salespeople commonly oversell and over promise their company’s capabilities, sometimes to the point that customers’ expectations exceed what can be delivered by today’s technology. Remember, when you construct a sales order, you create a contract that binds you to a stated level of performance. When you overstate that performance level, and misrepresent the products and services to be delivered, the contract’s terms are violated. A salesperson brings value to the buying process by acting as the buyer’s consultant. A salesperson’s job is to make the buyer’s decision easier by explaining their options and providing information required to make a decision. When vying for a job, you’ll often present your case at nearly the same time your competitors present theirs. Those evaluating your proposal will assess the differences. The buyer most likely has set decisionmaking criteria. Do you know the criteria, and does your proposal satisfy the prospect’s standards? I worked for one successful salesman that always included a "Criteria" section in each proposal. This section listed all considerations the prospect should ponder. By introducing a new set of standards, he changed the rules, thereby influencing the outcome. Subsequent proposal sections provided solutions and information that satisfied each criterion. To make his case, he covered: * Consistency and control: How will you ensure faithful reproduction of the client’s corporate image, from vehicle to vehicle, store to store, year to year? * Durability: Graphics must endure the program’s entire lifespan. * Machine-made vs. handmade: Make sure customers understand machine-made graphics are much less prone to mistakes. * Safety: As an example, he cited that trucks identified with reflective, vinyl markings provide motorists with advance warning that saves lives. Your sales proposal should emphasize what sets you, your company and your sales proposition apart. Why should the prospect select you over your competitor? As you’re concluding the deal, always make it easy for the prospect to make a big decision by first getting him to make decisions on a program’s minor details, such as design selection, color choices, approval of full-size production art, quantity, delivery date, and an agreement on the terms or conditions. Conclusion As in all professions, technology is revolutionizing sales. Some believe that, as e-commerce develops, outside salespeople won’t be needed. I don’t believe that will happen in my lifetime; making a deal is a face-to-face activity. Graphics sales require attention to detail, establishing and maintaining personal relationships, and understanding dynamics within an account. Further, it’s very difficult for a customer to order graphics over the Internet or phone. Selling vinyl graphics requires an intimate understanding of the buyer’s needs and problems, and the buying process within a particular organization.

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