Several years ago I was brought in by a friend to consult on a new product being offered by a new company. My partner and I helped the new entrepreneur set up his marketing department and sales scripting/messaging, and off to the stars he went with his new product. Fast forward to the present, his company now offers 50 products aimed at a high-demand market with average competition. His product is outstanding, has brand-recognition, fair prices, and a market that wants his product. The company has been very successful and on the surface, still appears to be so.
I ran into my former client and his new partner/investor at CES this past January and was disappointed to find that their sales are tanking. He invited me to lunch and we discussed what was going on. Several flags began waving the moment we sat down with our trade-show sandwiches and Gatorade.
“Sales are so bad, we’re planning to lay off a couple of sales people.”
WHAT?? Do they really suck? Are they stealing? Are you grossly overpaying them?
“No, but we need to cut overhead. We’ve contracted some athletes connected with an energy drink to help raise our profile, and I think they probably sell more than our sales guys.”
I held my tongue until more information was shared.
What are you doing on the social media front?
“We have a Facebook page, we tweet about our new products, and we share our press releases through a few social media outlets.”
How are you engaging end users to bring them into the dealer stores? What kind of marketing opportunities are you providing your dealers?
“We can’t really afford to do much, so we provide them with sales literature and they can always use our YouTube videos.
By now, I’m almost speechless.
“We’re really not doing anything, what the dealers do is up to them so long as they observe our MAP (Minimum Advertised Price).”
What are your sales people doing to generate new channels, bring on more dealers?
“Our dealer network is great, we don’t want to water down the product by selling it to just anyone, we like the concept of remaining the big name, available only through prime retailers. We feel the exclusivity inspires dealers to sell our product first.”
I kept peppering the partners with questions, but one thing became apparent; in the process of having a great product, a great brand, and a great opportunity, the concept of great sales has escaped them. Instead of reaching outwardly, their ego has allowed them to reach a point where they expect business to come to them. That concept worked really well in the 90’s, but let’s face it, the world of Amazon and iTunes, 3D printing and overnight delivery have changed our world. The internet has both broadened and narrowed our customer base. But the attitudes that many business owners have hasn’t changed with technology or innovations in communication/messaging. This is a recipe for corporate death.
Many companies suffer from what I’ve long called the “Field of Dreams-itis.”“ If you build it, they will come” doesn’t hold true in the shifting world of sales. Engaging customers, whether direct sales, dealership support, B-to-B, or indirect sales has never been easier yet is very frequently ignored for a variety of reasons.
Another problem this company is facing is that they’re relying on “industry experts/athletes” to draw attention to the products. This simply isn’t enough. Putting up a Facebook page that remains static simply isn’t enough. It’s like hiring a clerk to stand at the door and wave, vs directing customers to wherever their needs will be satisfied.
Add in that the sales staff are “clerking” (taking orders vs actually selling) and it’s no wonder sales are diminishing. Sales is an art form, and expecting non-sales people to sell is like expecting a non-mechanic to know how to change the gaskets in your car. Industry experts are great, but if they can’t sell, they’re useless in a rough economy. They’re more about the ego of the business owners to be associated with big names and their big-name sports drink than they are about creating a profitable environment in which the business can grow. The first priority of any business is to sell. Whether it’s selling an intangible service, a physical product, or a method of operation, sales is always first because sales generates the revenue that drives the rest of the company. If the company is struggling, bolster the sales and marketing team instead of diminishing them. They are the next most important investment after the cost of goods.
Many business owners forget that one may have a trailer load of gold bullion in the middle of the desert, yet without a tractor to pull it, the bullion is of no use to any one and is as valuable as a trailer load of lead.
However, all is not lost for this company. Perhaps some of their problems are yours, too. Their hope is what spawned this article.
- We laid out some very basic sales strategies.
- We laid out some very basic customer/end-user and dealer support scripting and practices.
- We laid out how to monitor this process without using expensive CRM software.
It’s only been about 50 days, yet there is already a discernible difference in both the result and workforce. Of course there is the initial surge of energy and re-vitalization that occurs after any significant shift in how sales people and customer relations are managed, yet the excitement is sustainable when results are measured and realized.
None of the basic strategies laid out over lunch will save this company, but have so far offered up a slower decline and one salesperson has improved their numbers using elementary 101 techniques coupled with appropriate sales management strategies.
Fear is not a motivator. It destroys morale, generates concern for “will I have a job tomorrow?” and overall is destructive to a comfortable atmosphere.
With this in mind my friends, I’d urge you to use the revitalizing spring season to your advantage.
Offer your sales people new sales strategies.
Show them how their lives, their jobs, their work experience can be more positive and exciting if they meet their goals.
Inspire them to dig into your product and learn more about how it works. Create an environment of trust. If your product is a physical product, encourage sales staff to take the product home (when possible) to learn how to use it. One of my clients held a contest for his sales staff; “Who can make the best 3 minute video using our POV camera product?” The winner received a small award, tradeshow swag, bragging rights, and 2 tickets to a Lakers game. The cost of exciting the staff (which resulted in staff training), was minimal but the impact was massive.
Incentivize. Support. Foster a fun environment. Recognize achievements.
Show your staff how their efforts improve the lives and well-being of your customers, and in turn, your customers will improve the lives and well-being of the sales staff. Employees will be more engaged when they truly believe that their work has a positive impact not only on the company they work for, but for themselves as individuals.
Keep symbols of success out in the open. Share letters, phone calls, or other instruments of communication that praise your staff. If there aren’t such instruments, create them through goal-setting and milestones of achievement.
NEVER stop training your salespeople. Even the best of the best of the best know this and implement fresh information. Zig Ziglar, Tommy Hopkins, even the ancient antiquated J. Douglas Edwards material is timeless and relevant to the modern world of sales.
While you are training them, listen to what they tell you they need for training, tools, techniques. Invest in your staff and they’ll pay you dividends in both attitude and revenue.
A good sales and marketing operational strategy similar to a battle campaign. A good battle campaign requires a smart leader, a general. A good general stays in touch with his Forward Operating Base, or the “boots on the ground.” Remember that at the end of the day a good general can win a skirmish with only soldiers and himself. Support staff is valuable, but not vital to short-term success. Good soldiers should be able to rapidly assess their customer needs, and the general and his executive staff (buyers, marketing, warehousing, etc) are all there for one sole reason; to win the battle that the soldiers are waging, fighting for every last dollar available within your industry.
Although this should go without saying, your business is ENTIRELY about the customer/client, and those that are the face of your business need to be empowered, supported, respected, and rewarded when they properly face your business and messaging. It’s entirely about serving your customer’s wants, needs, and desires at a profit to the company, and the people best equipped to accomplish this task are your front line and messaging teams. Energy drink athletes are terrific marketing tools when properly matched with a sales team strategy, but these ‘industry experts’ are not ‘sales people.’
These are the irreplaceable pillars of every successful company.
Make no mistake. The sales and marketing team is by far the most important component of, and investment in, to any successful organization. When losing the battle, the last thing a smart general would ever do is pull his infantry from the field and attempt to support the campaign via non-soldiers fighting the war. In other words, lose HR, accounting, buyers, operations personnel, even janitors while leaving an effective sales and marketing team in place. If the sales and marketing teams aren’t effective partners then either inspire them to be so or replace them with people that are. A product-dumb sales pro is far more desirable than a product expert who cannot sell. A marketer that can execute co-opted campaigns with the sales staff and advertising staff is far more desirable than a PR person who can whip up fluffy, feel-good quips. Use what you have. Find intelligent ways to direct the staff to do more with less. Use community resources, develop video sales tools, use tools like YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, etc to keep your messaging consistent and constant.
Sales and marketing=peanut butter and jelly. They go together. They are the front line. They are the rainmakers. Give them whatever tools necessary, even if it means cutting the company lunch budget or not being part of the next Warrior Dash event sponsorship.
Otherwise, one might as well just hire 16 year-old clerks to take orders, the same kid that thinks “Closes” are something they put on their body in the morning, one arm and leg at a time.
Check back in 90 days for an update on my friend’s company.