As we come out of Thanksgiving and roll into the holiday season, I find myself gasping for breath.
Sales is a fun endeavor, with lots of randomity. On any given day, I’m cold calling, following up on leads, generating proposals and following through on existing orders to make sure my customers are well satisfied.
The last point deserves some mention, for both buyers and sellers. In the age of the almighty Internet, buyers have unprecedented access to a wide variety of vendors. I was talking the other day to an account that buys custom printed envelopes from a small printer in Iowa. By “small” I mean the printer was a one-man operation. My prospect said he found the guy on the Internet while searching for a good price.
Given the fact that there seems to be more competition than ever, most sales people seem to succumb to cutting their price to be competitive. I view it differently. I’m not a low-price guy. I save my customers money by consulting with them to design the form or options that best fits their needs. I follow the process from start to finish, including the production, delivery and follow up stages to ensure my customers are satisfied. When there’s a problem or delay, I let my customers know in a timely fashion so they are not left guessing at where their product is. I answer my phone!
While all of this may seem to limit how much business I can win, on the contrary, I build a loyal customer base that understands the value of service.
As a buyer, keep in mind that the low price guy may not be the best option, especially if you want a quality product, or if you want to know that the vendor you’re using will get your product right and on-time.
I believe good is ultimately a better value than just good enough.
As salesmen and business owners, we have limits. How many leads can I generate? How many prospects can I see or call per day? How many presentations can I make to decision makers? How many deals can I close?
The latter questions are the ones salesmen, management and business owners are most concerned with, because closing deals is where the money ultimately comes from.
However, the first few questions can be the most challenging questions to answer. Salesmen spend a great deal of their time trying to generate viable leads to present their products and services to. If the average salesman was spending 80% of their time making presentations and closing deals, they would be highly successful. Indeed, this is what highly successful salesmen do. They use referrals, marketing, social media and other means to generate leads for them so they can spend the majority of their time selling.
Having said that, I find that I am extremely busy. Between managing my staff, following up on existing leads and presentations, taking care of existing customers, managing our social media and website content, etc., I find that I lack the time to diligently prospect and cold call. Much like any manager and/or business owner, I find myself needing about 5 more of me than I have to get everything done.
On the other hand, I know that I can do a better job, with better service at a more competitive price than my competition. All I need is more business.
This is where you come in. If you refer customers to me, I’ll give you a 10% finders fee on the first order. If they order $200, you get $20. If they order $1000, you get $100. And, I’ll reciprocate by giving you leads in return when I can.
If you have a business and would like to use me, I’ll give you a 10% discount for mentioning this blog.
My areas of expertise: business forms, custom print, business cards, envelopes, postcards, 4 color process, business check printing, pressure seal, labels (stock and custom), tax forms, printer toner and supplies, and storage media.
Promotional product lines: Calendars, holiday cards, trade show giveaways, custom apparel (screen printed or embroidered), tools, banners, signs and magnets.
Yes, we do all of that and much more. We’ve been satisfying customers for 29 years, and we’re always looking to help more people.
Accurate Forms & Supplies
In our never-ending quest to save money or get a great deal, we often forget all that goes into a purchase. How reputable is the seller? What happens if I need to return the item? What if I’m not happy with my product or service? How convenient and responsive is the seller’s customer service?
For example, let’s say you want to buy some business cards. You call a professional printer (such as my company) to get a quote. After consulting with you as to budget, design, and features, the printer quotes you, say $50 per 1000.
Next, you browse the internet and come across an online company that has stock designs that you simply input your personal information over. The same 1000 cards costs only $20! Wow, great deal! Seeing such a great price, you jump on the internet site and order your cards.
After waiting a week, you receive your cards and realize that the name is misspelled. You go back to the website and realize that you typed in the name wrong, and got exactly what you ordered. The company you bought the cards from has an automated phone tree that takes 5 minutes to get through. Then, you get a voicemail (or worse, get stuck in a phone queue for 30 minutes). By the time someone answers your call after 30 minutes on hold (or after a day in the case of voicemail or email), you’re understandably frustrated. Hearing your angry tone (no doubt the 30th angry voice they’ve heard that day), the customer service rep curtly explains that the online proof is considered your authorization, and you can’t get a refund or credit, but will have to reorder. Now, you’re either stuck with crossing your name off and writing it in, leaving it misspelled (both of which looks unprofessional) or reordering the cards.
At this point, if you decide to reorder, you’ve invested $40 plus all that time trying to get your issue resolved.
Had you gone with the first printer, you could have gotten a professional design uniquely suited to your business, an extra set of eyes to look over your information for errors, and an extra chance at officially proofing the information. If the cards came back wrong, you could call the printer and talk to a real person, possibly gotten a credit or reprint or had the situation otherwise handled smoothly.
While my example is centered around business cards, it applies to everything. Manufacturers are constantly cutting back on customer service, tightening their return policies and reducing customization; all in an effort to cut costs and offer everything dirt cheap. Unfortunately, if there is a problem of any kind, you’re facing a truly daunting task in trying to resolve the issue if you’ve chosen a dirt cheap vendor.
All this is not to say that you can’t get a great deal from a reputable company. All other things being relatively equal, I love cheap price as much as the next guy. But if I have to choose between a manufacturer that I know has lousy customer service and a company with great customer service that is a few percent higher, I choose the more expensive option.
Why? Because time is money. How much time would I spend on the phone trying to navigate to a decision maker, explain the problem (as he or she probably knows nothing about my order), haggle back and forth and finally get approval for a resolution to a problem that is due to the vendor’s error (let alone if I made a mistake)? That’s time that I should be spending on the phone getting more business or handling more important things in life.
Keep that in mind next time you’re out shopping. And show some love to those of us who work just as hard to deliver great service in addition to good prices.
The digital age was supposed to completely eliminate our need for paper, resulting in a complete reforestation of the Earth, empty landfills and a Golden Age for mankind (OK, I may be exaggerating a bit there). However, some 15-20 years later, copy paper, Post-it notes and business cards remain fixtures in virtually every office. Why hasn’t this vision of a truly paperless office become a reality?
One may just as well ask, why don’t we have flying cars? The parallel here is that they both seem like great ideas in theory, but fall short in practice. If some moron zips across 5 lanes of oncoming traffic, while updating their Facebook status to avoid having to circle back for that tasty cheeseburger or designer handbag on sale on the highway, chaos ensues. When they can do that in a flying car 1000 feet off the ground, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “the sky is falling”.
In a truly paperless office, the business cards, Postits, and stacks of forms are replaced by emails, instant messaging and computer desktops filled with so many icons, it begins to resemble a Monet painting.
(Monet’s Garden at Giverny) (a very cluttered desktop)
The happy medium, of course, is a hybrid of the two. While eliminating the clutter of stacks of paper does sound appealing (my desk is made of wood?), email and electronic documents are not an end-all answer either.
Email is great for the quick notes. “Did you get my request for information?” “How is that project coming along?” “Do you have pricing yet on that job?” These are all best done through email. For some, such quick-hit messages are being done through texting or instant messaging (IM for those who actually use it). My texting speed on my phone is about 5% as fast as the average teenager, but I do use texting. If you had to use Postit notes for every note, the office would quickly look like a pink and lime green blizzard recently rolled through.
When I want to go into greater depth, such as this article, I usually create a Word document, or if the information is general in nature, I create a blog like this one. I then copy a link to the article and email everyone I want to read it. I also post links to Facebook and Linkedin when appropriate.
That is the true advantage of electronic media: being able to reach lots of people at once. Imagine trying to write, “mandatory meeting at 10am Friday,” and physically copying that message 15 times, then walking to each person’s desk and handing it to them. Or, I type that message once, copy in all of the people I want to invite (or even better, creating a contact list and typing the name of the list), click Send and I’m done. Email marketing and online marketing are great tools for advertising specials, giving advice and showcasing new products to a mass audience.
Paper, in my opinion, is better for individual communications. If I want Susan in marketing to see a promotion, rather than the entire marketing department, I create a flyer, then print it out and give the physical copy to her. Paper is also better for long documents that require extensive time to read. I find that my eyes start to hurt after reading something for more that a few minutes on a computer screen. This is not so much of a problem with paper.
Ironically, as more and more communications move from paper to electronic formats, paper becomes more valuable as a medium. Back when email and electronic media were new, they were effective because they weren’t amid a pile of papers on a desk. Now, as email and other electronic communications are more and more ubiquitous (wide spread), paper gets noticed. If I get to my office and a have 20 emails and only 4 sheets of paper, I tend to look at the papers first. Psychologically, I feel more productive that way. I think, “I’ve got 2 tasks: one will take an hour, one will take 5 minutes. I’ll do the 5 minute task first.” Another factor is, paper seems a bit more personal, because it’s tangible. I can feel it. It has mass. Whereas an email can be deleted and forgotten, a flyer, postcard or business card can stick around. It winds up in a rolodex, drawer or filing cabinet. If it was a message or advertisement, the chances are it will get read more than once. Also, people tend to be nosey. They look over at what’s on their neighbor’s desk and glance at what’s there.
A paperless office may or may not ever become a total reality. Both paper and electronic media have their place in today’s world. If you use them correctly, you can stay organized, focused and remain successful and balanced.
Don’t forget to visit me on the following sites:
When I was working in the food service industry, I was continually shocked at how many restauranteurs assumed that if they opened their doors, cooked good food and kept the place free of vermin, people would beat down their doors. I was not so shocked that over half of new restaurants go out of business within 2 years of opening, and that number swells to about 90% within the first 5 years.
As a salesman, I often struggled to get ahead, as I was tied to a limited territory, and relied on cold calls and referrals to get new business. What I lacked was Marketing. As I’ve moved into the field of office supplies and custom printing, I’ve found that the successful players in the field, in EVERY field, have mastered the art of marketing; to one degree or another.
Marketing accomplishes a few key things for any business:
- It creates brand recognition. People buy from people and companies they either know from past experience, or have heard of or seen before. Marketing helps get the name of your business out there, either visually or aurally (by sound).
- It warms up prospects (slightly) to sales calls by you or your sales team. If they’ve seen an ad piece in print, on TV or on the radio, they are more likely to field a call than a completely blind cold call.
- It keeps your name in front of prospects. Often, a customer won’t buy from a cold call for various reasons: they don’t need your product or service at that time, they have a good relationship with a current vendor or business, or maybe they need to get the money or financing together. These factors can change. If all your prospect has is your business card mixed in a pile of other papers in the bottom of a drawer, what are the odds of them calling you first? But if they have 3-4 emails with excellent content, a postcard mailer or two, and a few promotional products with your name and contact info, your chances of getting a call back increases exponentially.
In this newsletter, I’m going to share some tips to help your business increase its marketing efforts, without creating a crater in your P&L statement.
Informational flyers and stationery
When making a call, instead of simply leaving a business card, leave something tangible. A simple informational letter would be OK to start, but I recommend something that catches the eye. Photos, color logos and color designs are more likely to grab attention than plain text. For example:
This photo illustrates some of the frustrations that our customers have when trying to design a custom form for their business. Instead of simply writing a list of benefits, including something to the effect of “we help you sort through the confusion of designing your custom business forms,” I included a picture that shows that frustration.
Full color postcards are great tools, as they are versatile. If you have a mailing list, you can send a postcard to promote an upcoming special or new item. Again, use graphics that are not only colorful, but evoke an image. Do you think it’s an accident that burger ads look so tasty? If you don’t have a mailing list, or want to give your sales team some to hand to their prospects or customers, postcards work great. They typically cost less than $.05 each, and they give you a lot more room for pictures, descriptions and other useful information than a business card.
Flyers work well when the decision maker is not in, or is tied up. Rather than bugging them by demanding to speak with them, a professional flyer that details some key benefits of doing business with your company, along with your name and contact information can be much more successful. Follow up is made easier, as there is an established reason for the call, namely, did the person get my information?
Business Referral Cards
Business cards are one of the most underutilized forms of marketing. A twist on the business card is the business referral card. The difference is you use the back of the card to offer referrals to your existing customers. Have a few lines where they can write their name and email address on the back. Then give them the card, so that they can give it to their friends. Offer them a commission on all referrals that are received. Additionally, you may want to offer a discount for the recipient to entice them to come in.
Instead of money, you can offer the people giving out the cards discounts on products. This tool combines referrals and word-of-mouth with incentive-based marketing. Restaurants love this tool, because it is more effective and cost effective than coupons.
In the next issue, we will be exploring online marketing in a bit more detail. Meanwhile, check out our website for more information about us or our product lines:
Also, please Like us on Facebook. We often post exclusive information and specials for our fans.
Have a great June everyone!
Accurate Forms & Supplies