Head of Her Class
A SIGNIFICANT PART of promotional product sales requires instructing, demonstrating and coaching, not to mention frequent bouts with adding and subtracting—all activities generally associated with schooling. From the looks of things, it seems that a teaching degree or equivalent experience would be necessary in order to be successful in the industry. Maybe that’s a bit far-fetch, but it’s not impossible to find people from all walks of life who have pledged their allegiance to the rules of the industry upon relinquishing previous careers. And what better person to fall in line than a former public school teacher? Rosalie Marcus, Promo Biz Coach and founder of Lasting Impressions, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based distributorship, sat down with Promotional Marketing to discuss the A-B-Cs of selling and the role education plays in the promotional products industry.
PM: How did you get started in promotional product sales?
RM: I was a teacher in an inner city school in Philadelphia, my hometown, when a colleague introduced me to the promotional business during our summer break. From the first order I sold, I was hooked. I loved being in the business world, exploring new companies, finding out how they worked and presenting creative ideas.
I kept teaching part-time for several years while I was building my promotional sales. I realized after some serious soul searching that if I was ever going to make the business successful, I had to let the teaching job go and continue full speed ahead with Lasting Impressions Promotional Products. Within three years, my promotional business was cited as one of the 100 Fastest Growing Companies in my region, and although at the time I was a divorced, single parent, I was able to experience financial independence.
PM: What connection is there between the field of education and the promotional products industry?
RM: Hard selling sales techniques went out with the last century. Today, you’re not persuading people to buy promotional products, you’re educating them on how promotional
products can help them overcome their toughest business challenges, such as increasing sales, recruiting new employees, decreasing accidents in the workplace and dozens of other ways. Promotional products can help them promote their product, their service or even themselves. Educate your prospects and clients by sharing case studies and industry research with them. It positions you as a professional.
PM: As a former educator, what role does your background play in the work you do today?
RM: Teaching in an inner city school taught me to be creative, to think on my feet and not to give up. It also helped me to become a good problem solver. All these skills helped tremendously in my promotional products sales career and in my career today as a business coach, sales trainer and speaker who specializes in helping people in the industry get their business up to speed and make a good income faster than they could on their own. What I do best is take the mystery and struggle out of growing a highly profitable promotional products business.
My teaching background helps me to produce programs, products and services that tell you exactly what you need to boost your promotional products sales and income in language that is easy to follow and understand. I make it fun and share my own personal experiences. Nothing I recommend is pie-in-the-sky theory. It’s all been proven and time-tested.
PM: What are the A-B-Cs of selling?
RM: The three things to keep in mind are:
A—stands for “Attitude.” It sounds like common sense, but a positive attitude is a must for promotional products consultants. Sales can be tough and there may be some days when you just feeling like giving up. This is where your attitude comes in. I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with positive role models and being mentored or coached. I always have a motivating book on my night table and I listen to motivating audio in my car and office. I focus on what I want to happen, not what I don’t want in my business and my life.
B—stands for “Be proactive.” Don’t wait for something to happen. Take action every day. Follow up with all your best prospects within 24 hours. Stay in touch with your current clients on a regular basis, once a month or more. Call with the attitude of ‘What can I do to help you,’ not ‘What can I sell you.’ Constantly look for new opportunities. The wonderful thing about the promotional products business is that the sky is the limit. Just about every company can use your help. Decide whom you want to pursue and learn as much as possible about their business and challenges. Then, develop a strategy for getting your foot in the door of those companies.
C—stands for “Commitment.” Be committed to being the best you can be. That means get as much education as possible. Surround yourself with positive role models. Join industry organizations and never stop learning. And of course, be committed to your clients and prospects. Show them how much you care by the little things you do, such as providing order tracking and status updates and giving them some free marketing tips. You need to be doing something to differentiate yourself from the competition.
PM: One of your mantras is “work smarter, not harder.” Exactly how can distributors accomplish this?
RM: I’m a big believer in the 80/20 principle. Twenty percent of your clients are responsible for 80 percent of your income. Focus most of your time and efforts on the top 20 percent. Treat them better, reward them, stay in touch more often and watch your business grow.
Consistently evaluate how you are spending your time. Be willing to let go of low profit activities and clients.
The key to working smarter is not time management. Trying to do more in less time won’t work. The key to working smarter is concentrating on doing more of the right things, those high-payoff activities that reap the most rewards. Concentrate on the things in your business you’re naturally good at and love doing. Passion for your work and success go hand in hand.
Look for shortcuts. Always ask yourself, ‘How can I make this task easier,’ and be willing to delegate. You can’t be great at everything. Concentrate on what you do best, and dump or delegate the rest. This doesn’t have to be a big expense. You can start out with part-time help. Some of my best assistants have been college students or mothers with grade school children.
Another work-smarter strategy I believe in is having a preferred supplier list. I would suggest picking three to five suppliers from each of the top-selling industry categories and focus on them. You’ll be more familiar with the lines they sell, qualify for better pricing and have a lot less paperwork and stress. This doesn’t mean you can’t work with other suppliers outside of your preferred list, it just means this is who you are going to do the bulk of your business with.
PM: What are some of your top sales-boosting techniques that distributors can put into action now?
RM: Concentrate on markets that can give you larger orders and repeat business. When I first started out, I thought everyone was a good prospect for me and consequently, I spent a lot of time on small, once-a-year orders.
If you’re not sure what industries can give you large orders and repeat business, look at the top five buyers of promotional products: education, healthcare, not-for-profit organizations, financial and government. If you go after one of those markets intelligently, by learning as much as possible about their needs ahead of time, your sales will take off.
Another great selling strategy is to form alliances with people who serve the same target market, but are not direct competitors, such as meeting planners, graphic designers and trade show display companies. Look for ways to refer business to each other. I call this leveraging. You can spend hours making cold calls or you can spend time forming alliances and get business to come to you.
PM: Besides the standard resources of the Internet and supplier catalogs, what are some creative ways distributors can educate themselves about promotional products?
RM: Attending industry trade shows is a must. It’s an opportunity to meet suppliers face to face and get some great selling ideas. There is great free education at all the national industry trade shows. I’m a life-long learner, so I can never get enough education.
I also recommend joining industry trade associations. Networking with your fellow promotional products professionals is a great way to get educated. This is a friendly industry and there is a lot of sharing that goes on. We can all learn from each other.
Also, study what’s hot in the retail market. MP3 players like iPods will soon be as ubiquitous as televisions. Technology is changing at warp speed. What you see happening around you will be mirrored in the promotional products industry. We already see hundreds of products for holding cell phones, iPods and PDA’s. If you regularly read the business section of your local newspaper, follow national trends and are aware of what’s going on around you, you’re educating yourself and you’ll be one step ahead of the competition.
PM: What services do you provide that can help distributors “shorten their learning curve?”
RM: This is an easy industry to get into, but not an easy one to be successful at unless you’re knowledgeable.
There are three problems that I generally see with most new distributors and even some established ones: they’re new to the industry and just a bit overwhelmed by all the products, suppliers and new lingo they need to know; they’re not sure how to differentiate themselves from the competition; they’re selling a lot, but their profit margins are low and consequently, they’re not making the income they desire.
My programs, products and services help distributors overcome these challenges and shorten the learning curve by giving them proven strategies, short cuts, action steps and ongoing inspiration to boost their sales and incomes.