Slow Economy? Simply Slam-dunk Sales
THE CULTURE OF sport is everywhere. In the boardroom, managers are quarterbacking projects while employees take care of basic blocking and tackling. Good political speeches are home runs and off the field, everyone knows the terms “chip shot” and “gimme.” In light of this, Promo Marketing talked to three industry experts about the state of selling team and sport products with special emphasis on how distributors can continue to prosper with an economy that has lost a step or two.
CONTROL THE PACE OF THE GAME
Whether it’s grinding out a nine-minute drive before halftime in football or putting pressure on the ball as it’s brought up the court in basketball, the team that dictates the tempo usually wins. In sales, especially during a downturn, it’s important to think about the basic sales strategies which may not be so relevant in a stronger market. According to John Ricci, field sales manager for the Yorktown Heights, New York-based Game Sportswear, a distributor should focus on managing the conversation. “I would ask the customer what category of product do they have interest in, such as moisture-management polos, fleece, work wear, nylon tops, warm-ups and wool leather jackets,” he said, adding the emphasis should be on the end-users’ product interest, not the target cost range. “If you start with the price sensitivity, it’s harder to sell up,” Ricci added.
GIVE THE FANS WHAT THEY WANT
People don’t pay to see Manny Ramirez bunt or Annika Sorenstam hit irons out of the tee box. People want the long ball, the long drive, and end-users are people too. For distributors, the goal is to lead off with winning products that provide every advantage to make the sale. For Deryl W. Fauss, vice president of sales and marketing for Montgomery, Texas-based Spirit Industries, this means providing products made in the U.S. “95 to 98 percent of the products we carry in our line are made here in the USA,” said Fauss. “This means a great deal to me and to others, I believe.”
TAKE GOOD SHOTS
Some players in a slump will take unwarranted jump shots or swing at every pitch. Perhaps, the better option is to stay in tune with what has worked in the past. Slumping players should shoot from their spot and wait for their pitch. Promotionally, distributors shouldn’t stray from strong, quality products for new riskier ones. This is a sentiment echoed by Chuck Robinson, division sales manager for the Morgan Hill, California-based Specialized Bicycle Components. “Most of the objections are the price point of items out there they are looking to buy,” said Robinson. “But still, selling a high-quality item can in turn reap benefits as far as the projection the company is trying to make. It’s still a high-quality item and that says a lot about their company.”
GIVE THEM A HEAD START
It’s the classic playground goad. Two kids, one of them faster, trying to convince the other to race. It can just take one, “I’ll give you a head start,” and the game is on. In the sales world, one could consider special offers the proverbial head start. “For Game Sportswear,” said Ricci, “offering free embellishment on the opening order or free shipping on a set dollar amount has been effective. Decoration offers for the promotional market is a door opener.” And an open door is very important at a time when marketing departments are looking for places to save money.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ADAPT TO THE CONDITIONS
As an athlete ages, his or her body does not always respond in the same way. For baseball pitchers, velocity decreases and throws lose their pop. Wise players adapt by learning new pitches, improving control and, most importantly, reading hitters better. Distributors need to follow suit by finding new products, adjusting prices and reading the market. Fauss commented on this effect: “As the originator of the Foam #1 Finger, this item continues to be our No. 1 seller.” He further explained, “As costs continue to rise there will be those that want the same effect at a lower price. To combat this problem we have introduced the Foam #1 Hand in sizes ranging from 3" tall to the popular [original] 18" version.” As he put it, this allowed distributors and end-users to spend less and “still show ’em who’s No. 1.”
THERE’S A TEAM FOR EVERY SEASON
Just like baseball, basketball and football, promotional items are seasonal. In a time of slower sales, it is good to remember which product is most timely and focus on it. According to Robinson, “Every item is seasonal and it just depends on what [distributors] are trying to sell and what their end-users are trying to buy.” For his team, the end of summer marks the end of water bottle season and that is when he’ll evaluate the company’s performance.
After Tiger Woods muscled through an extra 19 holes with only one good leg to win the U.S. Open, the value of this message should be self-evident. A bad economy reaches into every industry and record energy costs are straining most budgets. Ricci sees this in his everyday routine. “As I work in the field these days it seems that most accounts feel it necessary to express the feelings of a struggling economy,” he explained. “I always take the approach to work harder during these times rather than put your head down and wait for the sun to come out.”
GET AN ALL-AROUND GAME
Only the rarest of rare can totally dominate every aspect of a sport. So good are they that one name identifies them globally—LeBron, A-Rod Venus and Serena. While there are few such instances in the business world (maybe Bill or The Donald), distributors need to think in terms of doing different things when end-users are tightening budgets. “The distributors that I see doing well during these times have all diversified,” said Ricci. “They may have sold strictly corporate in the past but now they are looking at the work-wear market or have hired sales reps to sell to schools.”
While some basic sales strategies may seem obvious or second nature, it’s always good to “practice up” on the basics that helped distributors gain original success. Ricci puts a hopeful light on it, and said distributors should believe, “when one door closes another few open.” Amen to that.