What's Holding Back Your Promotional Products Sales?
Excuses, excuses, excuses. We, as salespeople, have become experts on coming up with excuses for why we haven’t achieved our numbers, hit our goals or made time to prospect new business. It’s no wonder an entire market exists of peddling easy-button sales solutions and magic-potion programs. So many promotional products sales professionals today are looking for the next new thing to automate their responsibilities. Technological advancements have made many tasks easier, both personally and professionally. We continue to focus our search toward other tools and sales programs that execute the jobs we find challenging, uninteresting or unimportant, but too often fail to understand the value of or lack of effectiveness. For many, prospecting is one of those daunting tasks. Let’s be real: Sales is not easy. To be a successful salesperson requires dedication, determination and discipline.
Sure, some sales/marketing programs out there work, whereas some just provide short-term results to generate a few quick sales. But there is no structure to build brand loyalty or long-term relationships with your customers. I’m not here to say we shouldn’t use technology to our advantage—quite the contrary. There are a lot of tools to help make us more efficient and more productive in our day-to-day tasks and organization, but nothing out there is going to do the work for you. It boils down to having an accurate expectation of how said tool is going improve your business, not do your business. Sales is a person-to-person function in which we buy from people—people we know, like and trust, as the saying goes. It should come as no surprise that we make decisions tied to emotion, and emotions are strongly connected to the people we have relationships with. Even in a world of e-commerce and artificial intelligence, recent studies have shown that over 50 percent of consumers will abandon a purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their question. Over 40 percent say that having questions answered by a live person during the purchase is one of the most important elements of the buying experience. This is why you—the person who obtains personality, flexibility and understanding—are the difference between making a sale or losing the business.
The greatest hold-back expressed by sales people is the lack of prospecting and generating qualified leads, or having the time to do so. Now, many sales experts will have you believe that cold calling is dead. Truth be told, cold calling is alive and well. Sure, it may have taken on a new form and is seen in a new light, but I assure you it exists today and is a necessity in sales. What does cold calling look like today? Keep in mind that the term originated during a time when the phone was the dominant channel of communication and affordable advertisement. Today, we have a multitude of channels to reach our customers, tell our stories and gain information. Cold calling can still be a phone call, and an effective method at that. However, we can also prospect through social media, e-blast/email, broadcast media, web-based or direct mail, etc. Cold calling simply describes the necessity for brand awareness and generating opportunity in any way, shape or form. Embrace the necessity to prospect and leverage every outlet to your advantage.
It wasn’t long ago someone came to me (we’ll call him John) and said, “This whole internet thing isn’t going to last.” Well, it’s here to stay, my friends. At the time, I didn’t engage that conversation much further, but John was most likely struggling to adapt, compete and communicate in a new space, and therefore making excuses for his performance. At some level, he likely felt threatened that technology would replace his role in the company and reduce his level of importance to the customer. This emotion is not unique to our friend John. In many similar situations, it’s a completely normal reaction to retaliate against what we do not understand. By knowing that about ourselves, we can then safeguard against and overcome those obstacles. Nevertheless, beneath the surface of John’s statement I have to make the assumption he also had a deep understanding of the importance of relationships in business. What John failed to understand was that his job wasn’t in jeopardy (sales performance aside), but that his responsibility to the customer had changed.
Prospecting has changed because the way we communicate has changed. Customers today rely less on the salesperson for basic information. Instead, when they reach the knowledge or engagement milestone of the sales process, they seek this information more conveniently and more quickly through modern communication. Your customers have more options, and are more aware of those options, than they ever have in the past, which obviously makes the marketplace that much more competitive. Sure, you can lower prices and increase marketing spend to make yourself seem more appealing, which will probably generate quick results. But, again, there will be no sustainability or longevity to that approach. Today, more than ever, the salesperson is expected to be an expert in their industry, to provide a level of service and support that surpasses all others, to form bonds with customer’s and cultivate loyalty.
As a general rule, the sales you’re producing today (good or bad) are the results of the work you did or didn’t do 90 days ago. Customers and opportunities don’t just magically appear. Failing to fill your pipeline today will reduce the flow to a trickle, until it eventually runs out. Prospecting and cold calling may be uncomfortable, challenging and time consuming, but none of that excuses your obligation to bring in business. This function is paramount to the success of your sales performance.
Matt Wagner is a national award-winning sales and marketing professional. Recognized for his expertise in creativity, cultivating relationships and effective communication practices, Matt’s expertise extends from his background as a performing musician, educator and manager in a highly competitive music industry, which led to his success as a designer and marketing consultant to local and national brands before entering the promotional products industry in 2012. Today, Matt resides in Saint Cloud, Minnesota with his wife and daughter, where he serves as vice president of sales for supplier firm Fields Manufacturing.