Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your Leads--Where (And How) To Find Customers

One criticism of my book says it should have covered more on how and where to find customers. Good point. Let’s explore that a bit more here.

The book may be slightly biased toward a supplier-to-retailer point of view, but finding and acting upon leads (discussed in Chapter 7 under the subheading “Leads”) should be similar in any business. Whether you are repping from a raw materials source to a manufacturer, from manufacturer to distributor, or distributor to retailer, or even in a direct to consumer situation, finding new customers is something that should almost be second nature.

Whatever industry you choose to be a rep in, you should be familiar and experienced in that industry to begin with mainly so you will be credible to your customers and targeted accounts. Increasingly, the way to scope out new leads in whatever field you are in is: online—the web, internet, whatever you want to call it. It used to be Yellow Pages or industry guides. Even if you can still utilize these kinds of print materials, you can easily find out what they are and where to obtain them online. (Note: one of the books appearing on Amazon alongside mine is The National Register of Independent Reps, a long-popular guide for the apparel industry).

I mention leads lists in the book; from my experience these can be OK at best and a thorough rip-off at worst. Twenty years ago it was not unusual to buy such industry-specific lists from a company that had developed some program that basically searched out leads from the worldwide web, phone directories (that were uploaded to a data base), and other similar sources. Why bother buying such a list now, when with a bit of detective work on your own computer, you may have access to the same list for free?

Travel can yield new leads—just getting in another town and looking around, or chatting up locals can help you discover possible candidates for you to sell to. Zoning laws usually lump similar businesses in the same areas, or types of areas--ever notice that? This is particularly useful if some new business has popped up since you last visited that area. But again, you can also find such info online via Yellow Pages or new phone listings under that specific classification.

If you are selling to non-retail, in other words to manufacturers or distributors, your target listing will not be quite as large as if you are focusing in on the retailers of your industry. The commissions might be just as good, if not better, since the order size may be typically bigger. In Pharmaceuticals, for example, you might sell for several companies dealing in raw materials used to make drugs, and you sell to about two dozen drug manufacturers. This is the same industry where you might take a different route and sell for a few drug manufacturers to more than 100 doctors and a handful of pharmacies.

In either situation, finding your possible customers should be something you already know how to do. There must be publications in the medical industry that are chock full of ads that can give you a clue. Word of mouth from several doctors or pharmacies might help. Trade shows and other events within the industry will be a source. These last two are still important if you sell direct to consumer; think of “Avon Calling”, Tupperware parties, the dreaded insurance salesman who asks for referrals, or Amway distributors and other multi-level marketers.

Whatever situations you encounter, always study your industry and its players online using multiple search methods and phrases. "Pharmacies-N.Carolina" or "Doctors, OBGyn, N.Carolina", "Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, SE USA" will give you results in many forms.

You may find your business drifting back and forth into a certain sub-culture of your industry. In my case, this recently involved motorcycle-related apparel. Much of the licensed apparel industry I’ve dealt with has been in music and entertainment licenses. A few years ago several of the “Choppers”-related TV licenses yielded huge sales in various products—apparel was just one of them. As that fad died down, I kept a bit of contact with the motorcycle dealers I had sold until the next possible opportunity came along.

It did when one of my lines was awarded a Harley-Davidson® license. So in this case, I did not have to go looking for many new leads. In most cases, I was merely dusting off and refreshing a sales rep/buyer relationship. Morale here: keep those Rolodex cards because you never know when you’ll use them again. As for other motorcycle accounts I was not familiar with from a few years before, well, it’s pretty easy to hunt down a website to get a list of official Harley-Davidson dealers in whatever region you want to explore.

It’s important to realize that growing your business via new customers is just one way to do it. Other methods involve selling more products to existing customers (you being an independent rep should be able to handle multiple lines) and getting customers to come back more often to order from you (sales, incentives, promotions, seasonal opportunities, etc.). It’s also important that once you have found a new set of leads, you convert them, in other words, get them to place that first order!!! Not all leads will buy from you the first time you contact them. Keep after them, listen to them, and alter your sales pitch accordingly.

“A good rep sells solutions” is as true as it ever was, and this gives a clue to another way to see your business increase. Look for flaws in your accounts, listen to their frustrations. From there, see how you and your products, or better ways to merchandise and display your products, can help. As much as 33% of my present six-figure income is attributed to such “solution-selling”.

These other subjects will be covered in the future…for now, though, try to schedule yourself to find new sources of leads at least once monthly using any of the methods discussed above.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Time--Have We Forgotten How To Figure This Out?

This will not be a treatise on “time management”; even though there are many folks out there that need time management skills, and there are plenty of books and articles already on that subject. Rather, this article will be about the fundamental basics on how to tell time. Does it seem like nobody knows how to do that anymore?

It goes way beyond hassling your kids to wake up, be ready, arrange to be dropped off or picked up—at a certain specific hour, anymore. It happens in business a lot too, and it may be one of the reasons why it seems like it’s hard to get things done these days.

Here’s a typical exchange:
“Hello, this is Mr. Smith, and I’m returning Mr. Jones’ call, is he in?”
The receptionist, if a company has one (as opposed to a phone tree from Hell, but that’s another story), says
“No I’m sorry he’s not. May I ask what this is regarding?”
“Gee, I don’t know, he called me.”
“Well would you like to leave a message?”
(What does one say to this?!?!?!)
“Um, no thanks…tell you what…do you know about when he will be back?”
(Here it comes!):
“Oh, I imagine it will be later”.
“What time (emphasis added) later?”
“Probably this afternoon”.
Afternoon, as defined by just about any dictionary, covers at least a six-hour period from 12.00 noon up to closing time, so this answer is insufficient. Most of us will start to feel like we’re getting the brush-off at this point, but remember: Jones called Smith in the first place! And since hardly anyone is courteous enough to return calls anymore, why should the courteous Mr. Smith get this kind of aggravation?
Smith will continue:
“OK, what is a good time to call him back this afternoon?”
Receptionist says “How about after lunch?”
Oh, does everyone eat lunch at the same time, regardless of time zone?
“What time is that?”
Smith asked this question a few minutes ago, you’ll recall, and has now asked it three times.
Finally, the receptionist says:
“From 1.00 to 2.00 pm”.
Well, at least that gives Smith a 60-minute window of opportunity. He should now ask,
“What is a good time during that hour when you think he’ll be catching up on his calls?”
…But chances are good this will lead to more frustration.

Whether communicating or setting meetings, appointments, whatever… the ability for anyone to tell anyone else what the big hand and little hand should look like when they want to get something done—well, it seems to be a lost skill. And digital clocks should have made it easier, but they didn’t.

Is Technology the culprit to blame here? After all, cell phones have time on them now, and it’s automatically 100% correct time, no matter the time zone you’re in! It gets set and changes for you automatically—how cool is that? Your PC has the time, complete and accurate, all the time, down in the corner. These devices also have functions that notify you when an important time is coming up, or you can use the good old fashioned appointment diary found in any stationary or office supply store. So…What’s the problem?

We don’t need as many watches or clocks all over the place like we used to, our devices have kind of solved that problem. But we still need to know: WHAT TIME?

I would be real curious to see results of any study that investigated how much wasted communication and wasted time results with needless back and forth phone banter, emails, whatever-form-of-dialog by someone’s inability to simply name a specific time on the clock. Communication of this nature should involve only a few lines of dialog, or two e-mails—one to and one from. Why then, does it seem like it takes ten times that amount to answer the question “What time?”

The clock still has either a face with 1 through 12 going around it, or it is a digital clock reading out the current time in easy-to-read numerals. Has anyone invented a clock (that was not a joke) that reads “After Lunch”, “Later”, “This afternoon” or “Sometime tomorrow”? No, they haven’t. Clocks are pretty much standard all over the world.

Save everyone you do business with some time. Be aware how to schedule time, tell time as well as use time.