Farquharson/Tedesco on Business Development: Sales: Harder Now or Before?
Today's print sales reps grumble that it's harder than ever to land new business. Decision-makers hide behind voice-mail and caller ID. "No one ever calls me back," they moan. Prices are all over the map and customer loyalty is a thing of the past. Doors are locked and business is less personal than it used to be, and on and on. In fact, some claim that all aspects of sales have never been more difficult than they are right now. "Things were better in the old days." But is that really true?
Is it harder to sell now or way back when? Let's look at a few sales challenges and make a comparison. Before we begin, let's define "way back when" as the pre-Internet era. If you need a more specific date, let's go with the early '80s. Mullets were hot and disco was dead. Okay. Let's have a look...
Sales Challenge #1: Finding a Hot Prospect
THEN—Identifying prospects took on two forms, primarily: You could work from a list or you could use your eyes and perform what was called "prospecting by driving around." Lists were outdated the second they were printed, but that is offset by the fact that people used to stick to one job longer, so they had a longer shelf life.
NOW—Google. Giga Alerts. LinkedIn. Jigsaw. Hoover's. What more is there to say?
Regardless of whether it's today or yesterday, the process of growing new business starts with identifying worthy prospects. There is a difference between finding a prospect and finding a quality prospect. Al Gore has given us a tool that makes it possible to scan through mountains of data until we find just the right company or companies to call on. With just a few keystrokes, it is possible to uncover hot markets, hot verticals and hot prospects. In addition, the Internet has made networking easier and faster. Answer: Harder then...in a landslide!
Sales Challenge #2: Getting Someone on the Phone
According to Wikipedia, voice-mail started becoming popular in the early '80s. Back then, the purpose of voice-mail was to capture missed calls so they could be returned. Period. Believe it or not, voice-mail was created as a courtesy to both caller and recipient (read: sales rep and customer). In fact, it was rare and considered rude not to return a call. Today, it's used to capture all calls so that they can be ignored, deleted and tossed into the abyss. Second, there are far more salespeople making far more phone calls and leaving far more voice-mail messages, making it far more easy for them to be ignored. Answer: Harder now.
Sales Challenge #3: Winning a Bid
THEN—Lowest price wins
NOW—Lowest price wins
Nothing has changed. This was a lousy way to sell back then and it's a lousy way to sell now. Either way, you better have the lowest cost. There will always be the customer who buys strictly on price. The key is to solve problems and earn orders. This is a basic selling philosophy and the fundamentals never change. This one is a tie...although it is important to note that the solutions-based sale was an option back then, but a requirement today.
A quick glance at the scoreboard reveals one "harder then," one "harder now" and one tie. Let's look at a few more sales challenges...
Sales Challenge #4: Loyalty: Building a Relationship
THEN—Customer loyalty was created through excellent service. Clients became friends and often stayed with a sales rep until he or she retired.
NOW—Often, you are as secure as the last job you shipped in.
The importance of building a strong relationship with your customers remains critical. It's how you go about it that's different. The three-martini lunch is long gone and if you are going to take a client to a ballgame, it better be a Little League game because corporate mistrust has rewritten the rulebook, and gifts of any kind more than $25 must be reported. In addition, because of sheer efficiencies and reduced staff, face time with the customer has become Facetime with the customer as technology (read: Social Media) has replaced the drop-by as a way of catching up and maintaining a connection with a client. Answer: Harder now.
Sales Challenge #5: Building a Book of Business From Scratch
THEN—Starting out in sales way back when (as both of your humble authors did) required diligence, chutzpah, a pretty face and a nice wardrobe (as both of your humble authors have), and a valuable message.
NOW—Starting out in sales now requires a similar checklist, but because the doors are locked and the receptionists are long gone, personal hygiene and a keen eye for fashion are not as important.
For many of the same reasons listed above, starting from scratch and building a book of business is more difficult now than it was way back when. The economy isn't helping much either as companies no longer build large inventories for fear of tying up capital and losing flexibility to respond to market turns. In either case, it's best if you don't know just how hard it really is or you might not even undertake the task. Technology offers efficiencies, but at the cost of face-to-face salesmanship, resulting in...Answer: Harder now.
Sales Challenge #6: Ending the Day/Life's Balance
THEN—The day ended
NOW—The day never ends
The pre-Internet era also meant no cell phones. There was no e-mail. Business was done during normal business hours. People went home and mowed their lawns during the daylight. It was generally understood that calling someone after 5 o'clock would result in leaving a message. Today, the day never ends and work follows us home. Lawnmowers have headlights. Customers expect after-hours calls to be answered. Answer: Harder now.
The Final Score:
Other than the challenge of finding quality prospects, today's sales rep faces more and greater sales challenges. Technology both helps (Internet, Websites, Google searches) and hurts (voice-mail, caller ID). Doors are locked, buyers are less defined, and everyone is busier than ever before. So, to those who claim that it's harder than ever to sell print, we reluctantly agree with you.
Still, your intrepid veteran authors would like to point out that when we were your age, we spent every selling day walking 15 miles in the wind and snow to our sales calls and back, uphill both ways.PI
—T.J. Tedesco, Bill Farquharson
About the Authors
T.J. Tedesco is team leader of Grow Sales, a marketing and PR services company that has served graphic arts companies since 1996. He wrote "Direct Mail Pal 2012" and seven other books. Contact Tedesco at (301) 294-9900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Farquharson is the president of Aspire For. Through his Sales Challenge and Tuesday eWorkshop training programs, Farquharson can help drive your sales. Visit his Website at www.aspirefor.com or call him at (781) 934-7036.
Bill Farquharson is a sales trainer for the graphic arts. Email him at Bill@AspireFor.com or call (781) 934-7036. Bill’s two books, The 25 Best Print Sales Tips Ever and Who’s Making Money at Digital/Inkjet Printing…and How? as well as information on his new subscription-based website, The Sales Vault are available at BillFarquharson.com.