How to Turn Prospects Into Clients
No matter one’s niche within the print and/or promotional products world, nobody ever yearns to become an also-ran who manages to carve out a marginal career void of any distinction. Simply put, everyone in these fields should be seeking and implementing means to ensure differentiation from the rest of the herd. When analyzing what could bring about such separation, one cannot overlook the significance of companies’ sales approaches.
Everyone makes amazing promises to clients and potential partners, but what does it require for a print or promotional products entity to be able, to quote 1995’s “Tommy Boy,” to sell ketchup popsicles to a woman wearing white gloves? To determine how businesses can turn prospects into clients, Print+Promo connected with Josh Robbins, president of Vault Promotions, Hendersonville, Tenn., and Alex Pummill, general manager of Pummill ProMark, Comstock Park, Mich., learning that although the sales landscape might have changed, appreciating value will always serve as the chief guideline to win favor.
All business disciplines thrive on competition, and while goods and services play obvious roles in securing someone’s enduring commercial enthusiasm, the people behind those amenities should resonate as the true game-changers. To do so, they must certainly set their minds to that fateful moment when a desired account says “yes,” but should the process that could land that lush contract or enviable connection be a rushed endeavor or a protracted pursuit?
“I’m a firm believer [in the thinking] that in order to sell successfully, you have to focus on giving,” Robbins said. “Whether that’s time, energy, information, content, sales tools, etc., if you position yourself to provide value before you ever take a dollar from someone, you’re building a client for life, not just a sale.”
He and the Vault Promotions team cherish their role as suppliers of badges, nametags and other promotional goods by adhering to the components of that creed. Doing so has meant striving to be the best and most memorable among their peers, with Robbins stressing that while sales are certainly what keep Vault vaulting past the competition, they do not receive the most emphasis in the company’s operations.
“I never pursue sales. I pursue relationships,” the overseer said. “…As a supplier, I can’t close a sale. No matter how much our product might make sense, no matter what kind of price I have, no matter how hard I try, I, personally, cannot close any sale. If a distributor doesn’t want to sell our product or doesn’t think of our product or can’t close our product, I don’t have much control over that.
“My job on this side of the fence is to establish relationships, educate our sales force and deliver like a boss,” he continued. “If I can properly network and find people whom I want to work with and can help out, they will be the ones pursuing the sales in whichever way they see fit. This is also an effective course of action for those who can pull the trigger and close directly. Focus on selling value. Is there value? Is what you’re selling a good fit for the client? Does it help them in some way by saving them time, money, hassle or fitting a need? If the answer to that is ‘no,’ [then] your focus should be more on finding a way to provide that value, rather than force-closing a sale that doesn’t help your client.”
As a full-service distributor that provides print services, office supplies and custom apparel, Pummill ProMark certainly agrees with the Vault Promotions figure’s emphasis on value, also placing its significance over that of solidifying a big alliance.
“If you’re going to be in sales, you need to see the glass as half-full at all times,” Pummill noted. “A good salesperson has to have the ability to read people. Know when to listen, and know when to talk. Know your products, and be genuine in your objective to support customers’ needs.”
No matter how long a business relationship has lasted, there could arise among one of the parties a feeling that the exchanges need a bit more oomph to them. One of our favorite lines from literature comes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” when Rosalind tells Gillespie, “I have to be won all over again every time you see me.” In some respects, especially since sales methods have evolved, this sentiment holds true in finalizing deals, too. No longer can someone assume that a client will prove a permanent fixture in a company’s roster, with Robbins likening the need to further one’s technique to that of the necessity of maintaining a marriage.
“If you quit chasing and quit courting, your relationship will eventually deteriorate,” he surmised. “No matter how good you thought you were at closing, you’ll find it harder and harder to seal the deal. ALWAYS COURT.”
When they are engaging in the hunt for, if you will, “close” encounters of the first kind, sales-centric individuals must refrain from feeling they can chase every opportunity because doing so will strip interactions of their value and lead to little enhancement.
“I’ve learned to pump the brakes and focus on what’s really in our wheelhouse,” the third-generation businessman said. “Analyzing return on investment has also become more of a focus as we continue to grow our company. You have to consider how much time and energy you’re spending on each project. Mating quality with efficiency is essential for growth.”
From semi-different walks of life, Pummill and Robbins similarly realize that no matter the allure of the latest piece of equipment or promotional doohickey, one’s sincerity, curiosity and resourcefulness need to be what resound with clients.
“At the end of the day, you need to find that balance between listening and identifying the need, [and] then formulating a solution,” the former said. “I don’t see that aspect changing anytime soon. Regarding print, most of the sales orders and manual processes have gone electronic, but there will always be a need and a desire to customize necessary physical items with your company’s brand. Marketing never sleeps!”
“I think unless print distributors or promotional product distributors focus on maximizing their service, instead of focusing on their products, they will find themselves going the way of travel agents,” Robbins offered. “When is the last time you booked a flight through a travel agent? You don’t need them now. I’ll go online and simply choose from a long list of available flights and print my boarding pass immediately, all without having to pay someone a commission to do it for me. Print and promo is no different. If all you focus on is being the guy or girl who can put a logo on a pen, you’ll find yourself in a race to the bottom very quickly.”
No matter the success they have enjoyed, Pummill and Robbins are not above accepting advice, having paid plenty of dues on the search for lasting exchanges with customers. Based on their pedigree, yet not solely because of it, they can also relate to the desire for distinction that their contemporaries feel. As long as said peers understand that the human element matters far more than the services sold, the figures feel their cohorts will succeed.
“Sales is about confidence,” Pummill said, “and self-confidence is just as important as knowing your products. Make suggestions on new products. Even if you’re following up on a previous quote, bring something new to the table. Let your customer, or prospect, know you’re doing your homework and staying current with what’s available. Sometimes, suggestions lead to orders by osmosis. A conversation could remind them of a need that went unfulfilled.”
“You have to be wherever your clients are and be aware that this location may change,” Robbins advised. “Are you showing up consistently to the same weekly network group and not getting referrals? Invest your time elsewhere. Do you find yourself in the right place at the right time but you’re still not closing? Change your bait. …The right bond with the right tackle is key and will continue to change over time.
“The single most important tip to close is to bring value,” he elaborated. “I don’t care if you’re the hardest hitting closer in the world. If you don’t bring forth some sort of value, you can’t close. What is your value? What is the value in your transaction? Can you bring value in other ways so that you can eventually close on this portion of the business? In any sales transaction, you should be looking for a win/win. If it’s not there, find a way for it to be next time.”
“I think one of the biggest advantages in this industry is understanding your suppliers and their individual capabilities,” Pummell said of how the distributorship that his father started has excelled commercially and how others could duplicate that progress. “As a distributor, you need to know exactly who to contact based on the intricacies of each project. We meet regularly to discuss projects and share opinions on which suppliers can knock it out of the park. When you know who is going to offer the highest quality-to-cost ratio, you end up being your client’s hero.”
“Position yourself as the most knowledgeable person around on your item lines,” Robbins concluded. “Attend classes, view seminars, read books and pay attention to competitors. Only with superior knowledge can you best equip yourself to overcome objections or to present alternatives.”