Thursday, July 25, 2013

The New Salesman: Personal Marketing

Marketing is not just a department down the hall

Here’s a story. A couple of weeks ago I was working in Eugene, Oregon. It was lunch time and rather than eat at the hotel, I decided to let “Yelp” (a great free app for your iPhone) do the deciding. I plugged in restaurants and took off for a hole in the wall joint with great gyros.

The directions took me to a “locals only” joint with a walk up counter and a few seats out on the sidewalk. I placed my order and started taking in the ambiance. One side was plastered with pictures of Chicago, an Albanian flag and dozens of grease drenched documents produced by local patrons who had consumed mass quantities of the lamb specialty. The opposite wall displayed posters announcing local festivals, concerts and Independence Day events. A table in the corner held a collection of business cards; everything from termite terminators to tae kwon do masters – and one very special card.

The card carried this message: KnuckleSandwich Distribution.

I am a distributor guy. I have worked for, consulted with, or known distributors from nearly every one of the National Association of Wholesalers’ 300-plus lines of trade. KnuckleSandwich Distribution was intriguing. It caught my eye and moved me to grab the card. I had to know more.

The guy behind the card is Nathan Wallner he is a veteran, recent graduate from the University of Oregon, a Mixed Martial Arts combatant, and fitness instructor. He understands marketing and is creating a brand around – himself.

There’s a lesson here. I believe it’s time distributor salespeople take a quick look at “marketing themselves”. Here are four things to get you thinking.

What do you want to be known for?
Are you the local expert or the lowdown discount guy? I sincerely hope you are providing your customers with more than a price. Deep discount guys always tell me they are the last of the big time deal makers always looking to save their customers money. While I believe negotiation and aggressive pricing have a place in the distributor sales world, the best customer value comes in other ways. Innovative ideas which increase uptime and personnel productivity provide way more value than cutting 5 points off the buy price. Plans for decreasing rejects, energy consumption and financial risk make your customers thousands. Improvements in the way they do business provide an ongoing steam of revenue. Cutting price saves them a measly handful of dollars. And, it’s a one-time deal.

Don’t confuse your company’s tag line for personal marketing. Distributor organizations with mottos like “our service is the customer’s competitive edge” have salespeople who market themselves as “dirty deals done dirt cheap”. If you want to provide value-creating solutions, talk about value not price.

Who is your target?
Marketing professionals call this the Perfect Prospect Profile (3P). This one is a little tricky because we sales types like to think of the world as our oyster. The truth is, we do better if we invest just a bit of time into determining which customers benefit most from our work. Selfishly, we need to determine who will be willing to pay for our efforts. If you create customer value, the customer must be both willing and able to afford your offering.

This little factoid may rule out accounts which are very small. Customer organizations with overly aggressive procurement groups may not deserve the same attention as those who appreciate your work. Developing a tiny account may make you feel good all over, but the commission check may lead to a life of poverty. We’re investing our most precious commodity – time. Stack the deck in your favor by selecting the best opportunities.

Segmenting: Different Customers - Different Needs
Rookie sales guys make the mistake of thinking of customers as, well, customers. We live in a customer world, but some salespeople still trot around with “product of the week” demo units. Let’s see, it’s the week of January 23rd so every customer gets treated to a product pitch on the double left handed widget; regardless of interest or need.

The customer’s time is valuable. Your time is limited. If you match product needs to specific customers or groups of customers, your presentations will be more successful. And, your customers will put a higher value on the time they spend with you.

Further, segmenting allows for higher margins. One of the first things Pricing Expert David Bauders instructs distributor clients to do is review the pricing offered to tiny and small customers. Typically, the small customer pays more than the gigantic guy down the street. Taking advantage of this market phenomenon allows you to create a better mechanism for getting paid for your work.

The Touch
Marketing professionals call customer contacts a “touch”. For instance, each email sent to a customer is a touch; so too are phone calls, mass mailings, and finally, your sales calls which are the ultimate touch.
Each touch causes the customer to momentarily think of you, your company and your products.

Customer relationships are constructed over a period of time. Each properly executed touch is a building block in that relationship. Think of your personal friendships. Many of our closest friendships involve a period of time where you interacted with your friend on a regular basis.

For example, some of my closest friends are classmates from school. We saw one another on a daily basis for years. The friendship was cemented. Now let’s think about a customer we call on once a month. How long does it take for you to build a friendship? It could be a year, a couple of years, or longer. We can use other touches to accelerate the time required to build the rapport.

Touches can come via phone calls during the period between call. The words might sound like this:
“John, I was driving down Highway 61 and was thinking about you. Did the literature I dropped off last week give you everything you needed?” Even if you just leave a message in the customer’s voicemail, you have left the impression that you’re not just thinking about them during the sales call.

Touches can come via a hand written note on a magazine article. Here’s how this one works. John’s company was talked about in Widget Times. You make a copy of the page and mail it to John with this inscription on a Post-it Note: “John, I saw this and thought you might like to review it.” If
the magazine article covers a personal interest rather than business, it’s even better. Early in my career, I had a customer who shared his love for antique air rifles (BB Guns). A couple of weeks later, I saw a story in the Des Moines Register (my local newspaper) about the surging popularity of BB guns. I tore it out and sent it along with a note. From that day forward, I was treated like royalty in his office. My knowledge of the infamous Daisy Red Rider had nothing to do with business, but the message rang true; I was thinking about John even while not seated across the desk from him.

Touches can come from emails too. But beware, many people hate email spam. Bulk email blasts with generic impersonal messages aren’t really a touch. In fact, they often have an opposite effect. If you email someone, make it personal and specific.

The End, but not really
Create a brand, be unique, and understand your customers. Treat customers as individuals with specific needs – this applies to companies, departments and individuals. Ponder their reason for buying from you. Accelerate your relationships by letting customers know you think about them when you’re not making sales calls via alternative touches.

And just in case you're in doubt about the Knucklesandwich card, here is what it looks like.  A bit worn from being a the restaurant, but it sure packed a punch with me.  
Think about being a Knucklesandwich Distributor. Nathan Wallner has it right. He has a message.

Have an interesting card that draws attention?  Send us a picture and you may see it right here some day!

1 comment:

Nathan Wallner said...

The restaurant is Albee's NY Gyros on 391 West 11th St. and it's awesome.

Albee is a young entrepreneur and you can always count on his food being delicious.

I don't know what I am doing with Knucklesandwich Distribution but I am having a blast practicing my branding. As a recent Advertising grad, I know that my skills working with other brands and organizations will be increased because I have a better understanding of telling a brand's story.

Thanks Frank for the wonderful insight into an industry I know very little about.

-Nathan Wallner