Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mackay: Great ideas, right touch yield sales

A cartoon in New Yorker magazine showed two assistants preparing a conference room. One says to the other: "And don't forget the little notepads in case one of them has an idea."

Good ideas in sales that don't look like a gimmick are hard to come by. They are certainly not a dime a dozen. Maybe that's why American poet Robert Frost penned, "The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment it gets up in the morning and doesn't stop until it gets to the office."

As any successful salesman will tell you, no one can afford to have the idea factory shut down when the workday begins. Great ideas produce great sales.

When I speak to Fortune 1000 companies, I often address the sales and marketing staffs. In preparation for my speeches, I always talk with eight to 10 people who will be in the audience. These folks have shared some terrific ideas that you may be able to use.

The super-smart sales reps check out the people they are calling on in advance. They never make a cold call.

When they call on a customer, they check out his or her office. They look at the walls for plaques, family photos or any signs of hobbies or interests. And then they use it in conversation. You can't talk about business all the time.

One fellow working for a long-distance company in South Dakota was calling on a large account.

As he entered the office, he noticed that the key decision maker had several pictures of black Labs. The sales rep told him that he had a black Lab puppy, and he could use some training tips. After a few Lab stories, the customer asked if he could meet the dog.

The next week, the sales rep brought the puppy to his scheduled appointment. The customer immediately took the dog though some drills and said it had some talent and was a good dog. For the next hour, they did some more drills.

Finally, the sales rep asked for the order, and he got it.

Good sales reps build relationships with all their customers. They humanize their approaches.

Some play softball with their customers. One guy formed a bowling league for his clients. Others take their kids, their customer and their customer's kids to parks.

Everyone needs to eat - breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings make a great backdrop for business discussions. And if you can ever get your customer on a golf course, that's a hole in one.

Treats usually get a good reception. It might be candy, doughnuts and coffee, or fruit. Be sure to bring enough to share with others in the office.

One account executive said she makes holiday treat bags for her customers for different occasions - on Valentine's Day, there's a card attached that says, "I LOVE doing business with you!" A St. Patrick's Day message says, "I'm lucky to be your supplier!"

I heard from one fellow who took things to a different level. He brings alcoholic miniatures - vodka and Bloody Mary mix - and tells his customers, "This is for after work." And it goes over big. Of course, he knows his customers and is very careful about not offending recipients.

In these trying times, many of your customers may be struggling. Give them a pat on the back. An account executive told me she gave her customers a lot of pep talks.

She happens to be a master networker, and her clients know they can call her for references, leads or introductions. And they will keep doing business with her because she can help their business, too.

Training is another big advantage for sales staffs to offer clients, especially with slashed budgets.

One rep does a lot of quizzes and trivia questions, at least once a month. Winners receive gift cards or movie passes. That way he can see who is reading his e-mail blasts. He also gives the same prizes as thank-you gifts.

The same rep uses a lot of humor. Everyone loves to laugh at people. He shares a lot of embarrassing stories about himself, allowing himself to be the butt of jokes.

One account executive started a fantasy-football league. There are weekly winners that are entered in a year-end drawing for a large prize: a big-screen television, which she got her company to pay for. This promotion got her foot in the door of a lot of mortgage brokers that normally wouldn't give her the time of day.

Mackay's Moral: You're not just selling your product. You're selling yourself.

Mackay: Great ideas, right touch yield sales

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