Start taking control of your sales
For my last forty years as a salesman, one fact has stood the test of time. It is rare for a full time salesperson to spend more than 10% of their time doing what they are actually paid to do – i.e. sit in front of their customers, selling products. All sorts of other activities eat up the remaining 90% of the paid hours including canvassing for prospects, travelling, waiting in receptions, talking to non-decision makers and filling out administration forms.
It has always been a great challenge to increase the time spent doing what you are paid to do. If you can reach your sales target with only 10% of your time devoted to the task, what could you achieve with say 15%? I raise this subject now because for the first time I sense that technology is challenging the old maxim. My current role as Landa’s European sales manager has exposed me to the very cutting edge of hardware and software solutions employed in sales today.
For a start, there are powerful marketing tools which analyse the potential customer base and look for the signs that suggest they may be in the market for your products or services. They track visits to web sites, social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and provide a detailed analysis against a set of criteria that indicate a prospective customer in the final stages of deciding what to buy. These tools are the equivalent of endless and time consuming cold calling and door knocking that traditionally provided a salesman with a list of his prospects.
These marketing tools integrate seamlessly into customer relationship management software (CRM) which keeps track of all interactions with customers, whether by the sales person, service personnel or administration. Modern CRM systems can show everything you need to know about the customer’s business and contacts before you pick up the phone or knock on the door. And they are there with you on your smart phone or tablet as you sit outside the customer.
With a territory the size of Europe, it is physically impossible for me to meet all my customers face to face on a regular basis. Meeting tools such as WebEx and Adobe Connect enable me to meet with customers in far flung places using video links and share my computer desktop so they can see my presentation or other information without me having to set foot on a plane. They also enable meetings with my colleagues to take place in different time zones and locations without leaving the house.
At the end of the day, people buy from people and technology cannot change that, but for eliminating that 90% of wasted and ineffective time, technology is taking over. When I think back to the start of my career and my days of carrying round a bag of 10p pieces so I could stop and make phone calls, and then compare that to the information in my iPhone, I sometimes wonder what I could have achieved back then with today’s technology. The tools are there. You only have to use them to start taking control of your sales.
Labels and packaging sector looks set to enjoy future digital growth
My wife has opinions on most things and they are usually readily forthcoming, so when I got back from the Packaging Innovations conference at the NEC last week, and started to talk about a seminar panel which included a member from her favourite supermarket Waitrose, she was unusually attentive to my work commitments.
I explained I had heard a discussion which involved “dark stores”. Apparently the big supermarket chains are establishing stores with no shoppers in order to provide an on-line shopping service. Staff, employed by the supermarkets, take an online order and then literally go around the “dark store” on behalf of the customer and complete the shop, ready for home delivery at a specified time. According to the lady from Waitrose it was a rapidly growing part of the business and that of her competitors as well.
I suggested to my wife that if the purchase decision was made by viewing the product on a screen and selecting it on-line, there was no point in having the sort of fancy packaging designed to make you buy when you passed by in the aisle. You might just as well supply it in a plain brown paper bag or box. She was having none of it and here is the rub. She said that if it did not come in the usual packaging she would feel cheated and would be unlikely to repeat the experience, even if the food inside was exactly the same as the fully branded product in her usual store. She regards the packaging as part of the security and value of the brand and even if the brown wrapping had Waitrose on it, she would not feel she was getting the same product.
It seems to me that if her view is widely shared and a straw poll amongst friends over the weekend suggests it is, then the packaging business is one that is likely to escape the impact of digital media in the years to come. While we are seeing reduced volumes in commercial and marketing print, the same decline is not being felt in the packaging segment. The market is still buoyant for most of the packaging converters as our demand for food and pharmaceutical products continues to grow.
A new generation of singles or post-divorce singletons is creating a market for smaller sized food portions alongside family sized packets and the changing demographics in the UK and Europe means that there is a demand for multi-lingual packaging for smaller, more localised markets. You only have to look at the Polish stores springing up in our cities to see this effect. The whole food supply chain has come in for criticism recently over the horse meat scandal, but this also showed that when in the supply chain, the packaging had to be tough enough to sustain the shipment process, so despite environmental pressures we are unlikely to see packaging being reduced in the foreseeable future.
Alongside this growth, the potential for digital print in folding cartons, flexible packaging and labels remains largely untapped. It is true that HP Indigo and Xeikon have started to sell some presses into these markets, and it is also a target for the Landa presses when they launch in twelve months’ time, but what I learned at Packaging Innovations was that brand owners are eager to see what extra value they can get from versioning and personalisation, as well as reducing the capital tied up in packaging stocks if they can rely on print on demand and take a just-in-time delivery. Therefore packaging converters and label printers today have a great opportunity to take advantage of the emerging new digital technologies and create new products for their customers. The talk amongst all of those I met at the conference was about innovation, creativity and new opportunities.
So if like my wife you will not accept your weekly shop in brown paper bags or boxes, the packaging market has got a great future ahead of it. If your current product portfolio does not contain some packaging products for your customers, you can be sure someone else will be eyeing up the opportunity as we speak.
A nod is as good as a wink
You must have heard most of the horsemeat jokes by now, one of my favourite being ‘Findus fish fingers test positive for 60% seahorse’. Humour aside and despite the fact that horsemeat won’t kill you - personally I think that people who won’t eat horse meat are being a bit blinkered, that said the French have been eating it for years.
However, the damage done to the reputations of some of the big brands involved is enormous and it will take a long time for them to recover from the scandal. Big brands owners such as Coca Cola, Tesco and Findus spend an enormous amount of money promoting their brands. You can see the messaging daily in most of our national media and now you will be seeing the damage limitation from the brands as the story gallops on.
You probably don’t give much thought to your own brand, most small companies don’t spend time on it, but you should, if for no other reason than to protect it when things do go wrong, as they inevitably will from time to time. Your brand is much more than just your company logo. It is the picture conjured up by your customers, prospective customers, suppliers and even your competitors when they think about you. Lots of things will contribute to it. You may have some marketing materials that contain things such as your mission statement, environmental credentials, product range or prices. You will almost certainly have a web site and you might have a Facebook page and Twitter feed. The trade press may write about you too or you might appear in the local press from time to time. All of these activities will contribute to strength or otherwise of your brand.
Joining all the messaging together is a vital part of the promotion of your brand. I am sure that you will want to be seen as customer friendly, helpful, competitively priced, environmentally aware and wonderful with animals and children, but as Findus and others will testify, it’s the way you deal with the negatives that will shape your brand in the eye of the beholders. Everyone will have dissatisfied customers from time to time. I recognised it immediately when I was a salesman when the customer could quickly change from “I’m pleased with this machine I have bought” to “I’m unhappy with this machine you sold me”.
I was also very aware of it when I became MD of Litho Supplies, because if our local team really couldn’t resolve a problem, it was yours truly that would be summoned to take the beating. The biggest potential damage to our brand was not the initial problem, but the way it was dealt with. I found through experience that most dissatisfied customers simply wanted to be properly listened to and usually matters had escalated when they felt they were being ignored. I also learned that if I told the customer that I was prepared to implement their solution to resolve the problem; their proposal was almost always much less costly than the one I had mentally prepared to accept. They were also much more likely to remain as a customer if we implemented their solution.
Now I know the supermarkets have got a job on their hands to get people to eat processed food again, but the strength of the brands which they have developed in the past years will stand them in good stead. It is a good lesson for other business owners to have a look at the strength of their brand and see if they think it could withstand the publicity of an unhappy customer, whether it is word of mouth or increasingly social media. One of these days you could well have a crisis of your own on your hands and investing in the positives today will certainly set the odds in your favour.
Reminiscences of golf
Now I have a bit more time on my hands, I am spending some of it on the Golf course. That news will probably bring a wry smile from some of my former Litho Supplies colleagues who will remember only too well my threat to sack those members of the sales team whose handicaps were down to single figures. My reasoning was that you could not get a single figure handicap working a five day week. Those sales people who had got down to that level were obviously going to be wasting company time on the golf course, rather than spending it in our customer’s offices. I have to admit that I never had to carry out the threat, because if anyone was that good (and I had my suspicions Steve Dodds!) they managed to hide it very well.
We had a few supplier golf days where my sales team was invited. I never went, but the golf mafia always clammed up when I asked about my colleague’s performances. They were always well down the leader board apparently and rarely won anything according to our suppliers reps. On the occasional beery company do, some golf stories would eventually come out – like Eddie Williams performance in Bangkok with Dainippon Screen, on the way back from IGAS in Japan, an un-named colleague who cleaned up at a Kodak golf day to win all the top prizes and an unsavoury scene at an Agfa Gevaert golf event where a Litho Supplies sales manager pipped their biggest UK customer to the top prize. Still they all knew my views and when they were sober again; all winning activity was fiercely denied.
Now that the intervening years have passed, I am finally prepared to reveal my own golf embarrassment to the wider world.
I had been to see a customer in Glasgow - sadly no longer in business - who we appeared to have upset by dropping his new computer to plate device when unloading it at his premises. Apoplectic at the loss of production while we sourced a new one, he had demanded to see the boss and so after flying up to pacify him; you can imagine how I felt to be in and out of his office after a twenty minutes tongue-lashing. A savage Glaswegian tongue- lashing is not a pretty sight or sound, particularly when a Sassenach can only pick up one in every three words.
With several hours to kill before my return flight, I accepted the idea of our Scottish Sales Director at the time- Jimmy Graham, to pop over to Dalmahoy Country club to have a look at the proposed venue for an up-coming local Scottish electronic equipment show we were organising. We had a good look round the hotel facilities and agreed it would be just what we needed. Jimmy pointed out that the golf course attached to the hotel was one of the prettiest in the east of Scotland and since we had the time why don’t we walk down to the first tee, which had a spectacular view of the course. We had only been admiring the panorama for a couple of minutes when my mobile phone rang. It was my boss, our chairman John Byford, who had an even stronger view of golfing in company time. “Can you speak - Where are you?” I was caught bang to rights, “I can’t lie to you John – I am on the first tee at Dalmahoy, but...” just then and before I could get out my explanation about the customer visit and planned local show, Jimmy Graham shouted into my phone “FORE!”
You can imagine the scene at the next board meeting. No manner of excuses was accepted and I had to live with the belief of the board that I had skived off to play golf – me the stern anti golf in company time disciplinarian! It was a few years before Jimmy finally backed up my original story at his retirement do, but it was too late by then, my reputation had been damaged.
So now having the time to enjoy a round or two, I am now playing catch up. The accompanying photo shows me holding a trophy in the board room at the Belfry; however I have to admit it is going to take a few more rounds before I could claim to have been part of the team that won it.
I have just written my wife’s Christmas card with my usual protestations of love and affection and sincerity. I mean she must be an absolute angel to put up with the list of errors and malfeasance with which I litter our relationship.
Of course I do spend a bit of time choosing the card. I don’t just rush in and pick the first one with wife on it like I see some men do. There are a number of criteria that I have to satisfy. It can’t be too small or too big and she does not like glitter, animals, other than reindeer and twee family gatherings, so it does take a time to find the right one. In fact I am often tempted to buy several of the same cards to make life easier next year, as I am sure she wouldn’t notice. In fact the only criteria I don’t examine until after I have decided to buy, is the price. As long as it is not ridiculous when I get to the till, I probably don’t even register what it has cost. It is a very good example of print not being a commodity, in a market place where printers are chasing prices down.
It is not the only example. When you open your shiny new Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod on Christmas morning, just take a look at the packaging it comes in, before you start playing. It is a beautiful example of design and production, which will be redundant as soon as you have opened it. Of course Apple could have put it in a cheap box and you probably would still have bought the product, but they don’t. They realise that it you are going to fork out premium prices for the contents, so they can afford to ensure the packaging does justice to the contents.
There are many other examples. The White Company catalogue that seems to be the source of our Christmas experience these days is not printed in the same way as the Lidl weekly offers sheet. It would not do justice to the extortionate prices charged for glass baubles and raffia table decorations if you could see through to the reverse side of the sheet, a fact which doesn’t matter if you are selling winceyette nighties or plonk at £3.99 a bottle.
The point I am making is that many of the printed materials we purchase in one way or another are not governed solely on price. We are prepared to pay more for something that we like the look or feel of and those upmarket brands know only too well that to sell their products at inflated prices, marketing and packaging must also look the part. It is perhaps something to bear in mind the next time a customer asks you for a price for a job. Can I suggest that we make 2013 the year when we start selling quality in print, rather than price?
Maybe you can suggest to your customers that a bit like a cheap parachute, they may have saved a few quid at the time they bought it, but when it comes to using it, you’d be willing to bet they wished they had gone for the more expensive version in the end.
Best wishes for the Christmas and New Year Holidays.