Shift Your Sales Into Top Gear

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Rev up prospects and longtime clients with these smart strategies

Whether it’s a predictable sales cycle or an economic downturn that stalls revenues, a promotional consultant’s bottom line can often take a hit. In the past decade, many of the nation’s biggest industries—housing, health care and energy among them—have suffered setbacks that effectively choked promotional products sales. Clients in stable industries can fall away, too, leaving consultants wondering how to breathe new life into their accounts.

So how can you move out of the slow lane and put the pedal to the metal? Read on to learn how three distributors maintain momentum when their clients’ business climates and marketing needs encounter business-altering change.

Bagwell Marketing—Dallas, Texas

Client Snapshot—Real Estate, Restaurants

While Bagwell Marketing has served many clients in the real estate business, owner and marketing consultant John Bagwell says having a solid base of clients in other markets helped minimize the impact of the housing market downturn, which rippled across the U.S. starting in 2008, causing housing values to plummet and wreaking havoc in the real estate industry. “Our No. 1 market is family restaurants,” he says. “It just happened that way. We also do a lot in the rent-to-own industry. We get a lot of referrals from satisfied customers.”

Sales Challenge—Growing The Bottom Line

“While we do retain a large number of our customers through the years, there certainly is turnover each year. That means we have to be continually looking for new customers. In the past we have been able to generate a reasonable number of sales with little effort. Loyalty, however, is hard to control. Because our relationship is largely by phone, it is easy to be become just another vendor and not a true partner.”

Top-Gear Strategy—Go Digital

”Ten years ago we made the decision at our promotional distributorship to go digital and drive all of our traffic through our website,” says Bagwell. “That created a business structure that no longer involved making sales calls but required using the website as a lead generation system.”

Bagwell points out that this type of program presents both positive and negative issues. “On the positive side we have an unlimited number of prospects, and people generally know what they want. We can sell anywhere in the world, and have sold promo items in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“On the downside, the internet customer also wants it in a hurry and expects someone to respond within minutes–not hours. There are also more distributors working websites and the competition has become greater. While we have been content to ‘pick the low-hanging fruit,’ we realize that we must do more to just stay even with last year’s sales,” he says.

To keep customers in the loop, Bagwell says his team has increased their social media presence and places additional advertising on the internet to drive traffic to the company website. “We also email and send postal mail to our customers. One of our most successful programs is to contact customers that purchased a product in the same month the previous year. For example, if they bought trade-show bags last October, there is a good chance they have that same event coming up again this year,” he says.

“It is doubtful we will ever go back to doing business the ‘old way,’ with cold calling and networking,” adds Bagwell. “We must be focused on getting new customers to our website.”

Q&A With John Bagwell

What are your clients’ most frequent uses for promotional products, and what items do they prefer using?

Bagwell_JohnWe sell a lot of keychains with a house-shaped emblem (our No. 1 item); mostly they are gifts for their clients or for prospecting. We also sell a lot of Halloween bags (our No. 2 item) within this industry. Agents give those out, with their logo, at events and of course to customers and prospects . Our third most popular promo item in the real estate area is a giant Christmas stocking. This is usually for an agent office that has lots of traffic coming in to a fixed location. Sometimes they will donate it to a school or nonprofit. I know a lot of distributors don’t sell this product because it is a once-a-year purchase, but I have an 80-percent renewal rate each year on this. Calendars are, of course, always popular, along with door hangers, tote bags—even stadium cups for a special event.

What questions do you ask clients to help them select the appropriate products?

Most people who come to the website have a pretty good idea what they want. The real estate agent has already been searching the internet for house-shaped key chains, so they come ready to buy. We do try to cross-sell and ask what they are using the item for. Sometimes we are able to switch them to something that is a better fit, particularly if it is for an event. Sometimes we get someone who has no idea what they want, they just need something for an event. I’d say 75 percent are calling for a specific product.
 

What advice do you have for distributors who are stuck in a creative rut?

I would say the No. 1 thing you need to do is connect with new prospects and customers on social media. Find an industry that you can become an “expert” in, and grow your presence there. People always like to see what you have done for someone else in their industry, even if it is for a direct competitor. Network within your clients’ industries. I attend a hospitality meetup in Dallas. I’m always looking for ways to connect with people in the restaurant industry.

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