If you are in the business of selling to another business (in our case retailers and restaurants) you all know that the most difficult task in the entire sales cycle is getting in front of decision makers. It is the most difficult because decision makers get bombarded with ridiculous offers all of the time. My best personal example of this came when I was President of Incredible Universe for Tandy Corporation. We had a cultural norm of answering your own phone. It actually was a great practice because it gave you a pretty good view of what was in the market place.
One day I got a call from the Mayor of a small town in Texas. Let’s call him Mayor Burt. Mayor Burt called me at about 11 am and was very animated. He was sure he had the next great location for Incredible Universe. There were no other competitors in town and he had the best piece of property. I asked him if he had ever been to any of our stores (186,000 square feet and hard to miss). He told me he had not been to any of our stores but he just knew we could be a winner in his town. Well, the county his town was located in was in far west Texas and had less than 50,000 people. It could not support a store of our size. I politely thanked him for his time and explained it was not a good match. Mayor Burt tried a couple more times but eventually understood that this was not going to happen.
But this is why retail and restaurant executives don’t take and return phone calls. You see, they have a reason, but it causes them to miss out on tools and merchandise that will make their business more successful. They all have time for a call or a visit from a company that is not going to waste their time. A company that has studied their business and has a specific solution to solve one of their business problem.
So, how do we get over this “moat” of resistance. How do we get through the castle defense system. How do we slay the dragons and bring our new sword and catapults to the kings and queens of retail. Well, we just storm the castle with our knights and princess’s , but we do this in a modern 21st century manner, we do this through Axcelora.
Axcelora is the invention of a group of executives with both retail, restaurant, and B2B experience. They have both made the cold calls and received them. They have run retail business and know what it is to get a phone call from someone unprepared. But they also know the delight they get when they are approached by someone who really took the time to understand their business and only called when they had a product that was a good fit.
When these executives were in the selling part of their careers they learned the advantage of being introduced to a decision maker by mutual friend. They understood the barriers this advantage broke down. To keep it in the vernacular of our story, they understood that a proper introduction would allow them to scale the walls of the castle without being pummeled by arrows and fire.
The business problem for Axcelora is simple to understand and VERY difficult to execute. There are thousands of companies that would like to eventually avail themselves to the services Axcelora has to offer, but where are we going to find the Knights in Shining Armour (and the clever Lady’s of the Castle) to make these introductions.
Our goal is to build an army of Knights and Lady’s to help us storm the castle walls and create a new way of selling into the retail world. The barriers put up today will keep out lessor competitors, but not the force of Axcelora. We will only take the best vendors with us on our march through the retail world. We will always have confidence in introducing our clients to our friends because we will take the time to insure our clients are prepared. We will help them create a thoughtful target list. We will help them with a clear minded presentation, one suite for the retail and restaurant world. Because we want our retail partners to be successful, and use the tools our clients are presenting to them so they can build a bigger and more successful empire of their own.
Like ancient times the Kings would pay their royalty with some of the bounty of their efforts. Here at Axcelora we do the same thing. Our Knights and Lady’s (we call them modern day Partners) are paid each time they successfully storm the castle.
Axcelora would like you to be part of the team that breaks down the castle walls and allows our high quality clients to get in front of the Kings and Queens of the retail and restaurant businesses. Just give us a call at 817 909 4354 or drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com .
I have a good friend that loves to hunt. When he was younger and went hunting he would shoot at anything that moved. His dad called it “buck fever.” He did not care if it was a young buck with fuzz on the top of its head or a 6-year-old buck with a record set of antlers, he was shooting. Now of course he wanted to shoot the bigger buck, but more importantly, he just wanted to shoot anything and everything. So, at the end of the day he typically shot nothing.
Well, the same thing happens in sales. When I first got to my first B2B sales job there were six sales people. There were no assignments of accounts, territories, or verticals. We had three different people calling on Verizon, two of them calling on the exact same person. But, most importantly we simply did not have a plan, unless “go get ‘em” is a plan. Why would we need a plan? We had good sales, good sales increases, and unlimited opportunities because our competition was not any better. In fact, they actually only sold on a technical basis, not on a business needs basis, so perhaps they were even worse off, but that is a discussion for another day.
When I got a call from my friend at Verizon asking me why we were not any more organized than we were, I sat down with the owner of the company and explained how much of our resources were wasting and how much better we could do. So he said “all right, (cannot use those words here) if you are so smart show me a plan.”
The first question I asked myself is whether or not I would I would buy from our company back when I was with Tandy. While I was very fond of the company and the owner, when I was with Tandy this company was too small for me to consider. They were not doing business with companies my size yet. So here was my first rule of targeting: Target companies that are similar in size, or just slightly larger, than the companies I am currently doing business with. If you want to do business with the WalMart’s, Targets, and Kroger’s of the world you are going to have to build up to their size. While they may be polite and chat with you, unless you have a reasonable set of client references, you are just wasting your time. They should be on your marketing list, but not on your sales target list. Marketing will begin the awareness campaign for you, but you don’t have the time to waste chasing them.
My next question that I would ask is can I actually help this company become more successful. Businesses measure success much differently than governments, educational institutions, or non-profit organizations. Businesses are interested in only three things, increasing sales, lowering cost, and increasing profits. And, they are really only interested in increasing sales if it will increase profits. Only target companies where you can reasonably show that you can increase sales and profits and lower costs. If you cannot do that your target is not interested in speaking with you.
Next on my list of winnowing my targets adaptation within my business segment. For instance, if I am targeting the restaurant industry in particular, I would ask, “are more companies adapting my product or service in the Fine Dining, Casual, Fast Casual, or QSR segment.” Or as my dear friend Hank Allen would say, “Fish where the fish are running!” While being a pioneer in a particular segment has its rewards, the expense in time and energy does not normally have a good ROI.
Finally, you should limit your number of targets. If you have gone through the first three steps and you have 200 targets you have too many. I would recommend that you keep the number of targets around 100. Screen out where you know your competitors are (while you may be able to steal their customers there are normally lower hanging fruit). Only sight in the number of targets you can keep track of. Each prospect should have contact at least twice a month. A phone call, an email, a personal note in the mail (very impactful since not many are sent), should happen every other week.
Let’s take a moment to fully understand the positives of having a limited target list.
· It will force you to realize the value of each prospect that you have as it is a finite number as opposed to an infinite number. In this case, less is more valuable than more. Think about cars. A Bentley convertible is more valuable than a Bentley sedan because they have made fewer of them…and they are cooler looking.
· Having a limited target group will give you the time to fully understand the business of those targets. With that understanding you can develop the need of your prospect for your product or service, and develop that need from the client’s perspective. If you cannot help the client you should not be trying to sell them anything.
· Having a limited number of targets will also give you the time to professionally reach out to them on a regular basis. If they really are worth your time, they are worth your time at least twice a month. Remember, it is not their job to return your call or correspondence, it is YOUR job to get in front of them.
· Having a limited number of targets will also give you the time to work your contact list to determine who has the best access to your targets. It will also give you the time to reach out to your contacts and ask for their help to meet your prospect.
It continues to amaze me the number of companies that simply do not create a target list. Especially new companies. They want everyone and will take anyone. Here at Axcelora we have two sets of targets. One is for our Partner Group and the other is clients. Fortunately, we have not had to make any effort to find clients, they have found us either through our web site, these posts, or through friends. There is not lack of demand for quality appointments. But we have had to focus on who we want for Partners. We have a couple of criteria that we use as we hunt for the right people to join our journey. The first thing we ask our potential Partners is if they know what a Rolodex is, if they don’t than we realize that they have not been around long enough to build relationships with people that have decision making authority. Our second criteria for hunting Partners is how many different retail or restaurant companies they have worked for. It is our experience that people that have worked for 4-6 different companies make for the best partners. They typically have been around the company long enough to build significant relationships and have also gotten to meet lots of people.
Whatever you use to winnow your target list, just do it and you will have time to have the success you are looking for.
So sometimes I divide the world into two different groups. Now the groups change from time to time. Sometimes the groups are hot dog eaters and non-hot dog eaters (not sure why anyone would not want to have a hot dog for every meal). Sometimes is it people that eat ice cream versus people that don’t (yes, there are some people that are lactose intolerant, like me, but they should just suck it up and enjoy the pleasure before the pain). And sometimes it is creative people versus anti-creative people. Notice that I said anti- instead of non- because many people that can’t create put up road blocks for those that can.
Well, the other night my wife and I went to a meet and greet for a new baby in our community. It was a nice enough affair, all the appropriate food and drink (that means it was not meant for me but for nice ladies that tea), beautiful baby and wonderful parents and family. As one of the events of the get together there was a beautiful nursey rhyme book where you were supposed to write something for the baby and parents to see. I am pretty certain that the baby will not remember this event when they are old enough to read what was written in this beautiful book, but perhaps they will think of the people that did the actual writing.
When it became our turn to write in the book my wife looked at me and said “give me something creative for the book!” As a backdrop let me tell you that in our family we have divided responsibilities. My wife is the fix it person and the bookkeeper. I am the cook and the creative one. If you gave me the instructions to put together a wagon you might end up with a camel. If you gave my wife a blank sheet of paper and told her to write something there might be fungus growing on the paper before you calmly took her away. She colors within the lines and I don’t even see the lines or understand why anyone would want to have lines.
None the less, the timer had begun. She wanted something creative and she wanted it about five minutes ago. As she was telling me to be creative that voice in the back of my head was screaming to me “yeah dummy, just push the creative button and spit something out. Just do a Seinfeld riff on why they call them diapers instead of poop and pea catchers. Or why diapers should have designs on them when the babies cannot focus past their noses.” That voice was starting to scream at me when it struck me. Non-creative types simply don’t understand what creative people do. While Renoir and Monet were certainly creative and talented, their creativity was much different than mine. Every creative person goes about their creative process in a different manner. My creativity is simply taking things to the next progression. Sometimes that causes a problem but most of the time it does not. And our minds tend to wander a bit. Now what were we talking about again, oh yes, creating something for the book.
Well, I looked at the nursey rhymes that were in the book and settled on one that had not been chosen yet, Mary had a Little Lamb. We came up with a nice extension of the poem that was cute and memorable (at least we thought so) and my wife wrote it in the book (my hand writing I learned in Medical School and I am not even a doctor). Everyone was happy.
In the past two years I have often been asked (actually just yesterday, hence the writing of this piece) of how we came up with the idea of Axcelora. Well, for me, it is not creative at all, but merely an extension of a thought process. If you ever speak to a professional sales person, one that is good about their job, they will tell you the most difficult task they have in the sales cycle in getting in front of a decision maker. If that process could be shortened in any way they would be forever grateful. In thinking through my own B2B selling experience I knew that when I was introduced to a potential client by a friend that I was much more likely to get an appointment and my sales success increased as well. So all I had to do was bring a lot of friends together and then we could introduce the world. In my mind not creative at all, just a logical next extension. Well, two years later and it seems to be working. We have about 50 Partners, a dozen or so clients and orders for 250 appointments.
So in the extension of my initial thought that they world is divided in two different parts I think there are people that can make appointments and those that cannot. But withAxcelora people those that can’t make appointments don’t have to be in the same bucket as those that can’t make sales. And those that can make appointments but can’t sell, there is now a way for you to leverage your Rolodex, all brought to you by the friendly folks at Axcelora. For more information about creativity or appointments please check us out at www.axcelora.com.
I assume you are reading this and saying to yourself that the author is a complete idiot. But, if you listen to my logic I think you will realize that this is what is keeping Amazon’s outstanding management team awake at night.
Since the beginning of Amazon, they have been able to sell the future to outside investors. First in books, and then in all merchandise Amazon has been the leader in low prices. They could do this because their goal was not profitability, but gaining market share. They had the backing of the investment community. So, normal retailers had to compete with a company that had no true conviction (in this writer’s opinion) to make a profit. And they could do it because the Amazon management team was smart, open-minded, and resourceful.
Amazon started AWS (Amazon Web Services) to sell the excess capacity they had from their computer power. In their quest to optimize the use of their assets, they were smart enough to say they had excess capacity and wanted to monetize it. They also knew they had much more intellectual power than small startup businesses would have. So, as any Rising Star should, they went and built this business from nothing where no one else was playing. This business has significant more margins than Amazon retail and contributes meaningful profit to Amazon Corp today. This then gives Amazon’s retail business the ability to put pricing pressure on all other retail competitors. And they are.
But, now comes the problem area. AWS and its soaring profits is the drug that Amazon is hooked on. Because of the growing popularity of cloud computing and AWS’s strong position in this business Amazon is counting them into the future. But there are some real competitors entering the market. Competitors with pockets even deeper than Amazon’s. While AWS I have read, has a 33% market share today, second on the list is Microsoft. But there are more competitors on the horizon with Alphabet, Oracle, and WalMart working to stake strong claims to the cloud.
What could make the difference is the structure of the business. Neither, Microsoft, WalMart, Alphabet, or Oracle rely on the cloud for their current profit structure. They all have significant financial war chests available to them and none of them is shy about earning market share.
So, let’s say that one or more of the four of them determines that price could make a difference in gaining market share. (And yes, I realize that pricing is going down rapidly already because the cost of computing is dropping faster than ice melts in the Texas heat.) They could all afford to bring the fat margins that AWS is now enjoying down significantly without hurting their core business. If those margins were to fall too fast for AWS, Amazon might have to change their retail business model.
So, is Amazon in trouble today,? Perhaps not. But smart people should be looking out for opportunities. WalMart is not in rumors to buy Jet.com because they don’t think they have an opportunity to compete. The pressure is going to be on Amazon for the foreseeable future. They have an incredibly smart and alert management team that has been able to come up with tools and products to keep them going forward. Only time will tell.
I am sure all of us have heard the PSA announcement as we are walking through the airport or on television. “If you See something Say something.” Well I think you can take that same statement and carry it through many segments of your personal or business life.
At work I think it is vital that we have a fun hard working hard playing atmosphere. The more fun the better…as long as it does not get in the way of productivity. At the end of the day we are all brought together for the common success of the group. Having fun tends to raise the brain waves and gets people thinking. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. (yes, another cliché). But sometimes things can get out of hand. If you are there, say something before it goes too far. Because hurt feelings can kill an organization.
In my first B2B selling position I learned to deliver presentations to small audiences. We only had a few “rules” but they were important. We had to stand while making any presentation, we had to encourage the client to speak more than we did, and we had to shop in their store if it was at all possible before the presentation. After each presentation we had another rule, we had to discuss two things 1-what did we do right and 2-what did we do wrong. The whole point of this was to proactively think during the presentation about seeing something and saying something. How often do you see a co-worker doing something wrong (not necessarily on purpose) and just let it go? I promise, if you bring it up in a one-on-one atmosphere your co-worker will appreciate your effort.
Now you don’t have to be smug or above your co-worker when you do this. Simply tell them what you noticed and perhaps ask them to point out to you any mistakes they see you making.
I was at a restaurant last Saturday for brunch. I ordered a burger (don’t tell my cardiologist) and I ordered it rare with no cheese. When it came to our table it had cheese so I asked them to take it back and bring it without the cheese. They brought it back (the cheese had simply been taken off and not all of that) to the table for me. I cut it in half and it was not even close to medium. Well, rather than have any more delays, I had the burger. It was not bad, just not what I order. The waitress came around and asked how our meal was. I showed her the burger and mentioned it was not rare. She offered to get me a new one and I told her it was not necessary, but I just thought she should know. She thanked me and all was well. The idea here is that if I did not tell her than she could not fix the problem.
I am not talking about honesty issues here; those are a no brainer. I am talking about having enough compassion for your fellow human being to politely point out problems when you see them. My family thinks I am strange because I tidy up displays when I walk through a store (I know I am not the only one that does this). I am not certain why I do it and I don’t do it all of the time, but I think it helps me get a better sense of what the store is all about. But if you see something out of whack in a store - say something. You don’t have to call the home office, just say something to the manager.
And, if you see something good going on, especially make sure that you say something. Rewarding good behavior is an imperative to success. If you see a store clerk helping out a senior, tell him how nice that was and tell him that was one of the reasons you shop there.
When you see a police officer helping someone (which is where they spend most of their efforts), take a moment and thank them for their efforts. If you see something, say something.
If you see something say something, YOU will be a happier person for it. You will quickly learn how to say something without malice in your heart, just for the simple reward of making another person better. It is our responsibility to make the world a better place than when we got here. Tikkun Olam is a concept that says acts of kindness will make the world a better place. Well what could be kinder than helping someone get better by pointing out what you saw.
Take a moment each day for the next 7 days when you see something to say something. It won’t hurt and it may just help. 7 times in 7 days, is that too big of an ask. When you see something (and you will), say something. It could be at work, at home, while you are out shopping, visiting a museum this could be a movement. When you see something say something. If all 4,450 people that I am LinkedIn with do this for 7 days we will have more than 30,000 acts to make the world a better place. We will be better employees, better family members, and better member of the community. If you see something say something for 7 days and watch the world get better, kinder, and smarter. #seesomethingsaysomething
I have been in the direct B2B sales industry for nearly 20 years now. I started out as a naïve rookie in this business 20 years ago working for what has become the leading Retail Customer Analytics companies in the US. I was given no territory, no potential customer list, no leads to follow up on and no direction. While I had 25 years of retail management experience, I quickly found out that held no water in the B2B selling business. I was given a desk in the open office, but quickly moved to a table in the back room because there was so much noise and commotion in the open office I could not even hear when the phone rang.
While in the retail business, I worked for a company that had a culture where every phone call was to be returned before you left the office that day. And, since it was the only company I had worked for in my adult life, I figured every company worked that exact way. So, I dug around the office and found an old data base of all of the retail and restaurant companies in the US. Since I was in Texas, I sorted out all of the retail and restaurant chains that were in Texas. I figured that they may have at least heard of us. There were phone numbers in the database, so I thought I was off to the races. Well, in the next three weeks I learned two very important lessons. First, not all of the phone numbers in any database are going to be correct. Secondly, and probably more importantly, I learned that not all retailers return phone calls.
Now, the first revelation was not such a big surprise. But the second surprise was a real shock to my system. Here I was a veteran retailer, one that had held significant positions with one of the most successful retail companies in the US and retail leaders did not return my call. It did not register with me. I could understand if they had met me and did not like me, but these were people that had never heard of me. Were they crazy? I had a solution to their rapid store deployment problem and they were not calling me back.
And then I learned an even more shocking lesson. If I actually got through to a company, many of them had "Gate Keepers" to keep me away from the decision makers. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Gate Keeper. We never had them, we spoke to everyone. But companies had apparently hired people whose only job was to keep people like me, who wanted to honestly help their company continue their success, away from decision makers. Why would they do that? It made me wonder if they also hired people to keep customers away from the inside of their stores so they stayed neat and clean all day.
So, after three weeks on the job I told myself I had a problem. I had a Rolodex of one person in one retail organization that I could call. I had not received one call back from any of the 50 companies I had called in the previous three weeks. And it was not just a job for me; I was working for my best friend and I did not want to fail him as he was counting on me. Waiting around for the phone to ring was not productive- plus I'm not a sit around and wait type of guy. So I decided to stop Cold Calling altogether. It was a waste of time. Everyone else was right and I was wrong. No one responds to cold calls.
So I got that decision off my plate. And, the execution went flawlessly. I just stopped picking up the phone to make calls. I had seen others take this approach and they seemed freed from their burden of pretending to make calls. And now that I had lots of time on my hand I could learn what everyone else was doing to generate business. What I learned was shocking. They were simply waiting for the business to come to them. Could that be the answer?
Well, I waited for an entire day, sitting at my desk, getting up to annoy others sitting at their desk, and drinking lots of Diet Coke. I was exhausted. There had to be a better answer. If making cold calls was a waste of time, and waiting for the phone to ring was not only a waste of my time but forced me into bothering other people, I had to come up with a better answer.
I could call up my friends but, as I stated earlier I only had one friend. What would I do with the other 364 days of the year. Even if they purchased a lot from me I would be bored out of my mind. And, as my mom said “Idle hands are the devils workshop” and that was absolutely true with me.
After the beginning of the second day the light bulb went off. Literally, the lights in the back room went off. But it got me to thinking, why not make calls that were not cold? Since this was before Facebook and before LinkedIn (yes my younger friends, there were times before these all knowing depository of wisdom) I had to use my knowledge of the few people I knew in the business world. As Tandy was starting to break apart at this point in my career, I made it a point to find out when people were let go. I would drop them a note to offer my help in any way I could help them. They would always get back to me when they were looking for a job. Here was the answer. Build a network when people needed help not when they had all of the answers. So, off I went. Every time I found out a person had left a company I immediately reached out to them. (Not as easy as it sounds because their former company would not tell you where they went…got to love what lawyers and lawsuits have done to business). I got them to send me a resume and chatted about what their perfect job would be. Then I would sit and think about who I knew, or who I knew that knew someone that could help out my new friend. Surprise of a lifetime, but this really worked. People are more responsive to you when you are working to help them when there is nothing in it for you.
After these people landed a job I reached out to congratulate them, even if I had not helped them at all. They also always took my call. Every three months I took just a second to drop them a note to see how the new job was and what they were learning. Pretty soon we had a business “friendship” where they were always taking my call. If I saw an opportunity that fit their skill set I would always send it their way. Why not, it did not cost me anything.
Now, I must tell you that I also started cold calling again. I learned that to get someone to pick up the phone you have to call 7 times on average. I also learned that most people stop at two. As I have never considered myself most people I came up with my own program. I called it Pleasantly Persistent. I began to fully understand this calling job. I determined that it was not the job of the customer to return my call (it was nice when it happened) but it was my job to talk with them. So if I was always pleasant, and never took it personally, I was always going to be happy when I got to talk with a client.
So, in my case one (making lots of new business friends that lead to appointments) plus one (continue to cold call with a Pleasantly Persistent mentality) ended up equaling a great career in B2B sales. I became president of our division and our company became the largest retail customer analytics company in the US serving more than 400 clients.
I would suggest that for most of you that don’t have your heart into cold calling, you just simply need to stop doing it. It is more than just a waste of time and it pulls down the energy you are spending on other parts of your job. Find other ways to meet people, but make sure you work at them. And if you cannot do that then you should find a different profession. Because professional sales people are always well paid.
To learn more about how Rich Hollander gets in front of retail and restaurant professionals go to www.axcelora.com
Fort Worth Sales Management Consulting Firm, Axcelora is expanding its services into the travel and tourism sector throughout the country, focused on making connections with decision makers in Convention and Visitors Bureaus and Economic Development leaders who are building destination brands and offerings. The U.S. tourism industry represents $947 billion in direct spending and is the 7th largest employer segment, so there is a high level of activity in the market. Running this division is Michael Woody, Executive Partner at Axcelora and a seasoned leader with more than 28 years of experience in the meeting and event, hospitality and tourism industries.
“I know first-hand how difficult and costly it can be to get in front of the right people, those who are making the buying or development decision from a destination perspective. In addition, leaders in the business travel market are looking for opportunities to connect with those who decide where their annual meetings or sales incentive promotions are going to be held,” Woody said. “Partnering with Axcelora is going to provide the opportunity to put CVB’s, Economic Development teams, service and product providers and meeting planners in touch with each other, in a timely fashion, for the chance to do business. “
“We are excited about this new division at Axcelora,” said Rich Hollander, Managing Partner. There is a CVB and Economic Development team in every major city across the country. The business and leisure market is looking for opportunities to strengthen and expand destination offerings through hotel, restaurant, retail and attraction development. “This not only brings leisure travelers to town, it brings more conventions and major meetings to that city as well. Our partners will be able to decrease the amount of time it takes to have a meeting with the key decision makers.”
Axcelora offers a shortcut around the typical road blocks and barriers to getting a personal appointment with the right retail chain store decision maker. Because we personally evaluate and book the appointment, you know all parties have been reviewed, vetted and the stage is set for a positive interaction. While we can’t guarantee a sale, we do guarantee to provide the best context and best opportunity to close.
In my time in the B2B part of the business world we went to conventions about 5 times per year. These conventions would cost us between $20,000 and nearly $500,000 to attend when you considered all costs. You had the cost of the booth, transportation, entertainment, salaries, set up, hotel, and of course recruitment.
So, if you spent, say an average of $150,000 on a typical convention, how much would you have to close in revenue to break even? (Who works a convention to break even.) If you have a 20% incremental net profit from your B2B business than you would have to deliver $750,000 in revenue to justify the convention costs. If your typical sale is $125,000 you would have to be able to net 6 new sales from the convention to make a good investment out of your efforts.
So, that begs the questions - How do ensure you are going to make at least 6 sales from your convention? How do you keep your team on the right path to success? The answer? Create a roadmap for success. Here is my recommendation for that roadmap.
2 Months Out – Ensure your convention preparation team has everything under control. The booth looks good, the hotel and air reservations are made, booth refreshments are taken care of, and all handouts are ready to go to the printer. A list of all of the attendees has been obtained and assigned to people that will be attending the convention. Appointment goals for the convention are assigned to each individual. These should include both current customers and potential new customers. (Remember it is a wish until it is written down on paper, then it becomes a goal) A calling schedule has been set for each prospect and current customer and a kickoff calling day has been scheduled as well.
You should have determined if you are going to be introducing a new product or not at the convention. If you are, you should have determined the marketing campaign and you should start the kickoff.
6 Weeks out – The “Calling Kickoff” day occurs during this time. Have a contest for most calls, most people spoken with, most appointments made with existing customers, most appointments made with prospects. Keep a Scorecard up where everyone can see the results. Make the payoff fun, a suite at the convention, a special dinner the evening before the convention starts, tickets to a sporting event or a concert, fun stuff that is not too expensive but will get the group into the spirit. Perhaps you create a pool of money, $5 for every appointment you want made at the convention. Every time an appointment is made $10 of that money gets put into a pool. The person making the most appointments gets all of the money in the pool. By the end of this “Calling Kickoff” you should have 10% of your appointments actually booked and over 50% of your targets contacted at least once.
4 Weeks out – You should now have the base presentation made for all of your team to use with each prospect. (Set up a time to practice this as a team next week.)
It is also important to have a specific goal for each of your current customers you are going to meet. If you are going to be introducing a new product or service at the convention it should be completely locked down at this point.
Check to see who has made less than 50% of their appointment goal and meet with those people and perhaps have a calling session with them. Ensure they understand the importance of paying for the show. For the company to hit the appointment goal it is going to take pleasant persistence. While there are a lot of moving parts to your company, if you don’t have a priority on appointments at a convention (whether or not the show normally is an “appointment show”) you will never get the return you are looking for. I can assure you that your competitors will not have the necessary discipline to hit the goals you have set.
You also need to ensure your operations team is ready for all of the appointments that are being set. The gold is in the detail here. This will be your best chance to make a good impression on the customer. It may be the first time you meet these people in person. Perhaps you could have a picture of each of the attendees that will be having an appointment in your booth. You can instruct your greeters to look at the pictures before the appointments to be able to recognize the honored guests. How special would that make you?
3 Weeks out – With only three weeks to go, the concentration is going to become more intense. Set aside some time this week to have your initial role play with each of your sales team. You play the customer and they should play themselves. Make sure your team understands that they have to be quick here, but give the prospect enough information to get them excited. Your role in this effort is to play the part of the prospect without playing “gotcha”. If you take it seriously, your team has a better chance while they are meeting with a prospect. They may have heard the question and will be better prepared to answer it. Explain to your sales team that their objective from this convention is to set a face to face meeting with the prospect at their office. You won’t have enough time to successfully do anything else. You need to wet their whistle enough that they will take a meeting with you at their office. Have your calendar ready and suggest a specific time. Give them a week to get back to the office and catch up, but then you want to meet with them. If it gets vague here, you have lost everything you worked for.
If it is a current client meeting, each session will be different. Make sure you and your salesperson knows specifically what you want to accomplish. What, if any, are the current issues? What is going on in their business? What is going on in their sector? With their competitors? What do you want to walk away from the meeting with? Be very specific.
2 Weeks Out – With only 2 weeks left you should have between 75% and 80% of your appointments made. Hopefully none of your people have back to back appointments during the convention. With a block of time between each appointment they will have time to recharge and prepare for the next appointment. Everything should be shipped to the convention this week including booth handouts and fact sheets.
While I personally love picking up promotional items at shows, at B2B shows I don’t think they will deliver you any business. If you have followed the road map, then everything else should be taken care of. Sit with each of your sales team members and operations team and ensure they understand the investment the company is making at the convention. Make sure they understand the goals that were set and what we need to do during the convention to get there.
1 Week Out- With only one week left before the convention you will have made all of the quality appointments you are going to make. If people have not said yes to you by now, they are not going to. Take your foot off the gas and give your team a breather.
Set your expectation for behavior at the convention. Tell your team to have fun while they are on the convention floor. Enjoy their time with the customers, the walk ups and each other. Remind them that while they are talking with each other, it is important to immediately break away to say hello to someone that has walked up to the booth. The customer always comes first.
Talk with your team about how they will represent your brand at the convention. Remind them that while having fun is an important aspect of the convention, it is even more important to be on their best behavior and set a good example.
Show time – This is where the real winners win. Each morning take a few moments and ensure you are ready for the appointments that are going to take place. Communicate with the operations team to keep them in the loop throughout the day. At the end of the show each day have a recap with the team. Let the team members brag about the number of appointments they set for the upcoming weeks. Find out if there were any glitches during the day and determine the solutions for the next day.
Shows typically end early afternoon on the last day. When everything is packed up take the entire crew out to a nice dinner. Recap your successes, the meetings you have set, the progress with existing customers, and the walk-up meetings that took place. Determine areas where you could have done a better job in either preparation or execution. Finally, and this is vital, get a commitment from each of your sales people when they are going to finish their follow up. Then enjoy the meal and unwind from a busy convention.
Follow up – Don’t let grass grow under anyone’s feet. During the next week everyone will be a bit emotionally tired, but you cannot let this happen. Everyday make sure the follow up is going on. Post how many appointments are being made, how many sales are being signed, and how many new leads are being activated. Two months after the show, sit with your CFO and determine if you can afford to do this show again next year. Are you going to make the 6 sales at $125,000 each? How could you have been more efficient with the investment?
Reaching your Goals - As Yogi Berra said “If you don’t set goals, you’ll never reach them. Or like they say in golf, if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Yogi was a brilliant guy. We have built a road map, if you use it you have a much better chance of success. If you put it in the drawer of your desk, your desk may have a chance of getting there.
Ok, it’s Monday morning and you have just sat down at your desk. You were busy last week so you did not GET to do your normal calling. But let’s face it, you have not been doing your NORMAL calling for 7 weeks now. Something has come up every week to get in the way of your cold calls. One week your dog was sick (odd, because you don’t have a dog) one week you had the sales conference in Las Vegas (you had a slow start every morning in Las Vegas…must be the dry air and your sinuses) and remember that week when you had to go to product training (Ok it lasted only 2 hours, but you had to think about the repercussions of the information you had absorbed.)
These are rookie excuses that sales managers have heard all too often. These rookie excuses will get you fired for lack of initiative if nothing else. They are trite and candidly lack any imagination. Our list of 8 solid reasons for not making calls should last you at least 3 months. So let’s get started, and remember, they will work best when practiced often and delivered with a sense of remorse.
Now, at some point in time you are going to have to get in front of customers. And, as we have discussed in our past posts, there are many different ways to do that if you don’t like to cold call. You can work phones with your friends, you can work conventions, you can do direct mail, or you can work your LinkedIn network. All of these are good.
But, if you want the most innovative and perhaps efficient method of getting in front of decision makers you have to give Axcelora a try. Leveraging it’s more than 1,100 years of retail and restaurant experience, and contacts with more than 4,400 retail/restaurant decision makers Axcelora is attempting to make cold calling obsolete. As one client said “You have put us in front of more qualified prospects in two months than we were able to do for ourselves in a year and a half.”
I remember one of the first sales training sessions I went to at Dale Carnegie in 1973. Most of the people in this sales training class were not retailers, so the leader of the class was concentrating on them. He brought out a Yellow Pages phone book (for you younger people ask your parents what the Yellow Pages were, and for that matter what a Phone Book was) and told us that this was a suspect list and that professional sales people were able to take a suspect list and turn it into a prospect list. That visualization stuck with me for more than 25 years until I got into the B2B sales business. I remember sitting down in front of a database that I had with the name, address, and phone number of every significant retailer in the US. There were thousands of them in the database but this was my suspect list. Just like the phone book that the Dale Carnegie teacher had shown me 25 years earlier…and just as useful.
I had to develop a plan to take this list and make it manageable, otherwise I would be overwhelmed. And an overwhelmed sales person faces the prospect of inertia. So over the next several years I developed several key steps I took whenever we looked at a group of suspects.
Finally, sit down with your sales manager and get buy in of your plan. Listen and be open to suggestions you may be given. But, don’t be afraid to defend the plan you have developed. If you have been thoughtful about your plan, share it with the person hired to listen to you. When you both agree to the plan, get to work. Along the way you should analyze your results and correct your course if necessary.
If you are having a difficult time getting into a prospect you think is a must see, look for different methods to break the door down. An interesting new company in that field is Axcelora (www.axcelora.com). They use individual personal relationships to make personal appointments. There are also companies that use professional telemarketers like Sales Roads (www.salesroads.com ) and I even found one that used actors. Leverage your LinkedIn network. Take the time to learn the best practices of LinkedIn, it will be well worth your while.
But most importantly, create the plan, write the plan down on paper, and post the results of the plan to yourself and your leadership team. Oh yeah, enjoy the success.
Rich Hollander is a retail expert with over 40 years in the industry.