Should I handle my own sales?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Dear Norm,
I am the owner of a small handbag company that is facing a tremendous amount of competition. My business was doing very well until about a year ago, when sales started to slip. I have received wonderful editorial credits in the top fashion publications and have had placement in the finest stores in the country with good sell-through. Last year I decided to take sales in-house, because I thought I could be the best spokesperson for my product. My primary goal is to build a solid brand. How can I get to the next level?

Dear Nancy,
Handling your own sales is not how you build a brand. You need to develop a certain mystique as the person whose name is on the product. You can’t do that if you’re spending your time qualifying leads, making sales calls, getting doors slammed in your face. To build a brand, increase your sales, and grow the company, you need to turn responsibilities over to other people. That can be hard, I admit, particularly when you believe you can do the job better than anyone else. I was the first dispatcher in my delivery business, and I always thought I was the best at it. But if I were still dispatching, I’d have a very small company today.
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Business Success, Sales, Startups

How do I handle the off seasons?

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Dear Norm,
I have a three-year-old company that produces job fairs, and we’re riding a roller-coaster. Business is great for three or four months in the spring and again for two or three months in the fall. In between, there’s nothing. Our cash flow falls to zero. Meanwhile, we still have to pay our employees. We’ve tried attracting customers by offering off-season discounts—to no avail. The cash crunch gets so bad that we spend most of the good months just recovering. This problem is crippling the business and my emotional stability.

Dear Kent,
First of all, off-season discounts usually don’t work and may undermine the profitable part of your business. Instead you should look for ways to diversify. Are there other types of shows you could produce in the down months? Could you do consulting during those times? You have to be creative, but diversification is generally the best solution to seasonal fluctuations. Meanwhile, deal with the cash-flow problems directly. Can you negotiate to pay your leases during the months when you have more money in the bank? Can you speed up your collections when cash is tight? Also try explaining the problem to your employees and asking for their suggestions. They may well come up with ideas you’d never think of.
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Business Success, Sales

Should I give up on a sale?

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Dear Norm,
I am a fledgling neckwear designer, and I’ve finally gotten all my ducks in a row. I contacted a local menswear chain and persuaded the buyer to take a look. I sent him tie samples, fabric swatches, photos, everything. Two months ago he assured me he was going to place an order. Since then I’ve called him repeatedly, and he always tells me he’s about to fax the order, but he never does. I’m having second thoughts about doing business with someone whose word doesn’t mean anything. Should I keep pestering him?

Dear Pam,
I’d bill him for the ties with a tongue-in-cheek note. Say something like, “I’m sure you loved my ties so much, you’re probably wearing them, but as a small-business person, I have to get paid for my services. If you are not satisfied with the ties for any reason, you can always return them. Otherwise please send me a check.”
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Customers, Sales

How do I hire the right salesperson?

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Dear Norm,
My partner, Jon, and I have a two-year-old technology start-up. Our problem is that neither one of us is a salesperson. Jon is an engineer, and I’m a systems analyst. I’d rather have dental surgery without Novocain than go out and sell. So we need a salesperson, but I’m worried about hiring someone who will give away the store. We offer a one-year, complete-satisfaction-or-your-money-back guarantee. If we wind up buying too much back, we’ll go out of business. With our reputation at stake, we can’t afford to go the gold-chains-red-sports-car route. How can we make sure we get the right type of salesperson?

Dear Eric,
You need to begin by recognizing that you are, in fact, the best salesperson for your product. You know it better than anyone else, and you have a passion for it. You probably have trouble making the initial contact with prospective customers. Fine. Hire someone to do that for you. Look for a personable individual who is good at cold-calling, turning up leads, and identifying prospects—and who can deal with the hardest part of selling, namely, rejection. Let that person bring you prospects who are pre-qualified and ready to buy. You’ll become the closer. That way, you’ll have control over their expectations.
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Hiring, Sales, Startups