Monday, October 25, 2010

Business to Business Selling

imageThis article was written by Dennis Wright, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

I looked at the Branch Visit Report and scanned the several Daily Call Sheets that accompanied it, and then asked my sales rep about a particular retailer… his answer: “I was unable to talk with him; he was away on vacation”. The next question: what had he learned when he visited the store… his response: “he’ll be back in a week”. I probably invited that one, but the silence that followed that statement was deafening.

What could my rep have done when he was in that store / what should he have done when he was there? Reload. As I mentioned in an article last month there are four levels in selling and overlooking or ignoring them is the equivalent of failing to take advantage of opportunity. Not something that successful sales people often do.

Let me put this situation though in proper context; we were selling retail financing programs (financing for customers) to a wide variety of businesses and our sales model was based largely on cold calling, which can be very effective if it’s done right.

Consider this; sales people (let’s call them Level 1) at most retail businesses, if not occupied, are generally happy to chat for a few minutes while waiting for the next customer… and they’re an excellent source through which to determine what’s going on there at that business. In this particular case my sales rep, after learning the owner was away, should have asked a sales person there - after some get-acquainted small talk of course - who the business was using for customer financing, and from their perspective how that source was performing and what program changes if any they’d like to see made.

The administrative staff (2) could have provided helpful information as well; facts about the store or stores, who the decision makers were, the best time to find the owner in the store and / or perhaps even schedule an appointment with the owner at a future date.

Talking with management (3) might have yielded information about sales volumes, the economics of the arrangements in place and how those arrangements were presently viewed… and management is also a good source through which to determine how the service provider is performing and what program changes if any ought to be made.

Of course the owner is the final stop (we’ll call him Level 4) and when that meeting takes place the information gathered earlier at one or more of the other levels would have enabled him to “personalize” his sales presentation thereby making it much more effective; insuring that it addressed the businesses needs and most if not all their wants.

Would this strategy work for you… you bet it would! Whether you’re selling goods or services taking extra time for conversation - whether it’s at Level 1, 2 or 3 - to gather information and to some extent selling yourself, your company and depending on circumstances your product or program (the three stages in selling) will indeed pay off. Doing so may even create interest and support within that business before you ever have the opportunity to meet with the owner, and a little inside help never hurts.

Executive Coaches of Orange County

imageThis article was written by Larry Tucker, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Score114’s strategic partner, the Executive Coaches of Orange County (ECofOC), is now publishing a blog on managing nonprofits (www.managingnonprofits.org).

The blog addresses the nonprofit management issues that ECofOC most frequently encountered in its eight years of experience in coaching over two hundred nonprofit managers in Orange County, CA. Nonprofit directors, managers, board members, volunteers or discerning donors might find enlightenment from the blog’s twice-a-week postings. If you are involved with any nonprofit in any way, we hope you will visit our blog at www.managingnonprofits.org, and visit it regularly! It would also be great if you would forward this announcement to anyone on your E-mail address list who might be involved with a nonprofit, or who might have friends that are involved with a nonprofit. Thank you for your help!

If You Build It, Will They Come?

imageThis article was written by Bob Bradley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Having done many internet marketing workshops and counseled people on the topic, I have come to notice a curious phenomenon. Many people put a website together and launch it while knowing very little about the internet business. This is great for our workshops. Why? Because these same people attend them to find out how to make their sites do what it is they were intended to do in the first place! The reasoning is simple. People read about websites developed for $1000 that generated several thousand dollars worth of business and the owners ended up with multiple houses around the world and still were able to do business because it was all on the internet. Who wouldn't want that?

That constitutes putting the cart before the horse in my opinion. I recently had a client who admitted that he put his website up to sell stuff because it appeared easy to do -- and it was. However, he found that he got no visitors because he did not rank in search results and did little else to get people to go to his website. Build it and they will come? Not with over 250 million websites and over a trillion webpages from which to choose! My client needed to do something. He went on a discovery mission that took the better part of a year to determine just what needed to be done to get ranked and get visitors. He now has a completely different view of the world and his approach is entirely different. What he thought was an ant hill turned out to be a mountain but he was much better equipped to climb it.

We are all ignorant about many things. We were not born with knowledge. We had instincts but not knowledge. The only solution to ignorance is education. You have to learn what you do not know. Compounding the problem is that many times we do not know what we do not know. People dive into stuff with a great deal of ignorance and wonder why it just did not work the way they wanted. After all, that guy that was written up in Inc. magazine did it. Well, that guy probably represented less than .003 of the population. In other words, a long shot. If we wanted to fly a plane we would have to learn, performing surgery requires a great deal of knowledge and training, drilling for oil has to be learned. Even tying a tie properly has to be learned. 

As an old story goes, those that have been successful at something have invested 10,000 hours into it. A golf pro, a lawyer, an accountant, an electrician, a concert pianist, a plumber, an artist, the list goes on and on. Very few have put the cart before the horse. Instead of 10,000 hours spent on the right things, there are too many people who do not even spend 10 hours, much less 10,000 hours, to achieve their goals. 

Check out my blog on Internet Marketing at www.rjbradley.com/blog

What “First Impression” Does Your Business Make?

imageThis article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Management Counselor

There is now a top rated TV show on hoarding! Hoarders are people who live in houses they can hardly move through. Most of us don’t fall in that category but many of our businesses do!

I recently visited a friend’s business and he greeted me in the parking lot wearing a nice tailored and pressed suit. I then entered his business. What a mess! There were stacks of papers everywhere, dust on shelves, merchandise in no order piled on the floor, desks and tables. All I could think about is how quickly I could get out of this mess! Not surprisingly he told me business was terrible! Gee wonder why?

Keep in mind when you meet a new person they form an opinion of you within the first 15-30 seconds based on your dress and attitude. Your business is no different!

Look at your business from a customer’s standpoint. Does it look organized everywhere and dust free? Is everything clean including the restrooms? Gas stations learned years ago that a sign “Clean Restrooms” brought in travelers who gassed up and bought food and drinks. Are all the inventory items clearly marked with pricing with attractive displays that are appealing and help to sell merchandise?

My printer (former Printer now) did a great job BUT was always late by a day or two. I learned to lie on the due day for the job to accommodate their lateness. Every time I went into their office they had printing jobs piled everywhere, there didn’t seem to be an organization to their shop. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and switched printers. It was tough to do because I really like them personally but I could not count on them. I certainly wasn’t a big customer probably 2K a month but you have 5-10 customers like that and you lose enough of them it hurts. Unfortunately, after 15 years in business they closed, not because of the economy but because they lost so much business to their competitors. Sometimes Business Owners forget without customers you don’t have a business.

How much dead inventory do you have sitting on your shelves or in your warehouse or showroom? Many business owners can’t bring themselves to sell inventory at or below their cost so they elect to sit on it…forever. I remember a client’s store that had a large piece of inventory that was unused but at least 10 years old and very outdated. I asked the owner why he kept it and he told me someday a customer would come in and want it! I think he stood a better chance of having pigs fly through his showroom. Don’t fall in love with dead inventory. If you can’t sell something discount it until you do. Convert dead inventory into cash which you can then convert into saleable inventory that will make you money. Every business owner sometimes finds himself with old inventory that doesn’t sell. Don’t compound that mistake by keeping it or “holding out for your price”. Remember, dead inventory takes up room but even more important sends the message to your customers your business is not current with the times. Perhaps some of this dead inventory can be sold easily by giving your employees product training and paying extra incentives or commissions. Clean up the merchandise, make an attractive display, perhaps offer it at 50% off when another product in your store is purchased. Customers love bargains!

While you are doing this “Fall Cleaning” now is the time to throw a fresh coat of paint on the walls, clean up your signage, straighten up the counters, organize your files, and get rid of old obsolete displays etc. It is amazing what you can do with $300 in making your store clean and appealing. Remember if you don’t you competitors will!

How to Perform a Preliminary Patent Search

clip_image002This article was written by James T. Fulton, SCORE Management Counselor

Before spending any money on a Patent Lawyer, it is useful to see if your idea has been patented by someone else within the last 20 years (which would prevent you from selling products based on the idea in the commercial marketplace), or has been patented earlier (which would put the idea into the public domain and allow anyone to sell products based on the idea).

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sub-divide patents into classes and subclasses. There are about 1000 separate classes and at least 30,000 subclasses. Your initial challenge is to find the appropriate class and subclass for your idea. The complete index of classes and subclasses is available on the Internet, as are printable copies of all issued patents. Beginning recently, copies of all submitted but not yet accepted and issued applications are also available so people can avoid reinventing something already in the works.

Your major problems are two: finding the index and finding the appropriate class. You should know that the title of a patent has nothing to do with either the index or the class. Thus, to search the USPTO files based on words in the title is a waste of time. You must search the appropriate class and subclass for patents with similar ideas in their abstract. Then, you must read the entire patent of those that appear to describe an idea similar to your idea. To find the appropriate class, go to www.uspto.gov/web/patents/classification/selectnumwithtitle.htm . This will take you to the Index of Classes by name. You must either scan down through this list to find the appropriate class and subclass or hire a patent attorney to do it for about $1000. It is your choice. To see how the system works, click on GO next to Class 007, Compound Tools. This will take you to a list of all of the Subclasses in 007. Note the variety of title for the 70 or so subclasses. If your idea acts like a wrench, note the indented types under subclass 138. Does your idea include an adjustable feature? If so, it is probably under subclass 139, the one with one dot in front of it. However, note the two dots in front of subclasses 140 and 142. These are subordinate to 139. Does your adjustable wrench include a cutting feature? If it does, your idea belongs in Class 007 and Subclass 142, usually described as 007/142.

Click on the red P to the left of Subclass 142 and your screen will fill with the last 50 patents issued in this subclass. Only patents back to number 4,500,000 are active and protected by the government (issued after 1987). The older patents contain ideas already in the public domain. Ideas equivalent to these cannot be patented again.

Ref: Pressman, David “Patent it Yourself” Nolo Press, Berkeley California (available at most main city libraries)