By Marla Kott, CEO Imprint Plus
Imprint Plus is a 33 year old company. It is 100 per cent women owned. Imprint Plus today has over 35,000 customers spread out over 75 countries. We are proud to have over 26 Fortune 500 customers, but equally proud to be able to service companies that have 2 employees or 200,000 with care.
Ellen Flanders, the founder of the company, started out engraving metal products for local businesses. Name badges were one of many products.
A local MacDonald’s asked her for a badge with a magnetic backing, and Ellen agreed to provide the product even though it was something the company would have to develop. That was the true beginning of our name badge business.
I was asked to share selling tips that have helped us along the way; I have chosen the ones that were hard to learn but made a marked difference in our growth. Selling is a difficult and challenging profession, but as my Daddy used to say, everything begins with a sale!
I’ve briefly highlighted two areas:
· The sales role of an entrepreneur
· The difficult job of listening
Entrepreneurs need to be extraordinary salespeople. Every successful entrepreneur I have met has an awesome belief in their products and services, and in their ultimate success. Every entrepreneur has a vision of what success looks like and knows how it will feel when it happens.
I created a video sharing my vision of The Mighty Badge Kits in every stationary and office supply company. My personal vision board showed plane tickets and pictures of beautiful beach resorts!
The first people that must be sold on your vision are your staff; all employees should believe in your product or service to the core of their being. Doubters do not belong in your company because your employees are ambassadors of your brand.
Consider the name badge industry. There are over 14 million companies, possibly more, that offer name badges. We know Imprint Plus and The Mighty Badge, our distributor brand, will own the category of professional and reusable name badges one day.
Even though it may sound preposterous to some, our employees believe in this vision and because they do, we WILL one day be the company that owns this category.
The second most important group, with whom an entrepreneur must share their vision with, is vendors; in this category I include banks. Your vendors must be as clear and as committed as your employees because you are asking them to take this journey with you.
Vendors can also provide key information that will help you shortcut to success or mitigate challenges. They are a critical segment of your advisory group.
We visit our vendors frequently to give them insight into where we are on the road to success, prepare them for volume increases or decreases, and hear their thoughts. Setbacks sometimes happen; don’t be afraid to share and discuss pricing and product challenges.
I have included banks in this category because they are suppliers of money and services. My history includes 17 years as a chartered accountant working with manufacturers and importers. Bank meetings occurred when the customer was on the brink of explosive growth or closure, so I’ve had many a bank meeting that was euphoric, tense and unpleasant, all at the same time. Bank meetings are challenging because so much rides on the ability to secure funding, which is exactly why this sale is so important and the relationship built with your banker matters. This relationship should be good, but if it isn’t, shop around. Your banker should be a key advisor and sounding board.
Selling to prospects/customers requires a different skill, the skill of listening. Hearing and absorbing information shared by prospects/customers allows you to match their needs to your offering; crucial if a sale is to be made.
I can empathize with every entrepreneur, or sales representative, who, once they have finally gotten to the decision maker, wants to take the floor and talk about all the amazing features and incredible benefits associated with their particular service or product. Stop yourself.
Listening will give you insight into the eco-system of your prospects/ customers and see if a fit exists. I have been to many meetings where I walked out without the sale, but with information that was critical to our strategic planning. I consider gaining information a win.
Developing a list of key questions to ascertain the needs of prospects /customers will give some insight into their specific expectations.
We sell an amazing name badge and sign system, but we are also a company that can take orders in five different ways and ship a customized product within 24 hours. We create customized and sustainable programs, specific to employee turnover, employee recognition programs that are fun and cost effective, software in five languages, and I could go on.
All of the above is great, but if the prospects/customers requirements are different than what you come to the table with, the meeting will end without the outcome you are hoping for. Listening to our prospects/customers we began to realize how important our logistical capabilities were. We were selling a name badge or signage system and what they wanted to buy was our logistical capabilities. Needless to say we began to sell differently once we understood the value proposition that spoke more directly to solving their problem. You may not realize that something your company does, that you take for granted, is a key deliverable.
It is important for you to understand the eco-system of the targeted prospects/customers and supply your service or product in a way that they can buy. Purchasing departments have systems and methods which you will have to accommodate. This concept eluded me for years. I much preferred to be mad because the product was so perfect for the targeting company and annoyed that they couldn’t see that, and instead chose something inferior. I couldn’t grasp that my method of supplying it stood in the way of successful bids. We have since chosen to become part of the global supply chain and adjusted our delivery to accommodate whatever systems are in place.
My last tip speaks to continued success; 40 per cent of our new business comes from referrals, so acquisition of one customer is a seed that can grow to an orchard when the account management and service is excellent. Be excellent.