The inescapable truth of being in business is that you must sell – no sales, no business!
Eleanor Harpur, Interior Stylist and Retail Consultant: Merchandising
"Retailing craft is different, because the product is unique, the story behind the product and the maker – it’s important to get that across so the customer understands that the product they are buying is unique."
For lot of people, selling still has a negative connotation – the image of the slick salesperson pushing un-needed (and often un-wanted) products down someone’s throat. Not any more! Modern-day selling is about partnership and communication. It is important to build a relationship with your customers. The customer has to trust and respect you. Build a database with the names and contact information of your customers (or keep these details in a notebook, if you prefer). Memorise their names; remember what they bought the last time, or what they asked about last time. Get as much information as you can about your customers’ hobbies, family situation, job, etc. Use that information when you next talk to them. It all goes to build your relationship with them.
When you are selling to a retailer:
Demonstrate market/customer awareness: show you have done your research
Go in with a different, not a ‘me too’, product: if your product is ‘me too’, then your only point of competition is price – find another battleground, one you can win on
Show why your product is better/different/more appealing than what’s on the shelves: show you understand your customers needs and wants
Leave room to manoeuvre on price: remember the retailer not only must make a living but also must be encouraged to stock your product – otherwise, you’ll never make sales
Show how you intend to promote/support the product: explain your PR and promotional strategy and how this will bring customers to his/her door
Be sure you can scale up to meet demand: if you can’t, be clear about delivery timelines
Know how you will deliver the product: with fragile products, show how you can guarantee safe transit from your workshop to the retailer’s shelves
Be professional in your approach: give the retailer a business card, have a catalogue of products and a price list to hand
In the early stages of your business, when making sales to retailers (if that’s your chosen route to market), you will be the salesperson (there’s no one else to do it!) and you probably will be cold-calling (calling potential customers without the benefit of a previous relationship or an introduction from a mutual contact).
Use the following advice to help make it easier:
1. Research who is the decision-maker at the retailer (it may not be the manager) and contact them directly: don’t do the bulk of your cold-calling during prime business hours, when decision-makers usually are protected by ‘gatekeepers’ (secretaries or assistants). Often a call placed before opening hours (say, at 8am) or after the business closes (say, at 6pm) will be answered by the decision-maker him/herself. And don’t underestimate the value of leaving voice mail messages at night. These will be the first messages that your potential customer will hear in the morning, thereby increasing the odds of them returning your call.
2. Ask questions: if you want to present products and services that are of value to your potential customer and that meet their needs, you must ask questions. Ask the right questions and the answers will tell you what the retailer wants and how they need to be sold to.
3. Back to basics: don’t underestimate the power of faxes. In these days of email, faxes have taken a back seat. Because of that, faxes get noticed. Carefully position them as part of your sales efforts.
4. Follow-up and follow-through are keys to success: if you don’t remain in contact, you will never break through. Deliver on your promises and make proposals. Be politely persistent.
5. Something for nothing: where appropriate, offer a decision-maker something of value to them free of charge – for example, a recently-published article (which happens to feature your work) which shows trends or colours for the coming season may of interest and value; alternatively, it’s appropriate, give a sample of your work.
6. Pace yourself: cold-calling is a very time-consuming and arduous task. Allocate a specific amount of time each day/week and keep to your schedule.
And remember this advice from saleswoman Edna Larsen: “The average salesperson spends less than 25% of their time face-to-face with their clients. Personally, I spend 90%. That’s the only way to make money in sales”.
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