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Advice To The Sales-lorn

From a cheesecake whiz to an air-conditioner salesman to a guy deep in yogurt -- readers have been writing to our man Wilson Harrell, and now he answers his mail.
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Dear Wilson:

I just resigned from a Fortune 500 company to start my own yogurt business. My product is as good as anything on the market, but what's really special is the fantastic marketing plan I've developed to introduce it. Plus I have enough financing and production to start a national rollout. What I don't know is how to go about selecting food brokers around the country. Can you help? -- Ready, willing, and able

Forget it. I like clever marketing plans and have seen a few over the past 40 years. But by everything that's holy, unless you have a creative product to go with it, you might as well go dig yourself a grave in the place where broke marketing people rest in frustration. Save your money and your sanity.

Dear Wilson:

I sell telephone systems to small and not-so-small businsses, or at least I'm trying to. My problem is that I can't seem to get through to the chief executive officer, who unfortunately is the person who makes decisions about such big expenditures. The average CEO just isn't interested in learning about phone systems, so I'm always getting the brush-off. What would you do? -- Tired of busy signals

I'd go directly to the CEO's personal secretary, the one person who is involved with almost every business decision that he or she makes. Not only is the secretary easily accessible by telephone, but chances are you'll have no difficulty setting up a meeting. A CEO's secretary knows all the internal politics and can definitely get you to the CEO. I have used this tactic thousands of times, and it works.

Dear Wilson:

I'm in the business of selling replacement air conditioners to motels in Florida. Signing on for 50 or more units is a big investment for most of my customers, and I find I'm spending all my time trying to figure out how they can pay for the units. Any ideas? -- Cooling my heels

I do know of a company specializing in redecorating hotels and motels that came up with an ingenious financing plan to meet the same sort of problem. Maybe you could modify its idea to fit your situation. This is how it worked: the company would redo an entire hotel or motel with an agreement that the owner would increase daily room rates by enough to pay for the redecoration over a period of five years. The owner signed a contract to remit the surcharge to the company each month. Since these funds came off the top before any expenses were involved, it didn't affect existing loans.

Dear Wilson:

How does a small company get the attention of manufacturers' reps who can get higher monthly commission checks from the bigger companies? I started my own company, and we're doing OK, but I think we could do a lot better if the reps spent more time pushing our product. -- Feeling neglected

What you must do is separate yourself from the herd. Make yourself special. If your budget allows, increase your commission rate above the average. An even better idea is to offer reps a long-term commitment. You can be sure that 95% of all the agreements they have with other companies include a standard 30-day cancellation clause. So, why not try this argument: "We both know that I need you a hell of a lot more than you need me right now. However, if we could get more of your effort, our account could be worth a lot more to you. Since I can't afford to pay higher commissions, I'm prepared to sign a long-term agreement that will ensure that you will eventually get repaid for the time and effort you invest now."

Dear Wilson:

I have a recipe for the best cheesecake in the world. It's so good that everyone asks me why I don't sell it to the supermarkets. My husband and I have talked it over, and we are convinced that we should set up our own business, starting out with the cheesecake. We've put aside a few thousand dollars to invest. What do you think? -- Sweet tooth

You don't need a company, and you shouldn't risk your savings yet. Why not go to a local store that has a bakery section and ask the owner to let you put your cheesecake on the shelf? And resist the temptation to underprice yourself. For some reason, the average consumer makes a connection between price and quality. If customers clamor for your cheesecake, you'll have some reason to believe that there may be a market for it. If it doesn't sell, you haven't risked much.

Dear Wilson:

I have a marketing manager working for me who is gradually driving me crazy. About once a week she says, "That's it, I quit," or "I've had all of this I can take; I'm gone," or "Where do you want me to put my letter of resignation?" This woman comes up with great ideas, and I can't afford to lose her. The problem is, she knows it. I don't believe she really wants to quit, but I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that she is having a terrible effect on the morale of my other managers, to say nothing of what she is doing to me. What, oh what, can I do? -- Don't want to lose her

The easy answer is, "The next time you quit, you can pack up and leave." But that's not the right answer. I suspect what she is probably trying to say is, "Please don't fire me." Why not sit her down and have a serious -- and I do mean serious -- discussion. You may want to say something like, "It is obvious that in some way I am failing you. The fact that you keep threatening to quit can only mean that you're uncomfortable working for me. Let's see if, between you and me, we can figure out what I'm doing wrong." She will probably say that she didn't really mean it, but don't let her get away with that or any other kind of an apology. You must get to the heart of her problem, because if you don't do it now, it's all over. Be honest with her. Tell her she is really valuable to you -- not irreplaceable, because no one is, but almost. When you find out the real cause of her insecurity, it probably will be something easy to correct. You may even solve the problem just by discovering what it is. If you don't, then you have but one recourse, and that's back to the simple solution. Fire her, and be done with it.

Last updated: Mar 1, 1987




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