By David Castlegrant
Once upon a time, there was no Internet. Back then, smart phones and handheld devices did not exist. Companies were forced to conduct business using paper, typewriters and selling products face-to-face locally. With the advance of the Internet, a whole new world of marketing began. Soon customers became global and could shop 24/7. Companies could collect, store, and study customer data and really target market. Companies could do business with other companies faster and cheaper. No wonder the Internet poses such a challenge to the survival of the traditional brick and mortar businesses.
Now that the Internet is part of the fabric of life, companies view their website as just another way to sell and market their products. In fact, many companies have created new products or services because of the Internet. E-commerce is now mobile because of Smart Phones and e-marketing. In today’s uncertain economy, independent retail businesses must use every ounce in their creative reservoir in order to survive. One highly practical and proactive method that small retailers can tap into is the often little-used, yet potentially high source of income: B2B or industrial sales.
The following is a step by step plan for developing and implementing an industrial sales process.
STEP 1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK
● Generate a list of possible customers for use as sales leads.
o Look for sales leads in: existing customer records, business directories, the yellow pages and other sources.
o If you are comfortable with technology, there are also online data warehouses such as www.infoUSA.com that you can license contact lists. You can search by business type, estimated sales, employee totals, D&B rating, zip code and many other sort options.
o List prices vary by the amount of contacts and the type of contacts. For example, if you just want to try direct mail or door-to-door, you can license a list that just includes business names and addresses for maybe 8 to 10 cents per record.
o If you want to spend more, you can include the owner’s name, the primary telephone number, employee totals, etc. Spend more money per record and you can get an email address.
● Learn as much information as possible about the nature of the prospects’ business.
o Most businesses have a website, and this is the perfect place to start learning the “getting to know you” process.
STEP 2: GET THE WORD OUT
● IRB2B: Independent Retail Business to Business
o Next, promote your store and products by focusing on two main target groups: existing customers (those that you have done business with before–either intentionally or by “accident”) and new customers.
o Start by identifying the hub industries in your market. By identifying the industrial make-up of your area, you can discover what products would best suit these industries. For example, if your area is mostly automotive, what products and services could you offer them? Compile a list of the major companies and support companies.
o Develop programs aimed specifically at small business. Some likely companies would include: landscape; roofing; HVAC; commercial plumbing and electricians; auto repair shops; medical, dental and veterinary offices: and restaurants.
● Connecting with Past or Present Business Customers
o Strengthen relationships with existing business customer base by broadening the product range and building on past success.
o Ask the question, “What else can we do for you?” For example, if you are already selling them work shoes, also try to sell them socks and work gloves.
o Awaken dormant business customers.
o Ask yourself why these went dormant and attempt to rekindle the relationship.
o Design a survey for this group to gain information in order to re-establish their patronage.
● New Business Customers
o Institute a campaign to get new business customers by using some of these techniques.
o E-mail, US mail or hand-deliver a one-page PDF full color ad about your business and products.
o Develop a static web page from your e-commerce site or have this page stand alone. Include in the web page general information about your business to include company history, mission statement, products and services offered, outline of your program for business sales, pricing plan, credit requirements and additional information.
o Attend local B2B trade shows and promote your product offerings for businesses.
o Develop direct mail and/or telemarketing process to encourage “event” buying. For example, hold a “Workers Appreciation Night” that will reward attendees with additional discounts, specials, gifts, and contests. (Build brand loyalty – Your store is your brand!)
STEP 3: SET UP APPOINTMENTS
● Once you have done your homework, make a list of the ten most promising business customers. By limiting the number, the task will seem much more do-able.
● Start with the customers you know well. By starting with existing business customers with whom you have a good relationship, you will build your confidence and hone your approach. This audience will also be less likely to be as critical of you and your beginning efforts.
● Telephone management representatives, purchasing agents, engineers, or other professional and technical personnel at commercial, industrial, and other establishments and attempt to convince prospective client of desirability and practicality of products or services offered.
STEP 4: SELL YOUR PRODUCT
● Describe or demonstrate product using samples, deal sheets, online or paper catalogs, and emphasize features and benefits.
● Propose changes in product or services, which would result in cost reduction or improvement. For example, suggest a less expensive but quality work boot; special order hard-to-get sizes; repair zippers on work wear.
● Review client’s specifications to develop and prepare cost estimates.
● Discuss sales or service contract.
● Provide technical training to clients’ employees regarding use and maintenance of products or services.
STEP 5: RE-TOOL YOUR INTERNAL OPERATIONS TO FIT THIS NEW SOURCE OF INCOME
● Display the products you are offering in a special area of your store.
● Develop pricing and credit terms and prepare sales contracts.
● Obtain credit information on prospective business customers.
● Estimate date of delivery.
● Prepare reports of sales transactions and keep track of expense records relating to business customer sales.
● Develop user-friendly forms and procedures, your record-keeping and customer service. Suggested forms are Excel® spreadsheets to track sales. Sort these by ascending order to determine levels of activity by account.
● Use a Lead Information Sheet to list pertinent information about the company’s needs, contact names, number of employees, etc.
● Use Activity Reports to keep a record of action you have taken on each account.
STEP 6: FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP!
● Most people are not very diligent about following up on details and customer satisfaction after a sale. By doing this you will develop a relationship with business customers and improve your chances of repeat and increased sales. Establish a regular routine of calling business customers to solicit orders or to simply talk.
Maintaining a positive attitude in uncertain times is challenging, but not impossible. Independent retail businesses can use this six step technique to increase their income and become more indispensable to existing business customers. By developing a business sales program, the independent retailer can stay competitive in today’s market and even make some money!
David Castlegrant has extensive work experience as an executive retail operations manager, university professor and business consultant. Over 200 for profit, non-profit and higher education organizations have been served since the establishment of David Castlegrant & Associates in 1992.