To Survive In Today's Market, Vendors Must Define Sales And Marketing Strategies

In this third part of a series on creating a culture of excellence, vending veteran Tom Britten outlines sales and marketing strategies which he claims are no longer optional to succeed in vending.

In the past, many successful vending companies had no actual agenda for gaining new business. They enjoyed growth mainly through word-of-mouth referrals and luck. But if you're hoping the good 'ole blind pig will continue to back into an ear of corn every once in awhile, like he always has, I think you're going to be disappointed.

Yesterday's Sales Techniques Won't Do It Any More

Just as operating the same old way won't work in today's marketplace, neither will selling the same old way. More aggressive competition in a marketplace with a dwindling number of potential locations necessitates a more deliberate, systematic approach to growth. Being good at what you do is no longer good enough. Creative, hard-hitting sales and marketing strategies must be in place if you are to have any chance of growing your business on a sustained basis. "Selling on purpose" is a big job; it requires a serious commitment of time and effort over a long period of time.

Winners in business always play hardball. They single-mindedly and relentlessly pursue the competitive advantage, and they make no apologies for it. We long ago reached a stage where the only new business to get is the business someone else already has. Like it or not, you're lying in the weeds, waiting for your competition to make a mistake.

What Are You Doing While You're Waiting?

While you're waiting, you should be data mining, networking, entertaining, creating relationships, and in general driving for any competitive advantage you can lay your hands on. Always remember, in our business, selling is a process, not an event.

The costs associated with the pursuit of new business is an expense that needs to be considered from the perspective of not what it will cost to do this, but what it will cost not to.

Sales And Marketing: You Need To Do Both

A critical aspect of creating a winning company culture is incorporating clearly defined sales and marketing functions in your company.

People often confuse marketing with sales. Sales is a day-to-day tactical issue; marketing looks down the road and addresses how you get the word out, how you package your goods, how you identify your market, and other strategic issues.

Successful selling depends on good marketing.

A decision to bring on a new product line, for instance, is a part of your marketing strategy. It needs to be understood in this context in order to succeed.

Marketing is something the whole company needs to be involved with. If you are expanding into a new product line, you need support inside the company before you take it outside. If your entire organization is not enthusiastically sold on the boss's latest brainstorm, don't expect the consumer to be.

Employees can end up undermining new products because they don't believe in them or they feel disengaged from them in some way. Give them a reason to want to help make it work, a tangible one if possible.

Successful sales and marketing strategies also require a good product. Here is where the operational issues covered in the February and March articles come into play.

Key Element Of All: A Winning Product

Enthusiasm is overrated. All this stuff about "fire in the belly," "a sense of urgency," "driving desire to succeed," etc. won't sell a penny's worth of business if your prices and products are not competitive.

Your reputation is a huge factor; it's tough to sell rotten apples. I have seen more than a few good salesmen (albeit a little na've) go down in flames because they were attempting to sell against a stacked deck.

The very first step in your sales and marketing plan is to take an honest look at your weaknesses. This could hurt a little bit. You may find you have some work to do on the operations side before attacking the marketplace.

Strategic Partnerships

Establishing partnerships with other companies is another aspect of your strategic marketing. Who are these partners?

Cold beverage bottlers are a logical partner for many vending companies. Like all characteristics of your marketplace, cold beverage marketing needs to be given a serious review and possibly a new direction in your growth plan. In many markets, all the big cold beverage accounts are controlled by bottlers. In such instances, a strategic alliance with a bottler makes sense for a vending operator.

Strategic alliances can be made with other businesses as well. Look for any business that you do not compete with that serves the same account base as you do. Linen services, lawn services, trash removal services, guard services and janitorial companies are all possible marketing partners.

Approach these companies the same as you would a prospective client; build creative, win-win, partnering relationships with them and you may gain a short cut to a sale.

Market Research: It Takes Different Forms

Market research is also a part of your marketing. This can involve extensive activities, such as hiring a marketing consultant to evaluate your services and the market you serve. It can also be as simple as earmarking time to understand what products and services are becoming popular.

Are you up to speed on what the convenience stores are doing in your market? The convenience store industry has taken a big bite out of vending sales. The people who operate these outlets are brilliant marketers and merchandisers. We can learn a lot from them.

I suggest you set aside a day or two to tour all the 7 Elevens, Wa Was, Starvin Marvin's, and the like in your marketplace. After you browse the store, sit in your car for awhile and watch what people are carrying out and make some notes. I promise you that you will come up with some great ideas for new products.

The Selling Strategy

Defining your selling strategy is more clear cut than your marketing strategy.

The first objective in selling a vending service is to get face to face with a qualified prospect. This is not an easy task.

Selling at the corporate level is different than at the "street" level; it's not like approaching a retail clerk waiting for someone to come through the door or waiting for the phone to ring in a boiler room. Sales is very hard work. If you think it's fun and games, you probably never earned a living at it.

The sale of a big ticket, intangible commodity in a corporate environment is off the chart on the "sales degree of difficulty scale." We don't give our salespeople enough respect.

Selling Vending Is A Specialty

They have to talk to the right person, say the right thing, and ask the right questions; all at exactly the right time.

Most buying decisions for our services are made by groups with a single approval required from the top. This requires selling different people at different levels of the organization who have different objectives. This is complex.

When the prospective buyer is better at buying than the seller is at selling, the buyer will always get the better deal; so much for win-win. The remedy is functional training for the salesperson.

I don't mean just the new salesperson; some of the sales people who have been at it for a long time desperately need retraining.

Sales Training Is Imperative

Training a person to sell in this business is a challenge. While basic selling training is available from any number of sources, and can be helpful, industry specific training is really what is needed.

It's been said that 20 percent of all salespeople sell 80 percent of all the business in the world that gets sold. How are the enormously successful 20 percent different from the 80 percent of salespeople that struggle just to stay alive and hold onto their jobs?

Characteristics Of Winning Salespeople

Here are three universal behaviors that stand out:

  1. They prepare relentlessly; they don't assume a damn thing.
  2. They allow no one to waste their time, ever.
  3. They have the courage and personal integrity to sell honestly.

For any salesperson to succeed, however, they need to have a winning product.

Understand Your Customer Base

Finding prospects is probably the easiest aspect of sales. There is no longer any need to buy expensive data bases and mailing lists. With your local library card, you can access numerous data bases on the Internet, containing details on all potential new accounts in your market. From this you can create a listing of all potential accounts and begin a structured sales campaign ? all this without moving from your desk.

Target the accounts you want by name, make a detailed plan for each, prioritize the opportunities, work by appointment, and I will guarantee you that you will sell more new business.

Qualify Your Leads

Prospecting may be easy today, but the leads have to be qualified. Showing up unannounced at a prospective location hoping to get lucky enough to get in to see the decision maker used to be called "smoke stacking" back in the industrial age. Now that we live in the information age, it's just called wasting your time.

Misguided salespeople who continually bang their heads against the wall cold-calling day in and day out will self-destruct (at your expense). To make matters worse, they will fracture relationships before they even begin because prospective clients find cold calls intrusive, annoying and disrespectful.

When the salesperson is standing in the outer lobby being tongue lashed in front of everyone by the receptionist for having the audacity to show up without an appointment, their status as a business equal is instantly destroyed.

To qualify a prospect, ask the following:

  1. Is this the type of business we want?
  2. If yes, then find out who the person with authority to buy is.

The first part is simple enough, but the second part can be difficult. To find the right person, due diligence and common sense need to be applied.

Beware of calling on the wrong person on the first call; the first person you meet in the sales cycle becomes imbedded in the process. When the decision maker hands you off to his low level subordinate, that's called a "push down." You need to diplomatically resist this.

The part of the job most salespeople dislike the most is telemarketing, followed closely by paperwork. Unfortunately, both are very important and have to be done.

Pounding the phone is the only way to set appointments. The salesperson's skills on the phone have to be every bit as good as their in-person selling skills. Not nearly enough importance is placed on the prerequisite telephone selling skills which are fundamental to getting appointments with qualified prospects.

I am not in favor of outsourcing prospecting to telemarketers and locators. Delegating the front end of the sales cycle limits relationship building ability, and of course, this is a relationship sale.

The responsibility for sales call reports, phone logs and prospect data base management should be included in the salesperson's job description. Managing by information is vital to sales productivity and effectiveness. If this record keeping is allowed to get sloppy, you will pay a heavy price.

Full-Time Sales Function Is Imperative

When should you bring a salesperson on board? Should they be fulltime or parttime, split duties, half sales and half operations? If you're serious about growth, you need nothing less than a fulltime sales professional. This is not the place to save money.

Base salaries for entry level sales people should be just barely enough to get by on, but not nearly enough to be comfortable with. The sales commission is where real bucks should come from.

It is thought that a vending salesperson needs to sell annualized new business equal to three to four times his annual compensation package, just to pay for himself. However, this formula goes out the window if he is assigned nonsales busy work.

Budget For The Sales Function

Understand that there will always be out-of-pocket costs when a new salesperson comes on board. It takes time to get the ball rolling, and it's a long sales cycle. Operators often expect too much, too quick from the new salesperson. Just watch carefully to be sure things are going in the right direction in the early stages.

If you can't envision a sales candidate meeting the top client executives in your market as their business equal, in all aspects, cut the interview short.

Another important aspect of both sales and marketing today is e-commerce. Unless you have been living in a cave, you know that e-commerce has swept the entire world and forever changed the way business is done. Unparalleled access to information has changed behaviors and expectations of our customers.

If you're not using the Internet as a part of your overall strategy for marketing to new and existing customers, you are making a huge mistake. The Internet is not simply a new medium. It plays a key support role in any business. The Internet is where buyers check out potential food, vending and OCS companies in their area.

Your Website Must Be Professional

Smart buyers always gather information and look at alternative choices before they talk to anyone. Your website should be easy to navigate, simple and dynamic for both presale information and post-sales support.

The Two Elements Of A Website

Your website should be made up of two basic, yet essential elements; each should facilitate and encourage two-way communications:

  1. Informational: the online sales and marketing brochure designed to snare new business. Consider offering a free, no obligation, assessment of their current products and services.
  2. Transactional: geared for existing customers to place orders, convey requests and voice feedback. It also allows you to convey advance notice of upcoming promotional events and prizes.

Building a website is not a do-it-yourself project. You're going to need help from an expert on the technical stuff, but don't let them write the copy. The "website design consultant" (if you raise your hand and ask for one, watch out, you could get trampled) doesn't have a clue what makes your business go.

Website Content Is Critical

Remember that while the Internet has changed the way we do business, sound business fundamentals have not changed. An effective website isn't one that just exists, or just looks nice; it generates leads, sales and awareness, and improves service.

How you write the website content is critical. Forget about flaming, spinning logos; your website should be clean and business-like.

If your website were a car, what kind of car would you want it to be?

You can expect an expense of $750.00 minimally to get started with your website and more to go first class. Money well spent, in my opinion.

Your website can include an electronic newsletter. This will include photos, helpful tips, educational data, employee and customer recognition, and upbeat topical stories. Don't let this section get stale, keep it continually updated.

Your online presence should complement your off-line marketing strategies as an extension of your sales and customer service initiatives.

Traditional Advertising Has Limited Value

As for more traditional advertising, some of the greatest minds in business still can't come close to gauging the return on investment on advertising dollars. Vending is not a business where this type of investment makes sense; only a microscopic audience of people buy vending services. For this reason, newspapers, billboards, radio spots and other traditional forms of advertising are not good investments for vending operators.

Personal contact and referrals are still far and away the best advertisements in our business.

If you openly acknowledge that things have changed and we now have a whole new set of problems; if you accept the fact that it's not business as usual anymore and face these new challenges with firm resolve and bold new solutions, your future success in this great business can be assured.

Five Ways To Grow The Business:

  • Additional sales in existing accounts
  • Sales won from the competition
  • New geographical markets
  • New lines of business
  • New products

Sales Strategy Tip: The Unique Selling Proposition

Once the prospect is qualified, the sales person needs to be armed with a unique selling proposition. Some of the incentives offered to induce new accounts to sign are: advance commissions, signing bonuses, no price increase guarantees and free catering.

These traditional incentives are fine, but keep in mind they are about price, and, price is only part of the package. The better sales proposition is the one of value of service and quality.

About The Author

Tom Britten is president of Britten Managment Services, based in Lutz, Fla. He is a longtime vending industry veteran. He can be reached at 813-792-9719; email: