Sales Correspondence :
Sales breaks into two basic categories and then two again.Paid
This is the basic box you should refer to when writing a sales letter. We traditionally think of sales people in terms of those who are talking to consumers and the consumers did not pay them to talk to them. This is usually the most inexperienced sales group and the obnoxious legendary car salesmen of Used Cars with Kurt Russell and Jack Warden or Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman talking primarily to small storeowners, not paid to talk to him.
The reason for this difference is that sales people themselves don't sufficiently make the distinction. Retailers pay their purchasing agents, called buyers, to talk to vendors. These buyers often forget, or conveniently overlook this responsibility, that their employer is paying them to review and secure the most suitable products, services, and new things from the outside world.
Then you have the difference between selling consumer goods to consumers, selling consumer goods to retailers or wholesalers who then sell to consumers or selling industrial products to companies, though they may also be sold to consumers such as with copy paper.
Your correspondence should reflect these distinctions and where you fit in. Email has become our vehicle of choice for sales and buyers alike because you can attach documents such as PDFs with all the pertinent information and use the email for cut and paste purposes to do the back and forths to get the job done.
Also, the buyer can pick up the information from his email at their convenience without being interrupted by a phone call from our sales person.
Email has the benefit of being non-intrusive. The buyer can pick up the email at their leisure. You are not interrupting them or catching them off guard. Sales people caught on to faxes in the 1980s for this purpose, with my credo, You can dodge a call but not a fax. An email is even more powerful because you can copy others, which holds the buyer's feet to the proverbial fire. Nevertheless, as with all tools, email is only as good a tool as the circumstances and your abilities make it.
What does this mean for you?
· When hiring sales people today, they must be effective writers. More and more sales are being done by email without calls or personal visits.
· This is not to say there are no personal visits or calls. It does mean that fewer are involved.
· Emails broaden the daily reach of your sales people. They can reach 50 to 100 or more people with a far higher response rate than via voice and voice mail.
· Crisp, clear writing is important and rare among sales people.
What do we recommend?
· Try to hire good writers first. You can train them in sales.
· Focus on fast clear communication over long ponderous communication types.
· Avoid the old time entertainers, what sales people usually pride themselves on and is so rarely true : they think they are funny (they are usually irritating), they think they are witty (like lead balloons), people like them (they generally don't), and they are cute (anything but).
Sales positions are the hardest jobs to fill with good performers. The power of emails let you avoid most of this difficulty by hiring first for writing skills and only secondarily for good sales abilities. Most key account selling can be done from your headquarters with less dependence on field sales people, which means inside managers can assist effectively in creating the sales documents that lead to more orders.
The point was driven home to me when I realized P & G has no more than 50 key accounts, just like Simply Magazine. They may have more zeros in their purchase orders and ultimate sales, but this does not alter their mission from our own. So even a great company such as P & G could centralize and streamline most of their sales activities and benefit with higher sales and much lower costs. Therefore, you certainly can in your sales efforts.
The first act of preparation is to establish your key account list. The best way to do it is to decide which are your largest 50 potential accounts. In our case, as with P & G, they constitute at least 75% of our potential sales. Get them set up in ACT or a similar sales program. Then work on a few key letters/emails you can modify as required.
The key to this communication style is to be frequent enough in communication but not too much so. Achieving this balance is one of the greatest challenges for all of us in sales. Therefore, you must carefully craft your key account letters so you getthe most out of them. This will help prevent you from boring or irritating your potential customers with too much contact.
In this area, we strongly recommend our Sales Skills CD, Strategic Selling by Miller, and SPIN Selling by Rackman. If selling consumers directly, Tom Hopkins Selling is a masterpiece.
If you are selling into channels where buyers are paid to do their job, and you aren't the telemarketing insurance guy trying to drum up business, your customers generally know something about your firm. The more they know about you and your firm, the less preliminaries you need and the more you can get down to business. This is the great advantage of being a well known company's representative.
At a minimum, the buyer should stay up with your story. Despite this being the appropriate course of action and what they are paid to do, few buyers do this and most get caught up in their own internal organizations work and meetings despite the enormous computer power at their finger tips to process orders virtuallyinstantly, automate or semi-automate reorders, and keep their inventories in darn good shape. This is the ideal world. Most managements are just starting to get a glimmer of this problem and are starting to put pressure on buyers to do their jobbut it is a long way off, though certainly better than even a few years ago. Keep your sales people closely attuned to these developments by account. Your sales can take a big jump up if you call on buyers when their bosses have scorched them for being too inwardly focused and smug about their current activities.
AIDA : Attention, Interest, Desire & Action
These are the traditional foundations of sales correspondence. Buyers buy with emotion and defend with logic, whether they are purchasing agents, engineers (who will proclaim they aren't emotional, but are therefore the most vulnerable to the emotional sale), or consumers themselves. Your first goal is to hook their attention and interest through appealing to their desire. Then you can move the sales process forward through the logic of the details, supported by their emotions, and move to close the business with a purchase order or signed agreement.
One of the interesting things I have learned over the years is buyers are not really looking out for their true self-interest looking good to the boss and buying better, cheaper, and or simpler products and services to use. While this may seemamazing, and perhaps it is, appealing to what is in their personal best interest rarely works.
What works is intriguing them with something they want to do. Buyers as a class have a way of warding off their bosses. At BJ Wholesale, for example, a Director underscored how management lets them do their jobs, Doesn't interfere in theirpurchasing activities, and so on and so on. In what other department would top management not insert itself in such a critical function to making their company work? Well, they don't. And that's that.
The exception to this is fast growing entrepreneurial companies when the top guysdo make the decisionsand then what is best for the company rules. And this isone reason companies grow so fast at these stages. Sam Walton did a lot of thebuying, and personally led buying follow-ups in his Saturday meetings (e.g., Mr.Sam, So what did you buy that was new or better priced this week?). He alwaystook a strong interest in it. When having trouble with P & G, he invited the CEO on araft trip. When the CEO declined, Sam explained it wasn't optional. The end resultwas a legendary partnership that continues to this day Sam knew he had tosimplify that relationship.
That's why Sam was Sam. Most CEOs hide from sales people. Don't do thatyourself. Check in with key suppliers at least once a year, How are we doing?Charles Lazarus always did this for Toys R US in its hey day. He told me how hisbankers and investors said it was a waste of time. He said, Our suppliers in toys,related products, and juvenile each have one key show per year. 10 days per year Igo to those shows and see the CEOs. They know once a year they get a crack atme and so do my buyers. That keeps my organization on its toes and lets meknow what's hot and what's not.
What do you do if this is so effective but rare? You set up a plan of attack.
Start with figuring out what your company provides that is critical to the customer best quality is a non-starter. Why is it best quality? What differentiates it, etc. andso on.
This is beyond this section but you must work on that because the best developedsales letters wont work without compelling emotional and logical points. In fact, arather poorly written letter with a compelling argument and supporting logic will beatthe well written letter every time. You must plan the work and then work the plan.
So work on your plan. Then present it concisely in letters, emails, and a closingpersonal visit as necessary.
· Your letter and attachments should provide sufficient information for thecustomer to buy your products or services with no other data required.
· This means you can use attachments to this effect: prices, terms,conditions, all pertinent details, leases if this is involved, and so on and soon.
· If they can't buy it, don't write it.
Here is my example :
Dear Dollar Chain Buyer,
Simply Magazine is the only software company that focuses exclusively on your retail category. We cover all the key categories of software (e.g., games, education, crafts, financial, home & family, and tools, see the attached PDF) andcan provide them with one UPC code per category in a wide variety of display options (e.g., counter, shelf, pegboard, clipstrip, or bin dump displays, see the attached PDF).
Our cost is $.50 per CD, FOB Factory, providing you 50% margins versus your overall 31% margins. Our software is shelf friendly with 50 pieces taking up only the room of 2 or 3 hardcover books, 2 cans of peas, or 12 DVD movies.
We would welcome a meeting to put a program together for you that suits your needs. Feel free to do just a small test to assure yourself of the sell through.
Thank you for your attention.
If you have met the buyer at a trade show, and that is common in most retail markets, or have seen him before, the letter is simpler.
Just insert a personalized first paragraph.
Thank you for meeting with me one on one at the ECRM meeting in Atlanta. This is to restate what we said and move to getting the initial order you wanted to give us.
The general sales letter is similar.
Why buy is the key question for you to address head on. Until you can answer that question, don't write. And as far as prices are concerned, don't ask them for more information. At a minimum, give them the sticker price. Say additional discounts may be worked out. If you can, as in the letter above, set forth the exact terms and conditions so they can cut an order and not have to go through a complicated dance with you. If you do this, then they can either give you the order or focus on a few details they would like clarified or improved.
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