As any sales pro knows, it typically takes a lot of work to land a meeting with a potential client. You may spend a significant amount of time researching prospects and then warming them up before that first call. Considering the effort that goes into securing that initial appointment, it’s critical to make the most of the meeting.
However, this doesn’t mean you should go into the meeting in pitch mode. A post on The Center for Sales Strategy blog says that the best sales professionals use the first appointment to uncover business challenges.
If you want to get better at those first calls, keep reading this issue of PromoPro Daily. We’re highlighting the post, which explains 4 ways to fully leverage first meetings with prospects. Spend a few minutes socializing with the prospect and then try the following tips.
1. Let the prospect know your intention. Your goal is to walk away from the meeting with an assignment. What big problem is the prospect willing to spend money to solve? This is how you want to help.
2. Show that you understand them. No one wants to be sold to, so don’t kick off the call with a sales pitch. Remember that prospects want to work with someone who gets where they’re coming from. The post recommends pulling from your research to demonstrate that you know something about their business.
3. Ask thoughtful questions. It’s important to use this first meeting to discover the prospect’s challenges and problems. Don’t just wing it but go into the call with a list of prepared questions. You can then discuss how you can help the prospect solve their problems. The post points out the importance of your research in this step. You shouldn’t ask questions that you should know the answers to. Always ask open-ended questions that can prompt the prospect to share more about their situation.
4. Don’t rush things. According to the post, when you first seek to understand, you’ll have plenty of time to be understood. In other words, you’ll have the chance to pitch your offering and close a deal. Take your time in the conversation and avoid pressuring the prospect to buy. This is how you can keep things moving along, rather than driving away the prospect.
A positive first meeting can open the door to more conversations, which can lead to long and fruitful sales relationships. Use the guidance above to make the most of a first call with new sales prospects.
Compiled by Audrey Sellers
Source: The Center for Sales Strategy blog. The Center for Sales Strategy is a sales performance improvement company.
Published with Permission From PPAI
You know the saying — it’s not what you know but who you know. Creating and maintaining connections can have a huge impact on your professional success. More than 80% of people say networking is essential to their career success, and around 41% say they want to network more often.
While LinkedIn is great for networking — marketers say 80% of their leads come from the site — there are many places you can expand your web of connections. In this issue of PromoPro Daily, we share a post from the Atlanta Small Business Network blog that highlights some unique places to network and make connections.
1. Coffee shop. Your morning latte could lead to a fruitful business relationship. The ASBN post notes that because coffee shops attract all kinds of people from many different industries, you could expand your network in new areas. Try striking up a conversation with someone. If the dialogue continues, have your business card handy so the other person has your contact info.
2. Conferences and conventions. Events like The PPAI Expo provide prime networking opportunities. You can mingle and learn from others in the promotional products industry and build stronger connections with those you know. Just remember to reach out to people after an event so they remember your conversation.
3. Social media sites. There are dozens of social media sites to choose from, and it is good to sign up and frequently post on multiple social media websites at once, the post recommends. This can grow your potential customer base.
4. Job fairs. Even if you’re not seeking a job or recruiting talent, the ASBN post recommends attending job fairs. Why? Because you can get to know both attendees and the companies that are hiring for different industries. You never know how new connections can benefit your career or when you may be able to create a joint venture with different organizations.
5. Alumni events. If your college or university hosts alumni events, take advantage of the opportunity to network with fellow graduates. The connection to your school makes it easier to interact since you already have a common interest.
6. Volunteer opportunities. Are you active with any local charities? Every time you attend a volunteer event, you have an opportunity to gain recognition for your business.
Some of the best networking may happen in unusual places. The next time you’re waiting in line at the coffee shop or volunteering in your community, try stepping out of your comfort zone and introducing yourself. You never know who you might be rubbing elbows with and what that connection could mean for your career.
Source: The Atlanta Small Business Network. ASBN is a source of business news, information, best practices and event coverage.
Published with permission from PPAI.
Does anyone else think this way?
Like an extension of the holiday season, The PPAI Expo has always been a marker on my calendar that signals the end of one year and the start of another.
It’s an opportunity to relish time with friends, enjoy a little too much amazing food (and drink) and a reason to put off starting the goals I’ve been mulling over for one more week.
So, now that it really feels like 2023, what should you do next, after The PPAI Expo, to make sure you capitalize on the business opportunities you discovered and set the stage for a year of growth?
Read Your Notes
Take some time to read through your notes from education sessions and meetings. You wrote down some great ideas, but if you never crack that magic notebook open, they are lost.
Pick out some easy opportunities for quick impact and a few bigger projects that will be meaningful for you or your business. For the low-hanging fruit, implement change right away by creating a project plan, setting a meeting or shooting off an email to get the idea moving immediately.
For a bigger project, create a SMART goal – one that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – and set aside an hour a week or an afternoon a month to work on it until completion.
Send Clients An Event Recap
You just attended the biggest trade show in the industry, where suppliers released new products and you gathered great ideas and left with new connections – you need to tell your clients all about it!
Share your pictures, tell them what excited you, give them a few ideas and share fun case studies you heard or new data. This doesn’t have to be curated to every individual client, but it can be – especially for your largest accounts.
Secure Self Promo
It is the start of a new year. Suppliers have new products and new budgets. Now is the perfect time to plan your own promos that will help you sell all year.
Think about what you loved from The PPAI Expo. If you loved it, your clients will too. Ask your suppliers reps if they are running any self-promo specials. If they aren’t, they might still give you a great deal.
Make January Matter
January has typically been a slower month for many salespeople. Probably because we just spent the last month being less proactive than we usually are the rest of the year. That’s OK. Use this time to your advantage by reaching out to clients about their plans for 2023 and asking for introductions to people in other departments. Then, when those great self-promos arrive next month, you’ll already have a few new leads to start with.
Take Advantage Of Upcoming Virtual Shows
We all work hard to see everything there is to see at The PPAI Expo. But you are probably still going to miss something or forget something.
Use The PPAI Expo Direct-2-U event on January 31 to keep your momentum going into the rest of Q1. The online event will have great educational content, supplier booths and product pavilions to keep your creativity flowing.
Then, on March 28, the Promotional Products Work Expo will offer an opportunity to bring your clients into our world. The virtual event will host product pavilions to help you drive sales in Q2 and Q3 and education made for buyers on topics like planning a perfect golf tournament, engaging your community at summer events or preparing for back-to-school.
After The PPAI Expo, it’s OK to take a deep breath. Put your feet up for a weekend or a week and get some needed rest.
Then you can start 2023 strong.
Davis is the business development director at PPAI.
The Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), the regional voice of the promotional products industry in Southern California for more than 60 years, has elected its 2023 board of directors.
Jeff Stevens, of WesCo Marketing, was elected president of the 2023 board. Stevens brings with him over 25 years of industry experience and a long-standing commitment to serve the Southern California promotional community. Stevens succeeds Bob Levitt, MAS, who will continue to serve on the association’s board as immediate past president.
Also joining the board to begin their two-year terms as directors are Kimberly Horton of FPS Apparel, Victoria Schmitz, CAS of Goldstar, Heidi Selleck of The Vernon Company and Mary Skeen of AIM Smarter LLC.
The 2023 SAAC Board of Directors include:
President: Jeff Stevens, WestCo Marketing
Vice President: Amy Williams, CAS, AB Unlimited Worldwide
Immediate Past President: Bob Levitt, MAS
Treasurer: Heather Valle-Laird, Logomark
Secretary: Ryan Paules, Radar Promotions
Director: Daniel Henderson, Proforma
Director: Kimberly Horton, FPS Apparel
Director: Steve Parker, MAS, The Magnet Group
Director: Victoria Schmitz, CAS, Goldstar
Director: Heidi Selleck, The Vernon Company
Director: Mary Skeen, AIM Smarter LLC
Former clients are ideal for winning back. They’ve worked with you in the past, so you know they have a need for your products or services. However, for whatever reason, these lost accounts didn’t renew or sign the contract. This doesn’t mean you’ll never work with them in the future — it just means you have an opportunity to impress them and win their business again.
In this issue of PromoPro Daily, we’re highlighting a post from the Handwrytten blog that shares some creative win-back strategies. Marketing managers and business leaders weighed in with their thoughts, so let’s see what they had to say.
1. Surprise them with a note. In today’s digital world, a thoughtful note dropped in the mail can make a positive impression. The post recommends mentioning to your previous client that you’d like to reconnect and show them what’s new. Want to really wow them? Send a $5 gift card for coffee and ask them to meet for a virtual coffee date.
2. Touch base with old clients. Your previous customers chose not to buy from you for a reason. Maybe they didn’t have the budget, or their project needs changed. By reassessing past customer needs and taking action, you can regain the trust and loyalty of past buyers, the post says.
3. Personalize your customer engagements. Don’t send out generic emails designed for the masses. Make sure you personalize each touchpoint with previous customers. This means using their first names in communication and writing in a friendly, conversational tone. According to the post, you can use discounts sparingly to help indecisive customers return.
4. Recommend a competitor. It sounds counterintuitive, but it can work wonders at winning back customers. The post notes that this is because when you don’t have a particular product or service that a customer is looking for, a recommendation to a competitor can create a wow-worthy experience for them. You build instant credibility in your customer’s eyes by showing that you’re willing to put their needs first.
5. Reach out with a limited-time offer. This might mean a discount for re-ordering or a special gift for buying from you. According to the post, this is one of the bet ways for winning back old customers.
6. Get someone new working on the account. Providing a different experience from the first one can make a customer relationship feel fresh, the post says. It may feel unusual having a colleague trying to win back your old customer, but don’t take it personally. By going this route, you’re giving your disengaged client a chance to interact with your company in a new way.
If you’re hoping to reconnect with previous buyers, try some of the tactics mentioned in the Handwrytten blog. Sometimes, all it takes is a fresh approach or a personal touch to get back on their radar.
Source: The Handwyrtten blog. Handwrytten is an online handwritten notes service.
Published with Permission from PPAI
We’ve been hearing and talking recession rhetoric for months. And by “we” I mean the collective we: business leaders, media, economists and the world.
Regardless of whether there will be a recession or whether we’re already in a recession, the economy is showing signs of slowing down, or, as The Economist put it, “reality has caught up with rhetoric.”
Yet many who predict a recession for 2023 do so lightly. In Tom Standage’s “Top 10 Trends for 2023,” he predicts that “most economies will go into a recession …. but America’s recession should be relatively mild.” Morgan Stanley said that the US may skirt a recession entirely. Even Goldman Sachs now sees a slimmer chance of a recession than previously predicted.
But when the news headlines blaze with Jeff Bezos warning consumers to spend less, claiming, “things are slowing down,” most of us sit up and take notice. After all, Bezos is in the business of selling us … well … everything, including those large-screen TVs he just told us not to buy.
You don’t have time to wait for all the pundits to agree and tell us we’re in a recession. By the time there’s consensus among the world’s brainiacs and billionaires, it’ll be obvious.
The real question is, what can we do about the uncertainty of it all – now?
The good news: regardless of whether we’re already in a recession, or whether there will be a recession, or whether there won’t be a recession, or whether there will be a hard landing or a soft landing, for business planning purposes you can still find your focus for growth for 2023, regardless of the economic climate. Here are four tips that will help power boost your business planning for the upcoming year:
1. Don’t Let News Dictate Your Moves
Some of today’s most successful companies started during a recession: Mailchimp, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Warby Parker, Venmo, and many more.
Nate Bailey, President and Founder of Ideation, a distributor based in Portland, Oregon, started his career in the industry during a recession. Because of that timing, Nate was given a gift: grit, tenacity, hunger, ingenuity, and mostly, heedless optimism. It worked. In 2022 Ideation was honored as one of Inc. 5000’s fastest-growing companies. (Nate will join us on stage at skucon in Las Vegas for a fireside chat about his experience).
As headlines of layoffs, wage freezes, and hiring freezes creep into your feed, live by this edict: “Don’t let news dictate your moves.”
At skucamp in Brooklyn in September, three of the industry’s largest suppliers joined Catherine Graham, commonsku’s co-founder and CEO on stage, to discuss the state of the industry now and their perspective on the future. The panel featured David Nicholson (Vice Chairman at PCNA), Dan Pantano (President & CEO at alphabroder Prime), and Jonathan Isaacson, Chairman and CEO at Gemline.
During the interview, Jonathan Isaacson said, “There will be industries that continue to do exceedingly well even in a downturn … in every downturn, there are industries that do really well and there are parts of businesses who do very well. During Covid, who bought? HR. Who didn’t buy as much? Sales and marketing. So, if you are selling to a trucking company and they can’t find truckers, what are they doing? They are turning to us to solve a problem. So the people who are going to do well during whatever time comes are the people who understand that we’re not selling products, we’re solving problems. And that’s true on the supplier side and that’s true on the distributor side: there’s always opportunity out there.”
Treat news headlines as suggestions, not commands. Yes, Jeff Bezos might be the richest man in the world, but remember that when he speaks publicly on a major news network, he is speaking to his first audience (and perhaps his only audience) his investors.
“There’s always opportunity out there.”
2. Focus on Industries
To Jonathan’s point: Many industries will thrive during an economic downturn.
Forbes recently published an article that detailed which industries you should invest in during a potential recession. We can take our cues from this list on which industries to target as either clients to grow in 2023 or prospects to approach. The Forbes list included healthcare, basic consumer goods, utilities, discount retailers (like Walmart and Costco), alcohol, maintenance and repair services, accounting and payroll services, and transportation. Other experts cited industries like self-care or small indulgences like candy, beer, wine, and the pet industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cited that during the 2007-2009 recession, the four industries that performed well were healthcare, government, tech and education.
This is incredible news for our industry because according to PPAI, the top ten industries that buy promo are healthcare, business services, retail, financial, manufacturing, education, food and beverage, tech, not-for-profit and construction.
Compare the lists of those who thrive in a recession and promo’s top buyers by industry, and you end up with 7 out of 10. In other words, we’re already positioned to work with most of the industries that fare well during hard times. Recession or not, focusing on these industries is simply a solid strategy for your business planning for 2023.
Action step: Tighten your 2023 focus on clients who are in industries that do well during hard times, create a prospect list of those same industries, and focus on solving problems.
3. Keep Top Talent and Keep Hiring Top Talent
The war for talent will not wane. Job growth might slow but talented people can now work from anywhere and are more motivated to work for companies whose values, culture, and mission align with their personal passion.
The idea to follow suit with wholesale layoffs is tempting, but Stephen Mihm from Bloomberg suggested that all of these “Mass Layoffs in Big Tech Are an Old-Guard Mistake,” citing a study that looked back over more than three decades and found that CEOs “who pursued a strategy of mass layoffs were far more likely to end up receiving their own pink slip for their bungled efforts.”
Bains, the global management consulting firm, put it this way: “Think of a recession as a sharp curve on an auto racetrack (which is the best place to pass competitors, but requires more skill than straightaways). The best drivers apply the brakes just ahead of the curve (they take out excess costs), they turn hard toward the apex of the curve (identify the short list of projects that will form the next business model) and accelerate hard out of the curve (spend and hire before markets have rebounded).”
In our interview at skucamp, Jonathan Isaacson talked about it in terms of control: focusing on what we can control and what we can’t, and he zeroed in on our most important asset -- people:
“I only really worry about one thing because there’s only one thing we can control which is the quality of the people that we hire. Everything else comes out of the quality of the people in the organization … our ability to win or lose is going to singularly hang on our ability to hire the right people in the organization. You screw that up everything goes to hell, we get it right, we win.”
Action step: Review your team. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Review your pay structures and comp plans. Be open-minded to the fact that top talent may be more easily acquired during lean times than robust times and mostly, be prepared to hire when others hide. Recession or not, recruiting, hiring and keeping top talent is a solid business strategy.
4. Plan For Growth – Substantial Growth
You have likely heard of the Post vs. Kellogg’s story cited in a famous New Yorker article titled “Hanging Tough,” quote: “When the Depression hit, no one knew what would happen to consumer demand. Post did the predictable thing: it reined in expenses and cut back on advertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies. By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost 30 percent and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.”
“Fortune favors the bold” is a mantra our CEO often repeats. Study after study shows that those who invest more in marketing and in their business, grow during tough times for one simple reason: You become a survivalist, a pirate, a challenger brand. To quote the New Yorker article again, “Recessions create more opportunity for challengers, not less. When everyone is advertising …. It’s hard to separate yourself from the pack.” The article points out the difference between “sinking the boat” (wrecking the company by making a bad bet) or “missing the boat” (letting a great opportunity pass). Recessions can be a great opportunity to race ahead of the competition, possibly leading the pack for years to come.
Action step: invest, invest, invest. Invest in marketing. Invest in your people. Invest in tech. Invest in your team’s continual education. Invest in yourself. When others pump the brakes — push on and pass by.
Uncertainty is the New Norm: Embrace It
As a worldwide pandemic descended on us in 2020, many of us thought it was the beginning of the end. But instead, you thrived. And our industry, the branded merch medium itself, elevated its importance for brands. We were all —suddenly and rightfully— thrust into solving client problems through product. Our industry matured during the most difficult season of our lifetime. If there’s one lesson we collectively learned, it’s that the only thing we know for sure is that uncertainty is our new normal.
We might be in a recession. Or there might yet be a recession, next month, next year, next week.
But it doesn’t have to be your recession.
This article is brought to you by commonsku, the work-from-anywhere platform that powers your connected workflow enabling you to process more orders and dramatically grow your sales. To learn more visit commonsku.com.
It’s good to be productive, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. When people are focused on constantly doing more, spreading themselves too thin and neglecting their overall health, they’ve fallen into a pattern of toxic productivity. This can lead to burnout, which impacts nearly half of all professionals today, according to recent research from Microsoft.
If you’re wondering what toxic productivity looks like and how you can break out of unhealthy patterns, read on. We share insight from writer Danielle Doolen in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.
What It Looks Like
If you or someone you work with feels the need to constantly be doing or learning, toxic productivity may be at play. For example, instead of unwinding at the end of the day with a TV show you enjoy, you may read a business book instead of truly unplugging. Or, you may feel guilty for taking time away from work. Instead of enjoying the company of friends and family, you may bring your laptop with you to check in and stay productive.
Doolen says it’s important to remember that we can all get everything important done while also protecting our health and resting along the way. Here’s how to do this:
Establish boundaries. This is a crucial step in avoiding toxic productivity. Doolen recommends planning for zero productivity time during the week. You might use this time to take a walk, watch a movie or read a book simply for fun. You owe it to yourself to have sacred time where nothing needs to be accomplished, she says.
Plan for rest — and then stick to it. Does this sound like you: You make plans to spend the evening relaxing, but instead you fret over everything you need to do the next day and you end up feeling exhausted. To break out of this pattern, plan for rest and then take time to actually do nothing. Doolen says that to maintain healthy productivity levels, you need to find a balance between doing and being.
Stay mindful. There will always be tasks to do, people to see and conversations to be had, Doolen says. But before you try to get through everything at once, stop and think about what you actually need to get done. For example, maybe you’d benefit more from a 30-minute break at lunch instead of working at your desk to try to get more done. Be thoughtful about what’s productive for your stress levels and mental health, she says.
Powering through in the name of productivity won’t serve you well in the long run. Set boundaries on how you spend your time and give yourself opportunities to recharge and reset. It’s all about balance, so allow yourself to be productive while also finding time to relax.
Source: Danielle Doolen is a writer and communications professional whose writing and expertise have appeared in Career Contessa, Insider, Motherly, PopSugar, PRSA Strategies & Tactics, The Financial Diet, Thrive Global and more.
’Tis the season for social gatherings of all kinds. While these parties and get-togethers may not be true networking events, this doesn’t mean you can’t make meaningful connections and expand your professional circle. At non-networking events, people may feel more relaxed, which can lead to more authentic, organic conversations.
Worried about doling out your business cards and killing the vibe? No worries — Quinisha Jackson-Wright, a staff writer for The Muse, has some tips on how you can network without putting a damper on everyone’s social experience. Keep reading this issue of PromoPro Daily for her suggestions.
1. Talk less and listen more. This is the first rule in networking, whether or not you’re attending a true networking event. Stay in the moment and hear what the other person is saying. Don’t make a running list of what you want to add to the discussion. And remember that most people talk about their work at social gatherings anyway, Jackson-Wright says, so allow the conversation to drift there naturally.
2. Get to know the other person. What commonalities or interests do you share? Maybe your kids go to the same school, or you both enjoy the same hobby. If you want to go a step further, Jackson-Wright recommends taking a few minutes after the conversation to make a note of anything unique for future reference. When you follow up or see the person again, you can mention one of these small details.
3. Focus on quality conversations. Don’t rush from one person to the next, just trying to introduce yourself to as many people as possible. It’s better to chat with fewer people but engage in more in-depth discussions.
4. Add value in a small way. When you’re at a social event, don’t ask any big favors from someone right away. Instead, flip it and think about what you can offer or do for someone else. Jackson-Wright says it doesn’t have to be anything major. Even just giving a recommendation for a great local shop or restaurant can show you’re not just talking to someone because you think you can gain something from them.
5. Casually ask to stay in touch. You could ask the other person to exchange phone numbers or social media info, Jackson-Wright says. She suggests waiting a few days and then reaching out with a quick message or text saying how you enjoyed meeting them and you’d like to take them out for coffee or lunch to continue the conversation.
Parties, cocktail hours and other casual events can be prime networking opportunities. Follow the tips above to mingle and make a positive impression — no elevator pitch required.
Source: Quinisha Jackson-Wright is a freelance marketing consultant, U.S. Navy veteran and part-time staff writer with The Muse.
Editor's Note: Upon request by several industry groups including PPAI, the Department of Labor has extended the deadline for the public to submit comments. Originally slated to end November 28, it is now December 13.
PPAI and the promotional product industry are pushing back against a proposal by the Department of Labor to revise its guidance on identifying who is an employee or an independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Announced earlier this month, the DoL is seeking public comment on new regulations that would make it challenging for independent contracts in the promo industry to retain their preferred classification.
An Industry At Risk
PPAI, working in collaboration with industry members in its Government Relations Advisory Council, has determined that if this rule is implemented, it will make it extremely difficult for thousands of entrepreneurs in the promotional products field to retain their status as independent contractors under FLSA.
“Our industry is being unfairly lumped into this proposed DoL rule, which seeks to do what Congress rightly refused to,” says Dawn Olds, MAS, PPAI Board Chair. “It is critical that members take action and make their voices heard. This is one of the most harmful issues we have faced, since it affects so many – multi-line reps and distributor independent contractors in particular.”
Unlike the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act which was introduced in Congress last year and would have modified the National Labor Relations Act, the newly proposed administrative rule changes the criteria for determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors under the FLSA.
A Call To Action
It is critical for members of this industry to contact the Department of Labor regarding this newly proposed rule change. If the rule is implemented as it is currently written, it could result in thousands of independent contractors in the promotional products industry having their livelihoods threatened.
PPAI has included some prepared comments to assist with companies’ outreach to the Department of Labor. They can be uploaded or copied into the Federal Register.
Industry members are encouraged to add their own specific examples that show evidence of independence to demonstrate to the DoL that this proposed rule would be detrimental to their ability to independently earn their income.
Editor’s Note: Multi-line reps serve many crucial needs in the promotional products industry. A new Department of Labor proposal threatens their independent contractor status and livelihoods.
It is critical for members of this industry to contact the Department of Labor regarding this newly proposed rule change before December 13.
PPAI has crafted prepared comments to assist with companies’ outreach to the Department of Labor. They can be uploaded or copied into the Federal Register.
Distributors strive to be heroes in their client’s eyes. Getting there means delivering superior client results achieved through creativity supported by high-quality products and service. That’s a tall order.
The good news is that distributors don’t have to go it alone. They can lean on the resources of multi-line reps. These experts represent multiple non-competing suppliers and operate within specific territories across the U.S. as an extension of the factory and an essential business connection within the industry’s distribution channel.
Unlike factory reps, these seasoned road warriors provide distributors with a broad, and often complementary, range of products and product information, plus ideas, solutions, case studies and success stories gleaned from their years of serving distributors. And because of their experience and close relationships with their supplier companies, MLRs are also a reliable go-to source for checking inventory and order status, getting production time estimates and shipping dates, sampling products and as an experienced sounding board for promotional strategies and ideas.
“We have access to so much more information about the supply chain, inventory levels, product trends, etc., than a traditional factory rep,” says John Bates, president at Michigan-based Bates Group, adding that MLRs have a better perspective on what is going on in the industry from a supply-chain and manufacturing standpoint since they are exposed to multiple factories and their operations.
MLRs operate as an extension of the factory, and by personally visiting with distributors in their regions to offer potential solutions for upcoming projects, they help distributors find the right solutions for their clients. In short, MLRs create relationships and offer resources that help their distributors to be more successful.
For distributors who may have overlooked the opportunity to maximize the resources available through MLRs, it’s easy to get started.
Before the pandemic, MLRs scheduled meetings on a regular basis in distributors’ offices and met with most of the firm’s salespeople all at once. Later, when face-to-face meetings weren’t possible, MLRs met with distributors through video conferences. When offices opened back up, MLRs were some of the first back on the road setting appointments with distributors. But not all distributor sales personnel have returned to their offices, so MLRs have had to be creative. They are still holding web meetings when needed but they are also visiting distributors’ homes and scheduling meet-ups in local coffee shops and work-share conference rooms. The MLRs interviewed for this story say promotional products need to be touched and experienced, so in-person meetings are optimum, no matter what it takes.
Joe Keely, owner of Select Lines Marketing in St. Louis, Missouri, says he’s done very few Zoom meetings over the past year and, when he did, they were to discuss a specific project or sample. “Now [for distributors who still work from home] I am scheduling multiple meetings with one to three salespeople at a Starbucks or similar location. Personally, the individual meetings are much more effective for the salesperson as we can get in-depth with their projects,” he says.
“We are in a relationship-driven, face-to-face business,” says Matt Eysoldt, principal at Eysoldt Marketing Group in Ohio. “I think it is crucial to establish that first. Everything else, in my opinion, is second best.”
Toward that goal, Eysoldt has created in-person opportunities for work-from-home distributors. Along with a small group of MLRs who share his territory, he conducts individual, 30-minute meetings in various cities to focus on the specific needs of the distributor and its clients.
In addition to restarting personal visits, Mindy Reynolds, principal at ReyCo Promo, a rep firm in Denver, Colorado, sees exceptional value from her group’s participation in industry table-top shows and regional trade shows in the states she covers. She’s also personalizing her in-person visits. “I’ll ask the distributor, ‘What’s good for you? I’ll come to your home or meet you at a coffeeshop,’” she says, but adds that the latter is difficult because she’s unable to bring as many product samples as she would take to a distributor’s office or home. As an additional touchpoint, Reynolds sends customers a monthly email newsletter, Give Me Five, where she features one product from each of her five lines.
Bates implements two additional alternative strategies to reach distributors where they are: check-in phone calls to account executives for a casual conversation, and his new Product of the Week emails. These are sent to distributors to highlight a new product, trend or sale going on with one of his supplier partners.
When a MLR requests an appointment, the distributor should be ready to say “Yes!” Making time for a conversation that can grow into a relationship is the best way to maximize the value MLRs can bring to the business.
“When I interact with my customers, my only goal is to help them increase their business,” says Eysoldt. “I find it very interesting that my customers who are relationship-driven tend to work the relationship with their vendor partners just like they do with their clients. Once that relationship is established, trust follows, and trust is an essential part of this relationship if I am really going to help them grow.”
MLRs are trusted partners who are in business to help distributors succeed, so the more information a distributor can share about an upcoming project, the better. “Most of my customers are excellent with sharing information about their customers that can help me help them,” says Keely. “They trust me to keep information confidential and that leads to a much more effective relationship. Yes, there are some that hold information closer and I respect that. Even getting general information can help me suggest ideas that might work, but more details will help me get there quicker.”
Another way to get the most value from MLRs is to include them in client meetings because they can provide unique suggestions and ideas from various manufacturers, not just one. “Are you working on a big project? Send your MLR the details so they can easily check their sources rather than you trying to remember every line they represent,” says Bates. “It’s very hard for a distributor to keep all of the suppliers straight, so utilize your MLR to help alleviate the stress that goes into finding the appropriate items that will impress your client.”
Distributors can feel comfortable asking their MLRs questions such as:
“I think the way to get the most benefit from a multi-line rep is to view them as a partner,” says Keely. “Reach out for suggestions when you’re putting together presentations and need ideas. I can save them a lot of time and aggravation by suggesting products that I know are in stock and can meet their ship date.”
Eysoldt agrees and takes that thought a step further by suggesting distributors look at MLRs as an extension of their marketing department. To get the most value at this step, details are essential.
“When distributors send me their projects, programs, information, timeline, budget, colors and art, I can work up ideas and virtuals, and get them samples,” says Reynolds. And because MLRs are constantly in the field, they are rich with ideas, and can share and adapt successful promo ideas that have worked for other distributors.
Building trust with a MLR can take time, but once that’s accomplished, the distributor is more likely to share important details about the client company and their needs. “With that, I can make appropriate suggestions,” says Eysoldt. “In addition, I make many end-buyer calls with our distributor partners. That is where I can really make an impact—helping to close the deal sooner and even taking some of the weight off the distributor’s shoulders.”
To contact MLRs in your area and to schedule a visit, check with your preferred suppliers.
Tina Berres Filipski is director of corporate relations at supplier PowerStick.com, the only company designing and manufacturing its own portable chargers in North America. She is a 26-year promotional products industry veteran and was previously director of publications and editor at PPAI.
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