The joy of selling

By | April 2, 2019

Here’s a tough one. Are sales driven by thinking or by rote? (Rote is mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition, a joyless sense of order.) I’m sure we want to claim deep thought processes, but that does not account for such sales memes as “it takes X number of calls to make a sale.” I mentioned once before that I sold cars during a sabbatical before starting a consumer magazine in Michigan. The salesmen there all thought sales is a “numbers game.” So why did I smoke them in total numbers of sales, highest average margin and the largest profit margin on a single sale in the history of the company? I doubt it was rote, since I did not have the time or interest to learn a mechanical, repetitious, joyless sense of order. I was just passin’ through.

This thought has been bothering me all week, since I had occasion to review our Readers’ Survey from 2013. In that survey, we asked our readers — your customers — whether they wanted people hitting them with e-blasts and at what frequency.

Kerry Knudsen

Not surprisingly, when we asked, “Based on your experience of e-promotions, do you want magazine companies to ‘push’ daily digital content to your mailbox?,” 88.14 percent said flat-out No.

I hope this question is purely rhetorical, but if 88 percent of your customers said they don’t want something, would you stuff it up their noses, anyway?

Of course, the “rote” sector would immediately discredit the methodology of the survey. The reason for this is easy. If it’s true, they are in a quandary, that being, what do you do if you don’t know anything else? My car-selling comrades showed me the answer. They keep doing what they were doing, hope I eat dirt and die, and they start sucking pond water.

That is why methodologies are so important, as are professional standards in surveying, level of training and record of production. And that is why we always write out our methodologies.

I was asked years ago to cooperate in a “survey” that a salesman needed to complete his rote sales program. When I said we should review the survey company offering the service, he said, “It doesn’t matter. The surveys tell you what you want them to.”

That’s cold. That means there is no credibility in surveys; it’s just another lie. And that means the information is worthless. And that means when you present it, your customers think you are lying to them.

So in the November/December 2013 issue of Wood Industry, page 25, you can find: “Our random sample this year was 725 e-surveys that were delivered and opened., and 149 responses, for a response rate of 20.6 percent….” In addition, we ask our advertisers and potential advertisers not to respond to the survey, as it skews the results away from the market. The survey is linked right here, along with 70 comments from your customers.

Another recent survey in our industry by another company had a different result — a response rate of less-than 1/10 of one percent. We need to ask ourselves why this is. More importantly, we need to assess our risk and benefit if we implement the conclusions suggested by each response set.

This becomes critical in a small industry when a few of the bullies get frustrated by their flat-line-thinking, can’t raise a lead to save their souls and start demanding that their “message” gets stuffed down their prospects’ throats. That leads to every sort of industry medium, from associations (a medium) to shows (a medium) to magazines and newsletters being turned into a stenographer for the bullies or face a boycott, threat letters and exile.

Isn’t that odd? That a few rather slow and big competitors, to include Blum, Homag and Biesse, would gang up as a cartel to attack the best-liked magazine of their customers? That looks like an opportunity for the rest, to me. I mean, if you look at it, you have a cartel of wanna-be world dominators that want to eliminate one magazine so they can control information. Yet, the North American wood industry could live well and easily without them, while NO industry can live well and easily without credible, original, independent information. If Wood Industry goes away, so goes the independent reporting, yet if Blum, Biesse and Homag go away, there is a larger market share for people that play by the rules, and a more honest supply side for the manufacturers.

Worse, because deep, original thinking on the parts of the associations, shows and magazines has not been part of the process, nobody has the knowledge, confidence and resources to stand up and name them, as I have named Blum, Homag and Biesse. I have not done as I was told, I am happy to show you the lawyer letters and threats, and my readers absolutely love it. That is, your customers love it. Somebody is standing up for the industry against a cartel of ultimatum-directing group-think committees from Europe.

The problem with independent-thinking, educated and successful organizations is when they are ordered to eat dirt and die, they don’t. Instead, they serve their readers, create original content, operate by published standards and create value.

One cannot really blame the captains and lieutenants of the bullies. They were taught that way. Besides, they see other, larger, corporations act that way and get away with it. Except they don’t, really, but that’s another story. In essence, the “larger corporations” phrase is operable. Instead of reasoning out what will make an industry better, they flip open the latest self-help manual from the latest self-helper and see if they can find a rote program to overcome their problems. The problem is, nobody in our sphere is on the level of Procter and Gamble, Chevrolet, Kraft or Nike, and nobody is going to be.

This issue of consumer versus trade is very interesting and requires thought. In a nutshell, the broad consumer market demands that marketers address the lowest common denominator. This is why boutique restaurants always pop up in a forest of franchises, and it’s why stimulating books and movies can rise up out of a sea of pabulum.

As a supplier to manufacturers, are your customers stupid, lowest-common-denominator types? You may have found a few that work in wood because they can’t find a “real job,” but they are not the rule. In my experience, successful manufacturers are often very bright, very energized and very curious, which makes them a good prospect for sales. On the other hand, they have been burned a time or two, can’t watch all sides and are thankful for a credible, trustworthy information perspective on their industry.

I have profiled ex government workers, ex university employees, ex financiers and ex bureaucrats. In each case, the future proprietor came to an “aha” moment, when he or she decided that the rat race was not for him or her, and decided to quit and build something, sometimes on a shoestring.

I empathize with that thinking, because it is consistent with my own experience. I have been a teacher, a salesman and a bureaucrat, and I have been an expert consultant on consumer magazines, and one day it became clear to me that I wanted to work with family owned, independent businesses.

The story goes on, but the point is short: if your sales team is approaching its contacts as lowest-common-denominator consumers that can be tricked, cajoled or pressured, they are sort of right. However, those contacts are looking for aids to their future and associates that can be trusted. We will all do better if we under-promise and over-deliver, rather than catch a signature and bolt for the door.

We have spent considerable time pointing out the overwhelming deficiencies of the current, anti-intellectual, anti-reason and anti-population schemes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. In a nutshell, if the bullies can hold join the cyberward and hold their corner, they “think” they can survive by killing off the competition — the “they have to buy junk if it’s the only junk” school of sales philosophy. But you can tell they don’t “think” it, because they keep saying it over and over again as if repetition will make it true.

The fact is, in sales you need to distinguish your brand based on value. Value can mean cheap, or it can mean cheapest under the circumstances, or it can mean not cheap but great service, and so on. But you are viewed in terms of value.

Communication is also dependent on value. Honesty is the absence of any intent to deceive, and if your customers trust you, every sale is fun. People actually can work together.

If you have time to think, take a copy of Wood Industry and place it on a table beside another magazine. It doesn’t have to be a competitor. The problem of submissive stenography has become endemic. You could use a camera magazine or a boat magazine. But flip the pages together and see for yourself. You are looking for original content, reader focus, solid information and the Holy Grail – credibility.

We live in an “anything-goes” world of shadows and submission. Most magazines have decided they will do anything to survive. They give away ads, they sell editorial and they try to misreport the wishes of their readers. Advertisers see magazines as ink and pages; publishers see dollars and expense. Nobody seems to see the readers.

So the question becomes simple: will potential customers react differently to supporters of one magazine that they have learned to trust than they do to a magazine whose every “profile” is controlled by commercial interests behind the curtain?

There are two answers to that question. One is rote.

The point, here, is not to bash others. However, you cannot think without facts. Right now may be the best shot in a decade to capitalize on your sales. The economies of both the U.S. and Canada are growing well. The political garrote of the Mueller probe is over. Trump appears ready to restrict illegal workers from the south, China is working hard with the States to come to some kind of agreement that will certainly allow less bullying than before but will offer a lifeline.

We are in a position to optimize our industry against years of undertow. But there are only two ways to do that. Either we keep on doing what we’re doing, or we think.

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