Set Yourself Up as a Solutions Provider, Not a Salesperson
How would you define your job as a promotional products distributor? Do you use the term “salesperson” or some derivative of it? Basic sales techniques are a crucial part of what you do as a distributor. But they aren’t the only necessary skills.
It can be easy to simply define the role as someone who sells branded merchandise to customers. But, what if you were to elevate that classification? In today’s world, it’s not enough to just sell your client a product and move on. Instead, distributors must be more than that: advocate, guide, adviser, etc. Distributors are doing more than selling these days — they are offering a service.
It might seem like there’s not much of a difference there, but drill down the various ways promotional products distributors help their clients and it becomes clear that selling versus servicing are distinct from one another. To become an excellent service provider, distributors must go beyond the sale of a product.
It’s More Than Selling a Product
Let’s start by defining what we mean when we’re comparing selling to full-time servicing.
“There are not many differences between selling a product versus selling a service, but an obvious difference is that one is tangible and the other intangible,” explains John Morris, executive director of brand at Club Colors, Schaumburg, Illinois. “A tangible product could influence decision-making sheerly by its visual stimulation or its physical stimulation, but people remain influenced by emotional drivers.”
Here’s how Morris breaks it down: A tangible product hits multiple physical stimulations and is a great selling tool. For example, a client can see the backpack, touch the straps, and try it on. But if a distributor only focuses on that product and nothing more, it becomes a problem.
“It is my opinion that being a promotional product distributor could easily leave one looked upon as an order-taker,” Morris says. “There is not significant value to being an order taker — therefore, leaving one vulnerable to become easily replaced by another distributor.”
Oftentimes, this is evident when discussing the topic of price with a customer. “The issue with selling just a product [is] it can come down to price, especially with promotional products when the customer is comparing the same product between suppliers,” says Phil Cantore, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Hygrade Business Group, Secaucus, New Jersey. “A service on the other hand is about selling a solution to solve your client’s problem.”
For example, Cantore states that if you sell transactional printing, such as printing and mailing a client’s statements, there are a plethora of variables that come into play — their software, how their files will be transferred, SLAs, etc. “These tend to be long sell cycles, and you’d better know your stuff, or you are not going to get very far,” he believes.
Jeremy Picker, founder of AMB3R Creative in Denver, points out that the race to the bottom is crowded. “When you only sell a product or become an order-taker, it opens things up for someone cheaper or more tech-forward to swoop in and grab the client,” he says. “Only a select few are focused on being the cheapest, but when you are passive and think the product is the solution, then inadvertently you let your customer only focus on that price.”
Distributors must change that focus to be service- and solution-based. “The purpose is to become a trusted adviser,” says Morris. “This means clients come to you far beyond the point of transaction. They want to know your views on how to structure an event, how to impact their brand, how to maximize reaction and response, and how to drive return on investment, not just minimize cost to stay under budget. … The basics of business is to satisfy. The ultimate is to empower!”
“Full-service suppliers who can provide product ideation, online solutions, company stores, distribution services, [and] help with artwork can benefit the customer while often providing additional revenue,” Cantore says. “The more you can provide to help your client, the more valuable you will be perceived.”
How to Be That Service Provider
So, how does a distributor move from simply being a salesperson to full service provider? In addition to recognizing that you are more than just a pen dispenser, distributors can also put some actionable techniques in place to elevate their services.
One such technique is taking the sole focus off the product. “Sales is where it should start, but the problem is that most salespeople don’t have the knowledge or understanding of design and retail, so they lead with the product,” says Picker. “It’s easy to put nice words and visuals in a sales pitch, but I think distributors need to lead with getting to the purpose a customer or potential customer is wanting to order merchandise.”
Cantore believes that starts with the first sales meeting. “When meeting a perspective client for the first time, it is important to differentiate your company from your competitors,” he states. “Your client can buy these products anywhere online. By providing a complete service offering, you bring much more to the table.”
He suggests starting by asking questions.
“There is much more to the picture than just shipping a bunch of pens to someone. … How are these being used, how are they distributed, who is your target audience? Questions like that can open up other opportunities to help with options like warehousing, drop shipping, kit making, or even a company store.”
Morris says these types of open-ended questions establish any pain points or challenges the client experiences, as well as what their true wants and needs are beyond the product. From that initial sales pitch, distributors should then follow up.
“The follow-up call to a client to understand their feedback then becomes the opportunity to introduce another new service and another new service,” Morris continues. “Eventually, with a consistency of success and reliability, the client will no longer shop other distributors, and the opportunity for an exclusive or preferred agreement will be mutually important.”
But it’s also about internal structure and strategy.
“The vision will never be achieved if a strategy for operational excellence is not mastered first,” Morris shares. “Selling a holistic offering without having the proper structure, data, management, and execution will make your salespeople liars putting out fires. … A great strategy has steps.”
Ultimately, setting yourself up as a service provider that offers solutions from start to finish comes down to building a relationship.
“No one is going to be awesome at everything, but the more you can share beyond the price of the item, the more trust and credibility you will garner,” says Picker. “Taking this approach will require a lot more time and effort to close the order cycle, but you need to look beyond this order and establish a relationship that will be long term.”
Cantore feels the same.
“Not unlike many industries, we are in a relationship business. … Know who you are meeting with, learn about their business. Also, spend time to learn about the person.”