There are a lot of things you can do to cope with slow times. Stop hanging your head, and take a look at some of them right here.
Remember this maxim: Everybody is in sales. Because they are, are they not? Everyone has the ability to make an impression on customers that will affect the bottom line.
Train employees to treat each other like internal customers. What happens inside shows on the outside.
Make every stakeholder aware of your constant quest for sales and customers. This includes employees, stockholders, family, vendors, bankers, visitors, customers, repair, and maintenance firms.
- Reward all employees for pleasing customers. Make examples of extraordinary efforts.
- Regularly discuss, at all levels, strategies to satisfy internal and external customers.
- Recognize and reward employee activities that lead to new products, customers, or sales.
- Make all employees accountable for customer satisfaction, and reward them for it appropriately.
Unconventional Sales Sources
First look within you organization for off-the-beaten-path sales sources. Then look at your current customers and keep an eye on the following:
- Cost reduction and quality improvement ideas for existing products that may increase your business
- Business currently held by your competitors.
- Other contacts and departments-for example, new products or revisions to existing products that may offer opportunities for growth.
- Conversions from other materials, processes, and methods. Think about where your competition is vulnerable and move in that direction.
- Rejected suggestions or proposals. Times change. People change. Tough times call for tough approaches. Dig out those old notes and see if some of them don't pertain to your current problems.
- Old quotes, open and archived.
- Old tradeshow leads and "bingo cards."
- Former customers and markets.
- Buyers who have moved on.
- No-quotes and "can't-bids."
- Customers of defunct competitors.
- "Impossible" customers or markets.
New Prospecting Channels
Looking for leads? Try:
- Competitors of existing customers.
- Vendors and supplier sales representatives. (They love to talk-let them!)
- Industry associations and societies.
- OEM tradeshows and conventions.
- Seminars and presentations.
- Articles from trade magazines.
- Friendly competitors.
Other networking opportunities include research facilities, university faculty and experts, college interns, trade magazines, and the Internet.
More Strategies to Increase Sales
In industrial merchandising, the following activities could help you drive up sales volume:
- Add price points for higher- or lower-quantity orders. Give them what they want.
- Offer delivery discounts for bigger orders and scheduled shipments.
- Offer overrun discounts.
- Establish setup charges, overtime premiums, and rush-order charges. And make them non-negotiable.
- Establish move-in delivery discounts and move-out penalties.
- Offer discounts for customer pickup or C.O.D.
- Offer on-time and zero-defect guarantees.
- Make turnkey proposals. For example, collaborate with the die caster, screw machine, plastics, and other vendors you know are approved by the OEM and join with them on a subassembly. We all know that today's OEM wants a complete product, if possible. Using your knowledge of who the customer's other vendors are, think of ways you can use that knowledge to get more billable work for yourself. This can make your customer happier with you and make it nearly impossible for a competitor to get in. Instead of fighting the vendor reduction trend, use it to your advantage.
- Offer commodity upscale or add-on products or services.
To get sales in unconventional ways, you can try:
- All-or-nothing quoting packages. For example, a new electronic product requires 11 stampings and six fabricated components. The engineers or buyers usually work with three to seven sources from prototype through final design and production. By being bold and proactive, you could sew up all of the business for the life of the product by proposing to provide every part in every quantity from cradle to grave. This may sound radical, but it is status quo in automotive work and works very profitably in contract manufacturing, computing, and other industries. One important tip-keep track of and get paid for the many inevitable changes.
- Collaboration with other manufacturers or reps. This is similar to the turnkey and collaboration concepts.
- Bundling your product with your representative's other principal products.
- Strategic alliances with other vendors, competitors, and service providers.
- Sole-source, family-of-parts, life-of-product, or other agreements that lock up long-term business.
- Stocking systems, on-site warehousing, and consignment plans.
As much as you may not like it, if you don't embrace strategies such as these, a competitor surely will. Burger King® doesn't let you "have it your way" because it is a profitable model to sell cheeseburgers; it does it to keep you from going to McDonald's®, and Burger King hopes to profit from the fries and Coke you'll probably buy with it.
If you don't adapt to reality, you eventually may have to ask yourself, "What business shall I try next?"
Listen to Your Market
- Insist on annual customer surveys, and read the results.
- Analyze market studies thoroughly.
- Constantly seek new products, talent, customers, markets, and technology.
- Attend representative council meetings.
- Attend industry shows and conventions.
- Solicit and react to feedback from customers, reps, competitors, vendors, other manufacturers, speakers, and writers.
- Constantly scrutinize customer complaints and lost jobs. Follow through on corrective actions.
- Get out in the field at least once a quarter. Face-to-face contact always is the best.
Old Inventory, Materials
If it hasn't sold in two years it probably never will. If you have not moved something in that time, try:
- Offering customers incentives to buy it.
- Modifying it for other uses.
- Disassembling it for fasteners and other useful parts.
- Donating it to a sheltered workshop. Nearly every community has workshops for the blind, the disabled, and the mentally ill that are looking for materials or projects for their constituents. These nonprofits might be grateful for things you cannot use, and you might get a better tax benefit from the donation than from the scrap check. It could be worth pursuing.
- Scrap it.
Equipment and Other Apparatus
- If a piece of equipment's uptime has averaged less than 30 percent during the past two years, dump it. You can:
- Sell it to a supplier, customer, or competitor.
- Auction it off.
- Sell it to a used-equipment dealer.
- Donate it to a sheltered workshop.
- Scrap it.
Unnecessary and Hidden Sales Costs
You might be surprised to discover what kinds of costs are lying hidden inside your operation. But the sooner you do, the better your balance sheet will look. Seek and consider abandoning:
- Obsolete phone, fax, pager, modem, and cell lines.
- Leases on defunct computers, faxes, phones, postage meters, software stations, and upgrades.
- Directory listings, Web site renewal scams, and 800 numbers.
- Traditional donations, expenses, and entitlements.
- Outdated expense account and reimbursement policies. If policies don't fit your current situation, make new ones.
- Abuse, fraud, and overlooked expenses.
- Obsolete commission structures, territories, bonuses, and quotas.
Timely, Low-risk Strategies
Review your mission, vision, and values. Revise your strategic plan as appropriate for recent changes.
- Share your new strategies and poise your organization for the inevitable resurgent economy.
- Take advantage of low interest rates. Expand if you can.
- Remember that anything can be outsourced. Look at all non-core functions and consider farming them out.
Desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures. Some common drastic changes include:
- Creating marketing alliances or merging with a competitor.
- Acquiring an OEM, competitor, customer, or vendor.
- Diversifying or re-engineering your organization.
- Selling or abandoning a product line, division, or process.
- Selling the company to employees.
These ideas ought to give you some solid strategy options as the U.S. economy continues to challenge even the strongest of companies. If nothing else, these thoughts may give you pause to come up with some of your own as you seek to cope.