From the June 1998 issue of Startups

A few years ago, a sales manager at an Atlanta industrial distributor was relating the difficulties of dealing with his top salesperson, who was late to meetings, rarely completed call reports on time, ignored most sales promotions and was a general pain in the neck. In fact, it had become so bad that the two parted ways, with the salesperson deciding to represent a competitor's product line while working from home.

The salesperson admitted that, in his opinion, meetings, call reports and the like stood in the way of getting orders. If he was doing those things, he wasn't performing the one task he should be: selling. Six months of working from home, however, made him realize there was something to his old sales manager's methods. Working on his own, he could no longer count on assistants and customer service people to keep track of all the information he needed to know. The salesperson also admitted even someone as good as he occasionally needs a pep talk. In other words, he could use a sales manager.

The first step to being your own sales manager is to become better organized. When working for someone else, you probably didn't have an organization problem when it came to your own accounts. You knew whom to call on and when, right down to the name of every personal assistant you came in contact with at a company. Now, however, you'll have to keep more detailed written records.

Take, for example, call reports. Most salespeople consider them an annoyance at best. Now they take on added importance. Note all the calls you make, the sooner after the call the better. The notes don't have to be elaborate--just a simple summation of whom you saw, when you saw them, the results and the questions raised.

Also, devise a rating system based on the amount of business clients do with you. And note how much time you spend with each client and when to call them back.

The key is to look at the call report as an aid. Filling one out will make you re-examine your sales strategies. You may find you're spending too much time with customers who don't warrant it, at the expense of servicing bigger customers or looking for new ones.

You should also keep a time log to give you a rough idea of how you're spending your day. Compare it with your daily schedule to see how closely you're sticking to it. You may find you've made fewer sales calls than you planned or spent too much time on activities unrelated to sales.

Neither of these reports should be overly detailed. Just include essential information that will help you sell more efficiently.

Other tips for being your own sales manager include the following:

  • Think long term. As a salesperson, your job was to get the order and maintain the account. As your own sales manager, you have to think about future sales. Whom do you project will be your top customers in six, 12 or 18 months? How is their business changing? How is your business changing? Is your market becoming saturated with competitors? Are there new opportunities you're missing?
  • Create a written strategy with weekly and monthly goals. It will be very tough on you financially--not to mention stressful--if you're constantly trying to just get through each day without going belly up. You must spend time anticipating and responding to changes in the marketplace.
  • Learn to be patient. As you do more planning and forecasting, you'll have to wait to see results. You no longer have the backing of an established company, and customers will be slower to take to you. Don't be too quick to make a deal you have reservations about, and keep in mind, it will take some time to build a reputation.
  • Set priorities. When you're working on your own, one of the biggest challenges is to make yourself do the task you should do instead of the one you want to do. For example, it's easier to drag out a sales call with an old friend than to make cold calls. It's easier to spend a little more time on the Internet or buying office supplies than it is to process your direct mail. It doesn't mean you're lazy--it's natural. But forcing yourself to do the tougher jobs is what's going to make the difference between success and failure.
  • Be open to new ideas. Never thought of marketing on the Internet? Now you should. Thought publicity was someone else's job? Not anymore. Don't just rely on the old ways of doing business. It's your company. Be creative.

*Learn to motivate yourself. You no longer have a sales manager to talk you through a slump. Instead, you're it. Whether you're motivated by a fear of failure, a longing for a better quality of life or more money, use it. Don't lose track of what made you take the leap to being a homebased business owner. If you're going through a rough period, call on some sure accounts, talk to friends, commiserate. Just do something.


Bill Kelley is a business writer in Arcadia, California.

Fast Pitch

Hundreds of articles have been written on what to put in a pitch letter. This isn't one of them. Instead, it's a reminder of what not to include:

  • Overly solicitous greeting. As a rule, stick with "dear." It's not an eye-catcher, but it's much better than a forced greeting ("Howdy, Steak-Loving Buddy!") or the clichéd "Dear Valued Customer," which seems insincere even if it's not.
  • Exaggerations. If you exaggerate, you instantly lose credibility with your prospects. Be complimentary without doing a snow job. Say something nice about the potential customer's business, but be cautious. For example, one letter writer proclaimed he liked a business product so much he found himself spending time with it instead of his children. That's not believable--and even if it were true, what's the writer saying about himself?
  • Dramatic punctuation and formatting. Exclamation marks lose their meaning if they're overused!!! Underlines, boldface, italics and all the things your computer can do are not necessarily easy on the eye. In many cases, they will also add an air of hucksterism to your company and its product or service. One letter I received from a mail order firm looked like a printout of all the fonts available.
  • Information that won't help sell. All you need to put in the letter is a description of what you can do for customers and why they should choose you instead of your competitor. As with phone sales, don't waste your prospects' time with information they don't need.
  • Odd closing. "Yours in sales," "Keep marketing," etc., sound like you're trying too hard. Keep it simple and don't sound as if you're dying to sell something--even if you are.

Program Notes

Contact management software can help you keep your call reports up to speed. Here are a few popular programs:

  • Act! 3.0, $199.95 (Windows 95/NT); Act! 2.8, $169.95 (Macintosh); Symantec Corp., (800) 441-7234, http://www.symantec.com
  • GoldMine 2.5A, $295 (Windows NT 3.51); GoldMine 4.0, $295 (Windows 95/NT 4.0); GoldMine Software Corp., (800) 654-3526, http://www.goldminesw.com

Home (Not) Alone

By Julia Miller

So-called creative types are often thought to be the least able to efficiently market their services. That's exactly why a group of New Jersey professionals started the Self-Employed Writers and Artists Network (SWAN).

SWAN members include writers, illustrators, designers, photographers and multimedia professionals. Membership in SWAN means learning how to market your services, negotiate fees, prepare contracts, manage taxes, follow legislation, buy new computer equipment and capitalize on the latest printing techniques. Meeting formats range from panel discussions to demonstrations of new technology.

"Being part of a group has really helped reinforce my marketing tactics," says Robert A. Parker, a freelance business writer who's been a member of SWAN for six years. Parker, who writes for a range of national magazines, has won several regional writing awards from the International Association of Business Communicators. Distributing mailers that mention these awards to both existing and potential clients has helped him grow his business.

As a SWAN member, you're listed in a sourcebook that includes your address, phone and fax numbers, e-mail address, Web site and your description of your skills. The sourcebook is sent to 3,000 corporations, agencies, design studios and small businesses that buy creative work. You'll also receive SWAN's newsletter, Cygneture.

Over the past 12 years, SWAN has grown to nearly 150 members. Potential members must submit their portfolios in person. For more information, call (201) 967-1313 or visit the SWAN Web site at http://www.swannet.com

Slime Doesn't Pay

The key to effective self-promotion is being an honorable salesperson. Sound like an oxymoron? Lawrence M. Kohn, president of Kohn Communications in Los Angeles and co-author with Joel Saltzman of Selling With Honor (Berkeley Books), lays out several strategies for "selling yourself without selling your soul." Selling With Honor emphasizes the ways in which people can both communicate value and build long-term relationships with clients:

  • Be crystal clear about what you do. It's not enough to say "I'm a good architect" or "I work hard for my clients." Be specific. Write down every benefit and service you provide.
  • Ask questions. Before you tell people what you have to offer, find out what they need.
  • Be honest. If you're soliciting business through cold calls, disclose your intention to do business. This alleviates the prospects' fear they're being yanked around by one more salesperson posing as a friend.
  • Stay in touch. It's important to realize there are sales cycles to most businesses. You can't force prospects into buying if they don't have an immediate need. Instead, get their business card and follow up later.

E-mail Etiquette

There's little doubt that within the next few years many businesses will be targeting customers through e-mail. Here are some pointers to keep in mind before starting an e-mail marketing campaign:

  • Get a good list. There are many sources of lists, including Yellow Pages-type books at libraries and bookstores. You can also find them online. Look for "opt in" lists, which are lists people have chosen to be on. That way you know you're sending your mailing to people who want to read it.
  • Keep it short and to the point. People reading their e-mail want to know upfront what they're reading and why they should bother to continue. One screen length should do it. Remember, people tend to be more suspicious when reading e-mail. If you're vague or wordy, your message will be quickly deleted--which is even easier than tossing a letter in the trash.
  • Have a point. Make sure you're asking prospects to do something--buy, send for literature, etc. This doesn't mean you should do a hard sell. In fact, that's the last thing you should do. Just don't waste their time.
  • Let them out. If you tick recipients off by not giving them a chance to get off your list, they could make your life miserable by constantly sending you flame-mail messages.
  • Create your own list. After you generate interest, start compiling your own customized list.
  • Start soon. People still like getting e-mail. Start a campaign now, while people are still excited about receiving e-mail and willing to look at it. Soon, much of it will be lumped in with all the junk mail, and it will be that much harder to get yours read.

Contact Sources

Kohn Communications, P.O. Box 67563, Los Angeles, CA 90067, (310) 652-1442

Robert A. Parker, http://www.swan_net.com/rapcom