Your Weaknesses

Increasing Sales & Marketing a New Product

The Entrepreneur: Ken Hobbs; Jel Inc.; Sacramento, California
The Expert: Joseph Riggio; JS Riggio International; Mahwah, New Jersey
The Problem: Increasing sales

Jel Inc. is thriving. In seven years, it has grown to $3 million in sales providing Internet professional services to companies like Saturn and Genentech. But co-owners Ken Hobbs and Jon Lee recognize their scavenging approach to sales--acquiring competitors and sorting out their good clients--can't last.

"What's challenged us most is new business sales," says Hobbs, 33. "We don't have much of a marketing effort."

Hobbs admits Jel's Web site isn't the sharpest. That bothers sales consultant Joseph Riggio. "You have an integral relationship between your product and media," he says. A Web site is as important to a Net business as the services. Riggio recommends dedicating someone to keeping it fresh--immediately. (The site has been overhauled since the evaluation.)

Riggio also discerns problems with the firm's telemarketing. It gets Jel in the door just 5 percent of the time--a figure he says should be 20 to 25 percent. He wants the company to adopt a more aggressive script. ("Would you talk to us if I could save you 50 percent on your Web hosting?") When Hobbs is skeptical, Riggio points out the obvious: "You're already losing 95 percent of the calls you're making," he says. "How worse could it be?"

The script he describes is blunt yet subtle. Most important, however, it's the initial element in a sales barrage that includes follow-up letters, phone calls, brochures, and a capabilities CD-ROM to ensure Jel contacts prospects six times before giving up on them.

Riggio also wants the firm to brand itself. He urges Hobbs to find an industry niche. The Saturn account gives Jel credibility in the auto industry. Why not advertise in a trade magazine targeting dealerships? Trade ads cost as little as $1,000 per month and can put Jel's name in front of decision-makers.

Finally, Riggio wants Jel to use its big accounts to garner more business; not necessarily directly, but through contacts. That requires building client relationships through lunches, dinners or golf outings. "Ask them who they can direct you to," he says. "I've found that this altruistic streak in major accounts is enormous if you know how to tap into it. They get pleasure from the power of position."

Says Riggio, "One of the world's rules of super salespeople is that he who asks, gets."

The Entrepreneur: Robert Schiff; Photowow.com; Los Angeles
The Expert: Elisabeth Teal; Baylor University; Waco, Texas
The Problem: Marketing an unknown product

When Robert Schiff moved to Los Angeles, the artwork from his old home in Florida didn't work in his new space. He looked around for a large piece of art, but nothing fit. Worse, what if he moved again? He didn't want to spend a fortune on art that might not fit later homes. Then he spied an article about a large-format inkjet printer. He instantly realized an opportunity.

The business born of that idea is now 5 years old. Photowow.com has two retail stores, employs 25 people, and reached $1 million in sales in 2002. But Schiff, 39, finds it difficult to describe what his company does. People who see prints of customers' children rendered in Andy Warhol-esque pop montages love them. But most people haven't seen them. Schiff needs to figure out how to get his message out.

Baylor University assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship Elisabeth Teal sees some options Schiff hasn't taken advantage of. Photowow aggressively prices its product. The 42-inch format runs $425. That's a tidy sum, but he's selling it to customers one at a time.

"I'd broaden it to the commercial market," Teal says. Perhaps targeting franchises that want to have pictures of their founders in every store. University bookstores could sell prints of campus landmarks to students and alumni. Corporations might want a print of the home office in each branch office. Such pieces would be more profitable, because the one-time front-end costs get spread over reprints.

Teal also wants Schiff to think of alternative ways to reach his market. Photographers and photo refinishing shops can make referrals. And party and event planners are the keys to major events like weddings, where prints can be a focal point as well as a gift.

Finally, Teal suggests Schiff reorganize his Web site. She'd like to see the designs grouped (say, "Warhol-inspired" or "Lichtenstein-like") so customers don't get overwhelmed.

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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: We Shall Overcome.

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