Chuck Bond, 47, is founder of COKeM International Ltd., a 3-year-old Plymouth, Minnesota, wholesaler of software, video games and accessories. COKeM's sales reached $130 million in 2002, and its client base includes Best Buy, Costco, Disney, Electronic Arts and Microsoft. "Right now, there's a shrinkage of shelf space," says Bond, who's still very active in sales. "You have to fight for your own shelf space or try to create new shelf space."
2. Customize. Retailers are competitive, and they don't want the same thing as the next retailer. Bond customizes programs as well as product displays for each of his customers. "You have to bring them a margin opportunity or a theme sales opportunity," Bond says.
3. Give them R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A lot of buyers don't want samples and long-winded pitches. Bond's meetings can consist of two minutes in a lobby, and he cuts his sales call short and reschedules when he feels the buyer is too distracted to listen. "Respect their time. Don't have your own agenda," he says. "I've seen too many salespeople fail by only thinking about their own agenda."
Garrett Boone, 59, is co-founder of The Container Store, a Dallas-based retailer of shelving and organizational supplies. Store sales are increasing 25 percent per year; sales in 2002 were $296 million, and $335 million is projected for 2003. Boone and co-founder Kip Tindell, 50, remain active in employee training and sales.
2. Engage the customer. The Container Store's salespeople are trained to notice the types of products customers are looking at, or already have in their shopping carts. For example, if a customer is looking at wrapping paper, ask if they are getting ready for a birthday or a wedding. It's a conversation-starter that focuses squarely on the customer and lets the salesperson offer a solution. "We're trying to engage them in a way that says, I can see you need help, and I'm not going to ask a dumb question like 'Do you need help?'"
3. Remember the man in the desert. The Container Store's employees are versed in a philosophy called "the man in the desert": A man crawls through the desert gasping for water and finds a retailer who gives him a drink. Then the man crawls away and finds The Container Store, where he gets water, food and help in finding his family. Translation: Always offer customers a comprehensive solution. If a customer is looking at wrapping paper, she'll probably need a box, a bow, some tissue paper and a greeting card to go with it. Says Boone, "If you sell right, then selling and service are the same thing."
Good As Gold
What does it take to be a rainmaker right now? We surveyed top salespeople working for Entrepreneur's 2003 Hot 100 companies, and they told us their secrets to selling:
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.