Keep Calm and Power On

No matter how long you’ve been in the business, like all sales pros, you face fears that can impede success. You wouldn’t be human otherwise. The good news is, you can conquer them. Here’s how.

You know that saying – the one about not sweating the small stuff? It may be a bit cliché, but it’s good advice – especially for ad specialty sales reps. Excessive fretting over issues that are simply not the big deal you may think they are can be toxic to your mindset, poisoning performance and inhibiting success.

Fortunately, level-headed reflection and a proactive approach can put these anxieties in their place, erasing the worry and helping you become successful. “There are things we all struggle with,” says Phil Duym, PromoShop’s (asi/300446) executive vice president of sales for Detroit/Canada. “But there are ways to get past them.”

In the pages ahead, veteran sales experts provide antidotes to anxieties with which reps commonly grapple, from fear over online sellers and direct-selling suppliers to a lack of confidence that saps the go-getter spirit.

Focus on Value; Forget Online Sellers

Web-based sellers of promotional products send shivers down the spines of many sales reps. Industry pros worry about losing orders to Internet companies because some provide basement pricing that’s difficult to match. Ironically, the fretting can fast-track reps to the end they fear, compelling them to focus too intensely on price while failing to convey what makes them an excellent partner.

“If you let the fear overtake you, you’ll probably lose the sale,” says Danny Friedman, vice president of Added Incentives, a Northbrook, IL-based distributorship. Instead of price, reps should focus on the unique value they bring. “You need to convey to clients that they should work with you because you offer premium service that will give them peace of mind and ROI,” he says.

By taking that approach, Friedman has built a thick book of business. Recently, he was working hard to turn an executive staffing company from a prospect into a client. Just as many reps fear, the buyer Internet-shopped and hit him with the dreaded, “I found something cheaper online.”

Friedman, however, stayed cool. He told the buyer that he couldn’t beat the price, but he could provide a high-quality item on time, decorated exactly right – and at a price that was still fair. “I got them,” he says, “to think about the value of having the project done correctly – about how much more it could cost if something went wrong with the online order.”

In the end, the staffing agency purchased 500 embossed-logo leather portfolios from Friedman – the first of many promotional initiatives he aims to bring to fruition for the client. “Don’t worry about the online guys,” he says. “You should be concerned with providing great service and finding quality clients.”

Partner With Suppliers

For some sales reps, the idea of suppliers interacting with their clients is the stuff of nightmares. Surely the supplier will filch the customer – or the client, thus networked, will inevitably try to bypass the distributor and buy direct, the thinking goes. But in this paranoia, distributors could be missing opportunity.

Sure, direct selling from suppliers has increased, but if you work with reputable, trustworthy partners, chances are they’re not going to risk damaging their relationship with you by poaching your clients – and they may just help you close blockbuster deals by assisting you on sales calls or in related business settings.

Certainly that has been the experience of The Icebox (asi/229395). Each year, the company hosts a customer appreciation party, a fun event that includes having seven to 12 trusted suppliers exhibit at the distributor’s Atlanta headquarters. As The Icebox’s approximately 200 A-list clients arrive for the party, reps from the distributorship walk them through the supplier showcases, highlighting things they know may be of interest to the clients.

Supplier representatives engage with the customers too, explaining the features and benefits of everything from hip apparel to hard goods. “We know the personalities of the buyers best and the suppliers know their products best,” says Jordy Gamson, president/CEO of The Icebox. “When you combine that expertise, great things can happen.”

And they have. The seeds of bottom-line bolstering deals have been sewn at the party, and some orders have even been placed the day of the event. In one instance, The IceBox’s buyer knowledge combined with a supplier’s expertise to alchemize a six-figure order of polo shirts from a railroad transportation company that ultimately used the wearables as safety rewards for its nationwide network of employees.

Did Gamson have reservations about introducing a decision-maker with such ample buying power to the supplier? Not at all. “These are suppliers we trust,” he says. “They wouldn’t jeopardize their business with us. If you can find honest partners, there’s no anxiety and there’s a definite upside.”

Share Success Stories

Another potential sales-strengthening tactic that reps may meet with reluctance is publically sharing success stories or advice. In part, the reason for the reticence is that reps are concerned they’ll give their competitors a leg up.

Nonetheless, a growing number of distributors find that relaying tales of business bull’s-eyes proves a boon to their business. They do so through self-generated or second party-created blogs, videos, social media posts and industry publications.

Mark Ziskind, chief operating officer at Caliendo Savio Enterprises (asi/155807), frequently shares sales anecdotes and strategies with ad specialty publications. Doing so is part of CSE’s drive to be an industry thought leader – a position that has provided an edge when courting clients. “Customers and prospects are going to Google you, and when they see articles that feature you as an expert, that’s never going to hurt,” he says. “People see how you go to market and that attracts them.”

Furthermore, Ziskind believes that knowledge sharing can help raise the bar of promotional products selling. “The more knowledgeable everyone is,” he says, “the more consultative and less transactional the industry will be. That’s good for everyone.”

Catch Fire With Confidence

Whether you’re attempting to sell a five-cent pen or a $5 million mansion, you need confidence to close deals profitably. Buyers have a sixth sense when it comes to sniffing out a rep’s insecurity. If they get on the scent, some will doubt your creditability and the viability of the solutions you’re presenting. Others may seek to squeeze you until your margin is a memory.

The remedy to such undesirable scenarios is self-assurance. “Your ability to believe in yourself directly influences your ability to sell successfully,” says Duym, whose sales approached $3 million last year.

Still, the PromoShop VP knows it can be difficult to come by that confidence.

In his first year in ad specialty sales, Duym was a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of products and potential clients – unsure why prospects should buy from him. But rather than succumb to anxiety, he took action.

For one thing, he started attending trade shows. This helped him improve his product and industry knowledge – and connect with quality suppliers with whom he started to build strong relationships. Through interaction with these vendors, Duym came to better understand which products were hot, what types of promotional campaigns certain products work best in and how to sell them.

As he refined his approach to products, Duym sharpened his salesmanship, too. Reading books like How To Win Friends & Influence People and The One-Minute Salesperson equipped him with helpful techniques and psychological strategies for approaching selling. As a result, his confidence improved – and so did his performance. His sales accelerated from $180,000 his first year to more than half a million his second.

The sales ascent he began – and has maintained for 14 years – was also powered by his decision to focus on a couple niches, particularly automotive and adult beverages. Through in-depth discussions with buyers and studying the markets, Duym became an expert on the concerns and objectives of clients in these industries. The expertise further stoked self-belief, helping him become a consultative partner clients turn to time and again. “It starts,” he says, “with confidence.”

Ask For the Business and Referrals

Confidence will help reps summit two other hills they may be hesitant to climb: Asking for the sale and for referrals.

During the infancy of Duym’s career, he held back from asking prospects if they were ready to buy because he feared he’d seem pushy – a reluctance that can lead to sales dying on the vine. But with more experience, he realized “there’s a big difference between a high-pressure sale and asking for an order.”

The difference lies in timing and doing the appropriate legwork to meet your client’s needs. If, for example, you’ve presented ideas and samples, tweaked and refined the initiative, answered all the client’s questions – then it’s logical to bring the hoped-for transaction to a head. “Once I’ve given them everything they need to make a successful decision, I ask what they want to go with,” says Duym. “Some buyers need that little prompting. And if they decide they’re not comfortable with what’s on the table, then we start looking at other options.”

Getting your timing right is essential with referrals, too. And there’s no better time than when a client is pleased with your work. If you’ve just crafted a promotional campaign that has the buyer over the moon, then it’s a good moment to ask her if she knows other people who can benefit from your services.

Referral opportunities abound in social settings, too. Be tactful, but don’t be afraid to ask friends, family and acquaintances for business leads. Doing so helped Lisa Pine land a client that now spends upward of $1 million with her annually. It all began when a chat with an acquaintance revealed the financial company the woman works for didn’t do much with promotional products. Pine, vice president of sales at Axis Promotions (asi/128263), believed she could create exciting initiatives using ad specialties that would benefit the firm. As such, she asked for – and received – a referral to the appropriate people.

With her foot in the door, Pine made the most of her chance, winning an initial order and then building the relationship through campaigns that hit the mark. Says Ziskind: “When you bring value – and when you believe in that value – a lot of the anxiety goes away.”