Keys to Unlock the Decision-Maker's Door

Getting the runaround? Cut to the chase with our experts’ tips on getting to the buyer right off the bat.

You’ve got a solid lead, but even then, getting past the gatekeeper to the person who controls the purse strings can sometimes seem like an insurmountable hurdle.

Harvard Business Review found that 90% of C-level executives never respond to cold calls or email blasts.

But there are proven ways to increase your chances of making a connection with the actual buyer.

ID the Buyer

Identifying the buyer is first and foremost, of course, and LinkedIn can be one of a sales rep’s most valuable prospecting tools. “Do research on LinkedIn to make sure you are talking to the actual decision-maker, and look for titles like CEO, COO, CMO or a very high vice president of sales,” says Johnny Campbell, speaker and sales trainer.

Once you identify that person, scour their profile and company website to determine why they would buy. Set up Google alerts about them. Does the company have a new product launching, or are they looking to increase employee retention? Are they looking to increase profitability or productivity? “If you can find the motive for purchase, it helps you create a better connection with that person,” Campbell says. “You can speak with clarity and confidence about how you can help them.”

Rob Hammerling, vice president of Edge Marketing & Promotions Inc. entered the promotional products field a year ago, after selling the public relations firm he had headed for 20 years. A business sale covenant precluded him from contacting any previous clients, so Hammerling had to start from scratch when he joined Edge, the promotional products firm he had worked with to create custom branded products for his clients. “I had no business relationships in place, and only my new partner’s guidance on how to even price things,” he says.

“Without the luxury of time, I made several decisions, the first of which was to use LinkedIn to create a network,” says Hammerling. In nine months, he’s gone from zero to 2,500 connections. “So far, though 97% of those connections have not generated business, the 3% have allowed me to build a meaningful presence in the marketplace,” he notes.

Join LinkedIn groups that your target markets belong to. Become a trusted resource to those groups.

Hands-on, lower-tech approaches can also work well. “We start off with a cold call to the receptionist and ask for a specific department like marketing or human resources, and ask who is in charge of buying promotional products,” says Kelly Martin CEO of Promotional Bridge (asi/301366). Human resources can sometimes yield the best initial results, as this department often puts together safety programs and incentive awards that should involve promotional products, she notes.

“It is usually easier to get to the buyer in smaller companies than in large ones. With larger companies, it’s often necessary to interact a few times before you actually reach the decision-maker,” Martin says. “Many times, if you call before or after hours at a smaller-sized prospect, you can get the owner directly – they will often pick up the phone.”

Pique Interest and Assess Needs

Millennium Marketing Solutions (asi/379074) created a tiki-themed package to pique the interest of potential buyers. Reps hand-deliver the package to prospects or take it on sales calls and for initial client meetings. The package includes a burlap logoed tote bag containing a tiki polycarbonate bottle with a marketing insert, and includes items such as a coconut-scented air freshener, a maraca bearing the message “Shake Up Your Marketing,” lip balm and a bottle opener.

The tiki package aims to “connect the different senses, like taste, smell, sound and texture, in order to create a lasting impression,” says Janice Tippett, CEO. “We often get a response from recipients of the tiki gift. It elevates us, not just as a provider, but as a marketing partner, and demonstrates our creativity.”

The buyer Millennium is targeting needs to have three things: a need, a want and a budget. “Also, the ability to spend that budget like it’s their own money, with no emotional ties to that money,” Tippett says.

Conversely, the sales rep needs to demonstrate that they understand their buyer, specifically, the client’s business. “The goal for the rep is to remove promotional products as line items and keep the focus on them as marketing tools,” Tippett says.

In his early days of selling, Roger Burnett, now president of Order Commander, a service platform to streamline the ordering process for decorated apparel, found a different way in. He would tell the screener that someone at the company had personally filled out a request for information, but that the request was incomplete and he had to follow up.

The gatekeeper would then ask what the request was about, and when Burnett responded that it involved promotional products, he would typically be given the correct buyer’s name. “I had a 95% success rate with this approach,” he says.

“In B2B, it’s important to break down contacts by departmental need, and get a sense of why certain departments buy products,” he says. “You won’t be successful if you don’t have a good working knowledge of the department and its needs.” For example, the marketing department could be more event-driven, while human resources might tend to focus on employee recruitment and retention.

Be the Expert

Another important way for reps to gain entry to the decision-maker is to pick a particular market niche and really delve into it, becoming part of that community. Clients value reps that understand the culture of their industry, the nuances and values of that particular sector.

“Reps should all be on LinkedIn and their profile should be written as a sales page, not a resume,” says Campbell. The summary of the profile should be a call to action for the targets the sales rep wants to reach, stating what they can do for the client, or the type of clients the rep can help.

Use other social media outlets accordingly. “You need to fish where the fish are,” he says. “Go where your target client is, and position yourself there. If they’re on Twitter, go to Twitter.”

Campbell also recommends reps attend events in the industry, join trade show groups, perhaps even write reports, case studies or a book to establish credibility and expertise. “Take content from the promotional industry and transfer it into that space,” he says. “Position yourself as greater than an order taker, and show you are committed to being in that community.”

When Campbell attends networking events, he stands up and introduces himself last, so he can ascertain who the other guests are and what they’re interested in. He listens to what other attendees have to say and customizes his message to that audience.

Insider Tips

In her previous career, Laurie Amigo, Brand Merchandising Specialist at HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000), was the marketing director for a high-tech company. She ran the events division, organizing a host of events such as trade shows, parties, stockholder meetings and seminars. Her responsibilities also included purchasing promotional products – Amigo was the decision-maker.

And she was not receptive to cold calls. “I rarely returned any prospecting voicemail,” she says. “I was simply too busy and not interested.” She was loyal to one distributor rep, but in retrospect, “that rep wasn’t really all that dynamic. I think I felt loyal to her because of all the product samples I would receive.” The rep provided Amigo with what she needed, but nothing above and beyond.

“I think I would have entertained other distributors if I was on the receiving end of a dynamic mail campaign receiving product in the mail.” Each year Amigo would ask the rep, “What’s new out there? Are there shows I can attend to get new ideas?” but the rep offered nothing.

Amigo has used her past experience as a promotional products buyer to benefit her current career in sales. “I actually use these lines when I meet with new prospects and tell them how I am different. Being at HALO, I am fortunate to invite my clients to our annual well-designed end-user trade show so they can get inspired and we uncover projects together,” she says. “I know that is what I was craving as a buyer. Being in the shoes of a promotional products buyer gives me an advantage to knowing what my client’s pain points are, along with the budgeting and approval cycles.”

When Edge Marketing’s Hammerling ran his own public relations firm, he was often frustrated with the process of ordering promotional merchandise. “I was always stressing at the last minute, worried about whether the merchandise would arrive on time, or the prices would increase at the last minute,” he says. “I finally hooked up with a promotional products guy from Edge Marketing who produced consistently, on time and on budget. He made my life easy.”

The distributor even advised Hammerling to go with a higher-quality, heavy-duty tent for an outdoor event to be held in Memphis during the month of May, when weather is unpredictable at best, which turned out to be a wise decision.

Working successfully with Edge Marketing helped point Hammerling toward a career in advertising specialties. His past experience as a purchaser of promotional products has served him well in knowing how to get to decision-makers and advising clients on their own projects.

You’re In; Now What?

The top three questions to ask when you do eventually connect with the buyer are: What is your goal in buying promotional products? How are you going to measure the success of the use of these products, and what will success look like? “I am gauging how the buyer measures success so I know what ROI they are looking for,” Campbell says.

Decision-makers rarely make a buying decision on the first point of contact, says Burnett. He suggests asking if the buyer has an event calendar, and when it’s appropriate for the rep to reach out and be valuable. Request an outline of when the client needs items and what you can do to help them.

Promotional Bridge’s Martin tells her reps to emphasize that they are a marketing consultant vs. a sales rep. “We tell the client that we come up with ideas, and that if they let us know their next project, we will offer creative solutions.” Position yourself as someone who can make the busy executive’s life easier.

When finally meeting with the decision-maker, Burnett provides examples of what other clients have done, and offers ideas and different ways to use promotional products that the prospect may not have thought about. One of his clients, a local bank, wanted to sign customers up for its credit cards and sought to offer a giveaway as an incentive at Detroit’s Winter Festival.

Burnett suggested hand warmers, given the freezing mid-winter temperatures at the event. The client was going to distribute the hand warmers to anyone who came into their booth.

“We suggested they tie the giveaway to a particular action,” he says. “In this case, provide the hand warmers to anyone that gave their email address to the client. Our strategy changed the giveaway from passive to active, and the client was extremely happy with the outcome, even sending me a thank-you note to acknowledge its success.”

Hammerling also recommends taking ideas a step further in discussions with decision-makers. When the owner of a tour boat company reached out to him after receiving his LinkedIn connection request, seeking branded boat wraps, Hammerling researched and came back with a proposal. At the meeting he asked the client what the company was doing for giveaway merchandise.

“The client said he was too busy to deal with it, so I discussed the concept that merchandise can turn a certain percentage of customers into brand ambassadors, which is the best form of advertising,” he says. “I told him to give me $10,000 and I would create merchandise and teach the employees how to sell it.” He put together a line of simple T-shirts, short- and long-sleeve, sunblock and hats. They sold $1,500 worth of merchandise the first day, and sold out within three weeks. The client is now generating $10,000 a month in sales.