My glamorous title at work is the Publisher and Editor of BHC Magazine. I use this to open doors and impress my relatives who remember me as the kid that got last in the class.
Beneath that, a large chunk of my job involves in being a sales person for the magazine. The truth is, whichever organization you are in, without sales, you’d be out of a job. So, I take full pride in the ownership of this responsibility.
Speaking of connecting the dots, I am thankful I’ve picked up some fundamental skills in sales from some of the greatest sales industries; namely life insurance, and from the school of hard knock – selling shoes in retailing and a few other jobs in my past lives.
A wise man once told me that sales is a function that builds your character and teaches you humility and resilience. I cannot agree more.
I am a better person because of this. For those who are interested to advance their career in marketing, my advise is; start with selling!
Rule #1: Rejection is a part of Sales.
I remember calling a prospect once, before we launched the magazine. He was mocking me about how most magazines have come and gone. And told me to call back in 6 months if I’m still in the market. Coupled with a number of rejection phone calls that day, it actually shattered my confidence.
But then, a little voice came to me and say: ‘rejection is just a part of sales!’
Looking back, if I had believe what the guy had said, I wouldn’t be sharing my lessons with you today. Below are some of the lessons I have learned in overcoming the many obstacles like this phone call.
2. Sell a Story
Stats are important. In publishing, people want to know about your circulation numbers, the demographic of your readers, your distribution points etc.
Beyond that, clients are secretly looking for the intangibles. Something emotional, something that connects, something that helps them to feel good about spending money with you and be able to justify that the investment is worthwhile.
This is the story I tell to the big companies and banks:
“We are currently looking for the market leaders in the industry who believe in the vision of the magazine; to inspire a better standard of living of the local Bruneian, to recognize the home owner’s effort in beautifying their home and more importantly, contribute to the growth of the Home Industry.”
Good companies often feel a sense of responsibility towards doing good for the community and the pride to be associated with admirable causes.
In our first issue, we had the support of 3 of the top banks in Brunei and a good numbers of market leaders in the corporate sectors on board. I have a good feeling that it is because they bought our story.
What is your story?
3. Develop a Strategy
The founder of Hotmail once said this: “Shun the argument between working hard or working smart. I say, do both!”
It is indeed not enough to work hard to get things done. Especially in a small organization like ours. We’ve a team of 4 people running the magazine.
1 that does Photography & Design
1 that does Account Management, Distribution & Editorial Support
1 that does Proof Reading
1 that does Sales, Editorial, Marketing, Interviews, Distribution and Everything Else in between
We sell an average of 40 advertisements per month.
That’s 1.33 ads per day.
With all that going on, it is humanly impossible to sustain the kind of performance for more than a few months.
We’ve done it for 9 months.
The Secret? We had 2 Primary Strategies:
a. Long Term Contract.
We give as high as 50% discount for 1-year contract. 70% of our sales target is fulfilled before the start of every month.
b. Calendar of Events
The magazine talks about a different theme every month. It allows us to narrow down to specific target advertisers each month and give them relevant reasons to advertise with us.
What is the reason for a customer to buy your product?
4. See the Big Picture
It is all too easy to give up in a sales career, because it is easy to take things personally, and get discouraged, hurt and disappointed.
However, if you understand the big picture, aka The Sales Funnel, you’d understand that it’s not about you and it’s nothing personal. There is a formula to sales, it is simple*, it is just a game of numbers.
Here’s a model of my Sales Funnel:
30 Prospects / Introductory Emails
25 Follow Up Calls
5 Meetings (+ follow up calls)
Once you understand this, you’d appreciate that it’s all about the numbers you build from the top, and the conversion rate.
You can spend 3 hours in a sales pitch and not close a sale. And then, you’d meet your next client, whom you’d close their sales in 5 minutes. There’s no explanation for this, it’s just the way it is.
A more experienced salesperson can have the same amount of prospects but have a higher conversion rate, because of their skills, their relationship they have in place with the vendors and their Disciplines in ensuring they follow the steps, EVERYTIME!
*Simple doesn’t mean easy!
5. Master your Telephone Skills!
I’ve got news for you: Emails DON’T WORK!
But use them anyway.
Making phone call was my biggest fear. It still makes me uncomfortable.
Unlike email, phone calls are personal. People on the other end can be cold, rude, in a hurry and they probably do not want to hear from a sales person. You are interrupting their family time, meeting, work, lunch or breakfast.
The good news is, unlike email – you cut through the clutters, and have your client’s undivided attention.
It’s down to how good you’ve practiced your phone skills to get the appointment.
I make an average of 15 – 20 calls per day. Most of them end in the first 10 seconds.
In order to close a sale, I have to let go of my pride, and conquer the fear every single day. There’s no other way.
Show me a salesperson who is reluctant to pick up the phone, I’d show you one that is not going to last long in the industry!
6. Follow Through
What separates a good sales person from a bad one is their willingness to follow through with the details. When you call some one the first time, many would say call me back again next week. Do you actually call the next week?
Create a system that reminds you to do just that. Sometimes it is your persistency, sincerity and determination that gets you through the door. Not how good your smart you are.
Understand that there is a fine line between persistency and being a pest. For me, I would respect the clients if they say no, and will leave them alone. But I will not accept the case to be closed, if the clients say “I’m still thinking about it.” The honor is with the client to give you an answer. I’d always politely ask for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and case closed!
On the other token, when you make a promise, do you deliver? Do you show up on time? Do you send out that proposal promptly? Customers are looking for reasons to trust you, to give you the business.
Are you giving them the confidence?
7. Provide Great Customer Service
We have a total of 70 clients in our portfolio. It is impossible to service them individually. Besides, unlike Starbucks, how do you define a good service in selling advertisement space in a magazine?
You’d probably get 10 different answers from 10 different publishers on this.
Here’s my version. The reality is, NOT all customers are the same.
20% of the customers will give you 80% of your revenue. Bend over backwards, if you have to, to ensure this 20% are happy!
Another approach that I undertake is to personally deliver the magazines in the beginning of each month. We have over 350 distribution points. I cover about 1/3 of the total distribution. It is where I get 5 minutes of my client’s time to thank them personally for their support, solicit feedback, update them what’s coming up, and sell them more.
Delivering magazines is also an opportunity for me to do cold-calls. Talking to retailers is an entirely different ball game all together. They’ve no time to listen to your story. What matters is how relevant you are to them, and how you can help them to do more business. Sometimes you get chased away, sometimes the decision makers are not there (even if they are). It is not always a dignified job. But the conversion rate is definitely much higher than making phone calls in the office.
8. Seize Every Opportunity
30% of our sales are often closed during the last 3 days before we go to print. We do not give up any sales opportunity until we print, because in publishing there is no carry over of stock to the next month. When an opportunity is lost, it is lost forever. Imagine treating your business like the publishing model, you’d be able to double your sales with this mindset!
9. Condition Yourself
It is too easy to fail going to the battleground alone. Hence it is important to create a strategy to psyche yourself up. Here’s my 10 points system strategy:
- Cultivate a positive team environment. One that feeds you and each other the positive energy; one that tell you not to give up; one that celebrates every little success together with you.
- Have a mentor to coach you, or at least, listen to you unwind.
- Lie to yourself ! Like, this too shall pass; it’s gonna be better tomorrow; the reward is worth it. Draw strength from your past achievements.
- Hit the ping-pong balls regularly! I did that 3 nights a week just to channel out the frustrations.
- Take breaks! Here’s a personal mantra for you: “I’m too busy not to take a break!”
- Get in touch with your God, whatever your faith may be. I couldn’t have done it without the grace and mercy of God almighty who gives me strength.
If you’re lucky like me, you’d have the unconditioned love of a beautiful wife and a supportive family. That counts as two points, A to E counts as one, and 3 points for F.
If you do not have a system to condition your mind, you’d find yourself burn out, exhausted, and miserable. Most importantly, you’d give up when you’re so close to the reward. But you’d never know, because no one is there to remind you.
10. The Reward
The best sales industries are the ones that are reward based. In life insurance, it is not uncommon to see the top sales person earning more than the company’s CEO.
However, when you base your performance and your effort merely for the commission you make, you’re not going to go very far. Simply because your customers are going to see through it, that you are only treating them as a vehicle to achieve your goal.
To me, the biggest reward comes from the relationship I built with network of people I get to meet in the home industry in Brunei. In a short 8 months, I’ve become the go-to guy in my family and my close circle of friends and even clients for home suppliers referrals. Secondly, it is the result of the advertising proceeds that we can churn out more publications month after month, which is something I’m innately passionate about!
The Ultimate Reward
Three months ago, I received a phone call from a client’s assistant, inquiring about our advertising details. It was the same client who rejected my phone call and mocked the magazine. He signed up for a 1-year contract.
I can’t explain to you the feelings, if you have not been there.
Confession, above are pretty tall orders and principles that I try to adhere to in the last 12 months. I do not always get it right. I’ve had my share of disappointing my clients, as a result, losing sales. The steps are simple, but executing them are difficult. There’s still a long road ahead for the magazine, with your support, we’d get there. Keep on reading!