You know those days where the power goes out or your computer crashes? Doing business becomes seemingly impossible. No e-mail! No online order tracking! No creating virtual samples or custom fliers! It can feel like you’ve been set back 20 years. But once upon a time, this is how business was done – all the time. Do you even remember the days before the Internet? It seems like worlds away, another universe.
Our modern business world owes a lot to the rise of the Internet and the advent of new technologies. If you’ve been in the industry 15 to 20 years or more, consider how you used to write and deliver proposals or how, when you needed feedback on a proof, you had to send a fax or catch someone on the phone – in the days before everyone had a cell phone. Yes, modern technology, when used correctly, is a blessing that can simplify the sales process and our lives with the touch of a button.
When asked about technology’s influence, Damian Want, senior vice president of Tustin, Calif.-based Logomark, replies, “How has technology influenced the sales process? It’s taken over the sales process!” For starters, thank goodness for the marketing tools available to you through suppliers’ web sites. KTI Promo’s new web site allows distributors to communicate directly with their clients, says the Houston-based company’s marketing coordinator, Scott Meng. “Distributors can now send client-friendly price sheets, product fliers and monthly specials to facilitate the sales process,” he reports.
In general, supplier web sites are making it easier to make decisions, do business and gain access to information. At New Kensington, Pa.-based Leed’s, Marketing Specialist Lindsay Hoylman says the most helpful features of her company’s web site are the tools that help distributors sell. In a password-protected area of the site, distributors can log in to create fliers, personalize catalog covers, forward portfolios and access marketing tools. Though small distributorships can benefit from these tools as much as larger ones, “some salespeople do not clearly see the benefits to logging on,” Hoylman laments. “A salesperson can create more professional-looking sales tools in less time by using suppliers’ electronic tools. It is not just about placing and tracking orders anymore. It’s about selling more.”
These added functions have changed the way business gets done. Just ask Jim Simone, chief marketing officer of Norwood Promotional Products in Indianapolis. “Technology has allowed so much more customer and product specific information to be shared in the sales process,” he says. “It allows you to really tailor your presentations specifically to your customers’ needs and to present complete solutions, rather than just products.” On-demand fliers, free web sites and USB drives that are pre-loaded with presentations or links to web sites all help make sales. But of all of the tools at your disposal, virtual samples that show clients several options for imprinting their logos on a product have the biggest impact on the end user, Simone says.
If you’re not using these web tools, it’s worth some time exploring what’s available to you. You might find a useful shortcut. Many of the best features are password protected to keep end users out, so consider creating a log-in account with a few of your favorite suppliers. In these areas, you’ll find tools such as sales tips, item comparisons, project portfolios, online catalogs, personal order history and more.
“Even going back as far as fax, scanning capabilities and good old e-mail, technology has made the world smaller,” Want explains. “Because of tools like these, most processes have become more streamlined, leading to fewer errors and faster turnaround times.” From a supplier standpoint, technology is every bit as valuable. “Technology has made it much easier for us to conduct business,” Hoylman confides. “Leed’s now automates order assignments, versus the previous process of paper shuffling and by-hand divvying. On the production floor, orders going from decorating to fulfillment areas are auto-tracked.”
Technological advancements have also made it possible to perform miracles such as one-day turnarounds, which make everyone a hero. Also, behind the scenes, it’s computer programs that provide real-time information for inventory availability, pricing, online ordering and order tracking.
May I take your order?
The proliferation of tech tools to help you sell is just the beginning. There is also a whole segment of the market devoted to tech products and accessories for you to sell. Best of all, everyone uses tech products in one form or another, so anyone can brand with them. Though it’s always smart to consider your client and his or her audience, suppliers say tech products and accessories generally are a good promotional option for everyone.
“Don’t just pitch a tech product to clients with an obvious correlation to the technology industry. Almost all of America is into technology, so almost every company in America could give a tech product,” Hoylman recommends. “Technology has gone from a niche market to having mass appeal. With three generations worth of people in America using MP3 players, that technology alone has revolutionized the entire product category.”
Simone agrees, saying the wide use of technology means people across the board are comfortable with at least the basics. “Tech items are a suitable choice for a broad range of clients,” he says. “The use of USB drives, MP3 players and the like is so mainstream that they are a wise choice for any promotion.” Plus, he adds, they lend a sense of being hip, intelligent and cutting edge. “Linking any company with a technology item updates the company’s image to reflect forward thinking, modern concepts and innovation,” Want confirms.
Generally, tech products have obvious functional benefits, and much of their appeal comes from people’s familiarity through retail channels, according to Hoylman. “When a recipient gets a technology product, you rarely hear them ask, â€˜What will I use this for?’” she says. The best reaction your client can get is for the recipient to have seen the product in a store or catalog. “With technology items, not only will a recipient have seen it in retail, it will have been expensive in retail,” she adds.
As Meng observes, the high perceived value attached to tech products makes them far less likely to be thrown away. Fortunately for your client, though, this high perceived value doesn’t always translate to high cost. Hoylman explains that suppliers, including Leed’s, have options beginning at less than $10. “If a client is on a tight budget, don’t steer clear of technology,” she says. “You can actually find great deals in this category.”
What sells big
Portable memory and other multimedia products have been big hits, suppliers say. “With the explosion of online multimedia, gadgets such as USB drives, MP3/video players and digital photo frames are quickly becoming mainstream promotional items,” Meng confirms.
Digital picture frames in particular are getting a lot of attention these days. Leed’s Merchandising Manager Ryan Huet Jr. reports that the technology, clarity and functionality on digital frames are constantly improving and the variety is also increasing. “A larger price range is available and the trend is dictating that bigger really is better,” he says. “Leed’s is looking to launch a photo frame with a screen that is close to a foot long.”
Still think tech products are too advanced for your clients? Accessories are also extremely popular and definitely won’t break the bank. With the constant barrage of new technologies in the retail world, innovative accessories are always cropping up close behind. Options range from the decorative, such as charms, to the useful, including cases or chargers. Either way, they’re sure to be appreciated. “Tech accessories definitely sell just as well because they offer even more opportunity to showcase a brand, often at a lower price point than the tech item itself,” Simone says.
When it comes to selling tech gems, the job is half done, Hoylman contends. “If you don’t feel savvy, ask your supplier sales rep to explain the benefits of a product,” she says. “Technology products basically sell themselves.”
Luckily, most of these items are an easier sell than they were even two or three years ago, Hoylman remarks. No more long pitches about how to use a product because clients are generally more “with-it” than in the past. “Distributors can show a USB port lock and briefly explain it, and the benefit is immediately recognizable to the client.”
Learning product specs may be the best selling tip, though. This way, you can show how easy a product is to use and assist clients who do not use these kinds of products frequently, Simone says. “Education during the sales process is a must.”
Don’t be scared off if you feel out of the loop. Educate yourself, so you’re armed with knowledge when you approach clients. “We sometimes hear distributors describe themselves or their clients as â€˜low-tech,’” Meng concludes. “But many tech products today are very user-friendly, requiring little more of the user than plugging it in. Remember, your business is promotions, not programming.”
If you’re still unsure about selling technology-related products, think again about how they’ve changed the promotional products industry. This isn’t an isolated case. The tech market is huge and demand is growing at a record pace.
“Tech products are a great sell because they mirror and support what’s happening in the retail tech market,” Simone sums up. “That, coupled with the longevity of these kinds of products – and therefore longevity of the brand – makes them a sure bet.”
This article was written by Debrah Rosen for Corporate Logo Magazine. Reprinted with permission.