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Driving a Buying Decision

27 May, 2003 By: Wes Phillips imageSource

Driving a Buying Decision

As a speaker at this
year's ITEX show, I was privy to a number of dealer discussions about long-term
strategies. I was able to learn about independent's concerns for the long-term
health of their dealerships and their growth plans. One fundamental short-term
concern that has crept into dealer conversations lately, and is the focus of
this article, is the tendency of prospects to postpone making a buying decision.

getting a prospect to make a decision has always been a challenge. Yet, what
dealers today are experiencing is a little out of the ordinary. The causes for
the apprehension are numerous and traverse a wide variety of areas from economic
uncertainty and fear of world events (including the war) to technology issues
with prospects not understanding how new technologies will help them in the
short and long term. If you find yourself in the same situation, there are a
number of actions you can take to overcome your prospect's lethargy and motivate
the purchase of business equipment.

Manage The Prospects

Times of uncertainty require good marketing leadership. In the short-term, it
may be wise that you, as the dealer principal or owner, become very visible to
your sales staff and to your prospective customers. By taking a personal
interest in specific transactions, you create an environment of confidence and
trust. In many circumstances, just your physical presence is all that may be
needed to move an apprehensive prospect to positive action. In other cases,
being involved will provide you the opportunity to discern the "real"
roadblock and create a viable solution that will drive a prospect to action.

Another useful way
of taking a higher profile is to participate in the weekly review of prospecting
activity. This will allow you to work closely with your sales manager to make
sure that the sales staff is effectively moving each potential sales situation
forward. By choosing to exercise your leadership and involve yourself in the
sales process to this degree, you may be surprised at how much is not getting
done the way it needs to get done. Plus, if this is the case, this will provide
you with the opportunity to make adjustments that will produce even better

If you find that too
much time is spent on these types of meetings during normal selling hours, you
may want to consider (at least for the near term future) holding a review of
potential sales activity on Saturday mornings. Every potential sales opportunity
is reviewed and a plan of attack is formulated. This ensures that more than one
perspective is given to each opportunity and that all avenues of flexibility are
investigated. Now, I realize that allocating a Saturday morning to a sales
meeting may sound unrealistic, yet in times of uncertainty, it may be that this
type of sacrifice is what makes the difference between a profitable month and an
unprofitable month.


Another way to get prospects into the driver's seat is to selectively use
promotions to generate a sense of urgency or create the perception of financial
flexibility. The risk with promotions is that this type of strategy is used too
often and can lead to gross profit erosion and can attract those prospects that
are really just "shopping." Consequently, it is only in selected
circumstances that a price promotion can be implemented such that your
credibility as a dealer and your profit margins are not adversely affected.

Avenues of
opportunity that were once thought to be too expensive to pursue, often open up
with promotions of their own and allow you to reap the benefits. As an example,
I worked with a client who was able to use a newspaper promotion to generate
additional activity. Usually, the expense of running print ads in this newspaper
is prohibitive, yet just as our client was considering a promotional strategy,
the local newspaper implemented a new program that allowed our client to use
place insertions at a greatly reduced cost. This opportunity was coordinated
with the ongoing advertising strategy and the outcome resulted in several
selling situations that they would have never occurred. So the lesson to learn
from this is to keep your eyes open to opportunities; approach the local media
and ask if there are any programs that are available that will allow you to
communicate with your prospect base at lower costs.

Create an Event

If you find that prospects are not making purchasing decisions because they do
not appreciate what connected digital document technology can do for their
business, consider organizing an exciting event. The objective is to get a large
number of your existing customers along with several of your
"on-the-fence" prospects in the same place, at the same time.

Ideally, you have a
state-of-the-art facility that you can use for an open house or technology fair.
There are three keys to success. The first key is to have your manufacturers in
attendance and to have them provide additional support in the form of prizes,
gifts or additional funding. The second key is to make the event fun. Make sure
you have a theme, have hourly prizes and, if possible, have a celebrity in
attendance. The third key is to make sure you have aggressively marketed the
event. This means not only sending out invitations, but also systematically
telemarketing to those you want to attend. Your sales force should be actively
involved in this endeavor.

On the day before
the event, confirm all attendees and in certain cases the salesperson should
personally drive and pick-up the customer/prospect to ensure their attendance.
The goal of this event is to have existing customers speak with the prospects to
validate the wisdom of implementing new technology. The added benefit of an
event like this is that it solidifies existing customer relationships and it
makes sure that your sales staff is engaged in selling activity.

Take Away Risk

A final approach to getting prospects to make purchasing decisions is to
generate the perception that there is very little financial risk as a result of
making the decision. One of the best approaches I have witnessed in connection
with this is a program called "Love It Or Leave It." Although the
program may pose a threat to the dealer, it is simple to use and the benefits
can far outweigh the risks. The program allows a prospect to rent the equipment
for a minimum of three months. At the end of the three months, the prospect has
the option of returning the equipment, with no further obligation, or they can
keep the equipment by either continuing to rent, putting it on a lease or by
paying cash.

As you can see, this
program creates a very powerful message for the prospect. Yes, there are
financial considerations for the dealer to address. In addition there are
potential sales commission issues. Yet, if the goal is to move people to action,
this program or one similar to it, can be very useful. If you use your
imagination, you'll find that you can design a short-term program that will be
suitable for any marketing circumstance.

As you can see,
there are several avenues available to drive prospects into making purchasing
decisions. The fundamentals are to be personally involved (demonstrate your
leadership), keep your sales manager and sales force constantly pointed in the
correct direction and use your imagination to generate events or promotions. If
you choose to take this on, you will come out a winner - outperforming the
competition, receiving more than your fair share of deals and most importantly,
placing yourself in a position to gain even greater sales velocity in the

- - -

Phillips, CEO of Hunter Barth Advertising, located in Costa Mesa, California,
submitted this article. Hunter Barth Advertising is a full service marketing and
advertising firm specializing in the office technology industry. You can reach
Wes at 949-631-9900 or at Phillips@hunterbarth.com.

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