Train a new sales drone.
September 26, 2008 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Seeking advice on the art of sales.

I run the prepress dept. at a small family printing company. Recently things have slowed down considerably due to the financial shitstorm here in the US, and I don't think our current salesman is pulling his share of the load, so I'm considering making some cold calls a couple of days a week, if for no other reason than to keep my department busy.

I have a good idea of what types of industries I'd like to target, but I'm unsure as to how to do the research that would generate the leads I'd need to make cold calls.

I'm looking at the alternative energy sector and biotech industries here in the CA Bay Area, and more specifically the industries that serve them. For example, every salesperson wants the account for Big Solar Company, LTD because they're the big dog in the area; but how do I find out who supplies them with their raw materials? Do I have to read the trade magazines or is there another way to get a look at the supply chain?

How do sales people find out about new companies? I seem to remember back in the day that local newspapers published business license applications in the business section. While I'm sure this is still true, is there a better, web-based equivalent these days?

Any general tips on generating leads you'd care to share?
posted by lekvar to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Set us RSS feeds for job ads for the industries that you want to target. I use Companies that are hiring are often expanding, or at least doing well enough to have the money to replace someone that left. Look for companies that do a lot of trade shows - they'll churn through a lot of marketing literature. The local business weekly (if you are in a decent sized city) or the newspaper will probably run a "top 100 local companies" type of feature at least once per year. Hunt down the trade journals online for lists of the top companies in the very industry sectors. Set up Google alerts for companies you are targeting. A new VP Marketing or new purchasing manager etc is often an opportunity to unseat the existing vendor.

Selling printing is tough, I did it for 6 years.
posted by COD at 5:51 PM on September 26, 2008

I worked in sales for a couple of years ... for a newspaper while in college, and for a subsidiary of RR Donnelley fresh out of college.

My best efforts at lead generation were cold calls. I simply picked up the yellow pages and started looking at companies that I knew had a need for my products, which were mostly business forms (check stock, zebra printer rolls and ribbons, mailers, etc. and made sure to get them a catalog. Once I had them ordering stock items from me I started to talk about special order items and printing projects. It worked OK... I ended up quitting after six months because they were trying to close the office I was in and I didn't want to move to Salt Lake City.

Cold calling means that you're doing exactly that -- you don't know who the hell you're calling or anything about them. I used to drive through industrial areas and write down company names. Then I'd do five minutes of googling the company to see what they actually did. (Most companies have websites.) If I can figure out a need from their business category (i.e. - Pepsi distributor needed tags for their tanks of CO2 to say when they'd been filled and last inspected, etc), I'd call and find out who ordered that item and talk to them and say we could beat their price and if they're interested, call me back. You're not going to get a lot of calls back. just keep a notepad (I used a regular old legal pad) to line up your calls 'on deck' and the results of them, and highlight the ones you'll call back in the next round.

With you, I'd throw in the "Hey, man, I'm not a salesman, but my press is idle and I hate seeing it not doing something. You got something for me to do? I'll cut ya a deal." My main hurdle to overcome was that we didn't have a local printing facility and I had a hell of a time converting companies away from people who DID have local printing facilities.

I tried to make at least 10 cold calls a day first thing in the morning. Then I'd go hang out in a coffee shop that had free wifi hunt for new business after lunch.
posted by SpecialK at 6:11 PM on September 26, 2008

Pay for you leads if you know how to sell them. If you don't know how to sell them you'll just be wasting a lot of money and not learning very much in the process, so develop them yourself from the cheapest data possible.

I don't know much about your industry specifically but a good general place for phone numbers and other basic lead data is infousa. There are probably better places for leads but it's a start.
posted by 517 at 9:01 PM on September 26, 2008

"Hey, man, I'm not a salesman, but my press is idle and I hate seeing it not doing something. You got something for me to do? I'll cut ya a deal."

Don't say that.

Your position may be a double edged sword so it should probably only be introduced after the sale is complete, if at all, or if the client specifically asks. Your presses being idle is something that should not be mentioned at all.
posted by 517 at 9:22 PM on September 26, 2008

A good quick 'n dirty trick is to run a google search for all sites that link to Big Solar Inc. Some companies list their high profile clients and will have their site listed. It's worked for us a few times. Google news alerts are a big source of info for us once we've identified the right keywords.
Government or State sites that list registered companies are a good source of info and they usually break it down by industry. Likewise, trade associations that Big Solar belongs to (which you will discover from the links search above) will often have a list of members and sometimes a separate list of suppliers to the industry. Those lists are worth their weight in gold.
If you're going to target those sectors you'll want to really spend some time brushing up on the problems and developments going on. It's an exciting industry and the folks in it are passionate - it will help you to be able to have those conversations rather than just smiling and trying to avoid them.
posted by Umhlangan at 7:27 AM on September 27, 2008

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