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Rob & Barry: How to Sell to Us

Our rant back in May, describing our frustration with what has become a daily deluge of phone calls from salespeople, caused some consternation among readers of the AB Newswire.

DON'T CALL US... Please. We can't answer all the inquiries we get as it is.DON'T CALL US... Please. We can't answer all the inquiries we get as it is.

Our rant back in May, describing our frustration with what has become a daily deluge of phone calls from salespeople, caused some consternation among readers of the AB Newswire. Some of the responses to our blog item - which, we admit, didn't articulate clearly enough that the biggest problem we have is not with representatives of the fitness industry, but with other service providers asking us to place ads in their coupon books, hire them to process our credit card transactions, buy their electricity and propane, use their janitorial services, lease their equipment - centered on the question, "So, what's a poor salesperson to do?" If we won't take their calls, won't meet with them and might not respond to an e-mail, how in the world can they do their jobs?

Well, we'll tell you.

Part of the problem was simply finding the time to answer all the phone calls. So, as we noted, we simply stopped taking them. We have instructed our staff to provide callers with our e-mail addresses. We're happy to read and consider anything that is e-mailed to us, but - again, protecting our own time - it doesn't mean we'll respond.

Nothing we're going to suggest here is rocket science, and we're not even going to cross-reference our thoughts with the many fine books and courses about Selling 101. This is what works for us, and we should add that we admire and respect those salespeople who approach us in the manner described below. After all, we appreciate being exposed to new products and services, and we do, in fact, buy stuff. We simply require that people who want to sell to us do things the right way. If things aren't done properly when we are a prospect - when they want our money - why would we expect anything to go better after they have gotten our money?

Let's start with some real examples of doing things the wrong way. Within just a few days of our blog posting, we received e-mails from three salespeople. One was for a Groupon-like local advertiser. The message boiled down to: "We have a spot available this week, do you want it?" The second was about the placemats at a nearby diner (which was quite gratifying, because we had used that example in the blog). That message was: "We think it would be great for you to advertise on these placemats and here are the prices." Then there was the propane salesman: "We would like to bid on your propane business. How much do you use?"

Notice that we did read these e-mails, and we did consider what the salesperson was offering, but other than being thrilled to have examples for this column, we dismissed these inquiries within seconds. They told us nothing we didn't already know. We have experimented with Groupon-like ads; we know we can advertise at the diner; we have shopped around for propane. When a salesperson is lazy, knows nothing about us and simply asks, "Will you buy something from me?" it doesn't work.

What does work for us, salespeople, is demonstrating that you understand something about our business and efficiently communicating how your product or service will enhance our operation. That will get you in the door. Then you have to be prepared for the long haul, because we don't make decisions haphazardly. We have an annual budget and an advertising plan. We don't make impulse buys, and we don't buy something just because the price has been slashed. Getting us to deviate from our plans with an unscheduled purchase or to change vendors takes a lot of work.

Start by spending a few minutes researching our business. You can learn quite a bit from our website and Facebook page, and we turn up as business owners (and authors) in a simple Google search. Not only will you be able to have a more social dialogue with us by doing so, you might also find something that overlaps with what you're selling.

You also need to do some research about how your product or service relates to our business, with success stories and statistics that show how you can help us. For fitness-related companies, this seems like it should be easy, but we find that many vendors in our industry approach us without considering who we are - a mid-priced, midsized operation in a rural area. Please don't leave us to connect the dots to figure out how something that works for a 100,000-square-foot club in L.A. might apply to us. If you're not selling health-club-specific items, find examples from businesses like ours that are similar in size, in a rural area, with similar demographics. Prepare one or two good stories and have some real data.

Then, since you won't be able to reach us on the phone, take your time crafting an e-mail. Mention that you've been reading about our gyms and/or us on the web, and share your compelling story and the data you collected. If you are selling ads, how have businesses like ours done with similar ads? If you are selling propane, what's your best price? If you are selling fitness equipment or services, give us some facts and figures about your product and a case study of clubs like ours - and please do so without grammatical and spelling errors.

Naturally, all of this involves much more work than simply e-mailing a message that says, "Buy this." But at least you have a chance of getting a response. If we're interested, we will respond - and then the real work begins.

We've owned our clubs for a long time and we've seen a lot of things come and go, so we are cautious and skeptical. We also know what will work for us, what won't, what we can afford and what we can't. Just ask our salesperson from Les Mills, who spent two years getting us on board, or our salesperson from ABC Financial, who introduced us to the whole company before we signed on. We are already into a multiyear relationship with our salesperson from Paramount Fitness, who has one treadmill sale to show for the effort. And, of course, there are lots of salespeople who have nothing to show for their efforts, such as the local radio salesperson who was a member of one of our clubs and courted us for years. She had to explain to her management, "They're not going to advertise with us just because I'm a member." We did regularly revisit things to make sure we knew what our options were with the station, but we never chose to buy.

If someone spends years talking to us, are they wasting their time? Not at all. We wouldn't let them waste their time, because it's our time, too. But sometimes we're just not ready - financially or otherwise - to make an investment in new products and services, even if we want to. While we wait for the time to be right, if it ever will be, we appreciate salespeople who stay in touch, e-mail us articles about things we might find interesting, comment on our writing, monitor our Facebook page, and tell us honestly what's happening with their company and its products. Eventually, by understanding us and linking their understanding of us to what they're offering us, we might have a sale.

We have great respect for salespeople who work hard, represent their companies aggressively but ethically, and are able to understand our business and how everything can fit together. It's these salespeople who cause us to feel extra frustration with the ones who think they can do their job by simply asking, "Do you want to buy something?"

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