Editor's Note: Ivan Turner is a restoration industry veteran who has worn many hats including owner, consultant and trainer. This new series of articles offers glimpses at topics covered in his upcoming book, "Confessions of a Serial Restorer: I Danced with the Devil and Lived to Tell the Story," co-authored with his brother, Tim Turner, a writer and industry consultant.
“The best thing salespeople can do to get better is second-level research. Second-level research is researching the industry of their prospects, including the issues, challenges, players, regulations, its evolution, origins, end users, etc. We're not expert enough in the industries we sell to, so it makes it hard to be seen as credible. Less focus in, more focus out.”
— Keenan, CEO of A Sales Guy, Inc.
Entrepreneurs realize survival in business depends upon a good product or service and good people to provide the product. Marketing and sales are tools that drive growth in a successful business. Said tools do require careful thought. Coupled with well-reasoned action, they produce expected growth of your market share. The problem the vast majority of business owners face is that the mere thought of having to make sales calls is not fun and often we miss the trivial details required for success.
My business was experiencing a healthy growth pattern I was happy with, but left me still with a feeling of discontent. I had a need to grow larger and more profitable, which I knew would come from the implementation of a sound sales strategy. My problem was that I had zero experience in sales and, frankly, just thinking about it made my knees rattle like a high-school-aged boy wanting to ask a young lady to dance.
Mastering Market Research
It was evident I should seek help from some agency or person with experience in marketing and sales. I interviewed three different marketing firms to present me with proposals that I could study with the understanding one lucky firm would get the contract and be my marketing and sales firm. After careful consideration of each neatly packaged proposal, I realized something was wrong. Each firm delivered proposals with costs averaging $17,000 for market research alone. I pondered it for a couple of weeks only to conclude I already possessed the knowledge of the marketplace and the competitive field. I determined I would be better served doing my own research and planning, and allocating any money I would have spent for market research to other areas of my company.
I went straight to work interviewing agents and adjusters, both independent and captive, to learn their thoughts and preferences regarding a restoration company. These interviews, coupled with experience I had accumulated through hundreds of claims, led to the writing of my very first how to manual titled “Marketing to Agents and Adjusters.”
The decision to do my own market research resulted in the establishment of ShowMe Marketing Solutions. This platform not only saved me money, but also provided a revenue stream for my business by taking on projects I had originally wanted to give to other companies. After I became confident that I could actually market my business as well as others’, ShowMe Marketing Solutions was tagged onto my existing restoration business and served as my marketing proving ground. It isn’t any wonder that a learning curve was involved and mistakes were made before I achieved any level of success.
Scaling a business involves three fundamental elements: Exceptional lead generation, lead conversion and client fulfillment. The key areas to master to excel in sales are time management, commitment, research of the market and competitive field and key performance indicators (KPI). Additionally, one must have a clear understanding of each of the parts of a sales funnel, or pipeline as it is often called. I will go into detail on each of the aforementioned tools or skills needed to scale a business in later chapters.
Research on prospects, and determination of your competitors’ prospects and the market each of you work in, are akin to mining for gold. They require constant work and understanding that you do not rest on a single success, but continue to persevere because you realize there might be a greater strike to make just ahead.
Being enrolled in automobile university, I listened to every audio book on marketing and sales I could get my hands on. I was reading at least two books per month relating to sales and personal development. I had no fear. After all, my best friend, chief confidant and business advisor – albeit unpaid advisor – my mother told me I was good-looking and could achieve anything my mind could conceive. So, in my naïve mind I had the makings of the perfect sales rock star. I wasn’t about to be timid in my approach because I always remembered my hero Zig Ziglar saying that timid salesmen have skinny kids.
A Tale in Targeted Marketing Gone Wrong
I made a commitment to visit insurance agents on a monthly basis. Understand, I could have simply sent out newsletters and postcards in addition to my radio advertisements, newspaper advertising, etc., but I was hell-bent on belly-to-belly sales, on looking each prospect in the eye like a gunslinger of the old West. I knew that a percentage of those I saw would never use my company, but there would be a percentage who would engage my company for some of their casualty work. Those who did not may refer to those they knew once our reputation as an honest, hardworking company got around. I knew nothing was going to happen unless I made an effort to actively market! By my active marketing, agents and casualty companies would know who I was, and what services my business offered.
Monthly, for two years, I repeated visits to well over 125 agencies in 14 mid-Missouri counties before I realized something was not working. I knew I had to make changes or risk losing everything to my not-so-well-conceived sales plan. Major change was in the air. My mission was concise and I knew I had to get the answer to a question that had been nagging at me for the past two years: Why aren’t people buying what I am selling?
Columbia was so large that I had two routes for agents that would take two full days to visit. I allocated about eight to 15 minutes per visit. My first stop of the day was to an agent’s office in this town. I got started early as usual.
Wearing a suit, the norm on my sales calls, I stopped by the bakery where they would have the freshly baked doughnuts already placed in my custom boxes ready for pick up. On this particular day, 25 boxes were packed and ready when I arrived. As I entered the office, agent Bob was pleasant as usual and asked how my day was starting. I replied, “It’s okay Bob,” as I handed him the box. As he started to devour the first of 12 chocolate-covered Long Johns, he said, “Sit down Ivan. Make yourself at home,” as he usually did.
Watching Bob once more feast on the doughnuts, provided as a marketing tool, and knowing the cost of the box, doughnuts, and travel, I began to change mentally. I went from my usual pleasant demeanor to that of a beleaguered salesman that was outraged. I faced my own Jekyll and Hyde moment. I made a point to continually enunciate his name to illustrate that the conversation was going to be about putting him on the “hot seat.” I said, “No, Bob. I don’t want to sit down! What I really want to do is ask you a simple question!”
“Well sure, Ivan. What’s your question?” Bob asked.
“My question, Bob? I have been calling on you for two years. In fact, Bob, today is somewhat of an anniversary as it marks the 24th visit to your agency. Frankly, Bob, I’m about as pissed off right now as I have ever been! In all these 24 visits, I have brought you doughnuts in fancy, overpriced, custom boxes and I have brought you pizzas in similarly pricy boxes. We have had coffee in mugs I have given you, and you have written reminder notes on pads and with pens I have given you. Every worthless piece of crap swag I have invested in I have given to you. And not one time, and I mean not once, Bob, have you ever referred my company to your clients. So yeah, you might say that I am a little peeved right now”.
As I tried to control my breathing and regain my composure, Bob replied with something that forever changed my sales career. It was as eye opening as being hit in the face with a bucket of ice water or a truthful statement by a politician on the campaign trail.
“Ivan,” Bob said. “I am a Mutual of Omaha Agent and all we sell is Life Insurance.”
I once more lost my composure and responded, “What the ****! Why the **** didn’t you tell me that, Bob, like on the first or second ******* visit?”
Bob replied, “Ivan, you never asked. I really like you, Ivan, and have always enjoyed your visits and the conversations.”
As I turned to walk out the door, Bob said, “Ah Ivan, can I keep the doughnuts?” I replied with, “Sure Bob. Enjoy!” The other 24 dozen went to the local Salvation Army and I called it a day.
Father, forgive me for I have sinned.
During my first 24 months of belly-to-belly sales calls I had it all figured out, or so I thought. I had answers for every conceivable objection. I certainly knew what it took to restore a home or office from a covered peril. I had the confidence needed when calling on C-suite professionals. I dressed professionally and carried myself as is expected of a top-notch sales warrior. I knew my prospects’ hot buttons and never, ever, under any circumstance, did I ever act less than a gentleman, except with Bob. The lesson learned by me was to ask the right questions to properly target my marketing efforts, and to ask for the referral or sale.
I did return the following week to apologize to Bob for the unprofessionalism and thanked him for the valuable lesson he taught me with those four magical words, “Ivan, you never asked. To this day, I still drop off a dozen doughnuts when in town.
From the Siberian Hot Saki Club