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    15 Replies Latest reply on Oct 25, 2008 12:55 PM by HigherProfits

    Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?

    HalfSwede Newbie
      Would appreciate any suggestions/advice for my small business...

      My e-commerce site sells gift certificates that can be used at spas and B&Bs across the country. We launched about 10 months ago, but sales have been slow largely due to the fact that we are "unknown" and don't show up high in the search rankings. Currently we have 250+ partners...quite a few in New England, and fairly well represented in PA, AZ, and FL.

      As I see it, there are basically 2 sales channels:
      1. individual online sales - this would be a sale of 1 or 2 certificates at a time and would come largely as a result of people finding us through the search engines. I understand a little bit about SEO and the main thing we need here are relevant inbound links. We did some Google Adwords last year, but the price per click was too high for our business model. The sales we did make were mostly Christmas gifts from one individual to another.

      2. Corporate sales - this would entail getting the word out to potential corporate customers that might want to buy our gift certificates for employees or clients. In this case, a corporate client might buy 10, 20, or 50 certificates at one time. Obviously more bang for the buck. We do have a couple of leads with large corporations that could probably quite easily buy 100+ gift certificates per year, but nothing has happened...yet.

      The site itself works well and is "professional" looking. The actual process of buying a gift certificate, using it, and redeeming it all works very smoothly. So, the main "problem", if you will, is that we simply need more customers (which will come through the two channels mentioned above).

      So, the question(s):
      Any marketing suggestions so that our business becomes more well-known?

      Some things I have though of:
      • Telemarketing to potential corporate customers. Find the person in charge of incentives at a particular corporation (e.g. sales manager), send a sample gift certificate, and then just keep following up. Over time, I figure if we can get 500-1,000 potential buyers in our database, some will start buying.
      • Press Releases
      • Trade Show - There is an Incentive Trade Show in Chicago (September, I think). This would be a great target audience, but would probably cost $8,000 when all is said and done...more than is in the marketing budget at the moment.

      Part of the problem is that my "talent" is NOT in picking up the phone and making cold calls to potential corporate customers. Therefore, I have even thought of giving away a percentage of the business (10%-20%) to some young whipper-snapper who can drive the sales/marketing effort and doesn't mind contacting 100 companies per day to find 1 or 2 that will buy.

      I know the concept can work if we just get our name out there as there are similar businesses that sell gift certificates for just spas and one of them had $4+ million in sales a few years back. In our model, just 100 companies buying 50 certificates per year would provide a respectable income. So, certainly the numbers are not huge...it's just a matter of finding those 100 companies in the proverbial "haystack".

      Any other suggestions?

      Thanks!
        • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
          mpoweringu Wayfarer
          HalfSwede -

          Now this is an interesting question and hopefully I can
          provide a little bit of insights to help you make decisions around how to best
          use your marketing and sales resources to reach your established goals of both
          revenue and potential leads.

          Be the new "unknown" on the block is a hard thing to deal
          with. Trying to tell the whole world about who you are and what you do is even
          harder. Making the world come to you to find out who you are makes your life
          simple. So what am I talking about that
          is going to make the world come to you? Well, it's called education-based
          marketing.

          To Start with Your Corporate Sales Division

          Cold calling has been the "norm" since what seems like the
          dawn of the ages, and I just wish it would go the way of the Dodo. Listen, when
          you have a salesperson cold call a potential customer, 9 times out of 10 you
          have already put the person on the other end of the line on the defensive. If you have a standard "sales-pitch" then
          more than likely, they have already figured out you are trying to sell them
          something and as Jeffrey Gittomer says, people hate to be sold! It makes you seem forceful. You are trying to get them to buy something when
          they have not made the decision to buy what you are selling for themselves.

          So, how does education-based marketing play into this? You are trying to appeal to their logic. You are potentially identifying some issues
          within their business and telling them about a simple solution that can help
          solve their problem. You are not just calling
          them, saying I am from such and such company and we want to sell you this
          product that has this feature, that feature, and provides these benefits. You are focusing in on lead's personality,
          what they may be thinking about, and trying to help them understand WHY a
          solution like this is beneficial for them.

          So, in your case, let's say a salesperson calls and instead
          of saying the initial introductions to you and your company you ask a question like
          "Did you know that studies have shown that employees that are rewarded for
          their hard work are likely to increase their productivity 100% for the next 3
          months?"

          So what did you do there?
          Did you introduce your product? Did you go into your sales pitch? Did
          you even mention your company? No, you
          asked a simple question that hopefully got the guy/gal on the other end
          thinking. Not about what you are trying
          to sell, but about something they may already be dealing with. An employee incentive/gift/gift card is part
          reward and part motivation. You just
          gave them defined numbers (that are hopefully factual, so you will need to do
          some research) that help them quantify the results of a simple solution. If they are over corporate incentives, (which
          they had better be or you are talking to the wrong person and should hang-up!)
          then they are already thinking about how to reward AND motivate their
          employees! You just told them all they
          need to do is "reward" them!

          So, they will probably start asking you some questions about
          what you think a good reward should be or just some other random questions.
          LISTEN TO THEM; don't go straight into your sales pitch. Offer advice if it is a question not directly
          related to your business. Try to work
          them that direction by asking, "How do you currently reward your customers?" Get them to tell you. Now you will know what they have been buying
          and about how much it is costing them.
          Now you can make your recommendations to use your products as they are
          likely cheaper, smaller (save on shipping costs,) and can provide a variety of "rewards"
          (spas, shopping cards, etc.) Handle the discussion correctly and you've got a
          sale! Not only a sale, but you didn't
          have to push to get it, so since the person on the other end probably enjoyed
          the conversation, they will likely talk to you again if they are not ordering
          this time, and if they did order, will likely order again!

          Thanks, Brian

          The next post I will talk about online sales...
          • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
            DomainDiva Ranger
            Have you contacted Travelocity? Orbitz? AA.com, Hotels.com?

            How about some of the really nice hotels in Vegas that have spas as well like the Bellagio and the MGM?

            Many of the upscale 4 star + hotels have spas that can be booked by people not staying at the hotel.
            • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
              Faerie Wayfarer
              Your goal is to create a synergism between the coupon provider and the business that gives away the coupon. You then have to present to both sides how that synergism works to their benefit.

              Start with a narrow focus. Pick one industry segment that could use the type of gift certificates you provide and focus on them. One that comes to mind is real estate agents (new homehomers are often frazzled and need a treat). Create an approach that focuses on how your product offering will benefit them. You need both short and long approaches ready. You also have to really believe that your product will be an asset to their business - that is so often the difference between success and failure in selling.

              Now start with one target area and start working it. Perhaps pick a large city such as Miami, Phoenix or Pittsburgh. Start contacing your target businesses. Work your way out - adding additional metropolitan areas until you eventually have the state covered.

              Now you've created a managable system so you can figure the best approach. Try different ones - telemarketing, fax or email solicitation, direct mail. Part of your challenge is figuring out what approach is the most successful with the talent you have. Telemarketing is not something most people can do - consider hiring a person just for that. Also train your people to be specific in their approaches. Don't have a one size fits all sales pitch.

              Spending a little time to learn a bit about the company you are approaching will pay off. I know that I have little patience for broad solicitations but sales people who have taken the time to browse my website and know a bit about my business get my attention.

              Also be prepared to evaluate and refine the process. Learn from your successes and failures and then apply those lessons. Also prepare yourself and your staff for lots of failure - successful sales means a lot of hearing no before you hear a yes. Staying positive and giving lots of encouragement in the process is critical.
              • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                FruitionCC Newbie
                From what I understand about search engine rankings, the more sites that have links to yours, the better your ranking. Perhaps you could contact the Spas & B&Bs you are partnered with and request that they place a link to your site somewhere on their webpage.

                If you don't like making phone calls, you could always send out snail-mail letters. Find the mailing address for the managers/officers of large businesses and send them a post card or letter, which gives them an incentive, like: "Buy a $50 gift certificate to any B&B and receive a $20 gift certificate to a Spa of your choice! Our way of showing our appreciation for your business." Of course, you'll have to figure out the exact numbers you will need to actually be profitable.

                Another thought is to consider some of the activities of your target market. For example, do they golf? Donate a g.c. to a local country club as a prize in an upcoming tournament. You can write off the expense, and it will help create word-of-mouth advertising for you. I'm sure you can think of other local businesses who are always having promotions for which you could sell or donate a g.c. Best of luck!
                • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                  puzzleman Tracker
                  The above suggestions are good. I want to talk about the trade show in Chicago. I sell direct to the customer and three years ago started getting inot the wholesale market. My problem was like yours.

                  I know I have a great product but how to get in front of the decision makers? I took the plunge and spent over $10K going to my first wholesale show. I made a lot of contacts and some followup afterwards. Then did a few smaller ones. Saw some of the same people again. Went back to the big show and sealed the deal there. I found out that all along I was talking to the founder of a 100+ store chain. They don't have stores in my area, so I didn't know who they where, just knew they were part of a large chain. Business has been getting much better this year and see good things for the future.

                  Long story short, when you go the trade show you are going to meet people that are interested in the type of product that you have. You can establish a lot of contacts for you to follow up with through the year. And by attending several years in a row, people will become comfortable with you by knowing that you are not a flash in the pan.

                  One last note, going to trade show is like gambling. You have a big ante but the payout can be totally worth it, if you play your cards right.
                  • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                    tokyov Wayfarer
                    Online networking is a good, in not better, option to actual tradeshows. Direct email is far less intimidating than cold calls.

                    From my perspective, companies are always looking for new products to offer. Unique products and great gift items tend to be good items, especially for last minute gifts so I can see your product selling in many types of business that appeal to beauty, health, etc related shops, as well as gift shops & higher end stores.

                    Small business owners tend to be much more open to potential opportunity, and being on the Internet, you can easily network through other Small Business sites, like merchantcircle.com and many others who are looking for new opportunities, as well as clients. Setup a profile and make contacts. Keep your mind open to new opporutnities that you may not have considered, and you will eventually find the right niche and group.

                    Also, registered your service with the dozens of coupon & gift cert services online who accept submissions. Simply, use Google and you will certainly find the coupon sites who have customers already subscribed to their news feeds.

                    I don't recommend AdSense or Pay-per-click for this type of product.
                    • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                      DomainDiva Ranger
                      Halfswede posted:
                      Part of the problem is that my "talent" is NOT in picking up the phone and making cold calls to potential corporate customers. Therefore, I have even thought of giving away a percentage of the business (10%-20%) to some young whipper-snapper who can drive the sales/marketing effort and doesn't mind contacting 100 companies per day to find 1 or 2 that will buy.

                      DD: You have got to get over this. The fisrt thing you must loose as an entrepreneur is your 'shame'. Take a sales training class or hire a hot shot sales person but don't give away the farm to do it. You can do this. I did.
                      • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                        LUCKIEST Guide
                        HalfSwede, You have received some great answers so far. I am a SCORE Counselor and SCORE helps
                        people in business FREE. You can visit a SCORE office and talk to counselors or go online.
                        SCORE could help you with both a Business and Marketing Plan. They might even help with a salesperson.
                        How long have you been in business?? Do you have an Accountant??
                        Good luck, LUCKIEST
                        • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                          LUCKIEST Guide
                          SORRY, You did say how long you are in business. " We launched about 10 months ago"
                          LUCKIEST
                          • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                            MDF2008 Wayfarer
                            Hello,

                            Yes selling is hardwork and it is all about filling the salesfunnel / pipeline.
                            It is a numbers game.

                            I have consulted in the gift market and wrote a business plan for one of my clients in the gift industry.
                            The demographics and numbers for growth are fantastic.

                            Grow your business cross selling and cross merchandising vs selling just one channel.
                            Sell Smart and play the numbers game and you will reach your sales goals.

                            A Multichannel approach is the key.

                            All the Best. MDF2008

                             


                            • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                              iventures Adventurer
                              While we are on the topic...I just need your recommendation, references and ideas to promote our services. We assist with promotions that can help increase outside sales, as well as motivate your internal staff. In addition, we can help build customer loyalty. To do this, we use a variety of merchandise & vacation packages, and...unlike other incentive companies, we require no minimums or up-front commitments. If anyone of you could use our services or know of someone that could that will be really helpful.

                              Watch video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APemOVls3xY
                              VISIT US: http://corporate-incentive-program.bravehost.com/
                              • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                                corporate Newbie
                                Sounds like a good product. If you have not read any of our posts, we are a california based corporation with a television campaign lined up for the first of 2009. We have ad space available on our website. If interest, contact us at onepharaoh@mail.com for details.

                                Thanks
                                • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                                  corporate Newbie

                                  Also if you are not interest in advertising and building traffic with tv viewers, we would like to have information on how we start our own gift certificate company such as the one you currently operate. We feel that it would be a very profitable item when sold as an upsell on our site.

                                   


                                  Thanks again
                                  • Re: Suggestions for increasing online sales and direct sales to corporate accounts?
                                    HigherProfits Wayfarer
                                    Contact me at:

                                    dave at higherprofitsmarketing.com

                                    I'll need to learn a little more but will be able to help you dramaticly grow your business.

                                    To Higher Profits,
                                    Dave Ryan, Consultant
                                    Higher Profits Marketing