Start selling now! Interview with Andy Vlaeminck

Regardless of economic and industry challenges, there’s a rapidly expanding number of image users out there. How can you increase your company’s sales or sell your more of your own pictures through these tough times? And how do you ensure sensible pricing for your products? All while having a bit of fun in otherwise gloomy times.

We asked Andy Vlaeminck to share his experience with photographers and companies. He has a long track record in sales in the media and advertising industry. He worked for Getty Images for 5 years and is now an independent sales coach and trainer. He also helps companies with their sales strategy.

Let’s start with a reality check. Companies are struggling to reach their numbers all over the world and there seems no end in sight. Is all really lost?

Of course not! On the contrary. These are perfect times for really good sales people. Because now that the money isn’t coming in by itself anymore, now that growth isn’t a given, is the perfect time to show that they can make a difference. Indeed, it’s time for a reality check. But one that isn’t set up to find excuses for under performing. We all have to admit that we adore surfing on the glory waves when things are going well and we like to take personal credit for it. But as soon as things turn bad, it’s the economy or the crisis or the declining market. Why not blame Santa or the Easter bunny?

Do your reality check in front of a mirror. Look at yourself, at your company and especially at the way you interact with your clients. That reality check will show you that there’s quite a lot that you can change and improve. And when you do that, you will grow, regardless of the market. Or you will at least be able to control the damage. And yes, maybe the market is declining by 20%. But that means that there’s still 80% out there.

How have your own clients been reacting to the changed environment? Are they simply digging in or are they doing anything different?

One of the reasons I’m working with these clients, is because they’ve decided not to dig in. And that’s the only smart thing to do. First of all because of the message you send out to the market. Digging in and keeping your head low, means less exposure in the market. It shows a lack of confidence in your own strength, in the future and in your clients. You can compare it with going out or flirting; nobody wants to hang out with a gloomy, sad bunch of people.

But there’s also a more rational side to that attitude. You can assume that most of your competitors will indeed hit the brakes at least a bit. And that’s the perfect time for you or your company to accelerate. In times like these it will be easier to create distance, to conquer a bigger piece of the market and to obtain a better position in the mind-set of you prospects and clients. And as soon as the market starts recovering, you will be able to hit the ground running. You will already have the speed, the experience and the contacts.

Besides the economy photographers and companies in Stock Media are facing declining prices as well. Does it still makes sense to make that personal effort?

Without any doubt. People in advertising, publishing, marketing or communication in general are people people. Strong relationships, a big network, a good reputation; they are all priceless in this business. And we’re selling images, aren’t we? Content, creativity, the visualization of ideas and concepts. Not paper or cartridges.

Sales people are an important influence in the promotion of products. They control the relationship a company has with their clients. and they contribute to the reputation of a company or a brand. The better they perform, the stronger relationship and reputation are in the mix, the easier it will be to justify higher prices and to stay out of the downward spiral. And again, I’m not naïve. I know the pressure is up. I know sales people have to give bigger discounts. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept this as a given.

Discounts should always remain exceptions, a favour you grant a good client. The client should appreciate that. If you have a good relationship with your clients, you can ask something in return for the discount.

What about microstock? This product is sold at much lower prices than before. Many companies simply cannot compete with this.

Then stop competing. Microstock is a reality. It won’t go away. But it only appeals to a specific type of client in a specific situation. We can discuss on how big that group of clients is. You might state that we loose 30% of our business to them. I might disagree and claim that it’s only 15%. But it actually doesn’t matter. Instead of whining about that 15 or 30% we’ve lost, we should focus on the 70% we still have. You can simply compare it to any other business. You have discount supermarkets that don’t care about brands and presentation. A shopping experience? They couldn’t care less! But have they taken over the complete market? No! And you know what the best part is? Sales people can make the difference. It simply means you have to start talking to new people, talk more to the people you already know and make sure they enjoy talking to you.

Let’s assume this all works, how do you measure it? How do we know our sales teams are truly effective and generate value?

Well, the easiest way is the bottom line of any sales department: the money of course. Is the revenue growing? Compared to the same period last year?, and to the year before? But there are a lot of other elements worth measuring. And they all contribute to better sales. Is the number of clients growing? Is the revenue per client growing? Is the average discount dropping? What’s our success rate on quotes? How many of them turn into an order? But don’t measure yourself to death. A good Sales manager should feel when things are going the right way. And a good sales manager trusts his team and his or her own experience and professionalism. Things sometimes need some time. You can’t change things overnight.

Can you give us a few examples on how to create positive en­ergy in a sales team? Especially in the current climate.

In theory this is quite easy. But reality shows us that most people lack the discipline and the energy to keep this up. If you manage sales people – or any other team for that matter – you simply can’t afford to have an off day. As soon as you walk into the office, you should start spreading your energy around. There’s my mirror again. Look at yourself. How does your receptionist perceive you when you walk in?What is the signal your team gets in the morning ? It’s that same principle again. If you want them to sound positive and self as­sured, to almost sing, you’ll have to sing harder. You simply have to cre­ate the fun and the positive energy. By celebrating for example. Obviously the good results, a big deal being closed, a record being broken. But also birthdays and other more personal stuff.

And when results are bad?, when the targets aren’t being hit? Then don’t waste time and energy nagging about it and putting the numbers in a powerpoint presentation to give your thunder speech even more power. Trust me, they know things are bad. Load them with energy by showing you understand and by helping them with advice or by presenting your plan to get out of the negative spiral. Give them a goal, show them that you trust them and they will follow.

I often quote  Antoine de Saint-Exupery in this context : “If you want to build a ship, then don’t drum up men to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work. Rather, teach them to yearn for the far and endless sea. “

So we’ve established some level of positivity. What’s next, where do we start? Do we just go out hunting for new business?

Time, people and resources are limited, now more than ever. So even though I firmly believe that you have to be out in the market in  order to sell, I advise my clients not to start running around like headless chickens.

The first thing you need to do is “map” your clients and prospects. Who are your big clients? Who are your smaller clients? Which are low maintenance? Which are high maintenance? Are your big clients also the market leaders or big spenders in general? Who are your prospects? Which are cold prospects and which are hot leads? How often do you have contacts with these different groups? What are the different stages in your development of the relationships with prospects and clients? This may all sound obvious, but you would be amazed how little  companies actually have a good and detailed view on the clients they work for and the prospects they’re aiming at; and consequently, the time they spend with these contacts. And yes, they have a CRM program. But that’s just a toolbox, isn’t it. It’s what you put in and especially what you pull out that will make the difference.

If we’re not looking swith our existing clients that will help us reach our targets?

I didn’t say we’re not looking for new clients. That should be a permanent process. But it’s simply smarter and more efficient to focus on the existing clients first. With these clients, you already have a basis you can build on. So you can get better results faster, with less investment. And yes, they’re already buying. Start with your top 50 clients and sketch a detailed profile of them. Based on that, you can write a tailor made development plan per client. If it’s worth your while of course. In other words, if there’s still revenue to be generated.

Once we are confident about our existing clients and when we do go after new business where do we start? Even getting past the receptionist can be hard.

Again, start with the easy ones. You will be amazed how many people you know if you put your ownnetwork and that of your team together. Because it will be a lot easier breaking in to a company if you know someone there. If you’re really lucky, they’re actually the ones you need to talk to. And if not, they can surely point you into the right direction.If contacts are one important element in prospecting, timing is definitely the other. Scan the business press, the trade magazines of the industry you’re working in. Look for prospects hiring extra people. Because hiring means growth. Make sure you know when they win awards or move to new offices. These are moments you can celebrate and they can be perfect starting points for the relationship.

 And the receptionist ? I do have a few tricks down my sleeve to work around them…

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Andy Vlaeminck

Andy has over 20 years of experience with sales, marketing & communication. The seeds for his personal sales style were planted in the shops and small businesses where he worked to pay for his studies. In the years that followed, he covered the whole range from local small businesses and fast growing medium sized companies to large traditional companies. After passing through some start-ups in the new media, he spent the last 5 years as an employee with a large international company. Over the years, he learned, adopted and improved all the known tools, tricks and techniques. And it’s exactly this diversity that creates his unique blend. On top of that, Andy ads a personal touch of healthy curiosity, positive provoking, an open mind and almost irresistible enthusiasm

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