An embarrassing business venture which taught me an important lesson

In my younger years I did catalog sales to supplement my income. I’d just become a Dad and cash was really tight so it seemed like a great way to earn more money in a flexible way. I was young and eager and feeling the weight of providing.  At this point in my life I wanted to make some extra money and tried a few things to see what worked.

In the usual fashion any ‘home based business’ is part of an MLM network. If you sign people up to sell products via catalog you can earn more money. We focused primarily on selling products through the catalog and we were not really interested in signing other people up. I think partially because  I was a bit embarrassed to tell friends I was delivering catalogs in my spare time.

I was connected ‘up-line’ to a very excitable couple who were making thousands every month and passionate about getting us to sign up more catalog sellers. I was very cynical of the MLM part. I saw the couples house and car so I know their portrayed lifestyle was legitimate. They didn’t hide the fact that the vast majority of their income was commission from other people selling ‘down-line’.

Inside catalogs there was good products many of which you would see on a shopping channel today. There was a lot of products including Carrot peelers, Tupperware, and extendable garden hoses. Many of products were good but once purchased we would play with a few times and consign to the rarely used kitchen cupboard.

Part of being in the team, we were invited to monthly network meetings. These meetings were designed to keep everyone motivated and limit the drop out rate. Despite the mental picture I am probably presenting the people we met were all lovely and genuine. At nearly every meeting lead couple would always say ‘just get your books out’. When they said this they mean’t deliver your catalogs and collect them in, turn them around as fast as you can. If you have 200 catalogs put them out 3 times a week, not just once.

Their philosophy was to play a numbers game, the more people saw the catalog the more likely you were to make a sale. Make the most of the catalogs you had. Using the same catalogs three times in a week to triple your potential for orders. In business we’d call it sweating the asset. What was surprising is that they did practice what the preach, they delivered and collected 600 catalogs per week. They did their catalogs with finesses with their BMW 5 series estate and a branded trolley compared to my battered Renault Clio and a messenger bag.

There little saying has stuck with me. It’s become one of my personal mottoes. To me ‘get your books out’ means don’t just dream about it. Do it. Take action. Do as much as you can with what you have got. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect just ‘get your books’ out.

Circumstances will never be perfect. There will always be a reason to delay, postpone or do it next month, but we all have to act if we want achieve and succeed. In the catalog world a rainy day can be incredibly demotivating, but, if you want to get orders, come rain or shine those books have to go out.

I eventually decided to hang up my catalogs but we did make some semi decent money at the time. If you enjoyed walking, delivering and collecting catalogs each day, you could earn a modest income. The most profitable part of delivering catalogs, which has made me hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last ten years, was the day I heard the couple say “get your books out”.

Time for something new

For the nearly 3 years I have been working full-time for a global TV broadcaster. It was a fantastic role, in a great organisation and had the honour of working with some amazing people. Whilst being excited for the future, I know I will miss the people I worked with.

So it is time for something new! In my new role, I’ll be working with companies who want to grow their business, bringing the latest marketing and media tools to bear to generate leads, enquiries and importantly sales!

For the last ten years I have worked in a variety of projects which have been about generating sales, orders or engagement. This new role is right up my street. With a number of projects and clients lined up, it’s going to be exciting to be working in a variety of different sectors, including education, legal and leisure.

One thing I find common across all sectors is the sales and marketing funnel. Every organisation needs a funnel, starting with brand awareness filtering down to a physical sale. In some sectors ‘sale’ is probably a crude term, but in all honesty everyone needs to make sales. The process of where a client agrees to pay a sum of money for a product or service is what makes the world go around.

What is surprising is that many organisations don’t understand their funnel. Perhaps they have been fortunate to have the right connections or a great sales person. For the rest of us, if we don’t know the buying process and rely heavily on methods which are familiar, we could be waste a lot of time and money.

Sales and marketing funnels generally look something like this…

marketing-funnel-content

All our marketing efforts should be spent building and working a funnel. How do we find people who have interest and take them on a journey to becoming a customer. This is the core element of sales and marketing.

In times past this process has included networking, direct marketing, advertising and prospecting. All of these are still valid tools and if you have a really good marketing and sales strategy you’ll know which ones work and which ones don’t. Every business wants to find more people who have a need and interest in their product or service. Nowadays we can also work more intelligently to ‘target’ our prospective customers which can help lower the acquisition cost of a new customer.

These ‘new’ tools are reliant on a good understanding of the prospect. Mapping out buying behaviours and profiling your prospective customers can help you use resources more efficiently.  In the cut throat world we live, mapping out the funnel is key to knowing how to use your marketing budget to get the maximum return for the lowest cost.

So my job starting this month is to show clients how to get the maximum return for their marketing budget. If you are looking to develop your sales and want some help, drop me a line.