How to Sell


Contrary to popular belief no product has ever been guilty of selling itself. Products have to be sold, they need romance, they need a story, they need packaging, they need experiences and then they need functionality. And once they have all that they need people to introduce them to the world, people to shout at their attributes, people to sell...Below are some notes on the process.

1. Understand your Brand's market position

Where does your brand sit in the retail landscape? Are you mature, emerging, up trending, down trending, perceived as strong only in one area, criticized for your distribution policy .. in other words what's your story? What are your opportunities threats strengths and weaknesses. You need to be the pre-eminent expert on the future of your brand because that's ultimately what you are selling - your brand's destiny. 

2. Sell the Brand before you sell the product

Does that sound obvious? It's not. Nor is it easy, because at the end of the day your brand is both the biggest barrier to your growth and the biggest accelerator of your growth simultaneously. The difference is your story and how well you tell it. People who love to dispense easy advice always say 'its all about the product...if your product's on point you're all good.' But the real world says otherwise, the real world talks first about your brand, about owner philosophy, about retailer support strategies and about the brand's perception in the market.

Once that's in alignment then its the product. Product problems get worked out if the retailer is committed to the brand. The challenge is getting the retailer to commit the space you need for your brand, which in most cases means changing their perception of where your brand sits in the food chain.

Believe it or not every retailer you see knows exactly where you sit on his/her totem pole and generally speaking it goes from 'nowhere' to 'marginal' to 'emerging' to 'somewhat important' to 'very important' to 'golden'. But no retailer utters words like 'vital' or 'essential' simply because in the current market no brands carry that kind of qualification, no brand is indispensable.  

So how do you move up the poll? Well, first you have to learn how to parry and thrust, you have to learn how to combat basic retailer jive. Here are some well worn favorites...

'Consumers don't ask for the brand'

Dude, consumers don't ask for anything. They look, they see, they try on and they buy, or they don't. You've got what, 30 brands in your store? Did you only carry these brands once a customer asked for them? On the rare occasion a customer knows exactly what he/she wants they might ask, but chances are they've already checked whether you carry it and that's why they're here.

'The brand is over-distributed'

You have product in Marshalls or TJMax or Costco and now consumers don't want it anymore? Really?.... This is what's known as A Grade FDA approved horseshit. Vans has segmented product for all tiers of distribution (except Walmart Sam's Club) and Volcom Billabong Quiksilver Hurley O'Neill all sell mid tier majors at different points in the seasonal cycle. Why? Because the surf shop customer doesn't shop those stores. But the specialty store retailer will always play that card at one point or another for the simple reason it gives them leverage. But in reality it’s a myth as long as you are managing your appearances in these outlets.

'We don't need it; we have too many brands selling the same products.' 

Good point - retailers do have too many vendors selling too much of the same thing but there's always a space, there's always a way to compete and to justify being on the floor. See the account strategy section for details on how to defeat that argument

3. Retailer perception is the principle point of attack

This is the single most difficult thing to combat as a sales person for any brand because no matter how well your brand is performing every brand has an achilles and retailers are trained to grind on it until they get what they want. Changing perception is not an overnight fix - even when you're killing it. It takes years before retailers will actually reward your performance as a brand in the manner your sell thru percentages seem to suggest.

Why? Deals, baby. Looking at your own brand's performance in isolation won't explain the disparity between your sell through % and your open orders. Retailers are working with multiple vendors and open to buy at the end of a period is a function of both your performance and the other guys. You might sell 70% of your inventory on the floor - another brand might sell only 50% but his agreement with that retailer is to guarantee him a certain gross margin which protects his real estate in that store. So you'll get what's known as the retailer grin-fuck whereby you get told how great you are, how on point your product is, how 'we love your direction' etc etc blah blah blah and we will be coming on strong next season but not right now.

4. Account Strategy - Creating your space in the store

Lets start with this: What business are you in? Clothing? That’s half the right answer to that question. The other half, the more important half, is real estate. Your mission is to persuade the retailer that your brand will perform better per square foot than the next guy and that your brand is telling the right story, the story that's in synch with what that retailer stands for philosophically It’s to persuade him to give you the real estate for the clothes you want to sell. Do that and you win. 

To illustrate the point, how do you think most major brands selling Jacks, HSS, Surfside, Sun Diego, Ron Jons Maui Nix etc. command the space they do? It’s for the simple reason they negotiated the space. It wasn't because the rep has a good looking sister or because the consumer is clamoring for their product, these guys got the space the old fashioned way, they bought it.

 The truth is for most retailers 80% of the business comes from 20% of the brands they carry, the same way 80% of your business comes from 20% of the styles you offer. The 80/20 rule is generally applicable which is a problem because once the big guys have taken their piece you're in the pool with 50 other guys fighting for a really small slice of the pie. So you have to be really strategic to succeed.

How do you get the space you want and deserve? You have to know the analytics...

1 - Understand the history. Know everything about every p.o. the store has ever given you. Know the units the dollars, the sell through the delivery dates, know it all...in particular the successes he had with the brand
2 - Understand his general assortment plan, what does he buy most of. What do you think he's missing out on or should be emphasizing more of. 
3 - Analyze your line and know its strengths, know where you compete, know whose dollars you want to take. Remember if he buys your board shorts he has to give up someone else's. Real estate is scarce.
4 - Sell from the outside in not the inside out: you are probably selling a line with 60 to 80 styles in it yet on a good day a retailer will only buy 15 styles from you. You need to know which 15 styles you want on the floor. This is essential. You have to visualize your space on the floor and what’s in it, and that assortment has to make sense, it has to look like it belongs. You are selling from the retail floor backwards. 
5 - Don't waste the buyer's time, they hate you for it. You are not in the business of showing lines you are in the business of selling products. If you windmill through the line like you're turning the pages of a magazine you are showing not selling. It means you haven't done your homework. It means you don't know enough about the product, the market or the retailer. You have to know why. You have to know why certain categories are strong and others not.

5. Writing the Order - Dealing with credit issues, discounts, returns and guarantees.   How to climb Mount Everest in boardshorts.

So you've got the guy on the hook, you've gaffed him, hauled him up on the boat and accounting says he's got no credit we can't ship him. He still owes us money, factor won't touch him etc. etc...blah blah what should you do? Nothing. You write the order as if there's no problem at all. Credit is not your problem sales are.

Discounts? Chances are if a buyer asks for a discount its because.. a) he is used to getting them from every brand..or b) without a discount the brand just isn't worth it to him. So say yes. You can have a discount but you have to give me something in return. You can't give without a get. Then give him rules or qualifications or conditions and options (example some products can be discounted if you buy a certain quantity) Just remember one thing whatever you give a retailer be prepared to live with it. Retailers don't give back a discount the following season.

End of season mark downs, close outs, returns. There are 3 golden rules to follow with regard to unsold product

1. Follow the give get rule religiously
2. Never take a product back. Regardless. Never lose money twice on the same merchandise (which is what happens when you take it back and resell it.) Give him an allowance or a discount
3. Look at the big picture with an account, meaning there's only so much you can give a guy, whether its a discount, an allowance, a mark down a margin make up or whatever. If you're giving it you must be getting something back in the form of future orders.

Translate any conversation about sacrifice into end of season gross margin achieved for the account. That's how the buyer is measured, that's how you are measured. Don't let them corn hole you from 2 sides at once.