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Fine in the past

Are you hindered by formerly effective sales and marketing policies?

by Dave Kahle

I call it FIP. Fine in the Past. It refers to all the sales and marketing efforts, ideas,
policies, principles, techniques and strategies that worked well in the past, but are no longer effective. The past is everything that's pre-2010.

I still recall a poignant moment with an attendee at one of my seminars. During the break he came up to me and said this: "I've been in business for 17 years. And we've done well. But now, it seems like everything is changing, and I don't know what to do."

He went on to explain that he had built his formerly thriving tool and die business on certain core principles: Quality workmanship, competitive prices and good service. Those principles, adhered to with discipline and conviction, had brought him word-of-mouth business consistently over the years. But they were no longer working, and his business was floundering. The pain and confusion were written all over his face as he contemplated the prospect of seeing his business wither away.

Those principles are some of the most common examples of FIP: Business principles and policies that were sufficient on which to build a business, but today are not. At one time, you could distinguish your business from others on the basis of these and other FIP principles. Now, however, the bar has been raised. Because there is so much churn in our marketplace and the competition is so fierce, the kinds of service and quality that were sufficient to distinguish yourself from your competition are no longer sufficient. Your customers expect previously outstanding levels of service and quality from every supplier. What was sufficient a few years ago is still necessary today, but no longer sufficient.

That reliance on quality service and word-of-mouth marketing is an FIP principle. When viewed from the perspective of effective sales and marketing approaches, these principles are passive. They rely on your customer's coming to you, recognizing the superiority of your product or service, and then talking about you to others. Your job is to create an attractive operation that will pull customers to you and then keep them coming back.

When everyone else operated in similar fashion, that was FIP. But when more and more competitors appear, and they make the same claims as you do, your reliance on passive marketing methods relegates you to second choice.

I've seen literally hundreds of businesses of all sizes who never reached their potential because of an inability to do sales well. They were perfectly capable of rendering outstanding service at competitive prices but struggled to survive. These FIP principles were so deeply ingrained in their mindsets that they never learned to do sales as well as they could, and their businesses never reached the level of prosperity and success that they could have reached. The economic landscape is littered with the remains of businesses who were excellent in providing their product or service, but mediocre in selling it.

Here are some other FIP practices. See if they apply to you.

Creating sales by relying totally on outside salespeople
It was OK to hire a number of salespeople, give them some basic training, and then charge them with "Go forth and sell a lot." Sales territories were geographically based and each salesperson was a clone of the other. Accountability was a nasty word that no one repeated.

Alas, this FIP practice is a prescription for inefficient sales practices. The better approach is a variety of sales methodologies, based on the potential and dynamics of the customer.

Sales management by pay plan
In other words, pay them straight commission and everything will take care of itself.

There was a generation for whom this worked. Unfortunately, today's work force is rarely
motivated by just money.

Reliance on "on-the-job" training
Everyone can learn how to be an effective salesperson. Just put them out there in a sales territory, and sooner or later they will figure out how to do the job well.

When the job of the salesperson was simpler, and the customer less sophisticated, this was OK. Today, of course, it positions your sales force as the less educated, less competent one in the market.

Hiring by "feel"
When it comes time to hire a new salesperson, find someone who has some experience in the industry and about whom you "feel" good.

This is a prescription for a group of clones who please the boss but are rarely what the job demands. There are far more sophisticated and effective hiring criteria and practices than this one.

The list of FIP positions can go on for quite a while. These are the most common. If they apply to you, it is time to rethink your position and move your sales and marketing efforts into the 21st century.

Dave KahleDave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of distributor and B2B salespeople and sales managers to be more effective in the 21st century economy. He's authored eight books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. Sign up for his weekly Ezine at or phone (800) 331-1287.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2011, Direct Business Media.


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