So you’ve invented the next great gadget, and you’re sure it’ll be a hit. In fact, you’ve got cartons of inventory stored in every room of your house that you’re itching to sell, sell, sell. Your test market said they love it, but how can you reach the legions of consumers you’re sure will want to buy it?
Welcome to Sales 101. While there are countless books you can read about sales and marketing, here’s a relatively simple, proven strategy that’ll enable you to build your market and grow your sales.
Create a Sales Plan
First, define your market as accurately as possible so you have a deeper understanding of exactly who you’re selling to. For example, instead of all women, it may be working women with above-average incomes and kids under age 5. Instead of all men, it may be divorced men in their 40s with six-figure salaries. The more specific you get, the more accurately you’ll be able to target your sales and marketing efforts, choosing the sales channels most receptive to your product.
Next, you’ll need to develop a sales plan. Before you groan, “Another plan,” understand this can be a simple document for your eyes only that’ll help you organize and think through your sales strategy. Write it in a way that makes sense for you. Typically, it should include the following:
Finally, follow a proven process for growing sales over time. While it would be fabulous to have Wal-Mart carry your product right out of the gate, it may not be realistic. Most large retailers want to see a track record of successful sales before agreeing to take on a new product.
Build Your Market
To build your market, begin by selling directly to end-users. This’ll give you confidence that there’s demand for your product and will also create reference able customers that you can contact for product and packaging feedback before you hit the bigger leagues. So where can you reach your end-users?
The web is one highly effective channel, and you can reach your market through your own website or via a site like eBay. You can also tap into your own personal network as you begin. Host a home party to share your product with friends and friends-of-friends, sell through local community groups and e-mail your network.
Once you get feedback directly from your customers, refine the packaging and price point before approaching your next market–wholesalers. You’ll probably start with small, independently owned, local stores. It’s a good idea to start with them before hitting larger chain stores because it’s easier to get in touch with the direct decision-maker, and they’re more inclined to take on new, unique or hard-to-find items to differentiate themselves from larger stores. To sell to these retailers, be prepared and bring a product sell sheet, photos, product samples (if possible) and a succinct introductory letter to explain what’s in it for them, highlighting your product’s profit margin, features and benefits, and proven sales record.
Expand to New Markets
Once you’ve established sales strength with independent retailers and are ready to support new markets, it’s time to sell to the big guns. Of course, exactly who those big guns are will depend on your product. For some, it’s powerhouse general mass retailers, like Wal-Mart and Target, while other products will fit more specialized but equally powerful retailers, like Williams-Sonoma, The Sharper Image and Sephora.
Note that when dealing with these major accounts, the sale is just the beginning of the deal. Handling fulfillment, returns, rollbacks, slotting fees, advertising and more will require strengthening your business’s infrastructure and resources.
But back to the sale. What’s the best way to approach a larger retailer? Here’s a quick cheat sheet:
Finally, remember there are other sales channels besides the traditional brick-and-mortar retail store. Catalogs, TV shopping networks and online stores can also be excellent methods for reaching your customers.