Most sales training involves following a system – a tried and true approach that allows predictable results. In many cases, it works quite well. But sometimes, finding a new path by analyzing the market environment can bring you untold success, attracting new customers and helping to find new niches that were previously unimaginable. It’s just a matter of finding that path.
When I launched my first book, “Attention to Detail” I didn’t know what I was doing. It was a guide for young men on how to dress and act in a professional environment. Based on the sales systems of the day, I made the assumption that men would buy this book to look good – and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As it turned out, I sold a lot of books, but only by accident. I realized that I had missed the mark on my marketing. This was in 1997, pre-ecommerce, so my orders were coming in the mail with checks. I noticed that my customers were not men, but women – women with names that were not popular at the time. Gertrude, Blanche, Edith, and Ethyl were all buying the book, often asking to ship it to someone else. I realized that the end user was still a man, just that the path to him was different than I first thought. I could sell more books by going through grandmothers instead of selling to men directly.
When I re-released the book in its current form, “The Unwritten Rules of the Workplace,” I’ve focused my marketing on females buying gifts for men. Although it’s harder to track specific buyers nowadays, those that I can follow are following the mother/grandmother demographic as they did in the past. Few books about men’s dressing are marketed to women, and what started by accident became a lucrative path to new sales.
As I built Greenleaf Book Group over the past 17 years, we’ve used the strategy of selling where others are not to great success. Our books are sold in airports, specialty stores, and sold directly to consumers. While we don’t ignore the traditional outlets like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, we’ve found that there are a number of other paths we can take to sell books.
With my most recent book, “Give, Save and Spend with the Three Little Pigs” I found myself in another, similar situation. The book is for young kids and helps teach them financial basics of handling money responsibly and virtuously. I wanted them to see that starting a business is noble, that working ethically is good, and that with wealth comes responsibility. But there are few kids in the 4-10 age demographic who are seeking this knowledge. Rather than focus all of my sales energy on the traditional bookstore model, I worked on a new path.
While the end consumer of the book is still a young child, I wanted to find a new path to that child that didn’t involve traditional stores. In thinking about who might want to teach children about financial responsibility, two groups came to mind – banks and non-profits. Banks could buy books in bulk and give them away to children who set up new accounts. Non-profits could buy them and give them to donors who want to teach charity to their kids and grandkids. Both groups would benefit by encouraging others to Give, Save and Spend wisely – my book helps them do it in a softer way.
Success from this approach led to add-on sales as well. One of the activities in the Parent’s Guide of the book suggests that parents provide children with three piggy banks. This allows children see that dividing money into separate categories is part of responsible money management. The kids can draw or paint these banks with images that are meaningful to them – a charity logo on the Give bank, for example, or a bank logo on the Save. The Spend bank might well have a toy on it.
As long as these banks and charities were buying the book, we could also sell them sets of three piggy banks that they could give with the books. The children could decorate the piggy banks with images that were meaningful to them – and the groups could brand the banks with their logos to stay in front of the kids as well.
Rather than fight only in the overcrowded bookstores for customers, I found a new path. Rather than try to convince kids or parents of the merits of fiscal responsibility, I used those who are already fighting that battle to help me sell directly. This allowed me to presell a lot of books even before the books were released.
You know who your customers are – and you know how you’ve been trained to get to them. I challenge you to look at who else might want to get to your customer – or who is already in front of them. You don’t have to sell the same old way that everyone else does – you simply need to get paid to get your product in the right hands. Your new path to sales might not be in your training manual, but that’s a good thing. Forge ahead on a new path that hasn’t yet been defined, and you’ll find opportunities that others have ignored.