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Web warriors a new sales force

“I GOT tired of customers asking us to fly out and see them, then showing up to find out the meeting had been cut short or they were only wanting to suck us dry for information,” says David Marinac, president of Cleveland-based American Built Containment Systems. “Both the time and expense was killing us, particularly in an environment of shrinking margins.” Eliminating physical sales calls and the expense that goes with them is now possible even in the most stodgy of old line businesses like packaging. Business has jumped 40 per cent for these ‘packaging experts’ since Mr Marinac completely changed the sales and business model from a “traditional pick up the phone and try (getting harder and harder) for a face-to-face appointment” into a web-based sales approach. ABC Systems has become a web warrior and is radically changing the game in its industry. It’s also an excellent model for those coming late to the internet game. From its ABC Direct WebPlatform and free online classes to the focus on optimising its website for search engines like Google, to the use of an outsourced web greeter service appropriately called Web Greeter, visit the website at www.abc-packaging.com. And if you didn’t understand a word I just said, its time you did, or risk getting left behind. Mr Marinac reached this point in his sales approach when he noticed significant changes in the organisations of his customers. “In the old days, companies had a plant manager, an assistant plant manager, five to 10 buyers, three to four engineers, two shipping-receiving people, etc,” Mr Marinac said. “However, those days are over…now it is a plant manager, a buyer, and a shipping/receiving person, period. And often, the plant manager is the buyer. “These people don’t have time to see salesman unless their building is on fire, meaning they have a major problem. In the past we would have salespeople out there pounding on doors like every other packaging company…the best way to picture this is the old Gary Larson Comic ‘The Midvale School for the Gifted’ where the kid is pushing on the pull door. Today, our clients are beginning to use the internet and search engines to look for specialty packaging instead of waiting for a salesperson to show up.” As such, ABC Systems is reinventing its sales approach. Instead of getting a lead about a project in Buffalo and driving to Buffalo, Mr Marinac and his much smaller sales team take the contact into a WebMeeting (ABC has formalised the name) to discuss, design, and gauge their interest. This would be impossible to do just over the phone since there’s such an important visual component to the sale. They need to be able to show the client what various packaging options look like before they can commit to sending samples. If they want to move further, the potential customer pays to have samples made and then Mr Marinac might send someone to Buffalo to see them. “What is even more amazing is the fact that many times I don’t even go to Buffalo or Omaha or Minnesota. I’ll ship the samples, go into another WebMeeting to discuss any changes, and close the deal…without ever going to see the customer face-to-face. This is unheard of,” Mr Marinac says. “No-one in the packaging industry is doing this.” Mr Marinac’s web approach is also proactively driving business to the company. First, the website was revamped and optimised around certain key words so they appear on the first page or two of various search engines when customers come looking for packaging products. Many companies are doing most of their sourcing exclusively online and you had better be in the flight path of buyers’ searches. Then ABC Systems added a live operator to welcome customers when they come to the website. Not having someone greeting customers on your website is like having a retail store without any sales staff. ABC Systems further guarantees that, if a customer asks to be contacted that day, it will happen that day. Mr Marinac knows that when a prospect is hot, you need to strike quickly. Case in point, ABC Systems had a company contact it regarding a point of purchase display via one of the search engines. The web greeter grabbed them and put them in contact with Tammi, an ABC sales associate, who contacted the customer within the hour. Once on the phone, she qualified the project (are they price shopping or was this a legitimate project?) and determined that only a part of the project was for a point of purchase display…what they really needed was a thermoformed clamshell for retail stores. Within two hours Mr Marinac held a WebMeeting between himself and ABC’s thermoformer supplier, worked through a few designs, showed them to the customer, and overnighted a sample by noon the next day. “We had a design done and an electronic ‘rendering’ of what the light would look like in the clamshell and to the client in less than 24 hours from when the customer first visited our website,” Mr Marinac says. More importantly, they secured the initial order of 90,000 clamshells and the point of purchase displays and are looking at another 500,000-piece order after that. “Our business is up 40 per cent…and we’ve barely scratched the surface,” Mr Marinac says. And like all smart entrepreneurs, Mr Marinac is finding ways to get others to pay for all this technology by marketing their ABC Direct WebPlatform to their own suppliers, who are also drastically reducing or eliminating their outside sales forces. By Verne Harnish.

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