I’ve been in the promotional products industry for 28 years. When I started, I had no formal training and I learned the ins and outs of the industry through trial and error, immersing myself in PPAI and ASI industry events, meeting with supplier reps, and taking every opportunity to gain knowledge and insight.
When it comes to sales there’s a lot to learn in our industry because every order is custom. And while this may seem like a daunting prospect to a new sales associate, I can honestly tell you that now is an exciting time to be part of the promotional products world.
Global sales of promotional products have steadily increased for the last decade, reaching $24.7 billion in 2018 (PPAI). And here at AIA, we’re on track to achieve record-breaking sales of more than $210 million in 2019. Our Community is thriving with nearly 300 independent distributors and 3,000 suppliers nationwide.
There is a deep level of understanding when it comes to the logistics and details needed to provide value to your clients and I always enjoy sharing my experiences with others. I currently lead AIA’s sales training program, a two-day intensive workshop that provides new sales associates with the tools and knowledge to successfully sell and be profitable in this industry.
If you’re a new sales associate in the promotional products industry or a business owner who trains new sales staff, here are my top five tips to help you succeed.
1. Create a network.
Being connected is important in any industry, but especially ours. Carefully align yourself with individuals who can support your growth. Seek out mentors to help guide your career from the very beginning. Connections matter, and it’s these partnerships that have helped me get where I am today. What’s more, take the time to build strong partnerships with trustworthy supplier reps and decorators, seeking out ones with high ratings and positive reviews. It’s also important to establish relationships with fulfillment houses and print shops. All of these connections will pay dividends when the turnaround is quick or the budget is tight.
2. Spur ideas.
To win clients’ trust and loyalty, offer up new, different and better ways to promote their brands. Immerse yourself in the industry, know what’s current, where it is headed, what your peers are doing and how brands are effectively using promotional products as part of their overall marketing strategy. Equipped with this knowledge, make a point to regularly offer suggestions to clients. You can do this by helping them think outside the box about how to expand their brand or recommending products to compliment what they are already ordering or what they may need for their event such as speaker gifts, staff apparel or signage. The benefits of this approach are two-fold: You’ll strengthen relationships with clients and, ultimately, realize additional sales.
3. Stay on top of trends.
Change is the one constant. What was popular or effective years ago may not be anymore. Owners who once found new leads through cold calling have undoubtedly experienced the shift to email and direct mail. Orders for single-use plastics have been replaced with eco-friendly options. When it comes to shopping, online is preferred—so having an easy-to-navigate and mobile-friendly website that features a search function is essential in this day and age. The bottom line is that recognizing what consumers want and how to meet their needs is key to becoming a true partner rather than an order taker.
4. Tap into your referral network.
Networking is the key to success in sales and that includes referrals which is a powerful way to quickly elevate your business. When seeking referrals, ask for contacts in specific departments [such as Marketing and Human Resources]. Doing good work and developing relationships that are rooted in respect can and will lead to new opportunities.
5. Be patient.
I can’t stress this enough, there’s a lot to learn about our industry. The details and logistics that make up every order—from imprint colors to run charges, proofing and tracking—take time to understand and master. Become a student by observing, listening, taking notes and simply processing what it takes to make the whole process seamless—from the initial conversation with the customer to the final shipment. When you’re building your book, consider taking any and all orders, even the smallest ones. Look at every experience as a training ground and a chance to cultivate relationships.
Self-awareness is important, both in our professional and personal lives. We all bring unique strengths to our roles. Early on in your career, look within and identify what you do differently or better than others. Then, begin to carve out a niche. What’s your superpower? Over time, you’ll set yourself apart and begin to attract more clients who need exactly what you offer.
At the helm of Moss Marketing Agency, a proud member of the AIA Community, Mindy Moss leverages more than 20 years of experience in the promotional products industry to help brands stand out. Priding herself on established vendor relationships, quick turnarounds and competitive pricing, Mindy delivers ideas to take companies’ promotions, events and employee engagement programs from ordinary to extraordinary.