The thing I love about sales is that success is easy to spot and very difficult to fake. Every sales team I have ever worked with has consisted of successful sales reps who delivered results and unsuccessful reps who delivered excuses. Somehow the successful sales people produce month in, month out, completely unaffected by the excuses that plague the non-producers. Channel and division sales operate much like a typical sales team. There are always excuses for failure if you look hard enough. Successful channel sales teams ignore the excuses and find ways to deliver.
One year ago, the retail channel was full of excuses. Store traffic was down. The economy was in a freefall. Customers were not spending money. It would have been easy for Palo Alto Software to accept the excuses as fact. We could have been happy that our sales were not dipping as much as the other guy’s. We could have resigned ourselves that the dip was due to forces outside our control, we couldn’t do anything to get the market moving again, and all we could do was wait it out.
But we didn’t choose to accept the excuses. A careful examination of the industry revealed an important trend. Sales were down, but not everywhere. Our customers had changed where they were shopping, but they were still shopping. This realization helped us identify key stores where we needed to gain shelf space.
Sales of big ticket items, specialty items and luxury goods were down. But customers still needed to purchase food, clothes and household goods. Armed with this knowledge, we adjusted our pricing strategy, created a new “impulse” product and began moving our software into retail chains where necessities were sold. Stores like Sam’s Club, Target, Costco, etc… still had plenty of foot traffic, and we understood now that it was important for us to be in those stores.
Don’t accept the excuses that a sales department can generate. Your customers are still shopping. You may need to step outside of the box to reach them. You need to discover and follow their trends. Don’t ever be satisfied with an “if we build it, they will come” plan. Find your customers, study their habits and take your products and services to them.
The retail channel can be the most difficult, most time-consuming sales channel your company has. If you have a product that appeals to the consumer and you can sell where your customers shop, then retail sales can be very rewarding. Thousands of companies navigate this turbulent channel because it can also be the most profitable. No other channel even comes close.
If you are considering selling in retail or looking to improve your retail plan, take a fresh look at the channel. Start from scratch. Make sure you understand your competition, distribution and your price strategy. Make sure you have the ear of the buyers or that you have hired someone who can get their attention.
Most importantly, don’t let your sales plan become stagnant. Your success in retail depends on your ability to react quickly to industry trends and your ability to react quicker than your competition. If you proactively manage your retail sales, like Palo Alto Software did, you may find that retail isn’t dead, it’s just evolving.
David Shear is the Channel Sales Manager at Palo Alto Software, where he oversees all academic, corporate, government and retail sales. David came to Palo Alto Software from the banking industry where he was a regional and national sales manager for Indymac Bank, Optium Financial and Rainland Mortgage; David worked in correspondent and wholesale mortgages for over a decade.
Having attended University of Oregon’s Law School, David is quick to point out that while the Oregon Ducks are his first love, sales come in a close second.