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When The Going Gets Tough: Step Up Sales Efforts, Training, Promotions To Maintain Profits

by Len Rashkin
Posted On: 8/25/2011

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The past three years have been very trying for the office refreshment industry. Not only is the economy down, but coffee prices are at an all-time high, resulting in many of your customers evaluating the benefits of having an outside service supplier at all, or shopping for better pricing.

Corporations have downsized and product consumption has been greatly affected. But our industry has been through some very bad times before, and we have always bounced back and grown our businesses.

There are many areas that OCS and vending operators can look at to increase profitability in these down economic times. Let's take a look at the sales and marketing practices that you should be reevaluating and, most likely, changing.

1. You and your salesforce could be selling, following up and calling on more customers and prospects by working one more hour a day. This would equate to 20 hours a month or 240 hours per year per salesperson -- 35 work days or 7 additional weeks devoted to improving your sales and account base.

2. There is an old saying, "It's all in the presentation." Develop a presentation book your team can flip through with the buyer. Set the book up in an orderly sequence that leads the buyer through steps which build confidence in your salespeople, your company and your products and services. Describe the features and benefits of each style of brewer that you provide or lease.

Train your sales reps to keep control of the selling presentation by not handing out brochures or other literature at the outset, to avoid distracting the buyer from what they are describing. At the end of the presentation, have them leave all the pertinent information, so that the buyer can have something to review.

3. Your sales and marketing team should be told that their positions are secure, if they are producing for the company. Now may be the time to expand your telemarketing leads program, since more potential clients may be on the lookout for "better values" for their dollars. ("Better values" does not mean lower prices, but "value-added benefits.") On the other hand, if you have salespeople who are on the cusp, you may be better off terminating them and look to hire quality people. There are numerous candidates who are hungry to start selling again. The key is to make sure that, when the economy picks up, you will not be losing new sales reps to much higher-paying positions more like what they may have had before the economy turned down.

4. Your inside sales, outside sales, telephone customer service personnel and telemarketing teams should be treated with respect at all times. Happy employees lead to happy customers. A well-respected staff will work harder and produce more profits.

5. Train and retrain your people regularly. Conduct employee evaluations and then improve those areas that need it.

6. Train your total sales and marketing team to be prepared to offer a "step-down" coffee system, if a customer is looking to reduce costs. You always want to be able to satisfy your customers' needs. If they feel that their single-cup system is too expensive, then offer them a batch brew system and show them the features and benefits of having one. Also, a step-down coffee should be available. If they are getting a national brand or a high-end specialty coffee, they may want to save money by brewing a good-quality Colombian coffee.

7. Survey your customers periodically to get their feedback on "How am I doing?" Ask them to evaluate your staff, products, equipment and service. Ask them if they would like samples or to receive a free trial of a single-cup brewing system. The more you know about your clients, the more successful you will be.

8. Make it easy for your customers to do business with you. Is your brochure or product menu updated with all your offerings? Do you have a message-on-hold recording on your telephone system? Do you offer Internet ordering and fax-order placement? Just think about going into a restaurant and placing an order without any menu or signage.

9. Promote at least three new or old products every quarter. Pick seasonal allied products for the spring, summer, fall and winter. Offer dollars off -- buy two, get dollars off; buy two, get one free; purchase five cases of beverages and get 10 bags of chips free, etc. Look at all the supermarket ads and take hints from them on how to promote.

10. Customer service visits are essential to the success of your company. Try to visit your accounts a minimum of every six months. You have striven hard and spent a fortune to land new accounts, but many times we lack the endurance to re-establish relationships with our loyal customers, continually. But if you don't, someone else will, since many accounts are shared with other coffee service companies and water cooler firms.

Other information that you may find through making these visits is that your customers may be bringing in coffee from the outside, equipment may be outdated and not keeping up with demand, equipment may be dirty and in need of replacement, and your contact may have been replaced by another decision-maker.

11. Lastly, look professional in the OCS arena. Your route sales drivers and equipment service personnel should be in company uniforms, and your trucks should display beautiful graphics that illustrate what you provide.

Please let me know what you have been doing to prosper in this very unstable economy. I can be reached at (516) 241-4883 or by email at

LEN RASHKIN is a pioneer in office coffee service. He founded Coffee Sip in 1968 and after 22 years merged it with Dell Coffee, of which he became president in 1991. Sales at Dell topped $7 million dollars. Rashkin is also a founder and officer of Eastern Coffee Service Association and National Beverage Products Association. His industry honors include NCSA's (now NAMA) Silver Service Award and NBPA's Lifetime Achievement Award; he was inducted into NBPA's Hall of Fame in 1996. His marketing excellence earned him NBPA's Crystal Bean Award and three NCSA Java Awards. He is a frequent speaker at national and local trade conferences, consults on OCS sales and marketing and has is the author of two OCS training programs.