Many independent publishers try to sell their books only to bookstores and other retailers. Their efforts consist primarily of securing distribution partners to funnel books to retailers who put them on their store shelves. There the books remain, nestled among their competitors for a quick comparison of benefits and prices. The point-of-purchase sales process may take only a few minutes, since the risk of making a wrong decision is low. If the book does not meet expectations it is returned, and eventually makes its way back to the publisher.
Other publishers realize the vast opportunity of selling their books to non-retail buyers, but approach the sale in their traditional manner. They expect a similarly short selling cycle because they are unaware that retail selling is much different from the process for selling books to non-retail, buyers. Primarily, corporate buyers do not purchase your books to sell off a shelf. Marketing people use your book’s content as a tool for selling more of their products. Or, Human Resource managers use your content to motivate, educate or reward employees.
Additionally, there is little formal distribution structure in this segment. Publishers must make the sales calls themselves, or work through promotional-products sales people. These independent sales representatives grow their businesses by seeking and selling to a continuous source of new prospects. They learn their prospects’ needs, propose solutions, make multiple presentations, negotiate the terms of each sale and service the business once the order is placed.
This process takes considerable time, if for no other reason than that the buyer’s risk of making the wrong decision is considerably higher since their book purchases are not returnable. Here is a description of the typical steps required to make a large-quantity, non-returnable sale to a professional corporate buyer.
Step One: Search for prospects to create new opportunities
Create a prospect list to find new buyers for your books. These could be marketing people, C-level executives, HR managers, sales managers, association meeting planners, and prospects at government agencies or at schools.
Step Two: Qualify and prioritize your prospects
Not all prospects are equal in their ability to purchase your books. Some may be entrenched with competitive products, have no budget to purchase, or may have recently concluded a promotional campaign and are not currently in the market. Decide which are the best sales prospects at this time, and concentrate your sales efforts where they should get the greatest return.
Step Three: Meetings with each prospect
Once you have a few good leads, make appointments with them to introduce yourself and your ideas. You may have to meet several times to set their buying criteria, objectives for the campaign, and plans about how to proceed.
Step Four: Create your recommended solution
Write your proposal describing how your conten will most cost-effectively reach the stated objectives. Organize this information into a proposal describing why your proposition is the best solution among competitive proposals, given the buyer’s objectives.
Step Five: Initial presentation
Next, present your proposals to the decision makers. If there are multiple decision makers (or if the potential order is very large), you may have to return to meet with each, securing the agreement of every person involved in making the decision.
Step Six: Due diligence
Depending on size of the investment required to purchase your books, the prospective customer may investigate its impact on employees, sales, brand image, competitive position, customers, suppliers, salespeople, purchasing policies, warehousing procedures, previous promotions, marketing plans, budgets as well as short-term and long-term business plans.
Step Seven: Follow-up
You must stay involved during your prospect’s due diligence to make sure the outcome is favorable. In some cases new information is revealed, budgets are changed, personnel may change and the process begins anew.
Step Eight: Negotiation
Rarely is your initial proposal accepted in totality. All parties typically negotiate in good faith to get the best deal. Negotiate in a way that creates long-term relationships resulting in recurring revenue.
Step Nine: Service the order
Once the order is placed, track it closely to make sure the correct books are shipped at the right time in the right quantity.
Each of these steps could require a few weeks — or a few months — to complete. You can perform all these steps yourself, or you can hire promotional salespeople to do them for you. Regardless of who does it, all these actions must be taken in the proper sequence to consummate the sale, build the relationships and create lasting revenue. And that takes time.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS – www.bookapss.org – formerly SPAN) and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books and Beyond the Bookstore. Contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.premiumbookcompany.com and twitter @bookmarketing
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