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If the rising cost of sales calls has your organization's back against the wall, maybe it's time to look at ways of reducing the number of calls your people are making in each territory and each market segment.

At face value, the idea runs counter to what would be considered prudent practice of you're to increase sales. However, making three and four calls on the same organization doesn't improve your chances of closing. In fact, 50 percent of the calls are spent just finding out who the decision-makers really are.

That's a lot of wasted time, money, and effort.

One way of making your sales calls more efficient and cost-effective is what we'll call the "front-end loading process." Rather that beat the bushes for live prospects, bring the most likely suspects to you and help them sell themselves.

How? By conducting meaty seminars tailored to your product's application areas.

Does is work? One firm we worked with wrote $4 million worth of annual business as a result of a three-day off-location seminar. Another closed $2 million worth of business that had been pending for more that six months as a result of a five-city, one day seminar program.


ATE Conference

The first firm's effort was highly tailored and targeted because they had been working with a group of 25 major purchase prospects for more than a year developing proposals. The decision process went on and on. The objective was to shorten that process to a definable period of time.

To accomplish our objectives, we established a defined program objective. In this instance it was "Automatic Testing Throughout the Corporation." Next, we selected our presentation areas including those which could be presented by the technical staff as well as outside experts (obviously not from the competition) and from existing customers.

After obtaining indications from the various speakers that they would make the presentations on the subject areas we outlined for them, we printed a meeting agenda and sent personal letters to two key individuals in each of the prospect organizations.

The meeting was truly a management level overview of the needs, approaches to problems, and prospective solutions.

The attendees' companies paid all transportation to and from the meeting. The sponsoring company paid for most of the expenses during the conference.

In addition to full meetings during the days we also planned for off-hour functions including activities for spouses, a hospitality suite, and luncheon/dinner speakers on business in general.

The seminar was attended by 50 key members of prospect organizations from the U.S. and Europe. Even though the attendees knew who was underwriting the conference, they had plenty of time to talk among themselves and with their counterparts in other organizations regarding this focused problem of automatic testing.

The total cost of the effort meeting/seminar was $10,000 or $200 per sales call. But three months after the conference, the company received a corporate-wide order from one of the attedees for $4 million as well as $2 plus million in smaller orders from the other attendees.

What would it be worth to you to have 50 of your best prospects away from their plant for three days talking about almost nothing but your products and their applications?


One-Day Seminar

In the second instance, the company annually conducted what we called the "June Seminar Series". This was a one-day seminar in five major cities around the U.S.

Each local sales office was responsible for selecting the location and providing corporate with names and addresses of 200-400 prospective customers in their area.

We then worked with product marketing management to develop audio-visual presentations including videotapes, slides, and overhead projections. In addition, product promotional materials were developed which could be easily set up in the various seminar locations.

The invitations were sent from corporate to the prospects around the country with a request that they contact the local sales office to ensure their reservations. In addition, the sales personnel were to follow up to make certain they got people attending that they had been working on for some time.

This kind of a seminar program is particularly hard on the people who must give the presentations. As a general rule, we allowed only one down day between presentations. This meant a day of presentation, a day to travel and relax followed by another day of presentations.

To ease the strain of the load slightly, two people carried out the presentations. But even then it meant that two key people were away from their offices for a two-week period.

The days were planned to be filled with technical and product information. In addition, there was ample time for questions and answers and the exchange of ideas among participants and attendees. We found that as a general rule the seminar lasted two hours past the planned shut-down time because of the questions from the floor.

The key in this type of situation is to have your presentation people well trained. We've found that the best way to do this is to put them through "dry runs" of their presentations a number of times so that they're familiar with the information they're presenting, the audio visual materials, and questions which may arise.

After reviewing their presentation mannerisms and content several times and having technical and marketing people ask them questions on what was presented three or four times, the people going out in the field are ready for almost anything. The only thing we would have liked to have added was to video tape the presentations so they could critique themselves. But at the time, it wasn't possible.

In addition to the presentations, every attendee also received summary and in depth discussions of the various areas covered at the seminar. As a result, they were able to take back with them complete information as reminders.

They also received automatic letters from the corporate offices thanking them for attending the seminar and inviting them to direct additional questions to their local sales office.

The total cost of such a seminar effort, including the audio-visuals, display materials, invitations, leave-behind materials, and similar items (exclusive of staff time and travel) usually ran $12,000-$15,000 per five-city swing. As a general rule, 50-100 people from prospective customer locations attended the seminars in each city.

The cost per sales call came down dramatically, and sales invariably followed the seminar effort each year.


Return on Investment

In both instances, there was a tremendous return on investment. The key was that there was a considerable amount of planning and preparation that went on before each seminar.

It's one thing to say seminars are worthwhile, but quite another to carry out a strong, effective program. What does it take for such success?

Believe, me the first four such presentations or seminars are the hardest. Then, they either get harder or easier, depending upon how you look at them. They get harder because you're constantly searching areas that can be improved. They get easier because you learn by your mistakes what can and will go wrong.

Properly planned, developed, and carried out, a seminar can shorten the decision making time, reduce the number of sales calls required for major purchase decisions, and improve your image in the prospective marketplace regarding your firm's technical and product leadership.

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