Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How Best to Be Successful in Buying From Me

I have a subscriber who may become a customer soon, if my verbosity and scare tactics failed to thwart his slide toward order writing.

Here is our recent conversation, altered to protect the innocent:

He said:

Hi, Ben -
I would like to try an initial order. This particular list may be a bit too dated by now (or not)?
I'm thinking you have another list coming out this week and perhaps I should look at that one.

I replied:

Definitely wait, if you don't mind. I should have a fresh list today or tomorrow at the latest.

And then he said:

Great, thanks.
Ben - thinking ahead, it will be in my interest and yours if this works well and I place many orders. I wonder if you can give me a few brief tips on how best to be successful in buying from you. My business works well partly because I usually do a good job of allocating my time to positive return actions. I'm sure you understand what I mean. If I invest in another significant supply source, I need to do it in such a way that it is superior to other alternatives for that same time. Opportunity cost, as the saying goes!

So I took a moment and came back with:

Smart question, difficult to answer correctly, especially if one is an overly wordy sales guy.

Here are some thoughts: 

The buyers that get the best results from me order right away or wait for the next list. Some have software that parses everything in a short while, but most I know for a fact just sit and look at the list and put in their numbers and send back to me. They tend to order roughly the same bit every week or month or however often they order. One example is a used bookstore that orders about $200-$400 every couple of weeks. I know I will not see an order from them if they do not order within about two hours of my having sent the list. Another, a trade bookstore, orders between $900 and $1200 every 6 weeks or so, but again, I know I will not see an order from them if it does not arrive within 24 hours.

All of the above being said, I also have customers who invariably take about a week to order. They don't get as great a fill rate since most of the hot short quantity titles are gone by then, but they do get some, and they get most of the material that fits their niches. Most of this group have staff that check stock against the lists before ordering, hence the delay. The first group I mentioned, the fast acting bunch, are mostly owners or, less frequently, buyers who seem to spend every waking hour reviewing books to buy.

A couple of things to keep in mind: The suppliers from which I obtain the lists I send you are selling to buyers who visit their warehouses, and there are often trade shows where sales are also occurring, all of this occurring as my lists land in your inbox. When I send my lists, I try to send to a small batch of customers, then to another, so that as orders come in I can reduce inventory by the order quantities between sends, but I can only delay so long and inevitably oversell some books.

However... Recently I had about 10 of my quick responders order within a few hours, which is high for me. I then had a really big order from a larger customer who I hear from twice a year if I'm lucky. Looking at the order, I thought he was not going to get a great fill rate, maybe 65-70%, and be disappointed. But more books arrived at the supplier and he got more like 85% and never complained. You can almost never get a 100% fill rate.

Bottom line: Order within a few hours of receiving the list to get the best service, but you might still do okay if you don't.

Now, if you've read this far and your eyes have not yet glazed over, you are a better man than I, but I should tell you that the biggest sticking point for me with a new buyer is credit. If you fill out a credit application, I can usually get you 30 days credit with some of my suppliers within about 3 weeks. Some will not ship small orders on terms, whether or not you fill out the form. The supplier whose list you responded to and thereby got this conversation started (which you now regret), will ship on terms, but only after you have filled out an application AND prepaid 2 or 3 orders. And, which is usually the case for new buyers in this market, if all you have for references are publishers and freight companies, you will need to prepay a few more orders.

One supplier once said to me, "You can't walk into Macy's, throw your business card on the counter, and walk out with a leather jacket, can you?" 

My advice, especially if you want things to be smooth and problem free from the start, is to fill out the application and supply credit card details with the first order. Most of my new customers don't want to do this and things get bogged down. Getting bogged down means all those books you ordered are likely going to other customers. Once we get rolling, this phase will be forgotten, but it can be rough at first. I hope I'm not scaring you off now. 

Way too many words to say so little, but I wanted to give you some background and a little of the nitty gritty.

And, incredibly, my subscriber and, I hope, soon to be customer, warmly responded that he appreciated the info and looked forward to working with me.

Now it's up to me not to mess it up...

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