Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Inboxes Of Gold

I and most other book sales reps send lists of books to hundreds of customers every week. If I slack off or get jammed up and don't send the usual volume I start getting emails, phone calls, and texts from customers asking for the lists, or asking if they have been inadvertently deleted from the mailing list or if something happened to me. Sometimes I do inadvertently drop a good customer from my mailing list, which only happens when the accounts are shuffled and it takes a while to put things back together, or the customer has asked to be put on vacation while they catch up with receiving. I then lose track of when to put them back on and, weeks later, get a woeful email asking why I have forgotten them.

Customers have routines that vary as much as their bookstores. Some place small orders every week and have us pack and hold until there is enough to ship economically. Some order one large order per year. Some want reorder lists as often as they want regular lists, some don't want to order the same title twice. Most fall somewhere between these extremes. It might be imagined that the few hot sellers on every list go very fast to the first few customers that place orders, but it doesn't work that way because one bookseller's hot title is another's pass.

And then there are the customers that never order from lists. They might order at shows, or only order when they visit the warehouse or when a sales rep visits them. They might not order unless they are called with the few titles or niches they are looking for. Most will say they would rather receive the lists than not because one never knows when one might have the urge to peek. There are even some who another bookseller recommended me to, who call and tell me I must send them the great lists their friend told them to buy from, and after a couple of acknowledgements and questions in the beginning, I don't hear from them again.

I am fine with all of the above. I have a very full schedule taking care of the customers that do respond. Plenty of those customers would not give me amazing marks for customer service during some unfortunate period or two during our relationships as I get piled under by my to-do stack and my feeble organizational skills fail to kick in 100%. On the other hand, I must confess to a certain infinitesimal amount of pique with those who just ignore all lists, occasionally ask for a list, ignore that one as well, and then march purposefully up to me at a trade show wanting to know why they are not getting the best of the best like so & so over there, indicating the back of the head of some unsuspecting buyer, busily sorting samples and jackets into stacks of yeses and nos. 

The worst part is that I know so many titles that would have been perfect for the concerned buyer. They came and went several times as other buyers ordered in their 3s and 10s and 60s and 100s, all from the same lists that sat in the esteemed bookseller's inbox without ever being opened, gradually silted over by layers of more important and urgent messages.

Figure out a way to get those gems out of your inbox and into your customers' hands. Maybe you need to give this work to another buyer or employee, maybe you need to ask for some other format. If you have trouble with Excel, ask for paper mail, fax, or other document format. The important thing is to stop missing all the great deals. Grow your margins and make your customers happy by mining the gold in your inbox.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stack Them and They Will Sell

Before preparing for a customer visit, where either the customer visits me or I visit the customer, I go through a series of scenarios, thinking of what works for that customer's bookstore, what they have bought in the past, categories or authors or formats I think they miss and should buy. 

Part of this preparation is printing a reorder list for my customer, however, unlike the reorder lists I actually send my customers, this one includes everything they've ordered in the past, including sold out titles. This gives me a good picture of what the customer looks for.

The plan all seems so clear and perfectly compartmentalized, all neat and easy. And then I go into the warehouse, look at the customer's sales history, scan our list, looking for books to match my well laid plans. 

Most of my customers buy multiple titles per order in varying quantities, most buy many titles on each order that make sense based on their bookstores and purchasing history. But all customers also buy some titles that make little sense from either perspective. The simplest illustration of this are customers who say they do not buy children's or fiction who then proceed to buy a few titles in children's or fiction in hefty quantities, on every order.

I ask why the exception, and the answer is usually something like "this is a classic," or "this sold so well as a new book." Often the book is neither a classic nor a great seller. What happened is that somehow a stack made it into the bookstore for whatever reason and their customers ate it up. 

Bargain books are particularly well suited to the task of finding out which authors or subjects you think don't sell... do. Even formats. You think you can't sell fiction in trade paper because you tried it in front list, but then you do a table at bargain prices and it becomes the best selling square foot in your bookstore. At bargain costs and prices it's a lot easier to let your customers decide what works.

When I look at samples and lists, deciding what to bring to our meetings, I try not to overdo the tendency to educate my customer. Most have been doing this for years and know exactly what they need, and what they don't need is a lesson from a sales rep. But I can't always resist the urge. There are more than a few titles I bring which I know to be counter to how my customer buys and they almost always take at least one or two of them. Sometimes these ringers do turn out to be lemons, but more often they sell very well.

There's no need to buy junk nobody can sell, but do try something new in every buy. Your customers will thank you.
But first, you have to buy the books...