In 2002 Andy Reid had sold his previous business and had taken an early retirement at the age of 40. He soon realized that he wasn’t cut out for retirement.
While trying to unsuccessfully buy a new Vespa, he realized that the brand didn’t have a strong foothold in South Africa, and saw an ideal opportunity to invest some of his funds and launch a new and exciting business.
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He approached the manufacturer in Italy and secured the local rights, opening seven stores within a few months. Today he has a national footprint of seven stores, with a sales team of 18 reps. Here’s how he’s maximising his sales efforts, and growing Vespa SA.
What’s the biggest sales lesson you’ve learnt?
The B2C sale is very emotional, which means there are a lot of perceptions influencing the buyer. In the case of Vespa, people love the brand, and yet at the beginning we weren’t transacting.
We realised that although people loved the brand, they were scared: Scared of our roads, scared of riding, or simply unsure of how to get a license. We needed to overcome those barriers.
What has been your biggest sales breakthrough?
The simple sentence “Welcome to Vespa, do you ride?” 70% of the time the answer is no, which means we can then follow up with, “Would you like to learn?” Most people say yes, and that’s our first step to getting their bum on a bike, which is essential if we want to make the sale. Today we’re in the business of teaching people how to ride for free, and helping them get their licenses.
Once they’re comfortable on the bike, our average conversion rate is 6:1, so if a sales person wants to make four sales in a month, they need to get 24 people on the bike, either through lessons, or test rides.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Having more money than sense. I had capital to invest in the business, and so we made a big marketing splash, believing that if they saw it, they would buy it. I earmarked R10 million to get the business off the ground.
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R20 million later I had negative cash flow and debt, and I wasn’t making my projected sales. Just creating brand awareness isn’t enough; you have to really understand the buyer and what their reservations are. In our case, we had to teach people how to ride, and get them comfortable on the bike.
If you had R20 million to invest in the business today, where would you put it?
I wouldn’t. Too much money leads to wastage. When you don’t have much money you’re a lot more practical. I don’t need an extra R20 million. I need excellent sales representatives, and all the billboards and TV ads in the world can’t give me that.
Yes, marketing is important, but I’ve learnt that without follow-through you still won’t make the sale. Selling is in the details: Having a strong pipeline, building relationships and hammering out the details.
What’s your sales leadership style?
My team call me Anal Andy because I hammer the detail into everything we do. It’s all about the follow through. For example, a salesman must never tell me, “He’s thinking about it.”
If a prospect says that, the response is: “Sorry sir, I obviously haven’t done my job properly. What do you need to think about? Share the problem with me. What’s our next action?” Selling must be proactive, and you don’t know your next step unless you understand your client’s needs.
What do you believe leads to successful selling?
If you’re not making target you need to go back to the pipeline and see why. The problems will fall into one of three categories.
It’s either a time issue (a blank diary means you’re unemployed as far as I’m concerned), a courage issue (you’re not asking the right questions) or a self-discipline issue.
How do you keep your sales team accountable?
Success comes when good practices are so engrained they’re a habit. A successful sales rep always knows where their next sale is coming from, and that takes discipline and follow-through.
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To instil accountability in my team, each sales rep fills in a weekly self-appraisal document where they rate each step of the pipeline. They need to be honest because it’s checked by the store manager and me, and sales targets are an easy way to check their answers - everything can’t be good or excellent if they aren’t meeting target, for example.
Once they acknowledge where a task or line item has been done poorly, they can take ownership of that failure and we can put an improvement action plan in place.
What’s your personal mantra?
It’s based on the golfer Greg Norman’s mantra: Din and Dip, which basically means, do it now, and do it properly.