Avoid dead books; clear out your cemetery

By Ramon Rocha

cemetery image

This visual had the most impact on Christian publishers and booksellers at the Cote d’Ivoire workshop where I spoke recently. I gleaned the idea from Edward England’s book, “An Unfading Vision”.

Dead books are dead missionaries not able to come out to spread the good news. In several countries where I have led training, dead inventory is a major problem. Somewhere, somehow, sometime in the past, wrong decisions lead to an accumulation of slow moving titles over the years. You may have overestimated the demand? You were too excited?

Publishing can be profitable but the risks are high. You want to have the right titles at the right quantities at the right time at the right places. Inventory management may reflect how well or poorly a publishing house is run. Learn to move that “dead” inventory in your warehouse and avoid the problem in the first place.

Move your dead inventory
1. Date your inventory
. Aside from aging your inventory in your management reports, color-code the sagging pallets or the dust-covered cartons of books in your warehouse. For example, put a red card on each carton that arrived in your warehouse 10+ years ago, orange for 9 years, yellow for 8 and so on. When you do your MBWA (management by walking around) at least once a week, you will be reminded of how long you’ve been storing dead books.

2. Prepare a marketing plan for each title in your cemetery. The objective is to resurrect and release them to accomplish what they were supposed to do.

3. Slash the price substantially, even below cost. Try “bundling” with other books. If you still can’t sell them, donate them (assuming they do not contain heretical teachings).

Avoid the cemetery
1. Analyze and think through all the titles in your publishing list with your team.
Ensure good, justifiable reasons exist for why you will invest time and money on each new and backlist title you will sell.

2. Publish within your means. Do your revenue and expense budgets far before the start of the fiscal year. Determine with your finance manager how much money you can set aside for new titles and reprints for the coming year using your projected monthly cash flow. Measure actuals versus projections and adjust accordingly.

3. Print only what you can sell in six months to one year. If that’s 500 copies, then so be it, even if the unit cost is higher. It is always better to reprint later than to be stuck with dead inventory. There is always a temptation to print a lot more to get a lower printing quote.

4. Get as many advance orders as possible. This will ensure specific quantities earmarked for certain customers. This is part of the marketing plan you have supposedly drawn up especially for each new “flagship” title.

5. Use print-on-demand (POD). Books printed using POD with offset quality still cost a lot. But prices are expected to decline in the coming years. Research availability in your area.

6. Publish ebooks. Start with your current bestsellers. You will not only save trees but gear up for the wave of the future and will be able to distribute globally.

7. Learn from your mistakes. Pray hard, work hard and avoid a cemetery of dead inventory.

What other ways you found effective in moving dead books and avoiding slow turnover? Leave us a comment here.

Following Up (part 4 in bookselling success for publishers)

By Tony Wales

This is the final article in a four-part series to help publishers succeed in selling their books.

In my first three articles, we have looked at 1) Preparation, 2) Presentation and 3) Getting the Order. Without another part of the sales process, we may lose all the ground we have made thus far. Following Up is vital if we are to build on all the work we have done. Here are some key disciplines all sales people need to have.

1. Perhaps the most important single tool that every sales person can and should develop is THE CUSTOMER SALES REPORT.

This is a written record of the sales calls you make. It can be developed as an electronic file or spreadsheet. Or it can be a paper version. Whichever way you choose, it will record the details of each customer with:

- Their full contact details (not forgetting mailing address, delivery address if ID-10054844different) and all the phone and e-mail addresses).

- Who their main contact and/or decision maker is.

- Their credit limit (how much you can allow them to order) and credit terms (the discount and payment terms).

All these will be at the head of the page below which will be a record of the following:

- Date, place of meeting and who was there.

- What was ordered (record as much detail as possible, including any comments on why they may or may not have bought certain titles.) This will be vital information for all future contacts with this customer.

- You may pick up general information in the meeting such as comments about the market, the parent organization of the publisher, or particular personal information such as someone’s illness, or the fact that they are getting married (will that affect who you see next time?) and so on.

- Keep your ears open for any clues as to how the customer is doing. Prepare some sensitive questions such as ‘Is the business doing better this year?’ This may affect the relationship you are trying to build with them.

Whatever you learn during the visit, make sure to record on your CUSTOMER SALES REPORT. You may not be the next person from your organization to meet them. If so, your record will be vital. And, as you build up this record, it will be critical not only to you but to anyone else from your organization who deals with this customer in the future.

Every publisher can and should develop and constantly maintain a set of customer records. They need to be kept in a place which others in your organization can also refer to though you, as the sales person have the responsibility to keep it up to date.

2. Don’t forget to record the latest contact details of your customer while you are still with them. There’s no time like the present. Find time as soon as possible after your meeting to add any further details to your CUSTOMER SALES REPORT. Build time into that day, or at latest the following day, while your memory is still fresh.

3. Following up also means that after meeting your customer, put a date in your own diary, planner or calendar to call them or send an e-mail. At the very least, this will simply thank them for the meeting and assure them that the order they placed is now being processed. You can also take the opportunity to confirm any details—such as the delivery date or publication dates they may have asked for.

4. Sometimes you mID-10066407ay have to follow up with further material such as samples of the books you were unable to show them at the meeting. Or send advance material such as information sheets or covers of new unpublished titles, and so prepare the way for future business. In any case, send your new catalog or other advance information when it is available. Make sure you add them to your regular mailing list.

5. Have a regular review of this particular customer. I used to have a pending system consisting of a folder for every day of the month. I would then put a reminder (perhaps with a copy of the customer’s order or other reminders of my visit – often with a scribbled note of any necessary detail) and select a date the following month to refresh my mind of what needs to be done next. I found this invaluable not only to prompt me to act but also to renew my memory. This became more important with every additional customer. I would daily review what I had previously put in the file for that day of the month and take any action required.

The key with all this is to take all possible steps to stay in touch with your customers. FOLLOWING UP will repay your efforts many times over and, even if it takes time and many follow-up calls, e-mails or other mailings, it will lead to increasing sales. It will also lead to  better understanding of your market. Additionally, your publishing will benefit as you understand your customers better. Thus, FOLLOWING UP is vital not only for increased sales, but for the effectiveness of your whole publishing program.

May God bless you as you apply these proven principles.

If you have questions or contributions arising from these blogs, I would love to hear from you. Email [email protected]

Photos above courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos

Getting the Order (part 3 in bookselling success for publishers)

By Tony Wales

This is the third article in a four-part series to help publishers succeed in selling their books. The first key is preparation and the second key is selling the benefits of your publication. See the respective articles, “Four Vital Ways to Improve Your Success in Bookselling” and “Selling the Benefits“. 

Once you have presented your publication to a prospective customer, there are several ways to ensure you get the order.

1. Ask for it!
If you don’t actually ask, all that preparation and the efforts you’ve made tomulti-ethnic-biz-meeting-fr understand your customer’s needs and present your publication will be wasted. So be prepared to simply ask them for the order.  However, here are few helpful tips:

-  Train yourself not to ask in a way that demands a “yes” or “no” answer. An unhelpful example would be something like this: “Do you wish to buy some copies of this book?” This makes it too easy for them to answer “no.” Instead ask in a way that will allow them to engage more fully with the decision to buy.

For example: “How many copies of this book would you like to order today?” or “Would you like to start with two or three copies of this book, or would you prefer to get the extra discount for an order of 10 copies?” or “If you order today, would you like to add some copies for that pastors conference being held next month?” All of these types of approach imply that they will be making a positive decision to buy.

- Think ahead how you might present your request for the order. And keep your ears open for the sort of information in that last question; that is, the pastors conference opportunity. You may have discovered about the pastors conference in your preparation, or seen it in the window of the shop when you arrived for the sales meeting or during the conversation with your customer! To be alert in these ways is to find ways to increase your sales.

2.  Record the order then and there
If you don’t already have one, it is important to have an order form ready for all sales occasions. It is a document you can take to all sales occasions whether to shops, churches, conferences or other opportunities. It should always be available to you and your staff in the office so that orders from visitors or from phone calls can be taken immediately. The order form should include the following information:

- The name and logo of your organization including your full address, phone, e-mail or other contact information.

- A box to allow you to record the name and full address of your customer and the date of the order

- A complete list of all the titles you currently publish. This is normally in alphabetical order of title or series (if it’s a series, the titles in the series are usually listed alphabetically within that section or, in the case of a Bible commentary series, in Biblical order). The important thing is that the information is clear to you and your customer. Make it as easy to use as you would want for yourself.

- Each title should be accompanied by the author’s name, the ISBN number and the regular retail price. It is also worth indicating if the book is paperback or hardback or other special bindings. This is often needed for hymn books or Bibles or other titles where each binding style should be recorded as a separate line on the order form.

- Allow enough space before each title for the quantity to be written in as you take the order.

3.  Make two copies of the order (one for you and one for the customer)
- Do this while you are with the customer so that she or he witnesses the recording of this information

- Ask the customer to sign and date both copies of the order. This will protect you and them against any future error or misunderstanding.

Businessmen-shaking-hands4. Make a date for the next meeting
- Don’t forget that what you have achieved with this meeting needs to be a building block in your relationship with this customer, so it is vital to agree upon the next meeting. Put this in your diary or planner while you are still with the customer so that it is clearly understood.

-If they are unable to offer you a date for the next meeting, ask them to call or e-mail you with a date and time. However, it is always better to have this agreed before you leave.

-  Do all the friendly personal inquiries and introductory conversation with your customer at the beginning of the meeting rather than at the end. So, when you’ve finished, don’t prolong the meeting with further personal conversation. Your customer will appreciate your professional courtesy as you simply thank them for the order and say goodbye (until the next time).

5. Make sure the order is put into action within 24 hours
This must include any special instructions (such as special discount or delivery details) being passed on to your staff. You are responsible for ensuring maximum accuracy and efficiency so that the customer is fully satisfied.

Next time; the final vital way to increasing sales success is ‘Follow up, follow up, follow up’…

Tony Wales is a board member and trainer for MAI based in the UK. See his first and second articles on bookselling for publishers.

Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos, by Ambro

Selling the Benefits (part 2 in bookselling success for publishers))

By Tony Wales

This is the second article in a four-part series to help publishers succeed in selling their books. This article describes the second key: selling the benefits of your publications.

The first key is preparing yourself with proper knowledge of your publication. See the article, Four Vital Ways to Improve Your Success in Bookselling

When I go to the store to buy a shirt, my main concern is not my collar size or sleeve length. My 16 inch collar and a 33 inch sleeve are mere features, helpful background information. Rather I go looking for a shirt which will serve various needs. These may include benefits such as: Are the shirts in the store are well made (no loose threads or other flaws)? Will it be long-wearing, good material? Will it look good on me and work with my other clothes? This mixture of personal and practical needs informs my decision to buy. They are the benefits that may lead to my purchase.

Similarly, when we are selling publications, we need to focus mainly on benefitsNepal by Owen Salter not features. Provide your customers with answers to questions such as: What will this publication do for the reader? Does it fit with the customer’s profile? If your customer is a bookshop, will your publication fit in? For example, if your book is a novel, do they have a fiction section into which it can go? Or if your customer is a church, what will your book offer that particular congregation?

Although product details are important, our temptation is to load up our customers with detailed features, such as length, price, author or even content. But these facts are insufficient. I have often seen books and their product info presented to potential customers without the key reasons to buy: the benefits to the customer and end-user.

Increasingly successful selling depends on you being prepared with a clear idea of the benefits that your book will bring to readers and therefore give your customer reasons to buy your publication. Always remember that your customers are making an investment by putting your book on the shelf. You need to prepare them to sell it to their own customers.

The late motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar made a key point with this simple poem:

“If you want to sell John Jones what John Jones buys,
You’ve got to look through John Jones’ eyes”

Too often we try to sell our publications without looking through our customer’s eyes.

So here are some action points you can take:

-  Prepare your reasons for the customer to buy your publication

-  Include the book’s benefits in all your sales materials and especially on the cover of the book. Review your sales materials, catalogues and book covers to see if they reflect this important principle. Don’t be afraid to make changes!

-  Aim to constantly try to understand your customer’s needs as you present your publications

Selling the benefits is the second step to successful selling. Next time we will look at the third great principle of sellingAsking for the order.

Tony Wales is a board member and trainer for MAI based in the UK. See his first article on bookselling for publishers.

Photo above courtesy of Owen Salter

Four Vital Ways to Improve Your Success in Book Sales

By Tony Wales

During my 40-plus years in publishing, I learned that these four principles were always the key to successful sales. If I forgot even one of them, failure followed. These principles are rooted in Christian love for God and love for my neighbor.

The first principle for successful selling is PREPARATION. When we offer our customers a book, we often ignore the need for proper knowledge of our product. Prepare yourself with these key points:

Photo courtesy khunaspix, Freedigitalphotos

Photo courtesy khunaspix, Freedigitalphotos

The author – Who is she? Does her background, her work or her church provide an opportunity for you to sell her book? What are her qualifications for writing? Has she published other books? Find out all you can and carry an author information sheet.  These details give proper respect for our authors and help build their profile, a key aspect of all successful publishing.

The content of the book – Gain sufficient familiarity with the text in order to answer any customer questions. Bring a complete outline of contents, sample text or the complete text, and a cover of the book. These items will increase your confidence before and during customer meetings. If you do not prepare, you will usually be lost for words!

The costs of the book –Be clear ahead of time what financial terms you are able to offer the customer. For example, what is the normal discount they require and what can you offer on a bulk purchase?

Customer background – Have they bought from you before? If so, on what terms?  Look up previous customer records, invoices, etc. If you lack such records, start keeping them. They will be invaluable to your publishing house. If the customer ordered from you before, what sort of books did they buy and when? This will help enable you to inquire how those books sold and what books they are looking for now.

Make a definite appointment whenever possible –Ensure that you and your customer have an agreed time and place to meet. Otherwise, you can waste a lot of your time and theirs!

Arrive 10 minutes early – Use your extra time to observe the shop, church or office, and assess local needs before you see the customer. You may meet another staff member and pick up some useful information. This preparation can often be a valuable part of the learning process before you have even met the customer.

In summary, the more you understand your authors and books, and the more you know of your customer’s history and requirements, the more you will be able to successfully match your books to their needs. This is the first step to successful selling.

Next time, we will look at another great principle of selling:
“Selling the Benefits Rather Than the Features of Our Books.”

 Tony Wales is a board member and trainer for MAI based in the UK.