Unorthodox Sales Methods – Building a Non-Traditional Sales Force

How are you planning on selling your product? In retail stores? Through the internet? Licensing? On TV? These are some of the options that most inventors consider, but there are many more options that you probably haven't of even thought of.

There are so many different ways you can sell a product that the list would be without end. In this article we will explore just one of those options: building a non-traditional sales force.

A traditional sales force would involve either independent sales representatives, who often represent your products and other related products from other companies, or an on-staff sales force, ranging from one person to a whole marketing department. While these are the most standard types of sales forces, you may be more successful using something a little different.

Let's look at a couple of examples:

Greg Gharst's father, Tom, got tired of holding up an umbrella to keep out of the sun at his son's soccer games. So while Gharst was still a teenager, he started developing an umbrella stand that could be fixed into the turf and wouldn't blow over.

Gharst worked at the fast-food chain Carl's Jr. for three years to earn enough money to pay for a patent, and starting learning how to set up manufacturing overseas. When everything was ready, he decided to go for a different approach for sales.

Gharst's mom actually suggested the idea. Most sports clubs are short of money and don't have a real good way to raise money. Gharst's mom suggested that he offer them a no-investment, no-risk proposition to sell the umbrella stands. Gharst now offers sports clubs the opportunity to sell stands, umbrellas and bags and keep $ 5 from every item sold. He provides all the inventory and anything they don't sell they can return.

So how is it working? In 2008, they sold about 20,000 stands. The umbrella stand sells well because once people see the stand in action they understand it, and often they want one too. Once a team starts selling the stands, all the parents on the team are exposed to it, plus all the parents on all the teams they play against! This gives the umbrella stand great exposure all while helping sports teams earn a little extra money at no-risk to them. It is a win-win situation for everyone!

Here's another great example:

While Andy Goetting and Tyler Price where in college, they came up with an idea to turn a bed into a couch with an inflatable cushion. Their idea became the Slouchback. The idea was, with limited space like in a dorm room, you could quickly inflate the Slouchback (which acts as the back of a couch, complete with arm rests and cup holders) and when you were done you could quickly deflate it and put it away.

Goetting and Price realized that setting up marketing deals with colleges and universities would be a great way to reach college students, and they have already set up such deals with Stanford and Roger Williams Universities, but they have also decided to pursue a less traditional sales force college students.

Goetting and Price are setting up a network of college students who will sell the product. These students would of course have a product in their room, be able to demonstrate it to all their friends, and seeing the product in action, many of the friends will probably want one of their own.

As you can see, there are many more ways to reach customers than through stores, TV and the internet. Any organization or person that comes in touch with your potential customers can be a sales channel. Or, in cases like the Slouchback, your customers can also be your salespeople.

If you are considering using a less-than-traditional approach in sales, ask yourself a few questions:

1. What is common to all of my target customers? For instance, with Gharst's umbrella stands, his main customers are parents or grandparents of athletes who perform in outdoor events. What do they have in common? They are all in contact with a sports team due to their child or grandchild's involvement in that team.

This does not have to be an organization. It can be an event, a publication, a website or a geographical location. For instance, Goetting and Price's main customers are college students. What is their common factor? They all attend college.

2. In what ways can I sell through this common factor? Is it by attending an event with a booth, selling through an established store (like Goetting and Price do as part of their total marketing efforts)? Is it by taking out advertising? Or is there another way to sell through this common factor by recruiting them to be salespeople? Can I use some of these things at the same time to create a more well-rounded marketing approach?

3. What incentive can I give my non-traditional sales force to sell? Obviously, money is the main incentive, but are there other ways to make the deal even more attractive? For sports teams, Gharst's no-risk, no-investment proposition is a big plus.

4. Is my product a good fit for a non-traditional sales force? Products that sell well with a demonstration and are quickly understood are by far the best products for a non-traditional sales force. For instance, Gharst's product would not be nearly so impressive in a booth at a trade show, but when you see the stand in action, especially on a windy day, the product and its benefits are immediately understandable.

While a non-traditional sales force isn't a good fit for every product, for some products it is the key to success. Other times it is a great addition to your marketing arsenal. Who can sell your product?

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