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Sales Strategy & Management

Craig Plowden Launched A Business To Increase The Profitability Of Returns

A purely transactional approach to business will never result in customer loyalty. If you want to cultivate loyal customers, you need to care about their long-term happiness. That means thinking about reverse logistics.

GG van Rooyen




Vital stats

  • Player: Craig Plowden
  • Company: Revlogs
  • Position: CEO
  • Established: 2007
  • Visit:

Sales are important, of course. No company can be successful without making sales, but there is an important issue that is often overlooked: Customers send stuff back. The more things you sell, the more things your customers will send back. It is inevitable — just a reality of doing business.

What is reverse logistics?

For this reason, reverse logistics is becoming an increasingly important issue. What is reverse logistics? It’s the process of picking up unwanted goods from a customer and returning them to a store or OEM.

Why can’t the original delivery company simply manage the process? Well, reverse logistics is more complicated than delivery. As mentioned, items are returned for various reasons, and the nature of the return will dictate what needs to happen with any particular item.

Is it broken? If it is, you need to assess how big the problem is. Is it a quick fix, or does it need to go back to the supplier? And what if it’s simply unwanted? Does it need to be repackaged, or is it still sealed and ready to be sold again?

“Around 8% of items sold are returned,” says Revlogs CEO Craig Plowden. “That’s a very significant number, so the way in which you deal with returns can have a major impact on your bottom line. When business is booming, it’s tempting to move product as quickly as possible, but you need to have some sort of reverse logistics strategy in place from very early on.

“I know of companies with millions of rands’ worth of dead stock just sitting in warehouses. They didn’t track these returns, so they don’t know why it’s there. What’s broken? What’s ready to be sold again? Trying to make sense of it all at this stage is very difficult.”

E-commerce returns are even higher and need to be handled with care

This is even more complex when it comes to e-commerce. Not only are you responsible for getting items to the customer and picking up any unwanted items, but the very nature of online sales means that returns are more likely. Customers can’t touch or test an item in store, so the odds are higher that they’ll be unhappy with it.

Plowden came up with the idea for Revlogs, a reverse logistics company that helps retailers manage returns, while working for a large international brand.

“We sold to large chain stores, and I was just amazed with the amount of returns we had to deal with on a regular basis. I realised that someone needed to be in charge of the process — someone needed to keep track of all these items travelling in the opposite direction,” says Plowden.

Related: 10 Ways To Get High-Roller Customers Spending More With You

Reverse logistics is a fundamental component of sales

Amazingly, the concept of reverse logistics didn’t really exist in South Africa — at least not as an important and explicit component of the sales process.

“It’s only in the last five years, or so, that things have changed,” says Plowden. “When we started, it was hard to convince companies of the importance of reverse logistics. But people are catching on now. They’re realising how much money is being wasted. The rise of online shops has also had an impact, since getting things returned when you’re a purely digital business can be tricky and expensive.”

Keep your customers happy

So, why is reverse logistics becoming such an important issue? Ultimately, it’s all about customer service. Some items will be damaged or faulty, and will need to be returned, but that’s not the only thing driving the growth of reverse logistics.

There’s also the fact that it makes good business sense to allow customers to buy something and return it without hassle. A customer might, for example, like being able to try on several outfits at home and know that any unwanted ones can be sent back without any fear of losing money.

“As a business, you want to have a very generous returns policy. These days, you can’t only take something back if it’s broken. You want the purchasing experience to be pleasant for the customer, and that means giving them the peace of mind that something can be returned with ease.”

Make your returns process easy and convenient

“In other words, the easier the process of returning something will be, the likelier someone is to buy it,” says Plowden. “It’s all about ease and convenience. If you make things hard for customers, they’ll go somewhere else.

“Of course, a generous returns policy is great for the customer, but not so great for you, since you’re left having to deal with the logistics of the process. To make sure that you don’t lose too much money, you need to track everything. You need to know the location and condition of every item. The quicker you can get things repaired and returned, the less of an impact returns will have on your bottom line.

Related: How To Win Customers Over With An Emotional Connection

“Effective returns management will also result in happier customers. If you can have broken or unwanted items picked up and replaced in record time, customers will buy from you again. But leave customers sitting at home with items they don’t want, and you’ve lost their confidence — perhaps forever.”

Create a solid reverse logistics strategy

So, how do you go about crafting a solid reverse logistics strategy? “Companies can create their own internal departments, or they can make use of an external reverse logistics service. It can seem like an unnecessary expense, but it will save you money in the long run.

“Good returns management will reduce costs, reduce admin, protect revenue, increase productivity and improve customer satisfaction,” says Plowden.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.


Sales Strategy & Management

What Really Drives Sales Growth And Repeat Business?

Hint: It’s neither your prospects’ ability to buy nor how great your product or service is.




Have you ever analysed what really drives sales in your business? Most people tie their answer to marketing or new leads. Those can be drivers but not the main driver for small businesses.

What causes one person to shop with you for years, driving out of their way to get to you, while the guy across the street won’t set foot in your door? Typically, when I ask this question, I get feedback about how great the product and service is. When I ask why the guy across the street won’t use you, I typically get some explanation of a lack of need or ability to buy.

Those answers can all be true, but that doesn’t make any of them correct.

I have spent the last seven years studying these questions and searching for both the truth and the correct answer. Surprisingly, the right answer is far easier to understand than I thought it would be. Instead of you having to become an expert on the subject, I’ll save you years and tell you what I found.

The truth and the correct answer

If you want to drive sales growth and repeat business, it boils down to understanding and then implementing one strategy: Content builds relationships, relationships build trust, and trust equals sales. Think about that statement for a minute. It is true in your personal and business life right now.

Related: Sales Leadership: The New Frontier

Content builds relationships

Since the dawn of man, how did we build relationships? We create content. If I found myself to be single tomorrow and on a date, I would work to build a relationship with the person I was dating by talking to them – that is, by creating content.

In B2B sales for many years, people created content by having all the knowledge and telling sales prospects about the great features and benefits of new, amazing machines. Today, we create content for our websites and e-books, as well as for downloads or videos to post on YouTube.

Why do we do all of this? Simply put, content builds relationships. And if your customer is looking to purchase anything of significant value from you, you will first need a relationship to make that happen. Once we have a relationship, what happens?

Relationships build trust

shaking-handsMost people don’t fully trust someone they just met, regardless whether it is a business relationship or a personal one. Human nature is to give a little bit of trust and to see if someone is worth giving more trust to. In other words, make them earn it. This is why delivering, at a minimum, what you said you would is so vitally important.

This is where good customer service, the person who answers the phone or sits at the front desk, can make or break a new relationship. As the relationship continues, more and more trust is given; and if the experience remains positive, the amount of trust you get grows still more. As the trust in you grows, then what happens?

Trust equals sales

The more a person trusts you, the more they will buy from you.

One bit of good news with all the competition that is popping up is that it is super easy to stand out, because there are so many poorly run companies and untrustworthy people in the world. All you have to do is do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Also, treat people the way you’d want to be treated. Since so few will do that, it is not that hard to stand out from the pack.

Related: 3 Strategies For Closing Sales Without Picking Up The Phone

Once a person has a relationship with someone, and they always get what they expect, changing from that person or business is not easy or even desirable. Because you gave good content, you created a relationship. Through that relationship you worked hard and developed trust and now, that trust you earned turns out money through, year after year. When you have 500; 1,000; 2,000; or 5,000 of those trusting relationships, they become assets of your amazing business.

If you’ve read me before, you may have heard me say that you should use a newsletter to build a fence around your customers. They will stay longer and spend more. Well, this is what I’m talking about. Had I been more sophisticated in my understanding of how all of this works seven years ago, I would have switched out the word “newsletters” for “content.”

I tell people all the time that a newsletter isn’t a magic tool. If anyone is selling you a magic solve-all-your-problems tool, you should run very far away and very fast. A newsletter is simply a vehicle to distribute content that builds relationships. It nurtures those relationships over time. You have to respect the relationship and earn trust by delivering on your product or services. If you don’t, can’t, or won’t do that, you could deliver all the content and send all the newsletters, and it simply wouldn’t matter one bit.

How to implement this in your business

The challenge with any idea is implementation. With most ideas in business, you typically have four choices, and this one is no different.

You can do the following:

  • Do nothing. This is what most people do, which is good news for you, because it is also what most of your competitors are doing. That makes it very easy to stand out.
  • Do it yourself. Content has to be created, and maybe you’re the best person to do that right now in your company.
  • Hire an employee to do this for you. Of course, you could hire and train a content creation person and outsource editing, graphic design, etc.
  • Find a company to help you implement this strategy.

Related: The 5 Best Actions You Can Take To Improve Sales Calls

Regardless of your decision, if you want to truly grow, or if you want to beat the competitor down the street, or if you want to increase the value of your company, it starts with this strategy: Content builds relationships, relationships build trust, and trust equals sales.

This leaves you with one thing to as you finish this article: Look back at the four options and make a choice.

This article was originally posted here on

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Sales Strategy & Management

Get Those Quotas Moving (Upward!) In 2018! 5 Things Your Salespeople Can Do

Fewer than half of salespeople make quota, on average. Here are some best practices for to help them hit their targets in the new year.

John Holland




Whether they had a tremendous 2017 or a difficult one, sellers likely hit the re-set button with the start of this new year. And that button push probably was accompanied by more aggressive quotas for those sellers to achieve in 2018.

So, what should sellers do to gear up for the coming year? As 2018 gets under way, here are five things I can share to help sellers get off to a good start.

1. Avoid stale quotes and proposals

Unlike fine red wine, proposals that have been in the sales pipeline more than 45 days old aren’t getting better. Many of them, in fact, are likely to have “no decision” outcomes.

So, if you’re the seller, what’s going on? There may be instances where your prospects have chosen a competitor and not given you the bad news. My suggestion is to send a snail mail letter, “return receipt requested,” to the highest level you’ve called on within the account. State in the letter how long the proposal has been outstanding, noting that you haven’t been updated on its status and that you intend to withdraw if you don’t hear anything back.

Related: 3 Questions To Guide You To Success In 2018

The hope is that your letter will cause the buyer to contact you and say there is still interest. If that’s the case, you can ask to revisit the opportunity (help facilitate a cost vs. benefit analysis) and see if a revised recommendation can be made.

If your letter doesn’t elicit a response, you can safely remove it from your forecast. While that’s not the desired outcome, you’ll have the benefit of a more realistic view of the size and health of your pipeline.

2. Create add-on opportunities

Sellers often believe that if customers have additional needs, they’ll proactively reach out. Certainly, close rates will be higher when there is an existing relationship vs. when sellers are closing new accounts. That’s why sellers should take a look at each client and try to determine potential business needs that might be addressed through the use of their company’s offerings; they should then proactively contact the key players who might be interested.

The key to initiating add-on opportunities is taking executives from latent to active need for a company’s desired business outcomes.

3. Be realistic with nurtured leads

If the cost of your offerings exceeds $50,000, you may want to take a hard look at the entry level that nurtured leads provide. My view is that many of those leads get sellers in touch with people that are doing product evaluations. So, those people may not be working with budgets and have not identified potential areas of value/payback that can be realised through the use of your offerings.

Ask yourself if the contact you’ve been given is a potential champion who can provide you access to the key players you must call on to sell, fund and implement the offering being considered. If not, I suggest you treat the contact as a coach that may be willing to get you an introduction to a higher level that may then serve as your champion. My thought is to gain access to people who will see value in your offerings.

Related: How South Africa’s Small Businesses Plan To Invest Their Money In 2018

4. Ask for referrals

Satisfied customers can be under-used assets, especially if sellers can help them quantify results.

My preference is that sellers break down benefits and values specific to titles and outcomes that have been achieved using those sellers’ offerings.

Once quantified, sellers can ask if their customers know of any other individuals or companies they could be referred to.

5. Plan a sales cycle ahead

When I was in engineering school, I was a “just-in-time” learner in that I studiously avoided professors who assigned homework and also approached midterm and final exams with some last-minute cramming.

Some sellers follow my academic model – and that’s not smart: In terms of their year quota, many sellers who are not YTD against their numbers believe they can close enough business in the last quarter to make up for their previous gaps. But this is a very stressful strategy, and there will be times when sellers run out of runway.

An alternative I’d suggest is for sellers to break their quota into monthly increments and multiply that number by the months in an average sales cycle. They can then estimate their close rates and set pipeline thresholds they should try to exceed.

Once they’re at the stage of interviewing committee members, sellers can then negotiate their activities and time frames via a written document with buyers (I call this pipeline “E”). Here’s an example of how to project ahead:

  • A seller has a $2.4 million quota ($200,000/month).
  • Her average sales cycle is four months and her close rate is 50 percent.
  • Therefore, her “E” target is to close $800,000 or more every four-month period.
  • At any time, if she is YTD or better, her E target will be $1.6 million in her pipeline.
  • In a given month, any shortfall from YTD must be doubled and added to that $1.6 million; business development efforts must be ramped up.

Being aware of YTD performance to date and projecting the sales cycle that’s ahead on a monthly basis can reduce stress levels during Q4.

And reducing stress is good, right? I hope these tips can help make your 2018 a great, and de-stressed, year.

This article was originally posted here on

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Sales Strategy & Management

(Podcast) Are All Prices Negotiable?

Person, socialisation, product, place – what are the key differentiating factors between those who negotiate price and those who don’t? And who determines the value of a product?

Nicholas Haralambous




What is up for negotiation? When should you be negotiating prices, and when should you be open to negotiating prices with your customers?

Person, socialisation, product, place – what are the key differentiating factors between those who negotiate price and those who don’t? And who determines the value of a product?

Listening time: 8 minutes

Related: (Podcast) Phone Calls Often Solve Email Problems

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