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Special sales (the key word being special)

March 16, 2011
by seth godin

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Every large publisher has a Special Sales department. This is a group charged with selling books in volume to groups and corporations.

Stories of successful special sales are legendary. One personal finance author I know told me about selling a million copies of his book to a corporation. Most of the time, though, the special sales folks wait for the phone to ring.

Special sales can create magical upsides for all concerned. The margins on hardcover books are sufficient that the buyer can get a fabulous discount when she buys by the pallet. As a sales and marketing tool, books are powerful–no one throws out a book. Unlike a silkscreened beer-can cozy, a book communicates more than just a logo. Books work as a training tool internally, and they also create a generous opportunity for an organization to share an idea with customers or prospects. If you’ve ever been handed a book by someone who cared about you, you know what I mean.

The problem is this: in all my years working with traditional publishers, I never encountered the special sales group actually doing a good job of making special sales. There isn’t a noticeable bias for action, a forward-moving imperative. For whatever reason, few special sales groups at traditional publishers seek out and then embrace the kind of organizations that could buy and distribute a ton of books. A wasted opportunity. For every section in the bookstore there are literally thousands of organizations that could benefit by using the right book in the right way.

At Domino, Lauryn Ballesteros is in charge of our special sales effort. She’s on the phone or at conferences every day, and it’s working. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, she’s identifying the right organizations and reaching out to the key decision maker. The result is a significant number of new places our books will be distributed, new readers that will engage with them, and organizations that will benefit from being associated with a brand new book, hand delivered to the right reader at the right time.

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