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Marshall Atkinson

On today's Success Stories podcast, we have a real treat. Brian Jolin, with Jolin Promo, will discuss how he uses the foundation of stories to sell and engage customers. Brian is a story Brand fanatic. And we'll learn how that has helped him over the years connect and align with his customers to serve them better. Brian has a personalized approach that helps clients find the right products to serve their needs best. You don't want to miss this episode that is sure to connect with you on many different levels.

So Brian, welcome to the Success Stories podcast.

Brian Jolin

Thanks, Marshall. Happy to be here.

Marshall Atkinson

Yeah. So before we get going, where do you live and kind of let everybody kind of know what you do for a little bit?

Brian Jolin

Oh, I don't disclose that kind of personal information. I'm sorry. Just kidding. I am from Washington State originally but moved to Texas in 1993. And got into promo that nine years ago or so I guess. And what was the other part of the question that I already forgot?

Marshall Atkinson

I just kind of you know, what you do? What markets do you serve that kind of thing?

Brian Jolin

Okay, yeah. So Jolin Promo kind of came out of being a manufacturer's rep for pre-printed screenprint t-shirts, mainly some resort wear. And even weird stuff like action sports. I've liked life jackets, and whiteboards and other things that I did for about the first two decades of my career, and worked the Texas Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, kind of Mississippi years, or New Mexico a little bit territory for different brands, and then ended up actually getting fired from a sandal brand, which was a very big blessing in disguise and was able to focus more on the custom screen printing. And that led to promo. So that was actually a very, very good career change.

Marshall Atkinson

So you've worked the decoration end of the stick?

Brian Jolin

Yeah, selling Academy and Basspro and little resort type. Retailers that were kind of surf-inspired clothing and sandals and sunglasses and action sports retailers, boat dealerships, all kinds of fun customers.

Marshall Atkinson

So what do you like about being a promo distributor? What what's your favorite thing?

Brian Jolin

Really, I think, to me, the absolute best thing about waking up every day is, you know, you're going to do six different things. Like you might do one or two apparel projects. And it might be just basic screen printing, or it might be embroidery, or it might be something just a little more intricate on, you know, backpacks or something just a little bit different. But the other four things you do, they're gonna be wildly different. Yeah, maybe the same thing you did two days ago might be drinkware. Again, but then again, it might be something completely different that you've got to research, where do I buy that thing from, and get it branded? So it's a little bit like getting the bird dog, I guess, for your clients a little bit combined with just doing new and unique staff. And there are so many suppliers. It's almost a full-time job just keeping up with who does what, and even just from the major suppliers. There's always somebody new I'm working with and getting new relationships,

Marshall Atkinson

do you tend to focus on a particular area or type of company or organization because once you've got that figured out, it's easier to clone those types of customers because you kind of understand their language?

Brian Jolin  

Yeah, that sounds great. But you're giving me posttraumatic stress from Expo four years ago, all the rage was What's your niche? You know, what is your target specialized type of company, so and I was in a panic for a couple of days, and then I figured out it's not medical or educational, or, you know, resort or marinas or anything like that, that I specialize in. It's a customer mindset that's more open to collaborating on marketing and is willing to share what their sort of purpose is behind their purchase, and is willing to do a product or a piece of apparel that speaks to that and has a little more longevity than just a giveaway that might get tossed in the garbage.

Marshall Atkinson

Okay, so So it's really about their thinking. Yeah, finding people that are open, that's you're going after? That's very interesting because that's, I haven't heard it quite that way before.

Brian Jolin

Yeah, I mean, I really think I don't have a ton of clients, but I do a lot with the ones I have. And of course, we click and become friends. And that's great. But it's really just this mindset of, they're very particular, with the kind of products that they want, they want more quality, but they're open to the idea of, we think we might want to drink where, but you know, we're open to a t-shirt too. Or maybe we'll do both. But you know, people that you can suggest a 15 or $16 item to, even though you thought they only wanted a $10 item. So you give them the high-end one. And then you know, mid-range one, and they'll surprise you and go, You know what, we have the budget for that. And those are beautiful, let's do the $16. One. I mean, that sort of mindset of let's maximize what we're going to do with our budget, to me is very appealing to work with, I guess it would be for anybody. Right?

Marshall Atkinson

And how do you think things have changed with those groups? Since? You know, we're doing the whole COVID shuffle now. And there are people working from home. And there's the advent of online stores like so what has changed for you? And how are you adapting to the new, next-normal kind of thing?

Brian Jolin

Well, Marshall, I'm glad that this podcast is not about what changes you made during COVID. Survive, because to be honest, I didn't make tons of changes, other than how I interacted with customers. And two or three months into COVID, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. And so because of surgeries, and having to be really careful about being immunocompromised, unable to meet with customers, or do deliveries, like I used to do, and you know, sit down and chat with them for 15 minutes or an hour sometimes, which I always felt like it was time to go after about 45 minutes. But I didn't get to have all those interactions. So that changed. But really, my customers, for the most part, didn't change maybe many of their buying habits. Some of them lost the budget temporarily or whatever. But they were still wanting to interact like an Alumni Association at a local university, they still want to interact with their alumni. So even though they couldn't do it in person, 5k, they had a virtual 5k. And to make it easier to distribute the swag, they just did socks instead of t-shirts. So I don't like to talk about it in too much detail. Because I have a little bit of guilt about it, I guess like survivor guilt. But my sales were up and 2020. And I think part of it is a lack. And part of it was hard work. And part of it is just having a customer base that's very loyal and spent what they could.

Marshall Atkinson

Right, right? Well, I know a lot of people who actually came out of the year, especially in a third of the fourth quarter are really ahead of the game because they knuckled down on some things and were and found new markets or found new products or you know, did a lot with face masks or hand sanitizer, or whatever. And that really propelled them over even what they would have probably budgeted for. So

Brian Jolin

yeah, pretty interesting, a little bit of branded masks, but really, it was just traditional, you know, polo shirts for school uniforms, and just your basic, regular stuff. But instead of, for in-person meetings or in-person events, most of my clients are able to shift pretty quickly to virtual, I guess I have a very flexible-minded and sort of more solution-based customer base. They didn't just sit there and lick their wounds and say, Oh, we couldn't get together. They just found a different way to connect with their, their alumni or their clients and their prospects and their employees.

Marshall Atkinson

Right? Well, I think this is a great segue into our second question here, which is really about Donald Miller's famous book, story brand. And I know you're, you're a disciple of that we were talking about that earlier. So what lessons are you taking away from that book that really help you to equip yourself to be better at sales? And that kind of just for somebody who hasn't read story brand? What is that book all about? So just kind of go through that a little bit?

Brian Jolin

That's a very complicated question. But let me try to break that down. So I think first I need to tell you that my friend, April sunshine Hawkins, who since moved from Fort Worth to national to work for the Story Brand, which now they're kind of calling it business made simple, is the other part of their business. But she went and moved up there to work for them. She helped push me into listening to their podcast, which was really one of, to be honest, one of the first podcasts ever listened to four or five years ago. And I really started to connect with their way of talking about the sales process and kind of taking the word sales out of it, and making yourself rather than a salesperson Making yourself a guide. And, you know, placing your client as the hero of their own story, not you, as hey, look, John promo has been around 275 years. And my quadrupole great grandfather started it. And, you know, it went from a mud hut that had bags to now we're in Midtown, New York and have 25,000 square feet or whatever, in the day, nobody really cares. I don't care how long your business has been around, they want you to be trustworthy, which sometimes has to do with how long you've been in business, but they want to trust you. But they want to know, what are you and your company going to do for the client? And it just has to all it makes it sound like our clients are all selfish, which they're really not. But it all has to be centered around them. Like is what are they trying to do with their budget? What's the purpose of this project? You know, what are their ongoing promo and printed apparel needs? What are they for? And how do I guide them into making the best choices? You know, my tagline for my company is remarkable promotional products that will make your brand unforgettable. And it's a good tagline, it's a good theory, the story brand framework is all a great theory, I am a huge disciple of it. But honestly, in 10 interactions with clients, it never goes, I mean, maybe one out of 10 goes like you really want it to where you start from the beginning, get their purpose, what's going to be considered a success on the spin for this project. And then you follow it all the way through with follow-up at the end, the other nine out of 10, you just have that sort of in the back of your mind, and you go back and forth with it. But I can't tell you how many times even just in the last week, somebody told me they need this product or that product or like this PTO wants water bottles, and three or four emails switched back and forth. Before I found out they're selling them at a spirit shop, like I thought they were going to give them away to their students. So you do have to be careful just not to assume that you know what the client wants the product for, but really trying to go back to that foundation of what is their story that they're trying to tell? And how can you be a guide, and then you're not even in sales anymore. You're just kind of have a friendship and you're kind of their coach or their guide.

Marshall Atkinson  

And so you do that by asking better questions. Do you have, you know, qualifying things that you do? So you want to make sure that we're all on the same page? How do you go about it? Let's say I'm a new customer of yours. You don't know me from Adam, right? What would you do to kind of figure out how to work with you?

Brian Jolin

I mean, you hit the nail on the head, it's about asking the right questions. And sometimes when it's a completely brand new prospect coming to you, you don't want to inundate them with 25 questions, and they're like, geez, you know, I just want to buy a t-shirt. Why is this guy asked me? What, you know, are my logo standards? And, and what is the goal of this project and all that. So you have to kind of do some give and take like with the water bottle lady, I made three suggestions even while I was asking questions about what the project was about. And that was good because she kind of already picked out one that she liked from the beer line. And we were kind of already moving forward. And then she told me that they were reselling them. So I knew we had to be careful with the price to not go too crazy. Because in a school spirit shop, you don't want a $25 water bottle for elementary kids, unless it's in a Highland Park type neighborhood or something. And so it's asking questions, but it's having a conversation and getting your client to open up and talk more about, you know, why are they spending this money? What's the event about? What's the purchase all about? And, you know, not overloading them with too many questions, but trying to get to the root of it, so that you can then consult and recommend the right product. And I mean, it sounds like I don't know what the adjective is here, but it sounds kind of funny or whatever. But with most prospects, I usually say hey, are you interested in something just down and dirty, cheap, that may get tossed? Are you interested in something that has a little more longevity, and people may be wearing that t-shirt for 10 years. And if they're just interested in a low price point, kind of giveaway that might get thrown away, or they don't want to work with them. I know I'm going to just a one-person shop, one-person company and so I don't have time to deal with people that only care about price.

Marshall Atkinson

That's a really great way to look at it so you don't have a problem with saying no then right so you're not a good fit for me and do you recommend they go somewhere else or how do you handle that?

Brian Jolin

For me? You got to be nice about it because you don't have a reputation as that angle and in Fort Worth that, you know, won't work with people unless they're willing to spend too much money or whatever. But I think you just say, hey, you know, I have limited bandwidth. I don't have any staff, it's just me. And you know, sometimes I'm even with prospects honest about my medical situation and just saying, you know, I'm not working 50 or 60 hours a week anymore. I'm just working 40 And trying to take vacations when I can and, and live my best life as long as I can. And that includes having a little better work-life balance than I did the last 10 years. And people in general, pretty receptive to that. And you can tell in those opening emails or phone calls, I mean, if they're talking about the online retailers, then they probably already have a place in mind. And they're just getting a second quote, or a third quote, or whatever, which you know, certain nonprofits and PTs and PTA is required several quotes. And so it's better just to part ways semi-friendly, than to get into the weeds for two hours and find out, they're just going to go buy it at CustomInk. Anyways.

Marshall Atkinson

Like what you hear so far, be sure to subscribe so you can get the latest from Success Stories. And now here's Zack shortly with the S&S Spotlight

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Marshall Atkinson

Let's talk about your customer is the hero of their own journey. So what does that mean? You know, and how are you kind of using that in what you do when you try to make the program a success for them?

Brian Jolin

Well, I think this goes to what you and I were talking about a little bit earlier, kind of previewing what we're going to talk about today, but sort of the before and after. So you want to let your client know, okay, you know, right now you're deciding what you're going to buy for this project, what the outcome of it's going to be, or whatever. And my job as the guide is to make you a hero of this project, whether it's to your clients, or your customers, or your co-workers, or if it's a bigger organization, to the director or the president or the CEO, or the owner of that company. And really, when you, I mean I'm just open about it, I tell them, “Hey, you know, I've subscribed to this marketing philosophy, called Story bringing in, it's about you being the hero of the story, not me. And it's my job to help you get there.” I think people are, they're intrigued and appreciative of it at the same time. Because they're not used to people necessarily saying, hey, it's about making you successful on this project. And that's my goal. It's not for me to maximize my margin, or make as much money as possible, or, you know, leave no penny on the table. It's about really being successful. And like I had a client and their private local school, they wanted some wood frames. And we had picked some out from a line airline. Well, they're not available again until probably December. And that's passed their event date for Grandparents Day. So we ended up picking some non-wood kind of fake wood ones. Well, the cost is a third of the real wood. And she was a little bit worried that they might not be quality, I'm like, they're gonna be great quality is just you're not going to pay as much. And, you know, I think she was surprised that I would have suggested that, but it was in stock, and it fits what her project needs are. And yeah, she's gonna save a couple of 1000 bucks. She'll spend that on something else with me later. So it's not a big deal.

Marshall Atkinson

And I think it's also kind of map it out what's really important to people. So when we think about success, so what is successful for you, success means that it comes in on time, it could be a certain level of quality, it could be that they were able to fundraise and hit their fundraising goal, or the fact that they were able to justify the expenditure to their boss, right? Or, you know, they got a promotion or something. I mean, so success means a lot for different people. And I think if you impact that at the beginning, it's much easier to unravel, don't you think?

Brian Jolin

For sure, but I can't believe you just set on time. Because that is the biggest stress right now. I think, for promotional products, distributors and screen printers and anybody trying to help clients meet event dates. It's just not I mean, everything is two to three times longer than normal. Even if the person has it in stock. They're understaffed at the decoration facility and you know, I've got a text right now it's one of the My contract printers locally, and one of them is for an employee meeting at the beginning of next week. And I don't know if I'm going to get it in time or not. And that's just not something I'm used to missing deadlines. But you know, you just have to kind of accept that. It's going to happen from time to time, especially right now in this current environment. And then you just have to try to make it as right as you can and help.

Marshall Atkinson

You know, well, it's up to us to say, Hey, this is the situation we're in. We don't know. It's a surprise later, right? I mean,

Brian Jolin

and to people, it's interesting, even new customers are more understanding than you would realize. I think most people by now figured out whether they've gone to order a hot tub and found out it's a nine-month lead time or went to get a new car can't buy a used car, or had a delay on printing t-shirts. They've run into stuff where there's just a massive delay in the supply timeline, and in the supply chain logistics. So I think overall, people are fairly understanding, but it's still as a professional, it kills you to miss a deadline.

Marshall Atkinson

So right, right. All right, cool. So what do you think their top tips are for someone listening, that can immediately use and deploy kind of the facets of how story brand works,

Brian Jolin

it's hard to drill it down. But if I had to, to one or two items, I would say one quick putting yourself in the middle or at the center of the whole experience. You're not what it's about, it's not about your company, it's not about you, as a salesperson, or as an account manager, or whatever title you give yourself. It's about your customer. Like, it's, it's no more complicated than that. It is a bagger customer. So make it about your customer, keep them at the center of everything you're doing. Make sure that you're not just making decisions without checking with them, to make sure it's what they want and what they need. Make sure you know what the purpose of the project is, what the ultimate, you know, tell of success will be for them. And then work your ass off to make it work for them. Make them the frickin hero. And I think really, if you do that, that one thing of taking the focus off yourself, and just really stepping back being the guide or the coach. You know you don't have to be the mockingbird. You can be the what was the guy's name? Hamet Sure, whatever. That's the former survivor, right? You're guiding the

Marshall Atkinson

Hamish. It was Hamish.

Brian Jolin

Yeah, you're guiding the mockingbird to her success. And once you realize that, you know, you don't have to be a Yoda or anything. But once you realize that you're the guide. It really is freeing from that process. It's not really sales anymore. It's just relationship management. And you're working on a project together. And it's not even about beating the competition, because this is now your client and your friend. And it's not just the sale, right?

Marshall Atkinson

Yeah, that was the Hunger Games anecdote if you miss it, Katniss Everdeen?

Well, great. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story of success today with this, Brian, I really appreciate it. If someone wants to learn more about what you do or how you can help them. What's the best way to contact you?

Brian Jolin

Really online, don't promo on Facebook or Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, just reach out, and I'm part of Promo Kitchen which you're obviously very familiar with as a chef. And I love mentoring there and usually have one or two mentees at a time. So mom helps anybody with anything. I think, the more we're sharing, honestly, without necessarily just giving our client lists to our competitors, that the more we share openly, the better we can make the screen-printed apparel and promotional products. Industries better.

Marshall Atkinson

Yeah, so I'm a big believer in coo-petition, right. I mean, there's so much business out there. I mean, nobody can own it. All. Right. So if we can collaborate, cooperate with each other. I think the whole industry rises. I love it.

All right. Well, hey, thank you so much, Brian. You rock dude. Appreciate it.

Brian Jolin

Thanks, Marshall.

Posted 
Wed
Nov 10, 2021