Over the many years that I have been writing sales and marketing articles, as well as training sales personnel for OCS, vending and water service companies, I have found that one area of marketing in which most companies are very weak is having a portfolio of endorsements or recommendation letters from their customers. These reinforcements of credibility from satisfied customers can be important in making a sale.
Imagine that you are going to present to a potential customer and waiting in the reception room is one of your competitors who also has an appointment, right after you finish your presentation. You know that one of you will most likely land this account.
As you approach the end of your presentation, you take out a binder full of letters that your customers have sent to you over the years. You look at the purchasing agent and say, "Mike, here are over 50 letters of recommendation from our satisfied clients and, since you are an accounting firm, I want to show you two letters from other accounting firms that we serve. You can see here that we serviced one of the firm's coffee brewers after hours, since they were working late during tax season. This is how we run our company -- so that you can run yours."
So, how do you build a nice portfolio of referral letters? Announce to your sales team that the company is having a contest. They are to go out and get letters of recommendation from their customers. The salespeople must get a minimum of four letters within the month, and the winner will be the one who gets the most, above that minimum of four.
Have your salespeople speak to their largest branded customers first. Keep in mind that branded or otherwise known companies in your marketing territory will build stronger credibility for the salespeople and your company. The question for your sales representative to ask is, "Are you happy with our service?" If the answer is yes, then they proceed to ask if the client is willing to write a letter of recommendation about them (salesman/woman) and their company.
Another technique to get sales letters from your salespeople is to form teams and have each team compete against the others. If one team member is weak in getting letters, the others will push him/her to go out and get them. Every team member must have at least four letters for the whole team to qualify for the contest.
During the next sales meeting, all the letters will be read by each sales team member. Prizes are awarded to the individual who scores the highest and to the team that produces the most letters. Prizes can be money, time off, sales trophies or branded merchandise. Along with the reward, a letter of achievement and the letters written by the salesperson's happy customers are posted in the breakroom for all the other employees to see.
When designing a program to get referral letters from satisfied clients, don't stop with your field sales staff. Have your telephone customer service personnel, route drivers, equipment techs and any other departments that have contact with your customer base also solicit letters of recommendation.
Share all your letters and emails with all of the salespeople. Create a comprehensive company book of endorsements and referral letters.
Here are a few suggestions when a customer asks you, "What should I write?" Ask them:
• What do you like about our company and products?
• Is there something special our company did for you? (And remind the contact of what you have done.)
• Is there something special that one of our salespeople and/or service personnel did for your company?
You may find that your customer is very busy, but willing to say something good about you and your company. Suggest that you write the letter and they will recopy it and sign the letter. All you need is a few compliments about your company from them. Don't be surprised if your contact gives you a blank sheet with the company's letterhead and says, "write what you want, and I will sign it."
I have always believed that if someone does something nice for you, you can reciprocate in some way. When you get a nice letter recommending you and your company, send a small thank-you gift to the writer. Sending a box of hot cocoa, gourmet teas, specialty coffee or something else that your customer would appreciate will go a long way toward enhancing goodwill.
If you have a close relationship with a client, ask them if it would be OK to have a potential customer call them to get a direct personal endorsement.
To summarize the above: try to have an alphabetically listed array of businesses in your portfolio, starting with accounting firms, brokers, counseling centers and so on. Let the decision-maker hold and leaf through your book of endorsements. Point out similar businesses to the buyer's, and try to show a few branded companies that you and your company service.
Credibility is essential when selling. Remember, the objective to make the sale is to overcome prospective buyers' fears when they are considering making a change. They know what they currently have; they do not know what will happen if they change. Take the fear away and you will land many new accounts.
Let me know how you have created a portfolio of referral letters from your customers. I can be reached at (516) 241-4883 or by email at OCSconsultant@aol.com.
LEN RASHKIN is a pioneer in office coffee service. He founded Coffee Sip in 1968 and after 22 years merged it with Dell Coffee, of which he became president in 1991. Sales at Dell topped $7 million dollars. Rashkin is also a founder and officer of Eastern Coffee Service Association and National Beverage Products Association. His industry honors include NCSA's (now NAMA) Silver Service Award and NBPA's Lifetime Achievement Award; he was inducted into NBPA's Hall of Fame in 1996. His marketing excellence earned him NBPA's Crystal Bean Award and three NCSA Java Awards. He is a frequent speaker at national and local trade conferences, consults on OCS sales and marketing and has is the author of two OCS training programs.