My previous three articles addressed ways to promote your products, equipment and services by engaging your customers through contests to win prizes and rewards. This one will discuss ways to persuade your customers to write letters of recommendation and give you referrals to new accounts, also by using a contest or offering rewards as the incentive.
One simple method can be used in a new account, soon after your salesperson has set it up with your refreshment service. As all the employees are happily drinking their beverages of choice, you pass out a flyer asking them to recommend another business where they have a personal contact. All they need to do is list the necessary details. Make sure you have the names of the people filling out those referrals. As an incentive, you can offer them one of several gifts listed in your flyer, if you acquire the new customer.
Many times, the referrer is the owner or manager. So in addition to personal gifts, offer something for the whole office, such as bagels with all the fixings for breakfast or a three-foot hero for lunch.
Another good opportunity for getting referrals occurs when your sales staff or customer service people visit an account. Have them ask the company contact whether the client is " happy with all of the services and products being offered?" If the answer is positive -- most of the time it will be "yes" -- simply ask for the referrals, so others can enjoy the same benefits. Again, offer incentives if you land the referral as a new account.
One of the most powerful parts of a sales presentation to a prospective new account is to show several letters of recommendation from your satisfied customers. To make more of an impact, for example, you can show a law firm several letters from other law firms in their market. This may have a huge impact on their making decisions to retain your company.
As office coffee service operators and businesspeople, we must also think about what keeps our customers staying with us and not leaving us for our competition. This can be done by answering some critical questions:
1. Are we providing the equipment, products and services they want?
2. Is our sales team giving their accounts excellent service?
3. Are telephone account reps creating good rapport with their accounts and offering additional allied products?
4. Is the office staff giving them the service they demand?
5. Are delivery route personnel and service techs courteous, helpful and on time?
Here is how I was successful at using a contest to get many of my customers to send in referrals and recommendations by incorporating the questions listed above.
The contest is rather simple, and easy to manage by using your delivery route sales drivers. Create a promotional piece asking your customers to send you an email describing what they like or love about your organization. What do they think of your equipment, products and services? Is there something they liked about the salesperson who called on them -- professional, efficient, etc.? Has their telephone representative, delivery driver or service technician done something for them that went beyond their expectations? Does your office staff give them outstanding service?
Explain in your letter that you will send a gift to them or the office just for responding with an endorsement letter. As always when soliciting referrals, explain that if you can use their name when using their letters of recommendation, or when approaching a prospect that they've suggested to you, then for each referred company that you add as a client, they will receive an additional special gift. It's your job to decide the value of these gifts.
Next, have your route sales driver deliver the letter to the client's contact person. Your telephone customer service staff must mark, as a line item on each invoice packed out for delivery, the instruction to the driver to deliver these letters. This is one way to track who received them. Also, have your drivers ask the contact person for permission to place by the "breakroom area" several additional letters that will enable the employees to participate. Create a contest with your drivers, offering the top two drivers who get the most response from their customers a gift valued at $100. This insures that they will want to help you promote this program.
Your goals are:
1. Collecting a large number of endorsements for your people and company that your salesforce can show to potential accounts. These are gold in the hands of salespeople.
2. Increasing the number of new customers without spending a large amount of money on advertising, trade shows and charity events, among other forums.
3. Finding out how your customers view your company, products, services and equipment and staff.
Goal No. 1 is the key to bringing in new customers. Remember that the most difficult challenge you have in sales is overcoming the buyer's resistance to change through fear of making a wrong decision. Showing a prospect these endorsement letters will make them feel more comfortable about making a change.
If you have any suggestions for future articles on sales, marketing and operations, please contact me at (515) 241-4883 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEN RASHKIN is a pioneer in office coffee service. He founded Coffee Sip in 1968 and later merged it with Dell Coffee, of which he became president in 1991. Sales at Dell topped $7 million. He also founded the Eastern Coffee Service Association and National Beverage & Products Association. He is a speaker at national and local trade conferences, consults on OCS sales and marketing, and is the author of two OCS training programs.