Go Forth and Forge Clientele

Go Forth and Forge Clientele

Promotional-products expert Don Sanders joins us this month and going forward with insightful commentary designed to help apparel decorators bridge the gap between merely embellishing garments and selling promotional apparel.

Some salespeople call prospects out of the blue in the hopes of making a pitch. A large number attempt to sell just on price, while others work tirelessly at networking events in their quest for new customers. But the most effective way to find prospects is by being exposed to the largest number of contacts in the shortest amount of time. The success of your efforts will be realized when you perfect a plan that works for you. 

The one that works for our business is threefold: we find fresh business by attending networking events twice a week, by always having an effective mailing program and by contacting our current customers on a frequent basis. We know that if we do these things consistently, we will not only find a sufficient number of new customers but also generate referrals from our current clients, the regular flow of which is an integral part of our business-building plan.

Networkin‘ it

In order to have a good number of networking opportunities on your plate, it’s advantageous to maintain memberships in at least two active chambers of commerce and work on committees at each one. These commitments enable contact with plenty of potential customers on a regular basis. 

A significant benefit that local chambers offer their members is the chance to attend several networking events put on each month. Known as mixers, speed business builders or leads groups, these functions are great places to meet new prospects on an on-going basis.

Working them effectively will result in a good number of excellent prospects. The key to finding good prospects at these events is to spend time visiting with potential buyers and not continual talkers. It is important to understand that some inpiduals only attend these events to improve their social life instead of trying to increase their business.

When you turn out for such functions, always meet as many people as possible and ask each what they do for a living. If they appear to be viable prospects, ask pertinent questions about how you might help them with marketing efforts. If they are not someone who can offer you new business, politely excuse yourself and move on. Upon returning to the office, examine the list of new contacts and develop a schedule that will allow you to visit each one within the next few days. It is imperative to get back to them in a maximum of two to three days or they will go cold and there will be no point in further pursuit.

Each time you visit a prospect, approach them in a casual manner and let them know that you were in their area and wanted to follow up on the initial conversation you shared with them. If they are not available on your visit, leave your card and a note and then follow up by phone or email the next day. Repeat this process after every networking event to generate a steady stream of new prospects. 

Stamped with success 

The use of effective mailing programs is the way to get prospects to knock on your door. To make this happen, we currently mail magna-peel cards that display our marketing message and photos, and include an attached magnet that is imprinted with our company information. The supplier we use for this program bulk mails the cards on our behalf to select lists comprised of companies in the area with which we would like to do business. For reference, on our first magna-peel card mailing, we picked up nine new accounts, five of which have since reordered, and we received two referrals from the original nine new customers. 

In other successful mailers we have used to increase our client base, we offered gifts in exchange for the return of an attached reply card. We use this bounce-back style marketing with our prospect lists and, on four occasions, have experienced a 6–8 percent return rate. Over the years, we have used several different versions of these cards, offering quality pens, tins filled with popcorn, American flag caps and clocks.

Dialing for dedication

The $64,000 question that almost every distributor seeks to answer is who they should be calling on. PPDs new and established alike want to know what really constitutes a viable prospect. The best answer is that you should be calling on companies and inpiduals who meet the standards you have set for your operation. In our situation, those parameters are simple: We will do business with anyone who pays us on time and gives us repeat orders. 

Some distributors choose to refine their prospecting by limiting their calling patterns to certain industries such as healthcare, automotive or financial. But we choose to leave those restrictions to them. We think the easiest way to create new business is by calling on wide ranges of prospects. 

We do, however, adhere to one stringent rule: We do not do business with companies that expect higher returns from us than the profits they allow us to make from them. At the absolute top of that list are people who are always looking for bids or shopping our ideas to other distributors. An example of how we avoid bid-lookers can be demonstrated in our response to someone who calls and says they want a bid on a specific item. Since they already know the product information, we know they are shopping their current vendor. We respond by saying that we are happy to provide them with a price, but let them know that providing cheaper prices is not our forte; providing great service and creative ideas is our specialty. 

The best policy to determine who to call on is to focus efforts on those especially successful markets even given the economic downturn. A few industries doing well now are funeral homes, pawn shops and used car dealers. Funeral homes are a no-brainer because their services are always necessary, while pawn shops and used car dealers flourish in tough economic climates. 

Ultimately, the best answer to the question of who to call on is to search for buyers who offer the opportunity to earn good margins, no matter the business field.

60/20/20 blend

If prospecting efforts are effective, you should generate approximately 60 percent of business from existing clients, 20 percent from new clients and 20 percent from referrals. This mix will enable you to stay both active and profitable. 

Our most effective program that generates new business comes from our ability to create two to three weekly referrals through our reputation. By treating our clients with respect and providing them with great service, we motivate them to pass our name to others they know who are looking for our services.

The business of building a client-base is only made possible by making your business visible on several fronts. By taking these steps, you will be able to create an effective list of clients that will serve you well.