Successful promotions are not just for customers: Contractor's Corner - Dec 2016

By Dave Stafford

Sales promotion is often thought of as a campaign to potential clients, and while it is vital to business success, even more important is a well thought out internal promotion to one’s own sales personnel. Almost nothing just “sells itself” and the same can be said for a terrific product and service lineup.

The Monday morning sales meeting may be more about what management wants than the “what’s in it for me” that a salesperson wants to hear. Ears perk up when cash bonuses, awards, travel credits or sales contests are announced. You may have a great new line-up of services to offer, but unless and until a selfish profit motive is shown to the sales staff, it may not resonate. 

Make sure you get the details right when putting together a promotion contest: basic rules, easy to understand, no fine print, multiple winners, awards for outstanding performance, short contest duration, prompt recognition of the winners and payment of bonuses. Enthusiasm about receiving a cash award is blunted when told you’ll get a check on Friday. The astute manager knows how to organize the award properly without getting tied up in an accounting quagmire. 

Take a tip from me and learn from my mistakes. Make sure there are multiple winners rather than a winner-takes-all approach. There can be a grand prize, but there should also be secondary winners. And for goodness sakes, be transparent in judging the contest. Don’t leave yourself open to a charge of favoritism.

ORGANIZING THE PROMOTION
Hand in hand with an internal campaign to the sales staff is an external campaign. When the product line is extensive and specialized installation is required, ensure that training with sales personnel is completed prior to rolling out the promotion. Nothing is worse than spending advertising dollars only to have front line personnel blow opportunities by their inability to answer questions or stumbling through convoluted answers. Set up a sales meeting and require attendance; have a mill rep come in to thoroughly explain the products, followed by a question and answer period. 

When special installation conditions are crucial to new product performance, have a mill’s technical expert come in to demonstrate how installation should be done. Before orders come in for installation, schedule a hands-on training session for the installation crews. This means not only talking through how to do the installation but also requiring team members to actually handle the product, adhesives and accessory items. 

There are always quirks with new products; it’s best to get questions answered in person from a tech rep rather than have to do it over the phone with an anxious installer who’s having a problem. Years ago, a product was furnished with a pressure sensitive adhesive backing to which a protective plastic film had been adhered. One untrained installer proceeded to apply adhesive to the floor and then wondered why the product wasn’t sticking! 

A great way to showcase a new line is to coordinate online and print offers. Avoid confusing and contradictory terms and dispense with the fine print, which really makes clients angry. I remember once hearing about a great promotion for tools, and when I rushed into the store to make a buy, I was told it expired the previous day at midnight—I would have had to have a magnifying glass to read that at the bottom of the coupon! Contrast that with a mailer that offered $50 off to previous clients that began two days after I had made a purchase. I took the mailer in anyway, and they honored it. Be liberal rather than restrictive in interpretation because you will make friends and sales rather than enemies.

PLANNING THE EVENT
Staging your own promotional event can be as simple as showcasing a new product, a complete lineup or a product and installation demonstration at your own company location or at a hotel ballroom or other venue. It can be either complex or relatively simple to do depending upon the size of the event and number of people expected to attend. I would suggest making your mistakes (and there will be a number of them) with a smaller event rather than a devastating screw-up with a large, expensive, reputation-destroying offering that will follow you for years.

Examples of some real duds come to mind: a highly promoted “private sale” where there were not nearly enough personnel on hand to handle foot traffic, along with limited parking spaces that caused frustration and a traffic jam for all; a small lunchtime promotion aimed at the designer trade where the catered food arrived 45 minutes late; a glitch with computer software that completely derailed an extensive PowerPoint presentation and illustrated that the speaker had not prepared his remarks—a red face for all. 

Whenever you are considering an event, you first need to decide, “Am I promoting a particular product and service line specifically, or am I trying to enhance my company’s value and credibility within the regional marketplace?” 

If the former, how widespread is the appeal for the product line up? Is the promotion to the ultimate user, the facility manager or to designers and architects? It is a big mistake to try to gear your promotion to both simultaneously; each has a different perspective best illustrated by the response to a flawed presentation: “Yes, I understand that you can clean up mustard, ketchup and a lot of dirt out of the product, and there are no stains. However, the entire product line is ugly and doesn’t have any visual appeal. It’s as if someone decided they wanted a ‘fuzzy sheet vinyl.’” Of course, that was the designer. However, the facility engineer said, “Looks like a bulletproof product to me. Doesn’t have much style to it, no weird colors, soft to the touch, great slip resistance, cleanable and would last for the projected six years my budget dictates. A real winner.” 

The presentation doesn’t have to be overly complex, just specific to your target. Although a product’s appeal may be powerful, make sure there is enough breadth to the offering. Variety within a commercial resilient offering, like cork, LVT, linoleum, rubber and vinyl, can be an effective combination. Something for every need and price range is powerful. Presentation of an extensive carpet selection, from base-grade tufted level loop to wool Axminsters, can be a real draw for designers or users. “Carpet, from the lobby to the boardroom” might be a terrific draw for designers.

In planning a networking event, there is also the issue of budgeting time, money and resources. Which specific employees will be participating in the event, what training will ensue, and who will be the hands-on manager? There are 101 details to be coordinated and verified for success. 

Then there’s the issue of how much money will have to be spent for invitations, promotional items, food and beverages, and site prep or venue set up. What is the extent of resources to be committed? Deliveries of product and setup must be done, and perhaps some installation by a skilled technician, along with staging of equipment, products, audio or video, and backup plans for snafus that most certainly will occur. And because of the complexities involved, actual costs extend well beyond those direct costs. Indirect costs include personnel salaries, disruption of duties of sales or marketing personnel, and the overall burden on the entire company during the promotion and execution of the event. And don’t forget the real damage to the company if one’s reputation is tarnished by an ill conceived and poorly executed event. 

A networking event is about selling the company for the future, so soft-spoken, friendly, well prepared and appropriately dressed employees are a must. Few immediate sales are made, and what you’re looking for are valuable contacts. An important part of any event is a plan to capture contact information, especially phone and email addresses for attendees. An email or written request for evaluation should always be done. A programmed series of contacts over the several weeks or months following the event is critical. 

Personal contact is preferred, when possible. Your first talking point may be to thank them for their attendance and offer to answer any specific questions about products that were featured. A one-on-one conversation may uncover some additional opportunities. “Jack, you mentioned that a project might be coming up on the Western View property. Any update on that?” Or, “In your feedback on our event, you said we could have done a better job on ‘green product’ availability. Is there a specific group of items that are of interest to you? Are there any specific questions I might be able to answer?”

TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE NETWORKING
Using the Internet is vital to effective sales promotion and networking. So, where do you start? You need to have your own interactive website. Having been through the agonizing process of planning for a website a couple of times, my suggestion is to interview several website development professionals. It’s a bonus if they are experienced in the flooring industry; if so, there will be a reduction in their learning curve and avoidance of stupid mistakes. 

A key step is to get references and look at what they have delivered to others. Is the website interactive and user friendly, allowing communication to flow both ways with a minimum of fuss? Or is it appealing at first glance but difficult to navigate? Yes, the website needs to be visually appealing with good color balance and easy-to-understand directions for navigation. However, it also needs to do something to entice the visitor to bookmark the site and leave their contact information. Perhaps offer a free white paper such as “The Seven Deadly Mistakes in Buying Carpet” (an idea from me, not an actual paper). To receive it, you have to indicate your name, address, email address or phone number. 

What better way to advertise your newest product promotion, service capability or networking event than via your website? As your website developer will tell you, rolling out the website is just the beginning. They should offer you follow-up service and technical advice about how to get email contact information through product promos, giveaways or registration for events. When you buy just about anything at the retail level, whether tires, makeup, or clothing, you’re asked for your name, telephone number, and email address. A refusal should be met with, “We want to send you some coupons for future discounts.” I seem to get something from Harbor Freight every other day by email and weekly in the mailbox offering 20% to 25% discounts.

We often hear that Amazon’s business is booming while stores are closing in the local malls. People are shopping online because it’s easier, faster and cheaper. Even if they go to the mall or the local store, you can bet they’ve done their research online. When I had to buy some tires recently, I did my research online, got prices from four sources and, armed with that info, went to a local dealer with an unimpressive building and microscopic waiting room. Without much prompting, he beat the online prices by several dollars a tire. While waiting for tires to be installed, I found out that the owner had decided to eschew paying big bucks for a building and the retail side of the business and opted for commercial business, including government contracts, most of which is done via the Internet. It turns out that this “hole-in-the-wall” company is one of the top five big volume dealers in the eastern U.S. His business plan is certainly working.

Sales promotion should start with your own personnel. Then plan an external sales campaign, and coordinate advertising and print media with online offerings. Use the Internet and your own effective website for promotion and communication. A well-focused networking event may be large and ambitious or smaller in scope. Do something that will put your company in the regional or national spotlight, maybe even a trade show. You are making an investment for future business. 

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus