Contractor’s Corner: Marketing for 2024 during the holiday season – Dec 2023

By Dave Stafford

Everyone responds to a heartfelt expression of appreciation, especially during the holiday season. Whether it’s a bottle of fine whiskey or something as simple as a brief note or box of candy, don’t overlook the opportunity for sales promotion in December and for the extra sales that may result.

Planning your holiday gifts and promotion should start earlier in the year, perhaps prior to Thanksgiving. This is a great prelude to your personnel getting ready to forecast their sales for the new year. Host a sales meeting with the theme of “Forecasting for 2024” and lay down guidelines for how to estimate sales: look at this year’s sales, top clients, ongoing projects that will carry over and those being planned. Where will the business come from, and how will your staff go about getting it? This leads into sales promotion, including for the holiday season.

Discuss the theme of giving gifts as recognition of a client’s purchased business and their potential for new business. Have each salesperson identify their top ten clients in volume and profit. Throw out some ideas about gifts for each decision maker, as well as tier levels: corporate, facility or project managers, field supervisors and purchasing agents. There will always be some special situations for those who have been particularly helpful, but what you’re after is a general theme that will be accepted by the receivers, lands within a budget and is relatively easy to procure while maintaining a quality consistent with your company’s image.

Consumable items-candy, cookies or a bottle of alcohol, for example-are always a big win. Some companies frown on or outright prohibit gifts or set cash value limits on what employees can accept. For you to choose, you must know what is appropriate for your client and their volume of business with you, along with that potential for 2024. Your goal is to have several tiers of value for the item(s) you may be gifting; this will force sales personnel to look at their client list and help their manager budget for the holiday promotion.

For the bigger commercial client who likes bourbon, Scotch or wine, pick something that is rare, high quality or a limited edition. Taking the time to select something s/he will drink will add to its impact as a gift. If you don’t know, ask his or her assistant. (If s/he is a teetotaler, substitute food.) I’m not suggesting a $300 bottle, but perhaps a nice decanter for $125 to $150 or a second-tier gift of a $50 to $75 bottle. A brief note written and signed by you thanking them for their patronage and included in a nice bag or box is excellent.

Something that can be placed in a briefcase out of sight would be best. I’ve had clients tell me they are prohibited from accepting anything, but when I appeared holding a bottle with a bow on top, you’d be surprised how quickly it disappeared into their desk drawer! I even had one client suggest I meet him in the parking lot.

Purchasing agents can be tricky; while they generate/fill the physical orders, it’s others who make the ultimate determination. A small box of candy or a large fruit basket “for the office” will usually be accepted. What you’re after is an acknowledgment of their help that made your year more successful. “Fred, I really appreciate those orders during the year. Thank you.”

I have always been reluctant to get too carried away with the dollar value of gifts and more concerned with what it says, a tangible “thanks for your business.” And that is why I’ve often used candy. But don’t cheap out on the quality of what you give, such as a readily available box of candy. That says something about you. Give them something they would not ordinarily buy for themselves, if you can. That in and of itself will make it special.

One year, we used boxes of Godiva chocolate in various sizes; another year, it was a coffee cup with the company name and logo filled with specialty treats accompanied by large platters of chocolate goodies for the office. With large boxes or platters, we tried to arrange it so there was something for everyone. With smaller items, it was possible to recognize that field inspector or coordinator who made our lives easier. Another year, we decided on a special invitation to a holiday party for all clients, featuring plenty of food and drink.

Insist that each salesperson submit a written list of items needed instead of “just put me down for 15 items.” Perhaps set a budget and have them purchase and submit a receipt. The same for unusual items like tickets to a sporting event, concert or show. There is a wide variety of choices. Each, if given with style, will be long remembered by the client.

Leaving a lasting impression for follow-up opportunities in 2024 is your goal with holiday gift-giving. “Fred, I hope you enjoy this bottle of Scotch and the holidays. How are we looking for next year?”

There is no better time to review outstanding proposals than now. “Jack, in reviewing your file, I noticed we had given you a quote on some repair work in that old warehouse. How about placing the order now? What can I do to get your order today?” Unless their fiscal year differs from the calendar year, it is natural for most clients to want to wrap up projects and purchases by the end of December. Are you going to get that job? Are you still under consideration? Did they receive funding to make the project work? Maybe Jack is being coy and stringing you along or maybe he needs a push. More proposals are lost through neglect or lack of follow-up than for any other reason. You might as well find out now if you have a chance.

Specials, discounts, offers and proposals may also be presented during the visit with your client. “Any order for products and service placed during December will receive an extra 7% discount,” or, “All orders for carpet from this collection will earn a 12% rebate.”

This is also a great time to introduce some new products, a product line or service that would have special appeal to the client. “Jason, I recall you were looking for a carpet tile with a broad color palette that wouldn’t break your budget. Here is a brand-new introduction that will be available in February 2024. For the new area, perhaps you would consider polished concrete; we now offer that service as well as specialty poured flooring.”

Even collections of outstanding accounts receivable may be enhanced with, “Hey, Stuart, I appreciated your business this year, and here’s a little something to sweeten you up (presenting a box or tray of candy). I’m hoping I can pick up a check for your outstanding balance on Friday. Is that possible?”

With some clients, you must have an appointment; with others, just drop in on them. “I have a little something for Eric…can you get me in for just a few minutes?” (Here is a chance to use a small box of candy for his assistant.) Be brief, tell Eric how much you appreciate his business over the past year or the opportunities he’s given you to get his business. Hand him the bottle, saying, “Eric, here’s a little something special to help you relax over the holidays. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to working with you next year.”

If the appointment has been appropriate for a presentation of a new product line or service, you might delay to the end and say, “Jim, I think we’d agree that these items could fit into your projects for the new year. Some say that chocolate improves the memory, so here’s a box of finest caramels and truffles to help you remember to put me on your bid list (said with a smile).”

Despite my best efforts, I had failed to get a single order from Mr. Hanson, the facility manager of a large firm. I had tried everything including new products, special promotions and services, all to no avail. However, he had remarked that he liked Tennessee whiskey, especially Jack Daniels. “Mr. Hanson, I wish we had been able to do some business this year, because we do have a terrific line of products. Here’s something to make the holidays a little better.” I placed a bottle of Jack Daniels with bow attached under his desk, and the stern Mr. Hanson gave me a big smile. “You know, Dave, that reminds me, I do need to get the Hastings project going. Can you deliver by mid-January?”

Get to know your client’s interests and attitudes. That will open the door for a special item or gift that will pay dividends out of all proportion to the cost of the gift. As Ben, my mentor from years ago, said, “Look for his personal, private motivations and play to that.” Whatever you decide, do it with style and feeling that will reflect credit upon you and your company. Make the receiver feel important and happy that you have been so thoughtful.

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