Years ago as an apprentice salesman, my supervisor handed me a telephone directory. I looked at the thick book and asked why he had given it to me.
“It’s your prospect list,” he said. “These are cold prospects. Call them, warm them up, and bring them in!”
Though it wasn’t quite that easy, it was a rough lesson to learn, and it worked: Every living, breathing soul on the planet is either a prospect or knows a prospect. It doesn’t matter whether you’re renting hotel rooms, printing newspapers, selling cars or brewing beer – everyone’s a prospect or a conduit to a prospect. The trick is to warm them sufficiently that they’ll allow you to learn which they are – prospect or referrer.
Every business needs to have some sort of prospecting program in place. Even well-known and respected companies cannot afford to just open their doors and wait for people to walk in, credit card in hand. Each one has one or more prospecting schemes in place, from advertising and PR to direct mail, phone sales, online marketing, or door-to-door solicitations.
There are countless ways to entice customers through your doors, and most of them work to some degree. None, however, seem to have the impact of offering a personal experience with the product. Personal exposure builds affinity like nothing else.
As a child, I remember school trips to a nearby paper mill and to the local daily newspaper. Not only did these trips build my familiarity with the brands, I became fascinated with the processes involved in creating the products. During my life, I’ve toured dairies, stadiums, cement plants, airline maintenance facilities, ships and shipyards, wineries, breweries, sewage treatment plants, government offices, federal and state prisons and other assorted locales. I learned something from each stop and (with the exception of the jails) I’ve tended to favor the brands, products and services I’ve experienced firsthand over competitors with which I haven’t had personal exposure.
Every business should offer ‘backstage’ tours in an effort to expose prospects to their product. These tours can be conducted in person or using live streaming video through social media apps like Twitter’s Periscope or Meerkat. Live streaming also eliminates two of the biggest objections to conducting live tours – insurance and security. With a live video stream, guests see what you want them to see and nobody strays into off-limits areas, touches dangerous machinery, or accidentally falls into a vat of product!
Convincing colleagues to offer an inside look at your operation can be challenging. Working in a place can tend to make employees blasé. Over time, the wonder of even the most interesting place is bound to wear off.
“Why in the world would anyone want to tour this place?” you may hear. Think of the things that while run-of-the-mill to you would provide ‘gee whiz’ moments to visitors, from the huge commercial laundry operation and the kitchen that can produce meals for hundreds to the groundskeepers who maintain lawns, gardens and shrubbery. Then think of the different groups you could invite for tours: school groups, clubs and organizations or vocational education classes. Don’t forget neighbors – the people from nearby businesses who only suspect they know what goes on behind your lobby doors.
A local fast-food restaurant even advertised an ‘open house’ day and offered tours every 30 minutes to anyone who was game (You’d be surprised how high-tech flipping burgers has become!).
What would you show off to an enquiring public? Department heads are often good resources as you build a tour, as each knows what people find interesting about their part of the business, just as each may have ideas about other areas as well.
Exposure is a great way to build the affinity and sense of belonging that we want to inculcate in prospects or brand ambassadors. Seeing really is believing, and believers are the best advocates your business will ever know.
Who to invite to your first tour? Well, there’s always that phone directory!
Scott H. Lewis is managing director for the CIS region of Signature Europe. A former journalist and public relations counselor, he has provided crisis, public speaking and presentation training to senior executives across Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.