Customer Relationships are Key to Sales Success

Getting your product into a store or restaurant is exciting, but once you’re on the shelves, how do you make sure that you’re there to stay?

Here are some tips from a recent panel that Good Egg Marketing moderated at the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBN) Local Food Trade Show in Boston, Mass. While this article focuses on farms and specialty food businesses, the principles about how to keep customers happy apply to most businesses and organizations.

Getting In

Despite intense consumer interest in buying local, getting your local food products into specialty food stores, restaurants, and institutions is challenging. Stores like Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Mass. get hundreds of requests a week to carry products.

Find a Niche

Finding a distinctive niche to fill is just as important for stores and restaurants as it is for the businesses that sell to them.

There are gazillion salsas, Nola's Salsa Logocookies, and ice creams already on the market, yet new products get on the shelves every day. How?

When New Orleans native Sherie Grillon moved up to Boston, she noticed that no one was making a fresh traditional Mexican style salsa fresca, so she started Nola’s Fresh Foods in 2011 to fill that niche. Being able to differentiate her product from other local salsas helped her get into specialty food stores and restaurants and she’s now selling to Whole Foods and Star Markets.

River Valley Coop  in Northampton, Mass. faces heavy competition from supermarkets and Whole Foods Markets carrying organic and natural products, so they’re focused on being “hyperlocal.”
river valley co-op logo
River Valley Produce Manager Henry Kryeski embodies the store’s slogan, “Wild about Local.”

Kryeski goes out of his way to work with as many farmers as he can, but with so many western Mass. farmers growing “so many great things,” he can’t buy kale from everyone.

“That’s where the word niche comes into play,” Kryeski says. He gets the best quality and avoids overlap among the 200+ items he carries from more than 30 local farmers by taking the time to figure out which farmer is best at growing the products he wants to buy.

Kryeski meets with farmers off-season to discuss what they’ll grow for River Valley the next year, so everyone can plan ahead.
Cambridge Naturals Logo
Cambridge Naturals has also been adept at finding a niche. They started out as a full-scale natural foods store in 1974, when the natural foods movement was just getting going, but by the mid-1990s, the industry had become extremely competitive.

In order to survive, Cambridge Naturals rebranded themselves as a natural health store with a carefully curated selection of groceries. Their commitment to sourcing local, organic and ethical products, supporting the community, and providing excellent customer support has enabled them to thrive in the niche they carved out for themselves.

Look for the Right Venues

The best places to sell your produce and products are where the owners, buyers, and customers care about supporting local farmers and food producers, not necessarily the places with highest annual sales volume. Stores like Cambridge Naturals pride themselves on being the first to bring in a new product, so they’ll go out of their way to support small, independent local businesses.

“We go after exciting unique products with a good story to tell,” says Cambridge Naturals’ second-generation co-owner, Emily Kanter. “We’re often the first stop for a lot of brands that haven’t been elsewhere yet. We like to have products that aren’t in every store. “

Nola’s built its salsa business by establishing relationships with supportive stores. “We can sell four times as much at a small owner-operated local store than at the big natural foods supermarkets, because the customers know and trust the staff,” says Grillon.

CISA logoCommunity Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in South Deerfield, Mass. was the first “Buy Local” organization in the country. CISA’s Local Hero Program Manager, Devon Whitney-Deal, works with over 425 farmers, retailers, specialty food producers, institutions and others who sell and support local food. She helps their members find the right venues to sell their products.

“Be creative when you’re looking for buyers,” advises Whitney-Deal. For example, if you want to sell to institutions, don’t just approach your local schools, colleges and hospitals. Some local food producers in western Mass. sell to assisted living communities, because “their residents are demanding local food,” she says. Wherever there are eaters, there are potential customers.

Be Persistent

Creating and maintaining strong relationships with the owners, buyers, and customers is essential to getting in and staying in. Most buyers are sympathetic to new entrepreneurs, but they can be hard to get reach, because they spend so much time out on the floor, receiving shipments, going to trade shows, visiting farms, or talking to other entrepreneurs. And if you’re out in the fields, meeting with suppliers, doing demos, or selling at markets, you may also be hard to reach if they do call back.

Figuring out how to get in touch with buyers–either when you’re making the initial sale or after you’re in–can be tricky. Some buyers prefer that the initial contact be made online or by email, others by phone, others by dropping by. While some venues provide information on their websites about how they want to be approached, in most cases, you often have to try a variety of methods to get a response.

The right frequency for contact will depend on each particular buyer and your product. Some buyers want to be communicated with weekly or biweekly, others monthly, others every six months. Ask them how often you should contact them and the best times to reach them.

Kryeski recommends that you check in on your product and stay in touch with the buyers. “Consistency is key,” he says. “Ask the buyer how often you should call and then call regularly, whether it’s every Tuesday or whatever schedule you work out.”

Personal contact can make the difference. “I worked with one farmer who was having trouble selling her lamb,” Whitney-Deal recalls. “I suggested she go out to dinner and bring along a little cooler with a lamb step or lamb ribs to give to the chef to ask them to taste it. She did it, and sure enough, that chef called her back” and eventually became a customer.

Be Ready to Sell

In addition to having a quality product that’s ready to sell, you need to have your samples, sell sheets, price lists, and business systems ready.

“The days of writing invoices on paper are over,” notes Whitney-Deal. “You need to have computerized invoicing,” she says.

Kanter suggests that companies invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, so they can track sales calls to current and potential customers. In addition, scheduling software can remind you when to make sales and follow-up calls.

In addition, almost every store is going to want you to do demos to introduce your product to their customers, so you need to make sure you have time set aside to demo and support each new store. “When Nola’s gets picked up in a new store, we do a demo in that store once a week for 6-8 weeks, so we can get people to taste our product,” Grillon says. “If you want to become one of the products that they’ll buy every time, you’ve got to talk to everybody and build a connection, so when they see your product they think of you.”

Staying In

You can’t assume that, once your products are being carried, you’re all set.  “Getting into stores tends to be the easier part,” says Grillon. “Staying in stores is harder.”

Visit stores and meet with buyers regularly to make sure that your products are stored and displayed correctly; that the owner, buyer, and staff know you and can share your story; and that you’re checking in to see what that store needs.

When she started out, Grillon did three demos a day. She’s adamant about hiring the right people to do demos. “The demo person is the face of your company. Don’t settle for somebody who isn’t going to promote your company the way you would,” Grillon says. “Tell them to talk to every customer that walks by, even if you’re just saying hi.”

In addition, you have to stay loyal to your initial customers. “Some of the specialty food producers do a lot of demo support right off the bat, but then they get into a bunch more stores and we never hear from them again,” Kanter says.

Although Kanter understands that businesses need to give extra attention to their newest accounts, she urges businesses to stay in touch. “Check in regularly to ask how things are going, what can I do, do you want any more demos, can I send you some free samples,” she advises. “We’ll keep selling the product as long as it’s relevant and our customers want it, but we’ve had to say goodbye to several local products that we loved because they over-committed and we couldn’t get their stuff.”

How to Use the Power of Symbols

Kate McKinnon wearing pink pussyhat in SNL skit
Kate McKinnon plays a Russian woman surreptitiously donning a pink pussyhat as “Vladamir Putin” brags about the happy population in this Saturday Night Live skit that aired on the night of the Women’s March.

Who would have thought that a pink hat could become a symbol of resistance?

Symbols are one of the most effective ways that you can build your brand, convey a concept, or launch a campaign.

A symbol can be a visual image, gesture, object, or idea that represents something other than itself. Merriam Webster describes a symbol as a “visible sign of something invisible.”

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What is Nonprofit Marketing?

Good Egg Marketing- How to Market NonprofitNonprofit marketing is the process of motivating people to do or believe something, such as donate time or money, make a purchase, change a behavior or belief, take an action, or become more aware of an organization or issue.

Like for-profit businesses, most non-profit marketers seek to increase awareness and perception of their organization or cause, persuade people to believe or do something, and use their resources effectively.

While not all of the tactics that companies use to market themselves will work for nonprofits, the main principles of marketing apply to both sectors. Here are the top three marketing components that every organization should use.

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3 Tips to Increase Sales for the Holidays (and Beyond)

Facebook post example by Myrna GreenfieldMany businesses, especially brick-and-mortar stores, do 25-30% of their business in the final two months of the year, then go through a serious sales slump in January and February. But if you stay focused on your customers’ needs, you can use the holidays to build a loyal customer base that supports you all year-round.

Here are three “Don’ts” to help you increase sales during the holidays–and beyond.

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Harness the Power of LinkedIn: Simple Tips to Get More from Your Profile

Power of Linkedin

“I don’t know what to do with LinkedIn,” my clients and colleagues say when I suggest it. Although LinkedIn’s always been a useful way for me to keep up with and expand my network, I admit that up until now, it hasn’t offered much to users who aren’t actively job hunting, recruiting, or seeking new clients.

LinkedIn is about to launch a promising redesign, however, with an improved news feed and some snazzy messaging and meeting scheduling capabilities. With over 130+ million users in the United States (and at least 25 percent of them logging in regularly), LinkedIn deserves to be part of your marketing toolkit.

Here are my suggestions about what to do with LinkedIn.

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How to Increase Your Email Open Rates

Illustration of declining email open ratesEmail is still the most trusted, popular and effective marketing tool available: that’s why our inboxes are stuffed with it. So what’s a good open rate for your marketing emails? Overall, average open rates hover around 21%, but open rates range from 11-27%, depending on the industry, Constant Contact reports.

The only statistics that matter are your own: Is the percentage of people who open your emails increasing or declining? Here are some tips to help you improve your open rates.

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Lazy Guide to Marketing Resources

Person in hammockHaving trouble keeping up with all the
latest marketing tools (or even getting started)? Fortunately, there are lots of places—most of them free–to find great articles, videos, and resources to help you up your marketing game. So if, like me, you’d rather spend your vacation time gardening than sitting at your computer, here’s my lazy guide to marketing resources.

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Using Focus Groups to Avoid Mistakes

Illustration of a focus groupIn 2015, Bud Light printed beer cans with the slogan, “The perfect beer for removing ’no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The marketers who came up with the phrase probably intended to create a fun, lighthearted message, but after protesters pointed out it looked like the company was condoning rape, drunk driving, and other unacceptable behavior, Budweiser quickly apologized and withdrew the cans.

If only they’d run the slogan past a focus group, they could have spared their reputation—and their budget. Chances are that someone in the focus group would have pointed out that the slogan was offensive and Budweiser wouldn’t have printed the cans.

Want to know what people really think about your idea before you launch it? Run it past a focus group first.

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How to Use Online Directories to Drive Website Traffic

cover photo listings articleOne of the easiest ways to drive traffic to your website is to get your business or nonprofit listed on web-based directories and listings services. There are thousands of online directories out there. The most important ones are published by search engine companies and social media sites, but pay attention to the local and industry-specific directories too. In most cases, the only thing it will cost is a little of your time.

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Should You Should Advertise on Facebook?

facebook logo-01It use to be easy to answer the question, “Should I advertise my business on Facebook?” When Business/Organization Pages started in 2007, promoting your business or organization was free and easy. Anything you posted had a good chance in showing up on the news feeds of your fans and followers. Today, the likelihood that your post will show up in a Fan’s feed (your organic, or unpaid, “reach”) is pretty small, unless you advertise.

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