The volume of promotion needed is generally proportional to the volume or value of business being sought. All it may take to sell a 50 cent ice cream cone on a hot day is one picture of a cone in the window. To sell a battleship or an airliner might take thousands of dollars and several years of hustling.
In our industry, one common target is an insurance direct repair relationship. Another might be a dealership account, or a large commercial fleet account. These accounts may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in business. Isn't it reasonable to expect that it may take quite a long and possibly expensive promotional campaign to get a contract of this size?
Surprisingly, I find many owners who think they can make a call or two, send a letter or two, fill out an application or send a proposal, and they will magically get the business. Lots of luck!
Waging a long-term campaign
Any business worth having is worth working for. The key to waging a long-term campaign is using the DRIP technique - Delivering Repetitive Information Persistently. Some have said it's like a form of Chinese Water Torture where you continue to drip water on the prisoner's forehead until he's willing to spill the beans. Actually I found out the Chinese never used this form of torture. It was invented by a torturer in 16th century Italy, so the Chinese got a bum rap.
Nevertheless, the DRIP technique is similar in that it calls for continuously "dripping" information on your prospect until he or she takes notice and begins to seriously consider your proposal. How long will it take? It all depends on how long it takes to break through your prospect's defenses. Unfortunately, the person you're "dripping" on may move on so that now you have to start all over with whoever takes his or her place. If the business to be gained is big enough, it may be worthwhile to carry on the process.
If you're determined to do it, you need to know several things:
1. Who to "drip" on?
2. What kind of information to deliver?
3. What form of communication to use?
4. Who or what will deliver the communication?
Who is your target?
It is vital to know who the decision maker is before you start "dripping" your information. It could be wasted if you reach someone too far down the ladder. Sometimes nothing short of detective work is needed to identify your target person. Other times you can place a call, ask one question, and get your answer. Today we have the internet with Yahoo and Google to help pin down key executives. To identify insurance decision makers sometimes all you need to do is ask your local adjuster.
Dealership principals are easy to identify, but you may want to target multiple decision makers in a dealership. It can be wise to include the owner, general manager and even the service manager. If you're buying parts from the dealership, you can probably obtain most of this information from the parts manager.
Corporations and commercial establishments often have "gatekeepers" to prevent solicitations from reaching the key people at the top. Getting past the "gatekeeper" may require some flattery or even a gift or two. Company drivers may also be a good source of information if you work on one or two of their vehicles.
Step number one will always call for building a dynamic database of valid individuals to target for your repetitive information onslaught.
What info to deliver?
An important piece of information to keep in mind at the start is that "most buyers of any service or product are in fear of being ripped off!" From used car salesmen to weight loss pill peddlers, people have become skeptical of sales pitches. Intelligent people know that more than half the advertisements they see or read are full of half-truths and misleading information. A key question is always "what to believe?"
If you can gradually build a base of truthful information in a person's mind, they will eventually come to believe that you can be trusted and may then begin to consider your proposal. One shop I assisted for three years built that base with a monthly newsletter that featured a different dimension of the shop each month. Information about spray booths, welding equipment, frame machines and customer service were presented in the form of photos and short stories about real customers, their vehicles and the repairs. Gradually insurance people and other prospects became convinced that this is a spectacular shop with an unusual degree of integrity, quality and customer service. The shop grew from 16,000 to 50,000 sq. ft. - filled to capacity with business.
Form of communication
Each shop is in a different situation. Some are in a position to reach a prospective audience through radio, TV or newspaper advertising. Others may have a prominent position on a major thoroughfare and may even be able to put up an electronic sign that changes a message weekly or monthly. Some may have a professional secretary or receptionist capable of writing personal letters every day. And still others may have a professional sales person on the street speaking to key people every day of the week.
Shops with these kinds of advantages are very lucky. Typically, most shops have a limited budget, a poor location, and no one to get out on the street to hustle more business. Is there something they can do to fulfill all of the requirements for a good "DRIP" campaign?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. Whether mailed or hand-carried, a newsletter - like the one mentioned above - may be the least expensive yet effective way to get the word across "repetitively" and "persistently." If you've ever called on agents or corporate executives, you know their time is usually limited and it's hard to hold their attention long enough to get a point across before the phone rings again or someone comes in with a demanding issue. A brief, printed message designed to grab their attention - that can be read in a few idle minutes that may arise during the day - can get your point across better than most attempts to communicate verbally (unless you're taking them out to an expensive lunch or dinner).
The key to an effective newsletter is to include other information of interest to the prospect besides your sales message. For example, we've developed about a dozen articles that we include on safe driving, collision prevention, child and pet safety, and other similar issues. We get good feedback that these articles are widely read and highly valued.
Who will deliver your message?
In many instances, mail is the only answer. DRP coordinators or corporate executives in far-off cities can generally only be reached by phone, fax, e-mail or mail. E-mail is only good if you know it won't be deleted as unwanted spam. Faxes are generally seen as a nuisance unless it's a one-time thing promoting a specific event. A personalized letter with an enclosed newsletter sent monthly - plus an occasional phone call - should keep the relationship alive and generate an eventual result.
Locally, agents, fleet managers, and other commercial prospects can be contacted in the flesh by a salesperson or simply a "good will ambassador" bringing around pens, pads, donuts and (hopefully) a newsletter with the real DRIP message you want delivered.
When the delivery is made by personal contact, it is vital that the person be very warm and friendly. Over time, repetitive contact, sending the ultimate in a "good will ambassador," will generate as much good feeling about your business as the targeted information in the newsletter.
Given the enormous amount of business and money at stake in promoting high-level business for your shop, you can't afford not to DRIP on the right people as long as you can to get a result. Just keep "Delivering Repetitive Information Persistently" and you'll begin to see your business increase proportionately.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.