The single most important activity in any vending or OCS company is, or should be, gaining new accounts. Unless you replace the inevitable lost accounts with new ones and compensate for declining same store sales, your business will soon be in serious financial trouble.
In this industry, the selling process has painfully long selling cycles.
Selling new business is often a waiting game; the key is what you do while you’re waiting. In-person sales calls are very expensive, but face-to-face time with new prospects is the only way to sell new accounts. Other marketing activities are helpful, but face-to-face selling is always needed to sign a new customer.
In the traditional sequence of selling new accounts, there are several steps: 1) the initial contact; 2) interest in talking; 3) interest in the service; 4) presenting the proposal; 5) signing the contract. The time to complete this process is rarely under 60 days and often stretches out to six months to a year.
What if you could skip steps 1 and 2 and go directly to step 3? It’s worth thinking about when you consider that the average business-to-business field sales call costs between $300 and $400. Maybe it’s time to think about adding an activity that would allow you to be in front of a prospect without having to engage in a hit-and-miss cold call.
Business shows as sales tools
One often overlooked sales activity in vending and coffee service is exhibiting at business trade shows. Business trade shows are usually organized to represent certain industries, most of which include potential vending and coffee service customers.
I am an advocate of exhibiting at business trade shows as a way to get in front of prospective customers. Aside from cold calling, which is expensive, only trade shows can offer you a one-on-one meeting with a potential client.
Usually, attendees at business trade shows are decision makers, or influencers, who come to the show with business challenges to solve and are looking for something newer, better, faster and less costly.
The national vending and foodservice operators exhibit at business trade shows, oftentimes on a regular basis. And while the nationals have more resources than smaller companies that allow them to exhibit at these events, there is no reason that independents can’t reap the same benefits from business trade shows.
In my years managing vending and foodservice, I found business trade shows to be a helpful sales tool. As a consultant to vending, OCS and foodservice companies today, I am surprised that more of them do not participate in these shows.
A trade show can help you accomplish many things all at once. Many independent vending, foodservice and OCS providers are not well known in the markets they serve. In addition to the chance to launch products or services, at a trade show you have an unequaled opportunity to quickly raise the visibility of your company among groups of prospective customers.
Find strategic partners
You can also seek out partners and strategic alliances with other businesses at the show who market different services to the same buyers that you do: i.e., custodial services, grounds and maintenance contractors, copier sales and service suppliers. Perhaps you could share an exhibit booth with one or more outsourced services providers. Some of these shared marketing arrangements have been very successful.
As an exhibitor at one particular trade show, I got to know a fellow exhibitor who was an executive with a janitorial services company. We soon learned that while our core businesses were different, our selling process was very similar. We eventually exchanged client lists and invited each other to our various client entertainment events; sporting events and golf tournaments. We actually did gain new business from this alliance.
There are costs involved in exhibiting at a show. And if the wrong type of show is chosen, it will be a waste of time and money. If the booth is not properly presented, with the right materials and the right personnel, it will also be a waste of time and money.