How do you engage with your customers as a supplier? Is it worth it and do existing and prospective clients even want to hear from you? In my experience other than price one of the the most important factors that an operator chooses a supplier is that they like them! Especially in the coffee industry, which should really be called the people industry, because over and over again the main thread I hear from all industry players is the importance of people.
So here are 10 ways to engage with customers:
1. Give them a call!
In a recent survey operators complained about always getting emails from suppliers or prospective suppliers and would rather have a quick chat than have to reply to an email, or spend time wading through an email only to find it's not relevant to them. Hearing a voice at the other end of a phone is far more friendly and often a quicker way to establish a connection or to determine that the contact is not relevant. The backlash against technology means that simply picking up the phone and asking whether someone wants information sent to them is much more likely to get a positive reponse than simply emailing (plus less likelyhood of spam filtering!)
2. Attend an event
Attending the many industry events is one of the best ways to connect with your customers also attending and make potential new customers. In the coffee industry there are more and more events popping up so plenty of excuses for a day out to network, network, network!
3. Exhibit at an event
Even better than just attending is to exhibit (and no - I'm not being paid to say this by any of the coffee events out there! If only!). Exhibiting at an event has several benefits;
a. You can showcase your best marketing materials and new products to an already interested audience
b. You can collect prospective customer details without having to cold call/cold email
c. Get into the good bag and you can put your product in client hands
d. Existing customers can get the star treatment with special showcasing/product testing etc
Clients love seeing their suppliers at events as it gives them the opportunity for an informal catch up and because they have taken the time out to go to the event, they are more likely to have time to see new products, taste/test and chat!
4. Host your own event
Ever thought about inviting all of your customers to one big annual party? If not, why not? Hosting your own event is a brilliant chance to give your customers a treat, showcase and launch new products to them, invite prospective clients to see who you are and what you are about and if you include a small conference or panel, you can also illustrate how you are a thought leading supplier in the industry!
5. Send a newsletter
A mailing list is probably the most important marketing tool for any business, not least coffee industry suppliers. Keeping your customers up to date with what you are doing is a great way to keep them engaged beyond the monthly ordering email. With a mailing list you can engage new customers more easily than using cold calling or cold email techniques as they have signed up to receive information from you and are therefore more likely to have a degree of interest. Most newsletters require some kind of incentive, so offering to share a piece of information of value to them, or a discount on products etc are all good ways to get subscribers.
6. Be active on social media
In a survey of industry leaders the number 5 method of discovering new suppliers was through social media according to operators. Think about it, we are all on social media, so even though an operator account may not follow a supplier account, the person behind that operator will have a personal social media account and may well follow brands and suppliers they are either interested in or already working with. So make sure you are active on social media in a consistent way so that everyone gets to see what you are about. For more information on how to be effective on social media read my blog post.
7. Run a survey
Ugh. Surveys! I hear you. I know they aren't the sexiest of communication methods. But they are effective for several reasons. Firstly, by engaging with your customers and inviting them to tell you what they think of your business, you are showing them how important their views are. Secondly, it is quite likely you will actually learn something interesting and potentially important from your customers that could help you improve your service and therefore improve customer loyalty and retention. Win win really. Plus you don't have to spend a fortune, there are very simple ways of running surveys internally without the expense of a costly agency.
8. Arrange to visit them for a coffee
Either informally visit a store and then call them to let them know about your experience or arrange to visit them at their head office, not for a formal meeting, just for coffee and a chat. Have lunch with them, take them to dinner, do something out of the ordinary so that as a supplier you stand out.
9. Invite them to visit your factory/plant/head office
Having a one to one tour of your offices/factory/plant etc is a great way to keep engaged with clients. Make sure they go away having had a great experience, with a goody bag and actually actively do not sell to them! Sounds counter intuitive but by NOT selling you have actually engaged them far more effectively that trying to get them to increase their order, place a new order etc.
10. Send them a gift out of the blue
This is not a bribe. It's a goodwill gesture. Send them a gift of a new product, or a sample, or even a non competing supplier's product (establish a mutual deal with another supplier to swap product samples to benefit you both). Do not send them a pen with your name on it or anything similar. Send something that you'd like to receive and without an agenda. Just because.
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Linkedin: Anya Marco