We have all encountered product demonstrators while grocery shopping, often seen standing behind a small table in a crowded aisle, attempting to feed you while repeating the brand name as often as possible within the seconds it takes to eat the sample. Whether you find this practice annoying, educational, or a way to have an inexpensive lunch, an in-store demo plays a major role in sales success.
As an artisan producer, you passionately pursue creating the best possible olive oil. But beyond the romance of nurturing your trees lies the not-so-glamorous business world that requires expertise in H.R., I.T., A/R and A/P, as well as Sales & Marketing (let’s not use these initials!).
Sales and marketing can be intimidating for the artisan producer. A good salesperson can strike up a conversation with anyone about anything, and not everyone can do this. It is hard work to sell to retailers, and many think their sales goal is fulfilled when the order is shipped and the invoice is paid. However, even after the oil has left your warehouse, you are still responsible for the sale of your oil to your customer’s customer. This is known as sales support, or in other words, product marketing.
The crux of product marketing is distinguishing your oil from the competition. For instance, one aspect of product marketing is choosing your packaging; another is getting product trial. Demos offer an excellent opportunity to distinguish your product from others because it allows consumers to experience your product for themselves.
Sam Mogannam, owner of San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market concurs; “Nothing sells a product better than putting it in a customer’s mouth. The olive oil section is so confusing to most people that having a product available for sampling gives that product an advantage over the rest. “
There are several factors to consider when planning in-store demos, not the least of which is cost. On the surface, it may seem more expensive to do your own demos because there is a cost to being away from your business. But, the added value of having an owner demonstrate is that it allows both the retailer and consumer to feel that they are important to you, which in turn builds brand loyalty.
But consider hiring someone else if you don’t like speaking to strangers, can’t give the task 100% of your attention (be sure to turn off your cell phone), feel impatient or just seem bored. Your retailer doesn’t need just a warm body, they need an engaging one.
If you decide that self-run demos are not for you, first determine if you can fit the cost of “outsourcing” this task into your budget and calculate it into your cost of sales. Next, consider hiring a friend or neighbor. I’ve even hired people while they were doing demos for another company; if I like how they present someone else’s product to me, I’ll inquire if they are interested in freelancing for me.
Once you select a demo person, you need to impart your product knowledge to them. You may choose to verbally share your story, but be sure to write down 3 sentences for them to memorize that sum up the features of your oil. Three sentences may seem like too little information, but it is rare that a consumer will listen to and retain more.
If the demonstrator encounters someone who needs further information, be sure she hands them a “take-away” – something with your website printed on it – so you can be contacted directly. The take-away can be as simple as a business card or elaborate as a recipe booklet; it is even more effective if you can personalize it with the retailer’s information for each demo.
Be forewarned that I have had mixed results when hiring demo companies instead of individuals. While the company’s owner may be engaging, you will not necessarily have direct contact with the person (or several people) who is selling your product. It is similar to playing the telephone game; your message becomes more convoluted the further the connection between you and them. The company’s demonstrators may seem pleasant and competent enough, but remember that sampling olive oil is more involved than handing out potato chips.
And, keep in mind, the best demos do not start and end with the presenter. There are other factors that will ensure your success. Be self-sufficient; bring everything you need, including a small folding table, tablecloth, bowls, cutting board, knife, napkins, tasting spoons, cups and a garbage receptacle. If the retailer sells bread (or other food you use for demos), purchase it from them and don’t expect it to be provided to you at no charge. Be respectful of the store’s customers; they are busy running errands and may not have time to taste and chat. Invite the store’s staff to sample your product; if they like it they may recommend it to customers when you’re not there.
Demos are an expensive investment, so it is a good idea to think about your expectations beforehand. It is unrealistic to expect to sell enough product to “pay” for that day’s demo expenses. As with advertising and other sales support activities, your goal is to develop brand awareness so the customer will remember your oil and seek to purchase it the next time they need olive oil.
Implementing a demo program is an important way to support your retail customer. By marketing to the retailer’s customers, you will ensure the success of your product in their store, which becomes the foundation of a long, successful relationship with your retail customer.