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Try Having a Great Customer Event

31 Mar, 2014

I received a great question from a client last week which I think you’ll be able to learn from: “Troy, my company is considering hosting an open house for our customers. An  open house for client appreciation or as an employee morale booster has undoubted value; but my question is whether or not you’ve ever heard of an 'open house' event as being worthwhile, in a ‘sales’ aspect?”

That’s an excellent question.  An event for customers such as an open house, or a customer appreciation party, can be a great way to build stronger customer relationships as well as employee morale and esprit de corps.  Yet, if not done correctly, it can also be an expensive failure that leads to employees standing around looking at each other, while eating expensive catered food and wondering when the customers are ever going to show up.  The difference between the two comes from understanding the two “wins” that must happen.

For a successful customer event to happen, these two “wins” must be designed prior to the event, and two questions answered:

First, how does the customer win by showing up?  Once upon a time, it was enough to put out free food and free booze to get people to show.  Yes, you can still get some people to show up with those promises – but fewer and fewer people will, and they are unlikely to be the C-level and V-level contacts that you, or my client, were targeting.  There has to be a ‘win’ or a gain for those contacts to show up – particularly if you’re trying to bring in prospects as well as clients.  We’ll get to some of those wins in a moment, but first, let’s address the next question.

Second, how does the company win by investing in the open house?  Open houses are fun, and it’s nice to show off your facility – especially if you’ve moved into new digs or redecorated, accordingly.  But to really win, there needs to be  a strategy behind the open house that helps customers enter into, or advance through, their own buying processes.  When it’s over, you need to either have new prospects, deeper relationships with current customers, or (ideally) both, for a successful result.

The order of these questions is not by accident – if you’ve not answered the first question well, the second question doesn’t matter, because you won’t win without people showing up. Here are some possible “wins” that will entice your customers to show up:

  • Create an experience that they can’t get anywhere else.  Some of the best open houses I’ve seen have been “experience based,” where there are activities that encourage attendee participation and involvement.
  • Give stuff away.  When I say “give stuff away,” I don’t mean promotional products, nor do I mean your products.  I mean have some door prizes that are well worth winning.
  • Educate and inform.  Some successful open houses will have educational events in the mix that show how to use your products or services better.  For instance, if you’re selling industrial boilers, you might have a workshop on boiler maintenance. Not a “sales pitch” but rather an “assist” with useful knowledge to take away.
  • Bring in a great speaker.  Alternatively, a noted speaker and seminar can be an excellent draw, particularly for those C- and V-level people that your/my client was targeting.

Now that you have them there, it’s time for you to “win” as well.  This should be articulated BEFORE the event.

  • Key employees meet your customers.  This can be especially important even when the key employees are not necessarily involved with the customer contact.  For instance, if the only people meeting your customers are your sales and service people, it’s good to have your plant manager, general manager, etc., head technician meet your customers.
  • Demonstrate your products.  Product demos can be an excellent reason to have an open house, particularly if it’s difficult to demonstrate your products in the field (for instance, heavy machine tools, copiers, etc.).
  • Plant tours.  This can work really well if your plant is particularly clean or innovative; customers enjoy seeing where their products are made or serviced, and a look ‘behind the curtain’ can be very enjoyable and build more identity with you.
  • Close a sale.  Yes, it’s perfectly OK to sell at an open house, in some instances.  Why not?  All the facilities to complete the sale are in one place, so don’t be afraid to allow customers to express interest and buy.
  • Meet new prospects.  If the “wins” above are solid, you may get business prospects to come to your facility – even when they won’t take a sales call.

A well planned open house can be a great way to build stronger customer relationships, but it depends on the two wins.  Make sure both are solid, for a good investment.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and a Speaker, Consultant, and Sales Navigator. He helps companies build more profitable & productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training & methodologies.  For info on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting, or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call 913-645-3603, e-mail Troy@TroyHarrison.com, or visit http://www.TroyHarrison.com.

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