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Making a Good Impression: From PR to Promotion

7 Jul, 2010 By: Jim Kahrs imageSource

Making a Good Impression: From PR to Promotion

Let’s start with a positive. You finally got an appointment with that big account you’ve been trying to land for the past three years. Your preparation includes reviewing everything you will need to make that great first impression – knowing establishing a rapport will engage your customer for further discussion. You have copies of your new company brochure, information on device manufacturers and product brochures, and complimentary reference letters from a couple of the more notable customers. Then you realize you’re reference letters are outdated, with 2006 being the most recent.

Interestingly, the collection and use of reference letters is among the most overlooked marketing tools in many dealerships. I’ve often asked dealers if they can name 8-10 uses for these letters. If you have trouble coming up with that amount, read on.

Put Into Action

At one time or another, most dealers have had a program in place that encouraged and possibly rewarded sales reps for getting customers to provide them with good, testimonial-type reference letters. Before discussing reference letters any further, which seems like an innate process to many individuals, let me say that it is important to outline the sequence of actions that must be followed to really ensure success in acquiring new customers, before getting that letter from a pleased account.

The first step in the process is to first address public relations (PR). As a consulting and management training company, we use a system that provides a series of management tools intended to make any organization successful. In the Hubbard Management System, public relations is defined as “a technique of creating states of mind in different types of audiences or publics.” You are looking to create a positive state of mind with your prospects and customers relative to your dealership and your capabilities.

From public relations you move into promotion. Our used system says promotion means “to make something known and thought well of — promotion consists of getting names and addresses and contacting them and offering services to get them in.”

With these two areas properly handled, the job of the sales team becomes much easier. Sales is the area that meets with prospects to analyze their needs and gets prospects to actually purchase the products and services that you are offering. Too many dealers feel that a strong sales team replaces the need for public relations and promotion. This could not be further from the truth. If you look at the most successful dealers in the country you will see that they do not rely solely on their sales force for these activities and, in fact, have successful PR and promotion plans in place. You need an action plan.

One of the most basic PR actions is the use of company press releases. If you do business with widely recognized customers, such as large corporations, colleges, local sports franchises, the government, good reference letters can be the basis to create a joint press release. For example, let’s say your dealership name is “Service First Inc.” and you supply the MFPs for the University of ABC. You could write a press release titled: The University Of ABC Has Selected Service First Inc. As Its MFP Supplier. The press release would then include an excerpt from the reference letter and/or quote from the head of the department or organization: "The outstanding service response along with the helpful sales professionals at Service First, have truly been an asset to the university." The press release would address the university’s needs, and go on to outline the problems that you solved for them for a successful result.

The purpose of this press release is to show other prospects what your capabilities are and to position yourself with a well-known and well-respected organization. You should get permission from the customer prior to publishing any news, but this is usually not difficult when you’ve done a good job for them.

Another very successful PR action is the use of open houses at your dealership. If you are going to have an open house or an in-house demo, you should have recent reference letters framed and posted in the demo room. Framing can be as simple as an  8 x 11-inch lucite holder. Another vehicle to drive response it a printed or e-newsletter that is sent to customers and/or prospects. These newsletters can and should include excerpts from reference letters. There are other PR actions that can involve reference letters but these should get you started.

In the Top Ten

 Promotion includes advertising, direct mail campaigns, company website, etc. The best way to start here is to post reference letters on your website. You can scan the letters into a digital format and post them as a PDF file that can be opened and printed should the Web visitor wish. Again, make sure to get approval from the customer prior to posting his or her letter. When it comes to advertising and direct mail campaigns, again you can take excerpts from reference letters and build ads or mail pieces around them.

When writing a reference letter most people will include the things that you helped them with the most. The good news is that other companies will be suffering from the same issues. For example, if you get a reference letter that says, "Service First really listened to our needs and provided us with the most reliable equipment we’ve ever had," you could create an ad or flyer that asks the question: "Are you looking for reliable equipment from a dealership that really listens?" Then include the quote from your letter in the promotion piece you are creating. Including the name of the company that provided the reference will add credibility to the ad. Including quotes with initials only will show that it comes from someone other than you and allows the source to remain anonymous. Like PR, promotion offers many other opportunities to put your reference letters to use. Do not be afraid to experiment.

Another step in our sequence is sales. It is the job of the sales team to find and meet prospects that have responded to promotion, then successfully move them through the sales cycle and get them signed on as customers. Your reference letters can be a very valuable tool in this task. They can be used to target specific business segments. For example, if you have a letter from a well-known accounting firm, you can send copies of it with a personalized letter to other accounting firms. This can be a tremendous help when calling to schedule appointments. Many people will take the time to meet with you when they see that you have helped their biggest competitors.

Sales reps should also include reference letters in their pitch books. You know, that book that usually has a bunch of loose price sheets, copies of old sales promotions and some outdated brochures. A well-organized, up-to-date pitch book would include current reference letters from your most notable customers. This gives instant credibility in the eyes of the prospect that does not know you from Adam. Reference letters should also be included in proposals. When you present a solution to a prospect, reference letters from others that had the same or similar needs will help close the sale. It allows the sales rep to provide an unbiased viewpoint of how this solution will solve the prospect’s problems.

The last step that I will cover is related to your employees. Incentive and reward programs can and should include reference letters. Programs can be created to reward employees for soliciting reference letters - or for being named in them for the outstanding service they provided a customer. You can also use reference letters during the interview process. Copies can be given to applicants to show them your company’s commitment to both employees and customers to build your image/branding in their eyes.

Those of you who were counting know that I covered many different uses for reference letters. I can assure you that there are many more. If you are not using this valuable resource it is not too late to put a program together. Keep in mind, however, that to ensure the necessary supply of letters you will have to ask for them! You will be surprised at how many people are willing to give you a great letter if you only ask, and conversely, how few you get if you just sit back and wait for them to come in. Time to get the ball rolling!

Jim Kahrs is the president and founder of Prosperity Plus Management Consulting, Inc. a management consulting company based in Smithtown, NY. He may be reached at 631-382-7762 or by email jkahrs@prosperityplus.com.

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