Jackson Hull is a guest author. To submit a guest post, click here.
Building a successful local sales force takes more than just placing bodies in coverage areas. To be truly effective, salespeople must create strong ties in their target community through outreach. These ties create an authenticity that is invaluable when it comes to establishing a lasting local presence.
With local connections in place, cold calls become warmer. In addition to introducing the brand to potential customers, this networking increases the touch points between salespeople and merchants. It is this increased interaction that creates a competitive advantage for a local sales force. If cultivated correctly, this local recognition translates into more warm leads and ever-larger opportunities.
There are several approaches that can help a local sales team craft a successful outreach strategy. Success in implementing these approaches varies depending on the type of service you’re selling, as well as its existing reach. Generally, these approaches work best with subscription-based marketing services sold by sales teams with an existing community presence (e.g. one that has a sales person living in their area of responsibility).
Engage with the business community
Focus on creating relationships with influential merchants in the community. These merchants are easy to identify — they have high Yelp ratings; their owners sit on local business associations; and, their name pops up when asking merchants which is the anchor business on the block.
Call on business associations, and get time in front of them. Even better, have them sponsor you at their regular meetings. This is largely free publicity. These associations are typically charged with providing value to their members, which includes introductions to services the association has evaluated. It is an opportunity to pitch merchants in large numbers and make connections.
Join the Chamber of Commerce. The cost involved is well worth the access to the Chamber’s contact list. More importantly, it is a quick way to establish relationships with influential merchants.
Get involved with what the community cares about
Show merchants that you care about the same things they do. Most merchants are staples in their community, with causes about which they are passionate. Many of these causes directly impact their bottom line — like free parking days downtown or a summer festival on their block. Others are more personal — school fundraisers and Girl Scout cookie drives.
Drive home the message that you care about their causes by getting involved in organizing events, help recruiting participants and volunteer your time. At a minimum, the sales force will network with merchants and their customers to produce leads. Not to be overlooked with this approach is the benefit to the sales person through local outreach. They feel empowered by giving back.
Create perpetual motion through word-of-mouth
Traditionally, viral word-of-mouth is focused on consumers. A potent viral channel for any local sales force exists between merchants. The referrals between merchants are much stronger, as the tendency to give flippant referrals is low. The referrals are thereby much more valuable than those from consumers.
Encourage this word-of-mouth by giving accounts an incentive to share the service. Offer discounts on service for each referral conversion; promote their standing in the community based on their influence; and, give discounts to referred merchants.
Create a local following online
Don’t minimize the power of local media. Local news and editorial sources can be a powerful tool for distributing your brand. This works particularly well during the “seeding” stage — where a sales force has just established a beachhead. Sales managers at Plum District do this by connecting with influential local bloggers to spread the news of the service’s launch in their area. This approach reaches merchants and consumers alike and amplifies the results of the aforementioned approaches.
The fight for the street is won block-by-block, but the approaches outlined here enable any local sales force to break out from the pack. Now… go get engaged!