There’s a lot of creative ways to generate leads and gain find new customers. Some are pretty effective; some take a lot of time and effort, while others just use gimmicks to coax people into buying something. All have a place. If you’re a new small business, the goal is to get sales quickly and efficiently. Startups don’t have a lot of time to experiment or wait for long pragmatic marketing plans to play out.
We try to get our clients in front of as many potential customers as possible in the shortest period of time. The method we use to do this is called “Coattail Riding.”
Coattail riding is forming relationships with established (successful) businesses that cater to your ideal customer- then give the established business a special offer to give to their clients as a gift. These businesses can be related to what you provide; completing a service you provide or completely unrelated to your industry yet serve the same customer. As an example, if you own a sports bar, you might partner up with a local sporting goods store. If you are a hair salon, you might want to partner up with a local cosmetic distributor. Or, if you are a high end clothing store, you might want to partner up with your local luxury car dealership. These are just a few examples, but the possibilities are endless.
The method of coattail riding exposes you to a set of prospects pretty quickly. It’s equally beneficial to the older business because they get to give something to their clients without incurring cost. They can use this special offer to entice their current customer base to purchase something more or purchase something again. It’s win-win for both sides. Before you pick up the phone, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I know who my ideal customer is? This is the most important question. If you can’t clearly define and articulate your ideal customer- this method won’t work.
- Can I deliver in a way that builds trust and confidence with the established business? (Don’t make them look bad with unhappy recipients!)
- What is the worst scenario? Example: If you’re giving a free sample away, will you have enough? Is your supply chain responsive enough to meet the demand of this “sample” offering?
Once you are confident on who you are trying to target and you can deliver with excellence then the next step is to look for the best coattails to ride on.
- Do they have a good reputation? If not, you’ll inherit a bad one by association.
- Are they currently working with businesses similar to yours? If so, you won’t want to create more competition than what you already have.
- Is this a business that could potentially compete with you?
Thinking through some of the questions above will help you plan and pick. Here are some steps to make this method successful in gaining new customers.
- Develop a clear and individual offer to each potential partner. Come up with a free or deeply discounted product or service that is perceived as high value to your prospect. The sports bar owner might offer a free meal with the purchase of another or two for one appetizers on game nights. The hair salon might offer a deep discount on a cut, color, and style package. In turn, your cosmetic distributor partner might offer your package with a purchase of $100 or more. Think through the offer, write it down and be sure to add in ideas your partner can use to generate more sales for themselves with your offer.
- Have a pitch ready when you call. These business owners and managers are very busy and rarely take cold calls from salespeople. So write down a pitch, a voicemail, and email template for you to use. These templates cannot be more than 20-30 seconds to listen to or read. At this point you are not trying to win their business; you’re trying to win their attention. Include the “what’s in it for me” in the first 6 seconds and how you can help them get some incremental sales if they partner with you. Practice the pitch over and over until you have it memorized. Pivot if you need to by changing things that don’t work in live conversations.
- Make it easy for them to partner with you. Have content templates ready for them to place into their own company letterhead or newsletter. Be responsive when they need you- give them enough products so they don’t have to keep asking for more and when their customer calls you, be responsive. You don’t want one of their customers calling them with a complaint about you! You will create more work and headaches for them. The partnership will become a liability to the established business if you are not delivering well.
- Last but NOT LEAST- have a plan to get these redeemers to become regular customers of yours. Make a great first impression and then give them something to comeback for. As an example, the sports bar owner might offer a loyalty card that gives patrons a free meal with the purchase of 10. Remember hope is not a strategy- so have a plan to turn redeemers into regulars. There are countless ways to keep customers coming back, but we’ll save that for another post.
Mid size companies use coattail riding all the time! They use it a little differently but the results are the same. Look at the Hershey’s chocolate dipped pretzel- the pretzel company got to put their name on the bag for providing the pretzel to Hershey at a discount. Both companies leveraged each other distribution channels and both gained exposure to each other’s customers. Small computer networking companies strive for putting a Microsoft or Cisco logo on their letterhead or marketing material. Those logos give them instant credibility and expose them to a broader customer base.
Whichever way you chose to coat tail ride, make sure you are a fantastic and polite rider. Mind your manners, represent your business with integrity, and deliver with excellence so they will continue to work with you in the future.