Lately it seems most of the phone conversations I have with coffee and espresso machine vendors is related to "how to increase sales".
I won't fool you - I'm not a vendor, and not for a minute do I pretend to fully understand the complexities of running a product sales business. I imagine it's pretty tough, but it can also be very rewarding. I know some vendors get frustrated in their day to day operations, but they also get the "little joys" here and there, which at times makes it all worthwhile.
I know, for instance, that many of the online vendors you may know or have heard of get great joy over the simple fact that you, their customer, is satisfied, happy even, with your purchase decision and experience. To me that says a lot, and knowing that a vendor takes that kind of pride in what they do speaks volumes to me about how serious they are about their business and their customers.
What I want to get into today is what I, as a consumer, would most like to see when it comes to vendors and how they do business. Any vendor that does the following things is aces in my books.
Prove to me that I can trust you
When I was younger, price was everything - I didn't care how bad the company's rep was, I wanted the absolute lowest price. Today that isn't the case. Trust is the most important aspect with a vendor. So how does a vendor gain that trust? There's several things they can do:
- be honest with me when I call and enquire about a machine. Don't just point out the positives. Point out potential problem areas (including a high learning curve).
- show me you'd rather lose a sale than have me as an unhappy customer. How? One way to do it is to spend 3 minutes on your dime asking me about my coffee and espresso experience, and what I expect to get out of a machine. If I'm all hot for a specific machine but after hearing what I really want, you realize that machine wouldn't suit me, let me know.
- be honest with me on your website as well. When detailing how cool a machine is, also point out neutral and possible negative aspects. This one is touchy, but I can tell you I gain almost instant trust for a vendor that will tell me the bad along with the good. That means I may not buy that particular machine, but I'll most likely buy from you.
- word of mouth advertising shows me you are a business I can trust. You can only gain word of mouth the old fashioned way - but already earning trust and confidence from existing customers.
I should also point out an example of something not to do - in other words, a way to lose trust fast. This happened to me. A vendor actually lied to a third party about my interaction with them. Lied to make themselves look good, but me look bad. On top of that, this particular vendor continually lies to their customers, promising the world prior to making a sale, then not even answering the phone or returning voice or email after the sale. Don't ever lie about a customer, even if you're speaking to someone completely unrelated. It can come back against you. Be honest in your business and your practices and I, as your customer, will take note.
Email is a crucial two way tool
Answer every query you get by email. One of the most frequently cited reasons for people not buying from a company is the simple lack of answering emails. Most customers believe a 48 hour or less turnaround is proper. Some feel an email should be answered the same day. Keep this in mind. Many an espresso machine sale has been lost because of poor response time via email.
Communication is constant
Customers like to know that they are (or appear to be) at the top of your priority list. And lets face it, they should be. Customers like to know they are being thought of during and after the purchase. When the order is processed, send an email confirmation. When the order ships, send an email with the tracking info. When a few days are past after the shipment is scheduled to arrive, send another personal email asking if they received their purchase, asking if everything's okay, and reminding them about your great after sales service. Just make sure you don't send this email if the customer emails you first about a kudo or a complaint upon receiving the machine.
Keep your customers in the loop, and they'll feel they are in good hands. In turn, they'll tell their friends about it.
Every customer is golden
Even the guy dropping $200 on your lowest priced espresso machine should be treated like a king. Why? Because while that $200 machine may represent a $50 profit for you where other machines give you $200 or more, to this guy, that $200 could be his entire discretionary income for a month. Treat every single customer like they are the golden child, and you could gain the fanatical word of mouth type that reaps major dividends down the road. Respect any purchase, from the $50 grinder to the $2,000 espresso machine.
Price and freebies
Even though I'm placing trust and honesty above price, I won't lie to you - price is important. But what I like are unique and well thought out freebies that can come with high ticket items.
Almost everyone offers free shipping and steam pitchers and the like with a $1000 espresso machine purchase. What I'd like are unique items. Maybe a complete set of GOOD quality cups for the top of that machine. Or how about a professional tamper to supplement the cheapo plastic one that usually ships with most machines. Many companies (Saeco, Elektra, Gaggia, Solis, FrancisFrancis!) sell cups with their logo on them - why not automatically include a set of matching cups to match any machine purchase over a certain dollar amount?
Here's one really good suggestion that I haven't seen any vendor do yet. With a grinder, toss in a couple of pounds of beans - label them garbage and good. Write a short pamphlet talking about how to dial in a grinder - advise using the pound of garbage beans to get familiar with the grinder, then the pound of good quality, fresh roast beans to pull my first shots or brew my first real cups. That's a super nice touch, but like I said above, I don't see any vendor doing this.
What's especially good about that bean example is this - your cost as a vendor is maybe $10 or less for the beans, and the time and effort involved in writing your own "get started dialing in" guide for the grinder. But to the customer, it means I don't have to waste what I perceive as an expensive commodity (coffee beans) that I paid for myself, and that I feel you are really involved in helping me to learn, understand, and get used to a new and expensive tool I just bought.
So the thing I'm suggesting here is this - everyone's offering freebies and stuff. Think about your freebie strategy - it doesn't have to be super expensive. It has to be practical, useful, and to really stand out - unique. I think I would appreciate those beans and pamphlet combo even more than steaming pitchers, brushes, and urnex cleaners. It shows the vendor knows what I may be going through in the next few weeks.
These are just a few things that can help to improve sales and keep me as a customer - at least as seen from the consumer side. There's many other ways to improve sales, but to me, the most important thing is trust and quality service, and knowing that my purchase is important to you, the vendor.