Remember when all you had to do was make your product for your next family get-together? When you didn’t need to know how much your pie cost you to make?
Those were the days.
But, now that you’re turning your pie-baking (or other food product) into a business, there’s a lot more to do. Beyond calculating product cost, designing labels, and sending in farmer’s market applications, you have to sell your product.
Selling your product requires pounding the pavement.
You have to find retail outlets – from small corner stores to large grocery stores – send them samples (including a sell sheet for your products), and hope they love your product enough to buy some. That’s the easy part. The hard part? The part that food producers need to do more of? Follow up.
Following up with prospective retailers and distributors is crucial to your growth.
You are a salesman whether you like it or not. You not only have to make a great product. You have to sell your product. And that means putting your sales hat on every day to move more product. And following up with prospective retailers is the most important part. Otherwise, you’re not going to move a lot of product.
Why is follow up so crucial?
1. It keeps your product top-of-mind
Buyers evaluate thousands of products every year. Yours is simply another package they receive. They’ll taste your products and maybe share them with a few employees. But, then they get tossed into the break room. Quick follow up is important to because it keeps your product on the buyer’s mind right after they sampled your products.
2. It often takes more than one call to get in to the store
Sometimes, you can get into a new retailer simply by sending samples. You might need a follow-up call to nudge them in the right direction, but often times it takes months of follow up to make the sale happen. That’s why a follow up plan is crucial.
3. It shows you’re serious about growing your business
Never send samples and then stop communication. Why? That says to the buyer you’re not serious about taking your business to the next level. You just sent samples because a customer told you you should. Get in the habit of following up and you’ll be taken more seriously by buyers because they see you’re driven to see your business succeed.
So, follow up is important. You get it. But, I’m sure you’ve got a couple ideas floating around about how you do follow up correctly, right? First, lets clear up a few frequently asked questions about following up.
Frequently asked questions about follow up:
1. How often should I follow up?
Follow up a few days after your samples have been received. If the buyer emailed you, email them back. If your sending samples blind, follow up with a phone call. Haven’t gotten a response after a week? Follow up with the opposite communication (if you emailed, call. If you called, send an email) and see if that works. If you still don’t get a response, push them back a month and follow up to see if something had changed.
2. Isn’t a lot of follow up annoying?
Yeah – if you follow up every day with a phone call, it would drive the buyer nuts. Think about how often you would want to be called back and use that as a baseline. You’ve got to sell a project (read: do your job), so following up is part of your job.
3. Is email or phone better to follow up with?
If you’ve been contacted by email, follow up by email. If you received a phone call, give them a ring back. I’m a firm believer in the following statement:
If you want to get something done, pick up the phone.
That means you’re going to have to get used to the phone. I conduct all of my business through my cell phone. Some days it takes a relaxing vacation from my ear. But other days, my phone is glued to my ear. When I put it down on my desk it just rings again. I think that means I work with people who want to get things done. Whether you like it or not, the phone is your sidekick to food product domination.
I’ve established that your phone is the best way to get things done, but there are a few tools to make sure you remember to follow up. And they’re located right in your email – if you use Gmail, that is.
Tools to make follow up easier
While I recommend following up by phone with retailers, buyers, and distributors, if you live in your inbox, there are a couple tools you can use to help you remember to follow up. Here’s three I’ve been playing around with recently:
This gmail and browser extension is powerful. It has three features designed to keep you on your toes with your food business contacts. It lets you send an email later, have an email show up in your inbox again if there’s no response, and it’s got follow up reminders, too. The best part? It’s free. Download the Chrome extension here.
With Followup.cc, this email extension (not just for gmail) is amazing. It not only helps you with follow ups at whatever time you’d like (10 minutes or 10 days for example), but you can snooze email. That means if you’re unable to respond to the mountain of email in your inbox, you can have it go away and appear minutes or hours later so you can deal with it when you’re less busy (when is that again). Give Followup.cc a shot.
Google calendar is my go-to reminder because you can easily schedule follow ups out days, weeks, or even years. Plus, you can schedule reminders that go straight to your email – never miss follow up again! You can start a Google calendar (which also helps with planning your day out and scheduling deliveries) with any Google account. Start here.
With several solutions out there to help you follow up about your food products, you’re sure to find something that works for your company. After all, if there are free tools to help you with follow up, shouldn’t you be using them? I can’t guarantee it’ll help you land sales, but it will certainly help. Following up is a sure-fire way to keep your company ahead of everyone else.