I am very pleased to offer a guest post from my good friend Frank van Vliet. Frank is the Director of Organizational Leadership Development at Baltimore Aircoil Company and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Baltimore. Frank has over 30 years of sales, marketing, and sales management experience.
by Frank van Vliet, MBA
For the majority of my career I was a technical sales person. As a sales person I loved trinkets; those little low-dollar leave-behinds that marketing comes up with. The rubber balls, flashing fans, colored ice cubes, toys and coffee mugs all neatly displaying the company logo; these items made me feel good when I went on sales calls because I felt that I had something I could leave with the customer at the end of our visit. A little gift that would remind the prospect about our company, and hopefully, he or she would consider us when it came time to order the goods and services our firm offered. Or at least that is what the marketing department told me would happen, and I believed them!
I dutiful carried my pens, caps, and of course, coffee mugs (I really loved to give away coffee mugs) and proudly distributed them to my favorite and potential customers. And I felt good handing these things out!
Today I sit on the other side of the desk and I have sales people calling on me, all bringing their company-logoed pens, buzzers and oh – yes, coffee mugs. And as I push my “That Was Easy Button” that the Staples rep provided (I keep that one on my desk – it is pretty cool and I use it when I solve a problem for one of my internal customers – it makes them smile), I’ve come to realize that the trinket not only has to satisfy the marketing needs of the company giving it out, but in order for it to have some lasting meaning, it also must have some value at a personal level for the individual receiving the item. In my mind this is no different than selling a good or service; a good sales person doesn’t sell a product, but rather a solution to a problem. For example, a drill manufacture doesn’t sell drills; it solves a customer’s issue in terms of how they can go about making holes in some type of material. In other words the company sells holes, not drills.
An interesting eye-opener for me occurred the other day when a co-worker tossed his recently acquired coffee cup from a prospective vendor into the garbage. When I asked him why he threw it out he said, “I don’t drink coffee”.
Hmm, “I don’t drink coffee”. Turns out this individual runs marathons and a few years ago he chose to eliminate caffeine out of his diet. He doesn’t drink coffee, but he does run. So, what trinket could a sales person give this perspective customer that would have a lasting impression? Well, if the sales person had done a good job uncovering both the company and the individual’s needs, he or she could offer to leave a water bottle with the company logo. But he or she might want to ask if my co-worker already has a water bottle. If he does, perhaps a better choice would be a $25 runner’s shirt, again, with the company logo; runners never have enough running shirts.
Obviously the financial value of the shirt goes well above the traditional trinket expense. However, it is still a low enough dollar value to not be perceived as a “gift” as defined by most corporate policies, and the positive impact of such a handout would be very high. Clearly, every time the runner put on the company-logoed shirt, the sales rep’s firm would be at the forefront of the runners mind, as well as serving as a promotional tool for others that see the runner on the street.
My point here is that a trinket for the sake of a trinket is generally a waste of money. But a trinket that can solve a personal and potentially a business need for the customer has higher propensity of being used and as such the brand will continue to be reinforced.
Trinkets are not a bad thing, but cheap throw-away items will be thrown away. And sometimes these low-cost items have a place if you are looking for a one-shot-mass-media brand exposure. But remember that it is indeed just a one shot event. If however you are interested in keeping a brand in front of the customer, consider providing something that will be of personal value for the individual. This may mean spending a few more dollars on a good–quality item, but the investment could pay dividends. And a coffee cup may not be a bad trinket; provided that the customer does not own a coffee cup (hint – the Styrofoam cup on his or her desk) and is indeed a coffee drinker. If he or she has an abundance of empty coffee-shop cups in his or her trash, perhaps a thermos type of coffee cup would be a good choice. A porcelain mug may not be applicable for the drive-thru.
In my case, I drink the office coffee and have a very nice porcelain mug on my desk that says “World’s Greatest Dad”, so I probably would not be interested in your branded cup. However, besides drinking coffee, if you looked around my office, you would soon discover that I too am a runner.