Some shop owners employ an expensive "marketing person" to visit and "sell" these people. I was curious to see if this less expensive approach was equally effective. Here's what I observed:
Most of the target people are extremely busy. The marketing guy wants to make conversation and tie up some of their time telling them about the virtues of the shop. The "Goodwill Ambassador" just pops in, smiles, says hello, leaves a newsletter with all of the information the target person could possibly want along with a nice useable pen, pad or maybe a goodie, and he or she moves on.
I watched the response of many of these "target people," and after three years nearly every one was extremely cordial. They expressed great satisfaction and appreciation for the nice pens and/or pads which many mentioned they used regularly. Many mentioned someone they had referred to the shop recently and how happy their client had been with the shop's service, generosity and very accommodating manners. It was obvious nearly all of these people would refer business whenever they could. It was also obvious this was a very effective marketing activity!
Establishing reliable longevity
In today's world, many small businesses come and go in a year or two. If a business can sustain the goodwill ambassador's rounds for a couple of years, it looks like the simple element of "familiarity" will eliminate any skepticism and establish a feeling of reliability and longevity for a shop. There is also the higher degree of respect and recognition suggested by actually sending a person rather than just sending another piece of "junk mail" that is likely to wind up in the round file. There can really be no substitute for having a live body appear on your prospect's doorstep once every month or so. While the cost of sending a professional sales person can be extreme, the goodwill ambassador can be inexpensive. Just about any pleasant person will do, who can be counted on to continue to make those calls for a couple of years until the familiarity and reliability have been established.
In a recent article I wrote about the "DRIP" process: "Delivering Repetitive Information Persistently." This is one way to implement that system. Since then I've been asked for more detailed information about what this will cost and how it can work.
How costly is this process?
The cost of this marketing activity can vary greatly depending on several factors:
1. How many people the goodwill ambassador calls on.
2. How often these people are visited.
3. The cost of printing the newsletter that's delivered.
4. How much this "ambassador" is being paid.
5. The cost of the items given out along with the newsletter.
How many shops to contact?
The number of people to contact depends on short and long-term objectives. Calling on some agents can be a waste of time if they're restricted to referring business to a DRP contracted shop. State Farm agents will typically only refer business to a Service First shop. Farmers agents typically send business only to Circle of Dependability shops on their list. Independent agents may respond if contacted long enough.
Dealerships with a body shop would probably be a waste of time and effort. Others may already have a designated shop but such relationships can be like marriages: many end in divorce and if your shop is the one that has been staying in contact for a long time, it may become the next designated shop in line.
DRP coordinators are often not close enough physically to contact, so their information should be sent by mail -- but on a regular basis. Those close enough to visit while making a monthly round should be included in the "Good Will" trip.
Fleet managers may be one of the best sources to contact regularly. Unlike agents, they're not just referring someone who's had an accident -- they're sending one of their company's own vehicles. Whenever possible, it's always better to go straight to the source of business rather than to a secondary source that you merely HOPE will refer business.
One last delivery target should be people with whom you already have a working or referral relationship. It's easy to slip into a complacent attitude, taking a source of business for granted. I've seen many shops lose a significant amount of business overnight when their principal contact was replaced and the new guy preferred a different shop (or was gotten to by a competitor because the current shop owner was sleeping on the job). It costs very little to have that goodwill ambassador stop by to drop off a newsletter and some small token of appreciation on a regular basis.
How often to visit?
How often should these target people be visited? This depends on the probability of a return on your investment. I would suggest contacting those who are most likely to send business no less than once a month. In many areas geographical closeness may determine the likelihood of being sent business. Agents, dealers, fleet managers and others who are close by should be given priority attention. As the target people are farther and farther removed geographically, a less frequent visit is probably adequate.
The key to success with this activity is setting an expectation and fulfilling it faithfully without fail. After a while, the target person begins to expect the goodwill ambassador to arrive with a newsletter and a pen or goodie, like a puppy expecting dinner at a specific time. When that person arrives month after month, the recipient begins to feel a warm glow of satisfaction from that regular attention. So the real key is consistency, fulfilling that expectation time after time.
Cost of printing newsletter
The cost of printing a newsletter can be extremely varied. I've found that many businesses tend to overdo it. They invest in an 11 by 17 sheet, folded into four pages and offset printed on glossy stock. This is very expensive and completely unnecessary. Few of the target people will read beyond the first page unless a topic totally grabs their attention (and this is highly unlikely). A single page, printed two sides will be adequate if delivered every month. Today, digital color is relatively inexpensive so that both sides of a page can be full color at a printing cost of about $50 per hundred copies (not counting your creative development costs). If this approach interests you, contact me for a sample of a newsletter that has worked very well.
Salary of goodwill ambassador
What is the cost of the goodwill ambassador? The shop I've watched most closely sends a person out twice a week for a couple of hours in the morning. About twenty-five target people are contacted during those two hours, amounting to fifty a week and about two-hundred every month. This amounts to about thirty-two hours a month for someone performing a relatively unskilled job activity for a comparable wage.
What would be the cost of courtesy items to be given with the newsletter? In quantity, pens printed with your company name and address can cost about a nickel each. At that price, you get a hundred pens for five bucks or so. A few more bucks will provide pads or post-its. Not a bad investment for even a couple of more jobs a month!
What the goodwill program does not do
It's important to bear in mind that this program is a supplement - not a replacement - for direct communications by an owner or manager who should contact key decision makers to negotiate referral terms. Also, this is a program exclusively aimed to bring about volume referral business. It doesn't replace essential programs aimed at increasing individual repeat business.
This goodwill ambassador program is one that utilizes the incredible power of personal contact. But the most powerful personal contact strategy of all is still decision maker to decision maker. No one less than the top man or woman at a shop can meet top decision makers at insurance companies, dealerships, fleet management companies and more, to hammer out terms of agreement acceptable to both. An ongoing goodwill campaign will just reinforce the determination of a shop owner or manager to convince those key people to listen and respond.
A program for the rest of us
Multi-million dollar shops and chains of shops have the resources to employ full-time marketing people to make continual calls and to make their case for referral business. This goodwill ambassador program is essentially a way for the rest of us to compete. And when all of the elements are taken into consideration, it is an amazingly inexpensive yet effective way to generate volume business in the long run.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.