Why a foodservice marketing manager almost beat me up

I’ll never forget an exasperated foodservice marketing manager who nearly cleaned my clock when I innocently asked why the company was so hesitant about sending out more product samples to potential customers.

“It’s the $2 million black hole,” was his response.  Tracking results was virtually impossible because there was no direct link between a sample and making a sale.

You’d think with sophisticated CRM, ERP and other alphabet-soup named systems many companies employ today that measuring the ROI on samples would be solved by now.  But most systems I’ve seen rarely recognize samples as a meaningful part of the sales process, let alone link samples to a sale.

And that’s the conundrum.  Few will dispute samples are key to making a sale — how can any operator truly evaluate a product without testing it first?  But at what cost?

  • Yes, maybe a new system is in order. No company wants to invest in another system, but samples might be important enough to justify the idea. Pre-built software components exist and a decent programmer could have a tracking system created in a few weeks that would pay for itself within months. The feedback about the products alone would be worth the investment — consider it market research.
  • Positive versus negative. Make sampling a positive experience versus the begging-and-pleading process it is today to get a sample sent. A system could allow reps to continue ordering samples as long as they provide quality feedback on the results.  And, in fact, spiff reps when they prove samples created sustainable business — or turn off the spigot if follow-through isn’t there.  It’s the perfect carrot-and-stick approach.
  • Cost-effective first step. Of course, pre-qualifying a customer for a product is the most cost-effective approach.  A nuts-and-bolts video about how a product is packed, what it looks like in its raw state and how to prep will quickly help an operator determine if the product is a good fit operationally — before any tasting is required.

Just imagine a foodservice world where sending out samples was the positive experience it should be —rather than the time and money pit it has become for many companies.