96.37% failure rate, yet here’s foodservice’s best sales generator

A recent survey of Salesforce.com users found that referrals are, by far, the most effective method for closing B2B business from leads like foodservice operators.  Referrals are more critical once those leads turn into bonafide “opportunities,” the survey found.

Here’s the problem:  lead-to-deal success from referrals occurs only 3.63 percent of the time.  Referrals still wallop advertising (.78%) or trade shows (.5.5%) by a wide margin.  But it also means referrals have no impact 96.37 percent of the time!

Would you board an airplane knowing there was a 96 percent chance it will crash?

Yet, referrals are still the best thing going.  But most foodservice manufacturers put minimal effort into gathering referrals on a national scale outside of chain accounts or large (often lower margin) noncommercial customers like hospitals or B&I.  Conversely, local brokers or distributors have significant referral networks to move business along — a fact probably largely missed by the survey since Salesforce is used less at the street level.

A percentage point increase in the “lead-to-close” ratio from referrals could mean millions for even a medium-sized manufacturer — let alone the savings from divesting in other less-effective tactics.

Can you realistically take referrals generated on a personal level to a national scale?  Probably not.

But you can do the next best thing.  Gather stories on how operators creatively use your products in the real world to create implicit referrals.

  • Make the stories real. The St. Pete fish fry guy who has interesting ideas will resonate with the seafood cook in Seattle.  The trick is to capture Mr. Fish Fry’s story in his own words (hey, video is a good solution here!).  Don’t try to pretty things up.  Let the story come out naturally warts and all as if Mr. Fish Fry is speaking directly to Ms. Seattle Seafood Cook.  It’s the genuine approach that brings credibility and, ultimately, a referral-like impact.
  • Relationship of trust. Many broker reps and DSRs are hesitant to turn over success stories after working hard to build a customer’s trust. Who can blame them?  You have to build similar credibility among reps to prove you won’t embarrass them or somehow hurt their customers.  But even just a dozen good sales folks who trust you can fill the referral pool.
  • Make it exclusive. Don’t broadcast a great story to the world immediately.  First, let the story take its natural course by sharing it through the sales network.  Believe me, the piece will get shared if it’s good!   And operators will likely pay more attention when the story comes directly from a local rep they know.  Of course, seeing the story on your website or email newsletter later will just be  warm reminder to revisit the story.

Now, go capture another 1 percent.  It’s a small goal with a huge impact in 2015.

March Planning Considerations

  • Two big celebrations are coming up that drive restaurant sales… Fourth of July and Men’s Health Week (June 15-21). OK, we’re kidding about Men’s Health Week.  Got content to share with operators on how to grow their July 4th sales with your products?
  • Who’s the #1 broker sales rep and #1 distributor sales rep for your product line? If you don’t know him or her, you probably should.  They hold your future in their hands.