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  • Big Customers, Big Profits?

    Every florist knows winning even a single new customer requires an investment of time and money. But there is a certain type of customer worth pursuing who can benefit you tenfold: the corporate account.

    Landing even one corporate account can translate into multiple sales stemming from that company's floral and gift orders for functions and clients. And when you factor in the potential business you could gain from that corporate account's employees, your customer base could grow rapidly.

    Planting the Seed

    To produce an ultimately fruitful account, you must first plant the seed. Let businesses in your area know where you are, what products you offer and what services you provide. A direct mail campaign is one of the simplest and most logical ways to introduce yourself.

    Who should you contact? The names and addresses of businesses in your area are readily available from a variety of sources. You could turn to your Yellow Pages or the business-to-business phone book for phone numbers and addresses. However, a CD-ROM directory will give you more information and provide the names and addresses electronically. Once you have a good source of company names, create a computer file, including all the companies you want to contact, with their names, addresses, phone numbers and business hours (if you have them).

    Broadcasting the Message

    How can you reach them? There are several effective ways to make the initial contact. For best results, test several different approaches and carefully monitor the results. Then, roll out the highest scoring offer to the entire list. Or send 200 or more each month, depending on your budget and ability to follow up. Try these methods individually or in combination:

    Cold call. Call prospects and introduce yourself. A personalized greeting is always more effective than a form letter, so it's worth the effort it takes to call some of the businesses in neighborhoods you serve. Cold calling can be challenging. If you react negatively to sales calls, this option probably isn't right for you.

    Referral. The best way to meet a prospect is by way of introduction. Once you've identified a list of prospective accounts, poll your friends, colleagues and best customers to see if someone can provide an entrÿe.

    A letter and brochure. Use a high-quality brochure imprinted with your store's name, such as those available from Teleflora.

    A postcard offering a complimentary gift. If the person calls to open an account (with approved credit) or visits the shop, greet them with a single rose.

    Enclose an incentive to encourage the person to place his or her first order. A certificate for complimentary delivery on the first three corporate orders or a coupon for 20 percent off selected items in your store is a good way to increase the odds they will visit your shop when in need of flowers or gifts. Be sure to print an expiration date on the coupon: two to three months is plenty of time for someone to redeem your offer.

    A Private Touch

    Including a personal message with your mailing will make your approach far more successful.

    Especially promising prospects (those companies with similar traits to your other commercial accounts), should get a more customized approach. This gives the impression you truly are interested and knowledgeable about the individual firm.

    Expect very few businesses to respond immediately to your initial mailing. Most have been purchasing flowers and gifts from another source. The first mailing is intended to provide a good introduction to your shop.

    Consistent Contact

    If you follow up every letter with a phone call, you will see a dramatic increase in results. Your goal during the initial call is to get permission to drop by for a short visit.

    The chance of doing business with a prospective account again increases dramatically once you have made personal contact. Don't drop by without calling first for an appointment; an unannounced visit can damage your chances of landing the account.

    For those accounts that don't grant you an appointment, you should send a modest arrangement with a handwritten note and a business card. The note could say something like, "Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you." Follow up again in one or two months. On average, it takes five attempts to establish contact with a new customer. It is to your great advantage to be persistent, since most salespeople - 90 percent - give up after the second try.

    Once you have an appointment, keep your visit brief. Ask questions, focus on listening to the contact's comments about his or her needs and clearly outline how you can satisfy them. Be sure to emphasize the advantages you offer over other florists. Some examples might include a charge account, same-day delivery on special orders, and a single point of contact for account management or on-site visits as necessary.

    Building Business

    How well you serve your corporate accounts will determine the loyalty of your new customers. Pay close attention not only to them, but also to your quality of inventory. Having a well-stocked gift section can be expensive, but it may be what sets you apart from your competitors.

    Fortunately, you can shop vendors' catalogs for items you know your customers need. Find vendors who can deliver overnight so there's no need to stock a large selection.

    Watch your gift inventory closely and you'll learn what to keep in stock and what should be special-ordered. And when it comes to floral orders, make sure you know what types of designs your corporate customers prefer.

    Finally, make special ordering easy and efficient. Offer same-day delivery for orders placed before a certain time or that exceed a certain cost.

    Big Customers, Big Profits

    Corporate customers can be high-maintenance, but the rewards are well worth the efforts.

    These special accounts require constant tending. You must plant the seeds, weed your database and nurture your budding accounts. The result is a lucrative way to expand your customer base. And, like healthy fruit-bearing trees, once your corporate rate accounts take root, they will multiply and yield nearly a constant supply of revenue.

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