Selling samples are an important to the success of many building materials companies. They can also be very expensive. For some companies, the sample program is the largest item in their marketing budget.
Samples are used:
- In sales presentations to builders, contractors, architects and other pro customers
- In architects’ libraries
- In architect and designer client presentations
- In big boxes, stores and showrooms
- For in-home selling by contractors and dealers
- As lead magnets on websites and other media
- As part of sales and installation training
- At trade shows
- And more
However, when you consider that sending an outbound email or having a customer visit your website are basically free, the cost of a selling sample can start to look outrageous.
Next to the cost of an actual sales call, a selling sample may be the most expensive thing you do.
For many products, having a selling sample is not an option. If you don’t have a sample, you won’t even be considered. Even with the dramatic improvements in technologies like virtual reality, printing and computer images, most products still need an actual sample.
If samples are important to your business, the best thing you can do is find ways to improve your return on this big expense.
Here are five ways to improve the ROI of your sample program.
1. Know Your Actual Costs
Most companies can tell me the annual cost of their sample program by consulting their budget. That number, however, is usually incorrect. That’s because it only covers a single item, like the amount of money paid to the company that produces the samples.
There are additional costs that factor into the total amount you will spend on samples. Here are the ones that are often overlooked or not included:
- Creative Costs: Developing the design and copy (even if this is done in-house, there is a cost)
- Product Costs: This applies if actual product is used in creating your sample, and you should also include the cost of shipping product from the factory to the sample production facility
- Administrative or Processing Costs: Even if an administrative person has to process sample requests, there is a cost, and some companies make their salespeople handle sample requests, which is crazy expensive unless they are delivering it as part of a sales call
- Mailing and Packaging Costs
2. Measure Your Results
If you are using a CRM like Salesforce or a marketing automation program like Hubspot to measure and improve the results of your sales and marketing, you should also be measuring the results of your sample program.
You should know how many samples are sent, to what type of customer and how they were requested.
For example, suppose you get 10 sample requests per day from your website:
- Homeowners – 6
- Contractors – 2
- Builders – 1
- Architects – 1
You want to track how many of these sample requests result in a sale while also tracking the average size of a sale to each type of customer.
Maybe 30% of homeowner requests lead to a one-time sale. A builder or contractor sample request, on the other hand, may have a lower conversion rate but lead to ongoing purchases.
You should track all sample requests, including phone or email requests.
should also be tracking how many samples you send to each distributor
or contractor and compare it to their annual purchases.
And if you send a large number of samples to a customer who doesn’t produce the sales volume you expect, find out what’s happening. A lot of expensive samples end up in the trunk of a salesperson’s car or the backroom of a distributor.
In broad terms, you should know your annual sales and the number of samples you send out. Those figures will give you a benchmark – just divide your sales dollars by the number of samples shipped and their costs.
It’s good to have this for year-over-year comparisons. You’re not looking to lower your sample costs; you’re trying to find out where the expense of a sample makes the most sense.
You may decide to make it easier or harder to request a sample for different types of customers. You may charge some customers for samples. Or you may have less expensive samples for some customers.
3. Audit Your Performance
Once a year, you should have a third party order samples from you and your competitors.
You want to find out:
1. How hard or easy was it to request samples? Is there a big button on their website that says “FREE Samples”? Or do you have to look for where to request samples or send an email or make a phone call?
How much information do you have to provide?
Do you have to pay for the samples?
Was there any communication, such as “Thank you for your sample request. They will be shipped today.”
2. How long did it take for the samples to arrive from each company? Which companies did not send samples?
3. What was your impression when the sample arrived? Did the package or mailing envelope look professional?
What was your impression when you opened the package? Was there a cover letter or a brochure? What impression did the sample make on you? Did it include the information you needed?
4. What happened next? Was there any followup? If so, from whom (a customer service person, a salesperson or a local dealer) and how (email or phone)? How soon after the sample arrived did they follow up? What questions did they ask?
How did you compare to your competition and how can you improve?
4. Improve Your Samples
Don’t make assumptions about what the customer needs and how the sample will be used. You need to understand who the sample is for and at what stage they are in the sales process.
Many samples are designed as if the point was to create a three-dimensional brochure. There’s sometimes an assumption that “If it’s right for the brochure, it’s right for the sample.” This causes companies to add unnecessary information to the sample, and that information ends up competing with the main selling message.
A smart step that most companies overlook is to involve the customer.
If you’re designing an in-home selling sample that will be used by a salesperson, interview the salespeople who will be using it before you design the sample. Ask them what they need in a sample. Have them show you examples of great samples from other companies and tell you what they like about them.
If the sample is for an architect or another type of customer, do the same thing. Meet with them before you start designing the sample.
Before you order the samples to be produced, do a final check by going back to these same customers with a mockup and asking them if it meets their needs.
5. Work with the Right Partners
I recommend that you work with agencies and other suppliers who have experience in building materials, and the same thing applies when it comes to samples.
Many companies do all or part of their sample program in-house or with job shops, printers or mailing houses. And they frequently have been working with these partners for years so they have a “system” that works.
They may also think they are saving money. That’s true if you view samples as a commodity where one sample is basically as good as another.
The downsides of this approach are:
- Not keeping up with best practices. When you work with a company that focuses on samples for building materials, you benefit from what they are learning from the other samples they produce.
- No added value. Experienced building materials sample companies will suggest ways to improve your results, while other suppliers will give you what you ask for even if it isn’t the best idea.
- Missing the big picture. An experienced building materials sample company understands your customer, design, materials, production, fulfillment and how to measure results.
The measure should not be simply how much the sample program cost. It should be how well your sample program helps you grow your sales.
If you want to get better results from this important and expensive marketing tool, consider the recommendations I have outlined above and talk with some of the following companies.
Sample Design and Production Companies
Here is a list of companies that are experienced in building materials samples. If you aren’t working with companies like these, you are probably wasting money while you thinking you are saving. You are also probably losing sales, even after you sent out the sample that you think cost less.
Sample Management and Fulfillment Companies
These companies manage and fulfill sample programs for building materials companies.
Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Great article. As a former manufacturer rep for building material manufacturers, many did not have an interest in this…”
Lumber & Building Materials Executive
“Spot on Mark Mitchell. I see so many sample programs that are all about the SAMPLES and never discuss the WHY should I…”
POP displays and product innovation design
“Thanks for sharing Mark”
CT and Associates