I have been on many building product plant tours. Most of them are not very effective and are really missing an opportunity to gain new customers and more sales.
Why Most Plant Tours Are Not Effective
Plant tours are too often taken matter-of-factly and not as a serious marketing tool. They are seen as an opportunity to build relationships and impress the customer with the facility. The problem is. However, facilities don’t impress customers. Customers are impressed by how the facility is able to help them.
There’s an old rule in marketing that says the only time you show the plant is when it’s for sale. I don’t agree with that.
Done right, the tour can be a way to build the customer relationship and grow sales. The last thing you want to do though is to reduce your tour to a walk-thru of an aerial photo of your plant while you talk about how fantastic it is.
This Is Worth the Brain Power
Consider how much it costs you to make a sales call. How invested is that customer in you and your company?
Now think about how much you spend on your website, advertising, trade shows and other marketing programs? And how deeply engaged is the average visitor to your website? How much of their time are they spending on your website, reading an ad or in your trade show booth?
Your customer’s time is the most valuable thing they can give you. If they are going to take the time to visit your plant, you owe it to them to make it worth their while and to put your best foot forward.
A customer showing this level of interest offers a real sales opportunity and the chance to reaffirm their decision to go with you. A good tour can also dramatically set you apart from the competition, making it harder for them to take the customer away from you. Rethinking your plant tour is worth the effort.
Why Plant Tours Need Marketing
Often times, plant managers or a senior executive give the plant tour. This isn’t wrong, but consider that their position is more geared toward operations and not customer relations. Marketing (the team who bridges your product to your customer) is seldom involved in the plant tour. That is, they aren’t involved unless they happen to be a department the visitor walks by on a tour of the office.
Tour directors often direct attention to, “This is how we do this” and not, “We do this to benefit our customers by XXX.” They show their newest and biggest equipment and tell the customer, “We spent $00,000,000 on this, and it can produce XX units per hour” rather than, “We made this investment as it allows us to better meet our customers’ needs, for X, Y, and Z.”
They’ll say, “It’s too bad you weren’t here earlier today so you could have seen this process.”
If you’re serious about plant tours, make sure they get to see these processes, even if they cause the plant some inconvenience.
The marketing team will be key in developing a tour that explains features you point out and the benefits they bring your customers.
Features tell, but it’s the benefits that sell. You may amaze visitors with your ability to produce XX number of units a day, but you will entice them to become customers when you explain you deliver your product XX% faster than your competitors. Get what I’m saying?
Who Visitors Meet on the Tour
Tours frequently walk past plant workers as if they aren’t even there, as opposed to greeting the employees, introducing them, describing their responsibilities and maybe even letting them describe their job themselves.
No matter how automated your plant is, visitors want to see people are a valued part of your operation. This brings us to another point…your work environment.
Customers on a tour can tell a lot about your business by the reactions and body language they notice from employees. If employees look like they hate their jobs or just see it as a job, that tells the customer about your company and how they will probably be treated as a customer. The work environment is part of your tour. Are you proud of yours?
The Reaction You Want After The Tour
What reaction do you want from your customer at the end of the day? Do you want them to feel as if they just completed a task or that they just invested time in a valuable and worthwhile experience? When they get back to their office, do you want them telling their co-workers, “I made it back from Sheboygan,” or “I wish you could have been there. I see why this is the company for us.”
Some companies think if they have the receptionist put the visitor’s name on the welcome sign in the lobby, they have done something truly special. I’m telling you, it’s a nice touch, but it’s only the start.
Look at it this way…
A Plant Tour is Theatre With
- A script*
- Sets and props
Audience Reactions You Want
A Plant Tour Is an Experience
Disney employees are called ‘cast members’ to remind them that it is their job to create a great and memorable experience for customers. They are, in essence, doing plant tours every day.
Herman Miller and Zappos give the two best ‘plant’ tours I have ever experienced. The next time you are in Las Vegas, take one of the several daily tours of the Zappos offices and imagine it is your plant. After that experience, consider what you would do differently on your plant tour.
Turn the Tour Over to Marketing
Your marketing department is best equipped to organize the plant tour. They should collaborate with the plant manager, but they have the overview of your company’s messaging to bring it all into alignment. They can pull those plant “features” together with the “benefits” your potential clients read about in your advertising.
Decide upon the objectives and the success metrics and let marketing develop a plan with a budget. If plant tours are going to be an important part of your new business plan, don’t scrimp on the budget. Ask yourself how much a new customer is worth and what would you pay to get a new customer.
I also suggest you make your ad agency or creative team experience your plant tour first hand, from arrival to departure. Manufacturers make the mistake of assuming customers know more than they do about your products. This means you can miss important points by talking over their head. The agency creative team is a great resource because they will ask the questions your customers may not.
The agency creative plan should include everything: invitations, transportation, lodging, meals, the flow of the tour, messages for each facility area and who delivers that message, signage, the lobby’s appearance, tour takeaways, tour follow-ups. Everything.
Being outside daily operations, they will have an eye for the simple things, like signs in the plant that explain what is happening at specific tour points. This will help your customers retain more information about why you are a better choice.
Let the agency create an experience that will give your facilities the added benefit of being a sales asset.
Bring It All Together
As with all your marketing, you want a consistent message about who you are. Your company may have many elements to it so that you can be different things to different customers. But bringing it all together reassures your customer that 1.) you are who you say you are and, 2.) you’re the right company for them. Pulling your plant tour into the marketing loop is part of this process.
Your plant tour is not a one-sided presentation about how fantastic you are. It is an opportunity to tell the public about your company and make new customers feel reassured about the decision they make to work with you. Understanding the value of the plant tour in this way can help you gain new customers and more sales.
*When I say a script, I do not mean a memorized script. I mean the key message points that need to be communicated on the tour as told in the words of that person.
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Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Hit the nail on the head!”
Multifamily Account Manager
Professional Builders Supply, LLC
“Mark Mitchell is spot on! So much value can be created if this is done properly…as well as the customers can give your company ideas to improve the overall customer experience!”
Regional Sales Manager – Kwikset