There’s no denying that we live in a digital world, where clicking “order” and waiting for the delivery person to drop it off at your door is pretty much the norm. But there’s still appeal for physical shopping experiences. Some things, you just need to touch.
In the promotional products space, product samples are the equivalent of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. Before your customers make their final purchasing decision, they might want to take a look at a product to make sure it’s what they want. Is the size right? Does the color match their corporate branding? Does it feel cheap?
It’s just another way for the buyer to do their due diligence. But, the distributor needs to be discerning as well, because while some end-buyers might think that samples grow on trees, or at least that distributors have an endless supply of products that they don’t have to pay for, that’s not the case. Giving out too many samples is a good way to nickel and dime money out of your business.
If you provide samples wisely—choosing who gets samples and how many they get, and ensuring that the end-buyer is serious—you can give your clients the peace of mind that their order is exactly what they wanted, while saving money yourself.
Are You Serious?
Most suppliers have a policy in place where they will provide samples free of charge up to a certain threshold. This could be $10 or so, depending on the supplier. You’ll probably still be on the hook for shipping, though, and that’s where you can actually start to gauge the interest of your prospective client.
“Someone who calls me out of the blue, even a referral who I’ve never done business with, I have no problem sending a sample,” said Rama Beerfas, chief solutions specialist for Lev Promotions, San Diego. “If I get a sample for free, I’m happy to do that, as long as they cover the shipping.”
Shipping costs are rising, and Beerfas said that if distributors aren’t careful, those repeated shipping charges for samples are what can eat away at profit margins. But, if a client is willing to cover the shipping, it not only saves you money as the distributor, but can give you a good inclination that the client is serious about making a purchasing decision.
“What I’ve found, and this has applied all over the years, is that the moment that they’re responsible for paying for any of it—even if you tell them that if they order the item, the cost will be applied back to their order—if they’re not serious about it, they’re not going to pay for it,” Beerfas said. “If they’re serious about it, they’re willing to pay for it, because they understand there’s a cost to these things.”
“Too many people think that we just have sample upon sample, and just want them sent to them because they’re looking,” said Jeanne Rivers, account executive for Tangerine Promotions, Northbrook, Ill. “I don’t do that. I really try to qualify the customer and the opportunity a little more solidly before I just start sending random samples.”
Don’t Waste Time
You want to be a problem solver for your customers, and show that you go above and beyond. But, it’s important to set some healthy boundaries for both yourself and your clients. This will save you time and money in the long run.
If a client comes to you asking about a product and brings up the idea of samples, before you even get into the costs of shipping that they may incur, you should ask about the details of the promotion they’re working on. Sampling might not even be possible, or it might at least vary from supplier to supplier.
“The key here is understanding your client, and then understanding their objective and what their budget is,” said Ray Rodriguez, vice president of sales and marketing for Tekweld, Hauppauge, N.Y. “Of course, at the same time, [ask about] the event date and when they need it. Sometimes a customer says, ‘Oh, I need 500 of something,’ and they need it tomorrow. That puts a lot of added extra pressure. It really doesn’t allow for any type of sampling. But understanding the dead drop date of when they need the product is critical, because each supplier is different in how they react to production time.”
You might also have to say “no” when the client comes asking for sample after sample. Sure, they have a job to do and you admire their commitment to perfection. But, those shipping charges add up, and after a certain point that client is just spinning their wheels, weighing pros and cons of eight, nine, 10 different water bottles. A good way to keep the process running smoothly is to try to narrow choices down before sending any products as samples.
“They start to second guess,” Beerfas said. “‘Well, this one’s bigger, but this one feels better, but I like the color on this one, and it doesn’t come in that one.’ So, I really encourage my clients to narrow down what they want to see samples of to their top one or two items at most. If those don’t meet their needs, then we start looking at option three [or] four, or looking at a completely different product category at that point.”
Just recently, Beerfas had a client ask about six different tumblers they wanted to sample.
“I told them I would send them two [and] pay for all of it, but after all of that they’re going to have to start paying for the cost of shipping, and if there’s a cost for the sample, they have to pay that as well,” she said. “And all of a sudden, their demand for samples went way down.”
Spend Money to Make Money
We’ve covered how to save money while providing samples for your customers. But it’s not just about penny pinching or finding the cheapest way to do things. A smart businessperson will find opportunities to turn a sale into a bigger sale, and samples can play a key role in that.
Having spent years in the beverage and alcohol industry working on point-of-purchase sales, Rivers has been on both the buyer and distributor end of things, so she knows what makes distributors’ clients tick. She said that providing a preproduction sample can give the customer incentive to spend a little more than they originally planned.
“Maybe they wanted to spend $5, and I have a $10 item,” she said. “Getting that in their hands with their logo on it, seeing how it looks, I think can often help with an upsell or a large order, a larger sale. For the right opportunity and the right customer, I’m willing to invest in that and costs associated with that when it makes sense.”
And once you have that “right customer”—the one you know won’t just ask for samples willy nilly without ever placing an order—you can start to do more to keep them coming back, using samples as part of that strategy.
“At the end of every year, I look over what my clients’ spend has been,” Beerfas said. “And I basically have a scale that if you spend [a certain amount], we’ll do one free sample. Or I give you a sample budget. That includes shipping. So, you may get $25 in free samples, but, of course, that includes shipping costs as well. And that’s so they know that, No. 1, I appreciate the business that they’ve given me, and it’s one of the perks of not only doing business with me, but doing higher volumes of business with me.”