By Karen E. Klein Q: Some friends and I want to start an adventure-travel business locally and then branch out to other markets. How might we attract the attention of business executives for team-building excursions? -- K.H., Portland, Ore.
A: Start by identifying which kinds of organizations might consider team-building trips, suggests Ken Keller, a marketing consultant. How about companies experiencing rapid growth? When many new people are hired within a short time, they are often thrown into a melee of conflicting goals, limited resources, and rivalries between "old" and "new" staff. Management may be searching for a quick way to bring about staff cohesion.
Companies going through tough times might be a second target, although you'll have to bear in mind that if they're struggling to stay in business, they won't have the money to devote to an expensive excursion. Perhaps you could offer a shorter, cheaper trip as one of your options.
Your marketing materials should make two points very clearly. The first is how the excursions' activities will foster a team-building experience. The second is how employees' participation will help the company to solve its internal problems and strengthen its management. "While you and your colleagues may be really excited about what you are offering, today's business person wants to basically know what's in it for them," says Meg Goodman, a Chicago marketing expert. "If they're going to spend their employees' time and salary sending them to one of your adventures, they will want to know what they will get in return."
PRESS WATCH. Keeping an eye on local and regional business publications is a good way to build a list of prospects, says Keller. Because many firms will protest that they don't have the time to devote to team-building, you'll need to go on the offensive to win the business. Make sure your materials reach a decision-maker and that they address the immediate return-on-investment.
Lynn Sarkany, president of MarketFinders, suggests that you contact executive-management offices directly. "They can put you in contact with the person that will get you most quickly to the decision-makers within the organization," she says. You could also contact organizational management-consulting firms to inquire about mutually beneficial referral arrangements. "Oftentimes, consultants will refer their clients to a business like yours to enhance their development work," says Sarkany.
Lists of local businesses can be developed simply by looking through the phone book. Or you can buy a targeted list at InfoUSA.com, and also get company phone numbers that you can use to follow up after you've sent out your brochure.
CASTING LURES. You may want to offer some kind of incentive to your first customers, such as a discount for early sign-up or a free T-shirt. Referral programs can also work well. "Be sure to keep a good database of your clients and give all of them a follow-up survey to grade your performance and ask for referrals," Goodman says.
Additional ways to attract attention would include press releases to local newspapers and TV and radio stations. Goodman suggests partnering with a local outdoor-adventure store and hosting evening seminars on excursions into the wild, making sure to distribute your brochures. Good luck! Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.