By Michelle Nichols
It can sometimes seem like Mission Impossible when small outfits try to compete against the big marketing budgets wielded by large corporations. Actually, there are at least a hundred sales and marketing tactics that entrepreneurial Davids can use to beat the Goliaths. I'm just going to focus on one: writing "thank you" notes.
A simple thank-you note demonstrates an attitude of gratitude no catchy slogan or coffee mug can come close to matching. Here's a simple test that should prove how effective they can be: Try to recall the last genuine, handwritten thank-you note you received that wasn't tied to a holiday.
PUSH THAT ENVELOPE.
Now I can hear a collective whine rise up from "Savvy Selling" readers all around the world. Say it all together now, "We hate to write thank-you notes." (Nice harmony, folks.) But that is exactly the reason you should! They can help you wedge open the door when you're prospecting for new customers, close a sale, and keep your customers happy through many profit-producing years.
You don't need to wait until you have made a sale before sending a thank-you note. There are lots of reasons to thank a customer, including:
• Thank you for taking the time to explain your company's needs over the phone...
• Thank you for making an appointment with me to discuss your situation...
• Thank you for meeting with me to discuss the opportunities...
• Thank you for referring...
• Thank you for your first order...
• Thank you for your tenth order...
• Thank you for a year of business...
• Thank you for helping me win "Salesperson/Sales Team of the Year" or "Hot Growth Company of the Year."
Include your business card with every thank-you note. You never know who the recipient will give it to. Printing your phone number in your card is a good idea because then they can't lose it until they get rid of the card and it may put the idea in their head to call you.
SHORT AND SWEET.
There are a few tricks to writing a good thank-you note. First, they should be written by hand. Unless you have a broken arm, a computer-printed or preprinted thank-you note just won't do. They don't have nearly the same impact. Also, do your best to write neatly. Reading your handiwork should not be like deciphering a secret code!
Thank-you notes only need to be a couple of sentences long, so think short and sweet. Brevity will give the note some punch and make the job quicker for you, too. Forget e-mail thank-you notes. Who doesn't get enough e-mail already? After a big event, a quick e-mail thank you is nice, just so long as it is quickly followed by a nice written one.
For a major thank-you note, nothing beats a nice card, so lay in a good selection of boxed thank-you cards from a card store and you will never have an excuse for not writing. Maybe even set yourself a quota -- five a day is a great place to start.
Consider having some note cards custom printed with your company logo or slogan. I once read about a guy whose cards all featured a series of tiger themes, which made them memorable and left a positive association. I know a saleslady who was also an artist, and she had some of her drawings made into cards. Another idea: Have a cartoon drawn up to highlight some of the great things about doing business with you. There are lots of ideas. The trick is to pick one and go with it.
STAMPS OF APPROVAL.
In real estate, buyers always notice curb appeal -- the impression a property makes at first glance. With thank-you notes, it's also an important consideration: the envelope, return address, and postage stamp are all important because that is what the recipient sees first. A colored envelope is worth the extra expense because it stands out in a stack of white ones. Don't ruin a great thank-you note by running it through a postage meter. Go down to the post office, look over all the stamps, and pick out some really attractive ones. Don't be afraid to buy hundreds of them. The financial commitment will prod you to write and make use of them.
Make sure you spell the recipient's name correctly, and, whatever else you do, make absolutely sure to get the title and company name right, too. You can do more damage than good if you mess up these simple details. If you haven't met the person you're are writing to, or if you don't have their card, just call the main switchboard and ask.
The best time to write correspondence is after work. The second best time is during down time. I once read about a Junior League gal who wrote her thank-you notes in the bathroom during the event, but that is carrying a good idea too far.
IT'S CHILD'S PLAY.
If you spoke to a dozen folks today and wrote three sentences to each, in 36 sentences, you'd have a huge impact. Accept that you may not see a big jump in your sales right away. It may be more of a steady rise that grows over the years, but it will happen.
You don't hear much about the impact of writing thank-you notes because Madison Avenue hasn't figured out how to charge big bucks for an idea so simple my young children can do it. The rule in our house is nobody gets to cash a check or play with a gift until they have written the requisite thank-you note. Imagine the impact on your company if your sales reps didn't get to spend their commission or bonus checks until they had done the same! My bet is that a stream of thank-you notes will give them a lot more to be thankful for over the years to come.
I can't close without thanking my loyal readers for all their e-mails of support and their questions about sales. Your feedback makes writing this column a pure joy. See, writing really does make an impression! Thank you. Happy Selling!
Michelle Nichols is a Sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston, Texas. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org