Insurance companies teach new salespeople, with great success, to approach their family and friends as the “best” sources of leads. When it comes to building up your catering business, your current customers are your “family and friends.” Using in-house signage, table tents, flyers, box toppers and washroom signs are an effective way to get the word out to your customers that you now offer catering. All of these on-site marketing tools also act as a perfect ongoing reminder.

But they’re not enough. Today’s pizzeria owner needs to take advantage of every tool, and we’re not just talking about social media because it’s free. Direct mail remains a viable option for generating leads, especially for event catering for local businesses and events. Here are some ideas for using direct mail to build awareness of your catering option on a limited budget:

1. Start with niche marketing. You can reap large rewards through niche marketing. Sports banquets, weddings, business training meetings and luncheons hosted by pharmaceutical reps are just a few of the possibilities. Each of these events have something in common: You can pretty easily obtain a list of the companies and decision-makers that book them. Sending a lead-generation letter to every pharmaceutical rep in your market will get a better response than simply waiting and hoping they’ll discover you! Even if they frequent your restaurant, they may not have considered you for catering events.

2. Write a letter. For lead-generating direct mail, I like to use letters because of their low cost, high return and ability to get read and acted on by my ideal prospect. Customer testimonials, awards, newspaper articles and positive reviews should also be included with the letter. If you’ve got a high Yelp rating, include that in your mailer, along with some of your most glowing customer reviews. For the prospect that may never have heard of you, these unbiased endorsements of your pizzeria carry a lot of weight.

3. Follow the rule of threes. When using direct mail to generate catering leads, the rule of threes is a must. Just like bill collectors, you want to send three letters, each one a little more urgent than the one before it to get a reply. Your second and third letter should yield the same number of leads as the first letter.

4. Don’t be afraid to try a gimmick. For catering events that could generate a big payoff, it’s worth it to design three-dimensional mail pieces. I have sent letters to pharmaceutical reps in cough syrup bottles and once mailed a letter in an aluminum pan. Your lead-generation letter mailed in a pizza box is sure to get opened and read, and that’s what leads to a prospect taking action.

5. Track your results. With any strategy you use, make sure you track the profitability of your campaign. Not every mailer or target market is going to be a winner for you. Invest more resources into the lead generators that make you money and quickly dump the losers, no matter how cool you think they are.

An expanded version of this article ran in a past issue of PMQ.

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