Anyone who has ever been snake charmed, duped, coerced, guilt-tripped or high-pressured into buying a dollars-off discount advertisement on the back of a grocery store receipt, joining the National Association of Business Owners or my favorite, National Write Your Congressman Association, knows the pain of a really great idea that is a complete flop.

Question: Why do we do this?  Answer: It sounds good when they bring out the glossy testimonials in their three-ring binders. It’s only a couple of hundred dollars. Maybe, just maybe, it just might work. ‘Ya think? We would rather write a half-down and half-on-delivery check for a lame strategy as long as we don’t have to exert any energy or think outside of the box.

For the same money or a little less, we can do much, much better without lining the pockets of commissioned salespeople. It will take a little time. That’s what the holy hour between 2 and 4 p.m. was made for.

The Nuts and Bolts of Cross Promotion

Take a drive around town. Look at all of the businesses within a mile or two of your location that are non-foodservice related. Make a list of all of the businesses you do business with and then a contact person’s name next to that. The more customer traffic they have in a week, the better.

This is your assignment. You should have a list of at least 10 to 20 folks that are in the same boat you are. They want new business. They know that each new customer will bring a couple of hundred dollars of profit per year to their bottom line. They, possibly like you, are on limited budgets. Now, give all of the businesses on the list a letter. “A” would be for folks you know really well and will probably be attentive listeners because of you friendship or relationship. “B’s” are for folks you know on a first name friendly basis, but not a true friend. “C’s” would be for businesses that you occasionally do business with and barely know the owner. Give all of the A’s, B’s and C’s a number behind it. A-1 would be a sure thing. B-2 is a very strong possibility. C’s are a maybe.

When I made my first list like this, the first person to come to mind was Danny Gary, owner of the local Citgo gas station. Dan is a real bud and we think the same way on customer service, loyalty and satisfaction. Besides, his station had a 400-car-a-day count. I dropped by one day with a pizza for lunch and we talked over what was on my mind. I asked him if he would hand out my advertising pieces if I would distribute his stuff for him at Big Dave’s. No charge, no middlemen, both family-owned, no big deal. The answer was yes. I asked him how many customer transactions he had in a week and told him I would go to my local quickie printer and have a customized printed piece done. We’d do it for two weeks. He would do the same. Everyone on my A list agreed. The more times I asked and repeated the spiel, the more confidence I got to move on to my B and C list. By now, I had an actual copy of the piece I was using with Dan for a “touchy-feely piece.” These props make the business owner feel confident. Describing an idea and showing an actual thing aren’t the same.

All of the folks on my A list were actual business owners and decision makers. I’d need to tweak my presentation to corporate-owned stores with managers. Some of these people aren’t entrepreneurial- minded and are trained to say “no” or “let me run it by the owner” responses. I had a few weeks or months of feedback from my A list people and created a little collage of actual pieces and testimonials from my A list partners. I asked them, “Can you see why this idea wouldn’t work great for both of us?  I’d be introducing you to all of my customers and you’d be doing the same for me.”  “Can you see any reason your boss wouldn’t like to have your marketing pieces on every one of my pizza boxes for to my hundreds of carry-out and delivery customers for the next few weeks?” “I’ll also place your pieces in my lobby for free…fair enough?” The affirmative response was about 70 percent.

By now, you’re in the groove and ready to start meeting with you C list. By now, you have a beautiful library of samples to do the talking for you. This list agreed about half of the time. Do not let rejections dampen your enthusiasm. Don’t take it personally, it’s just business. Think of the egos of telemarketers.

Advanced Cool Cross Promotions

Pretty soon, you’ll start feeling the fruits of your labors when the VIP cards start rolling in. You will want to keep the ball rolling with the businesses that bear the most fruit. Start a calendar of when to reprint and revisit you business friends with more Valued Customer Cards. Now, you’re ready for the ultimate cross promotion piece. This printed piece will have your logo and you partner’s logo on it and be signed by both you and them. It will be a testimonial like piece and make the recipient feel like your friend, the business owner, is footing the bill for the comp just for their best customers. One of mine read like this: “Gary Oil Company has made special arrangements with Big Dave’s Pizza & Subs to treat you to a free order of breadsticks and a free liter of Coke when you order one of their world famous large pizzas. Just show this card and tell them Dan sent you. Use it tonight or for sure before it expires in seven days. Best regards, Thanks for your business, Dan Gary, signature, logo.” In small print, there was a disclaimer stating one value certificate per household expires in seven days.

Advanced Cross Promotions

I have asked and gotten permission to have my personalized value certificates mailed out in the monthly statements of many businesses. For a five-cent card and a little goodwill, a business may insert them in all of their mail to customers…and they pay the postage! I’ve even had them inserted into the paycheck envelopes of lots of businesses. We’re talking hundreds of checks every Friday. Where do you think these folks are going to get pizza at on payday? These are called one-way promotions. If you get enough (and you will) pieces going out at one time, insert all of them in an envelope and tape them to the top of your pizza boxes.

Final Tips and Thanks

I don’t think you should use the words “Buy a pizza.” “Order a pizza” is much less painless. I also don’t think you should discount your regular menu price. Give the new customers a low-cost freebie rather than dollars off. This maintains your price integrity and makes your cross promotion partner seem generous. I like the VIP value certificates to be about the size of a credit card or dollar bill. They tuck in a billfold and have the feel of money. I’d like to thank Jeff and Mark Slutsky for turning me on to this concept 20 years ago in their book Streetfighting. I can’t quantify the new business it brought me as well as all of my business friends.

Big Dave’s Rule Number One of The Six Habits of Highly Effective Pizza Marketers is: Get your apron off, and get out of the kitchen.