I coach Boys Basketball at a High School near Boise, Idaho, and as an annual community service project just before Thanksgiving our team was tasked with raising money and canned food for the local food bank. We set up a table at the entrances of a nearby Albertson’s and greeted customers as they entered the store with a pleasant smile and a donation request. My job was to supervise, and assist where needed. I watched my players greet the Albertson’s customers. They were friendly and polite, saying all the right things. Every customer was engaged, and a few donated. At the end of the first hour, we had raised a whopping $19.50. I started asking myself what I would do as a marketing strategist to increase conversions. No longer was I a coach tasked with watching 16-year-old boys for 3 hours, I was a Chief Marketing Officer tasked with raising the most money possible. The results were undeniable – a 2200% increase in donations. How did we do it?
“Do you need a cart?”
This was the first thing a customer would hear as they approached. A classic implementation of the foot-in-the-door technique, or what social scientists would call “Successive Approximations”. The more a subject goes along with small requests or commitments, the more likely that subject is to continue in the desired direction of attitude or behavioral change and feel obligated to go along with larger requests.
If the customer needed a cart, they gladly accepted the cart from one of our players, then they turned and entered the lobby where our table was set up.
We were in direct line of site. Our table featured signs that had the school name on it as well as the charity and a large bucket that had a few dollar bills in it. It was obvious upon first glance what we were doing there and where we were from, so starting our sales pitch with “Hi, we’re from _____ High School and we’re raising money for _____ wasn’t working. We had to be disruptive to avoid the natural objection, you know the one. It’s ingrained in all of us. I call it the “No thanks, just looking” response. So we offered free cookies instead and made no mention of why we were there.
“Would you like a free cookie while you shop?”
We purchased cookies, their fresh-baked gourmet cookies. Three different kinds of gourmet cookies, and a napkin were offered to customers as they walked in the store. The players were instructed not to say anything about why we were there, or where we were from unless the customer asked. Ask them if they want the cookie, no strings attached, and wait for them to respond. The principle involved is that a second, slightly larger agreement created a bond between the customer and the player. Even though the customer may only have agreed to a trivial request out of politeness, this forms a bond which – when the customer attempts to justify the decision to themselves – may be mistaken for a genuine affinity with the player, or an interest in the subject of the player.
Nearly 80% of the time a customer who took a cookie also donated. And the donations were, on average, 7 times higher than the previous hour.
1st Hour Earnings: $19.50
2nd Hour Earnings: $422.40
We played around with other variations to really dial it in. We started to notice too that customers would shy away from the table immediately upon entering, taking a right-hand turn away avoiding eye contact with our table, not allowing our table to ask about the cookie. Luckily it had been snowing that morning, so near the entrance, there was a “Slippery When Wet” sign on the floor near the entrance. We simply moved that sign to the right about a foot, forcing more traffic directly in front of our table.
More traffic, more opportunities for conversions.
I walked away from this experience more motivated than I can ever remember. Strategy is such an integral part of marketing, and it works. Sometimes it just takes a little know-how, a little more thought, and the right team.