“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” -- Henry Ford

How do you eat a cow? One bite at a time.

It's how companies recruit new customer evangelists, too. Instead of selling customers on the whole kit and cow-boodle of products, successful companies often first entice customers with a steak dinner.

If they love the steak, they'll be back for the roast and later, the whole side of beef.

How? By breaking their product and service portfolio into bite-size chunks: small, easily consumed pieces of what makes your company valuable.

For some products, it's samples. For other products, a limited-time or limited-capacity trial version works well. For still others, it's a public workshop that provides a service.

A “starter” product or service lets customers try your lower-end offerings on their way to purchasing your high-end, more expensive and complex products.

How does this help create customer evangelists?

  • It reduces the risk for decision-makers in purchasing from you the first time. 
  • It eliminates inhibitors to the purchase, such as cost or time. 
  • It gets your great product into their hands and minds.
  • It shortens the sales cycle and provides a strategic opportunity for customers to experience your products sooner rather than later.
  • It spreads buzz by introducing the product or service to more people who can then tell others about it, even if they don't purchase your product.
  • It builds goodwill with customers because it provides value without requiring a large purchase.

The lesson: Provide upfront value. Give to receive.

By extending an offer of trust, you implicitly tell customers that you are trustworthy. You're genuine. You are easy to work with.

Consumer-package goods companies, like P&G and Unilever, have used this technique for decades by mailing free samples of laundry detergent and shampoo to homes. A January 2001 survey by Brand Marketing and the Promotion Marketing Association found that sampling is highly effective for marketers of consumer packaged goods. It asked 1,195 people about their bite-size chunk habits. The results:

  • 95 percent have tried a sample
  • 38 percent have tried every sample they have received in the past year 
  • 92 percent decided to buy a grocery, household, or health and beauty care product after trying a sample
  • 73 percent became aware of new or improved products through samples
  • 84 percent would consider switching products if they liked the free sample

Many consumer software companies let prospective customers try a product for a limited time. Customers download a full-featured version of the software from the company's web site for free before it expires after 30 to 90 days, or a limited number of uses.

How do other companies successfully create evangelists using bite-size chunks?

  • Krispy Kreme – New customers who have yet to try a Krispy Kreme doughnut are often handed one in the store. Sometimes clerks include an extra doughnut to munch on while waiting to pay.

  • SolutionPeople – This creativity consulting firm for the Fortune 500 charges $60,000 - $100,000 for several days of creative brainstorming. Prospective customers can send a representative to a day-long public session for $850. The company reports a conversion rate of more than two-thirds to the more expensive service offering. Customers can also purchase a handheld tool that encapsulates the company's creative process for $75.

  • Dallas Mavericks – What's it like to be a season-ticket holder for this NBA team? Fans can find out by buying 5- and 10-game packets of tickets. If customers like their seats and the overall experience, they can upgrade to a half or full-season membership. The team's marketing chief says 55 percent of customers upgrade.

  • IBM – Its “Test Drive” program lets programmers test Linux applications online in a simulated IBM environment without having to actually buy IBM hardware.

  • v Salesforce.com – This fast-growing software company offers web-based salesforce automation and customer relationship management tools. To establish itself in the market, it offered customers free use of tools for one year.

How to create bite-size chunks of your own:

  • If your product/service is a complex sale requiring more than 30 days to close, divide your offerings into smaller and less-expensive components.
  • Personally invite your most loyal customers to try other products/services in your portfolio for free for a limited time.
  • Identify the most visible leaders within your key industry to try your products for free for a limited time.
  • Create a “starter” version of your product that's easy to try and purchase.
  • Investigate how to give away part of your product/service so that it can easily pass from person to person, thereby dramatically increasing your pool of prospects.

As Henry Ford once said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” By dividing your product and service into discrete, easy-to-understand pieces, you exponentially increase the likelihood of creating new customers evangelists.

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Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba are the authors of Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force.