Although cold-calling prospective customers isn’t fun, it works. During the early stage of our catering business, I personally identified possible new clients and simply asked if they had ever used a caterer. One February morning I called a large local heating supply business. They wholesaled HVAC units, and I knew they hosted lots of day-long classes for their customers and for their in-house sales staff.
The person who answered the phone also happened to be in charge of ordering catering for the office. She told me that I had called at the right time because they had two important meetings that week for 60 guests each and needed food. She further explained that they liked a certain menu and wanted the same thing each day since the daily guests would be different. One of the main items they requested was chicken salad. The conversation ended as I was told that we would be given a chance.
Let’s Do It
I excitedly told my wife that we had gotten a new customer; we wanted to do everything possible to make a great impression. We had a killer recipe for chicken salad that we made with grilled chicken breasts and we couldn’t wait to get started.
We Were Ready
Even though this new customer had ordered a rather pedestrian level of food (we thought), we spent hours making it as upscale as possible. Everything was highly garnished and beautifully packaged. I delivered the order myself, went back to the kitchen, waited until sufficient time had passed, and called the customer to see what they thought.
Not What I Wanted to Hear
Here’s how the call went:
Me: Hi, Mrs. Johnson. Just calling to see how you guys liked your lunch today.
Her: Well, most of it was OK, but that chicken salad was a problem.
Me: Wow, we spent hours preparing it; what was the issue?
Her: I wanted chicken salad. You know, the kind with lots of mayonnaise. The kind that has cut up cooked chicken in it. We didn’t want any grilled nonsense.
Her: You are bringing us food tomorrow. I’ll give you one more chance.
I was upset, but I knew what to do. Our produce guy sold this boring chicken salad that was chicken + mayonnaise and not much else. We had rejected that product a number of times, but I figured if this customer wanted what we considered junk, junk they would get. We ordered 20 pounds, slopped it into a bowl, put a piece of parsley on it and off it went.
Here’s how the next day’s call went:
Me: Mrs. Johnson – hi, it’s Richard. How was your lunch today?
Her: Young man, that was exactly what I was looking for. It was great. Call me next week and we’ll set up some more orders.
Moral of the Story
Never try to force your personal tastes upon a customer. Always understand what they need and what they want, and give it to them regardless of what you personally think. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but when we had called upon Mike Roman to help us develop our initial corporate catering menu, the first thing he asked was, “you guys aren’t in love with food are you?” He sighed with relief when we told him we weren’t, and then said that we had a chance to succeed.
Leads, Leads, Leads
Remember, we at The Corporate Caterer have a great leads program that puts you a step ahead of your competition. We offer quality leads at a reasonable price. Each one of our leads is carefully vetted, and you can be assured that you will be calling someone who needs your services. If you need more info, just send me an email, or you can go directly to the leads program link: http://www.thecorporatecaterer.com/corporate-caterers-leads-program/
This is a great time of year to pursue new business.
Summer is moving along and soon we will be thinking about the holidays. Watch for more true stories about that unique time of year.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention. That HVAC company became a top account for many, many years
I just recently experienced a similar situation a few weeks ago when I proudly delivered what I thought to be a flawlessly medium-temperature juicy herb crusted pork loin to a group of doctors. In fact, I thought it was so perfectly done that I even plated a piece for some photography I was doing that day. A couple hours after the delivery, the administrator called and just as I prepared myself to graciously accept her highest compliments, she proceeded to tell me that the doctors were hysterical and refused to eat the food because they said it was raw and that pork has life threatening parasites. They were so disgusted by the pork’s rosy pink center that they had lost their appetites and even refused to eat the polenta, roasted vegetables, and salad I had sent in separate containers along with the pork. What a kick in the gut! On the one hand, I had all my fellow culinarians back in the kitchen offering me the highest praises on the small portion I left for them to sample, yet my client hated it. However; despite the frustration, I came to the realization that going forward, it’s my responsibility to confer with my clients about how they like certain menu items prepared and if I’m really not willing to destroy a recipe in order to satisfy a client, then I can offer something else or let them go to a caterer willing to serve the menu the way they want it.