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Great customer events

Great customer events

Advice on building a successful open house or customer appreciation event

By Troy Harrison

I received a great question from a client last week, and I think many of you might be able to learn from it. The question was, “Troy, my company is considering hosting an open house for our customers. An Open House as an employee morale booster or for client appreciation has undoubted value, but my question to you is whether or not you’ve ever heard of Open House events being worthwhile in a sales aspect?”

That’s an excellent question, and worthy of an article. An event for customers like an open house, or a customer appreciation party, can be a great way to build stronger customer relationships and employee morale and esprit de corps. It can also be an expensive failure that leads to employees standing around, looking at each other, and eating expensive catered food while wondering when the customers are going to show up. The difference between the two lies in understanding the two “wins” that must happen.
For a successful customer event to happen, two “wins” must be designed in prior to the event, and two questions answered:

First, how does the customer win by showing up? Once upon a time, it was enough to put out free food and free booze to get people to show. Yes, you can still get people to show up with those promises – but fewer and fewer people, and they are unlikely to be the C-level and V-level contacts that my client was targeting. There has to be a “win” or a gain for those contacts to show up – particularly if you’re trying to bring in prospects as well as clients. We’ll get to some of those wins in a moment, but first, let’s address the next question.

Second, how does the company win by investing in the open house? Open houses are fun, and it’s nice to show off your facility – especially if you’ve moved into new digs. But to really win, there needs to be a strategy behind the open house that helps customers enter into, or advance through, their own buying processes. When it’s over, you need to either have new prospects, deeper relationships with current customers, or (ideally) both.
The order of those questions is no accident – if you’ve not answered the first question well, the second question doesn’t matter, because you won’t win without people showing up.

Here are some possible “wins” that will entice your customers to show up:

  • Create an experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Some of the best open houses I’ve seen have been “experience based,” where there are activities that encourage attendee participation and involvement.
  • Give stuff away. When I say “give stuff away,” I don’t mean promotional products, nor do I mean your products. I mean have some door prizes that are well worth winning.
  • Educate and inform. Some successful open houses will have educational events that show how to use your products or services better. For instance, if you’re selling industrial boilers, you might have a workshop on boiler maintenance.
  • Bring in a great speaker. Alternatively, a noted speaker and seminar can be an excellent draw, particularly for those C- and V-level people that my client was targeting. Now that you have them there, it’s time for you to “win” as well. Again, these are “wins” that should be articulated BEFORE the event.
  • Key employees can meet your customers. This can be especially important when the key employees are not necessarily involved with the customer contact. For instance, if the only people meeting your customers are your sales and service people, it’s good to have your operations manager, general manager, etc. meet your customers.
  • Demonstrate your products. Product demos can be an excellent reason to have an open house, particularly if it’s difficult to demonstrate your products in the field (for instance, heavy machine tools, inventory dispensers, etc.).
  • Warehouse tours. This can work really well if your facility is particularly clean or innovative; customers enjoy seeing where their products are warehoused, and a look “behind the curtain” can be very enjoyable and build more identity with you.
  • Close a sale. Yes, it’s perfectly OK to sell at an open house. Why not? All the facilities to complete the sale are in one place, so don’t be afraid to allow customers to express interest and to buy.
  • Meet new prospects. If the “wins” above are solid, you may get prospects to come to your facility – even when they won’t take a sales call.

A well-planned open house can be a great way to build stronger customer relationships, but it depends on the two wins. Make sure both are solid, and it’s a good investment.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and president of SalesForce Solutions, a sales training, consulting and recruiting firm. For booking training, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, e-mail or visit

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2014, Direct Business Media.


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