Lesson #3: Let Your Customers Try and Buy Your Product
“I learned how important what I call ‘try and buy’ was,” says Fields. “I didn’t want to advertise and say my cookies are the world’s best. It would be presumptuous of me to say that. Instead I wanted people to actually experience the product, try the product, and if they thought it was worthy, if they liked it, then they could buy it.”
The very first thing Fields did after writing her business plan was begin making dozens of her fresh cookies. She was on a quest to find the necessary financing to get her wheels in motion. And, she had secured a number of meetings with bankers by calling institutions listed in the Yellow Pages one by one each morning. “I was literally dialing for dollars,” she recalls.
But Fields was not about to walk into those business meetings empty-handed. She knew that she could talk until she was blue in the face, but unless she could let people experience her product for themselves, they would not be able to understand where she was coming from. “I would bake up batches of fresh-made cookies because I’m coming in to see you [lenders], and I’m talking about being in the cookie business,” she says. “As far as you were concerned, as far as I was concerned, what makes mine special? You had to experience it.”
Fields believed in her cookies. She knew that if only people could taste what she tasted, they would jump on board. “I wanted to show them that I was trying to make my product different,” she says. “So I brought my product with me.” Eventually, her “try and buy” scheme worked, and she found a banker to sign on to her project. And, she figured if it worked with a banker, it would work for customers too.
Fields began sending out trays of free cookies into the streets in an attempt to lure new customers in. “I wanted to make my first investment in my customer,” she says. “I wanted to give the product away.”
As it turned out, her system worked. People would try her cookies on the streets and wander into the store to see where they could find more. “Try it and buy it,” says Fields. “That was the way we really found customers.”
Fields knew that business was done with people and not with institutions, and she knew that people would go along with something they could not help but like. If they were familiar with her cookies, Fields was convinced they would come back for more. And so, she did not hesitate to offer free samples. In a heartbeat, Fields was ready and willing to give her cookies away, believing that what they brought back to her would be worth ten times more than what she had given away. It was a challenging and risky task in the early days of Fields’ company, where both money and time were scarce. But, Fields’ took that risk and is where she is today because of it.
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