By David H. Martin

Of all the marketing and promotional vehicles available to water treatment dealers, taste sampling is the one that gets a prospect’s blood pumping fastest because it appeals immediately to three of the five senses. When you combine a taste sampling experience with a thoughtful coupon offer, you have a surefire means to capture qualified sales leads and set in-home sales appointments. Whether you’re selling water filtration, reverse osmosis (RO) units, distillation equipment or delivered bottled water, taste sampling can work for you. How well sampling works, in general, was recently documented by a consumer research survey conducted for The Promotion Marketing Association (see FYI).

Targeted prospecting for leads
Taste sampling is simply targeted creative prospecting for leads in a variety of locations. In my experience, it’s an effective, economical way to develop qualified sales leads for drinking water customers, year round. Most water samplings fall into one of three categories — providing free cups of refreshing water for community events, offering refreshing cups of water as an amenity for simpatico shoppers in stores or malls, and prospecting for leads at public parks.

This proven promotional technique works best for capturing sales leads and setting home appointments. It’s not for closing sales. That will come later at the in-home appointment.

Why taste sampling works
In the moment that prospect tastes your high quality drinking water, they’ll see, touch and smell the product as well as hear what you have to say. Your offer of a cold, refreshing cup of healthy, delicious drinking water is hard to resist — even for those who have no particular concerns about their water. It’s a natural way to engage the person while he or she samples your water — “Isn’t that delicious? Tell me, is quality drinking water part of your family’s lifestyle?”

Sampling at community events
Many dealers have drinking water samples at local home shows. While home show participations can be productive, they’re relatively cost-intensive considering your booth costs and display/backdrop requirements that can mount up to an investment of hundreds of dollars per show. Such paid participation in local shows and fairs is merely the most obvious, and often most costly avenue to sampling drinking water. In other words, they’re the tip of the iceberg in the total spectrum of sampling opportunities that await the creative, well-organized dealer in any community.

A short list of events you may find counterparts for in your community can be seen in Table 1.

Unlike home shows, each of the sampling opportunities suggested here are non-paid events, in which a dealer only needs to provide quality drinking water and disposable sampling cups. In each case, you’ll be providing a valuable enhancement (free drinking water) to the sponsor’s event in exchange for the opportunity to develop sales leads. For more information on promoting at community events, see the March 2002 Creative Marketing

Sampling in retail stores
Years before water became America’s fastest growing beverage, some imaginative water improvement product dealers were permitted to taste-sample product water in the aisles of grocery and health food stores. Today, most food retailers wouldn’t welcome you for one very obvious reason. They’re all in the bottled water or vended water business, or both. They’ve become your competitors.

That doesn’t mean you can’t conduct taste samplings at other health-and-fitness retailers that don’t offer competitive water products. In the mid-1980s, I personally field-tested taste sampling promotions for Culligan in retail specialty stores while selling home RO and distillation systems on Chicago’s affluent lakefront area. These non-competing retailers included specialty vitamin stores, sports equipment stores and even a “fresh roast coffee” store. A word of caution — tread lightly on retailers’ hospitality. You’ll need to carefully consider your approach and develop a mindset in which you and your workers must play the role of “grateful and polite guests” at the cooperating retailer. In your initial meeting with the host retailer, you’ll want to offer some thoughtful ways your company’s sampling presence will enhance their store atmosphere. Your interest in their store should not only “provide water” but also extend the retailer’s hospitality to its customers. Be sure to mention it’s your intention to see that the host gets maximum benefit from your participation and you’re open to their suggestions. Above all, always show respect for your host and the cooperative promotional opportunity extended to you.

Keep in mind these rules of success for retail sales floor sampling:

  1. Reach prior agreement on the level of participation and then deliver it.
  2. Never upstage your retailer host in their place of business.
  3. Refer all customer questions not related to drinking water to the store’s staff.
  4. Show up on time at each scheduled sampling.
  5. Don’t try to close sales in the store; focus instead on capturing sales leads.
  6. Maintain a tidy, professional sampling station.
  7. Keep your sampling setup simple and compact, so as not to disrupt in-store shopping.
  8. Clean up when you leave, removing sampling materials and equipment.
  9. Suggest future promotions and improvements.
  10. Thank your hosts for the opportunity to contribute to their store’s hospitality.

Informal taste samplings
Some of your taste sampling activities won’t require much advance planning, but can still yield excellent results. In my experience, some of the most effective samplings often happen in public parks, where people walk, run and bicycle as well as walk the dog.

A simple, portable sampling setup will fit in the trunk of your car. My favorite setup consisted of three plastic gallon bottles filled with RO or distilled water, two more jugs half-filled with RO ice (frozen overnight), a compact ice chest, a supply of four-ounce cups, a small serving tray and a demonstrator point-of-use faucet. The ice chest sat on top of a simple wooden kitchen stool, with room underneath for a small waste basket. A spiral bound sign-up pad was attached to a string and pen for capturing sales leads. Finally, hand-lettered signs, taped to the front of the stool, greeted passersby. Here are a couple of examples:

  • “Cold, healthy drinking water: 0 calories, 0 cents per cup”

The entire taste sampling setup described above takes up only four square feet of space, fits in the trunk of any car, and costs well under $50.

Why offer a coupon?
As the aforementioned consumer survey (see FYI) on sampling indicated, “85 percent of respondents agreed that a free sample combined with a ‘coupon offer’ made it more likely they would purchase the product.”

First sample the product, creating more interest by engaging prospects verbally. Then offer the coupon provisionally. The provision? That they give you their name, address, phone number and email address (the email marked with an * as being optional) so someone can bring over a gallon of free drinking water by appointment, at which time they’ll learn more about your products or services.

Experiment with different coupon offers, to determine what works best for you. Some possibilities include:
Free home water test.

  • Free trial offer on home RO system.
  • Free first month rental of installed equipment, or
  • Free one-month bottled water service delivery.

Taste sampling of quality drinking water in a variety of locations can yield a steady supply of sales leads, year round. Plan your “tastings” around scheduled community events and retailers where cups of free water will be welcome. Plus, don’t forget informal tastings in public parks, even on weekday afternoons. Coupons and samplings are a winning combination. Try it.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: [email protected] or website:

NOTE: This is not to mention county fairs, business expos, community festivals, antique shows, flea markets, etc., that may take place at public parks or fairgrounds. Keep an eye on the community calendar in your local newspaper for these and other ideas.



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