Grow Through What You Go Through: Marketing & Selling in the Current Climate

Jamie Johnson, Sales

The last few months certainly have been uncharted territories for almost everyone.  We can look at this in many ways, but I like to think of it as freedom to be innovative, inspired, and compassionate.  September 17th, 2020 was the first day I traveled for work since March 13th and I can’t express the excitement I felt. To interact and see our customers has often been the main way of connecting and educating. I looked forward to engaging and listening to our customers in a one-on-one setting to take in what all of their challenges and triumphs have been.

I can recall as I wrapped up the last week of travel in March, my coworker and I pondering the unknown of what is to come. Little did we know how truly devasting the pandemic would be.  Working with an extremely competent team eager to take initiative to continue to service our customers and the industry, I was optimistic we would continue to offer excellent service along with exceptional food gifts.  As we approached selling during the pandemic there were some questions as to how to approach our communication with our customers. We wanted to be thoughtful and compassionate in understanding the shift in the market and buyers potentially working with a restricted budget.  

As a team we discussed a “no hesitation to call” approach.  Just because one may be having a tough time, it does not mean they want to be forgotten and checked off the list of human connection.  We adjusted our method of sharing ideas, and product information, and inquiring what current projects we could help service, but our intentions remained the same: to provide our customers with outstanding service by listening to the situation, asking appropriate and thoughtful questions, and delivering a solution built specifically for their needs.  This level of transparency allows for a real conversation, and through that we fortified the existing strong partnerships with our customers. I experienced many beautiful conversations in which we both shed some personal layers of vulnerability, permitting us to cut through those layers and get down to business.

When I reflect on the many challenges that involve a lack of human connection—work from home/home-schooling trials, technology misfires, the inability to read body language as our lovely faces are disguised by masks,  overload on necessary Zoom meetings, no in-person meetings in the office, etc.—I am filled with deep gratitude for how many have greatly evolved with this massive amount of adversity. This was the biggest adjustment on a personal level I witnessed during the last few months.

Understanding that the sentiment of sending gifts to those working at home was going to surge, we knew we had to respond quickly. Shortly after the initial impact of COVID (which for us was mid-March) we developed a program which allowed for a significant discount on our products, free drop shipments, and free greetings cards on our gourmet gifts. The response was astonishing! I took pleasure in reading many of the greeting card messages being sent out, knowing that our gifts were bound to bring a deep level of joy with the recipient knowing they were thought of by those gifting the goods.

Since mid-March Maple Ridge Farms has seen a sales increase of 75%. In addition to preparing for those working at home we acted on a number of initiatives:

  • Knowing the desire for gourmet food gifts was on the rise, we developed great gifts that included product that could ship year-round with no expedited shipping.
  • Drop shipments… with our 41 years of experience we continued to deliver on the massive amounts of drop shipments sent over the last six months. One project involved shipping chocolates in July across the country. Our logistics team reviewed the destinations, temperatures, and transit times to determine the thickness of the insulation and the amount of ice needed to flawlessly deliver over 10,000 gifts of chocolate surprises to grateful recipients!
  • Social media posts to expose the idea of how our gifts were an impactful solution for the current market.
  • Our marketing team jumped on developing material for our clients relevant to what we were experiencing as buyers’ desires, in particular healthcare worker survival kits, Zoom meeting survival kits, and Zoom morning meeting Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cakes.
  • Repurposing budgets from cancelled events.
  • Compassion. As I mentioned above our professionalism and empathy were – and are - always present. 
  • Like many others, Zoom presentations have been trending. We have experienced it in all forms: meetings with distributors, full team sales meetings, Chamber of Commerce events, and end buyer presentations.

Kitting and customization are on the rise! The request to send an impressive food gift along with other promotional material has been out of this world. We have created many gifts where customer-supplied promotional items have been paired with our exceptional treats and packaging.  We had the pleasure of managing the kitting and fulfillment of these gifts with precision! In the past, this segment had been 25% of our business, and over the last 6 months this number has only increased, allowing for a more robust personal touch to add to the gift-giving experience.