So many folks think that all they need to do is get a hot dog cart, set it up at the first place they find, and wait for the money to come rolling in. What could be easy (with the right knowledge) turns into a real grind.
The thing they don’t understand is that a hot dog business, like every other business on the planet, is a sales business. But that doesn’t mean you have to wear a plaid suit and gold chains. Please, don’t do that.
I’ll show you how to make the sales process run itself so you can concentrate on the fun part – slingin’ dogs!
The Sales Process
It doesn’t matter if you sell tennis balls or toilet tanks – every business must follow the same six steps in order to sell anything at all.
Every dollar that your hot dog cart business generates is a result of these steps, sometimes referred to as the sales funnel. If you aren’t making as much money as you think you should, odds are that you’ve got a hole in your funnel because one or more steps in your sales process is broken or missing.
Here are the six steps in order:
1. Prospect for customers.
In our business we do this by attracting attention to ourselves. The first step is getting yourself noticed. Remember – if they don’t notice you, you don’t exist.
2. Qualify the prospect.
Qualifying the prospect means being sure that they are capable of completing the transaction. A qualified lead is one that has enough money to buy your food, and one that is hungry for what you serve. (Even a millionaire is not a qualified prospect if she isn’t hungry at the moment.) We get qualified prospects by being in the right place at the right time.
3. Make your presentation.
I always tell my students, “Don’t just sell a hot dog, sell an experience!” Have a theme, a gimmic, a hook. Your customer should be captivated by the experience, totally immersed in your world while they are at your cart.
4. Address the customer’s objections.
Overcome a price objection by overwhelming them with quality, stocking unique condiments, offering them combo and daily specials, and again – by providing a totally unique dining experience.
The second biggest objection we get is the cleanliness issue. Overcome it by keeping an immaculate cart. Wipe it down between every order. Even if it’s not dirty, the customer needs to see you cleaning. Display your business license and health department certificates to show that you are legal and that you comply with the food codes. Brick and mortar restaurants do it – you should too.
The third most common objection is slow lines. Do what you can to move them through quickly without compromising the experience. I know a slinger who warms up pre-cooked bacon slices with a propane torch. Yeah, it takes some time but I’ve been there and saw a line of fifteen entranced customers watching the process with smiles on their faces. He has more business than he can handle – and over 5000 friends on his Facebook business page.
5. Close the sale.
That means putting the money in your apron. In the mobile food business, once you have the first four steps working for you, closing the sale comes easily and naturally. This is a huge advantage over other types of business (cars, homes, heavy equipment) where the close is actually the hardest part of all.
6. Get repeat and referral business.
It takes ten times more effort to get a new customer than it does to sell to an existing customer so you have to get ‘em to come back again and again. We accomplish this with repeat customer incentive programs such as punch cards – buy ten dogs, get one free. The more they buy, the more invested they become.
Referrals are another way of leveraging your existing hard-won customers. Referral business is just a fancy way of saying, “word of mouth”. The experience that you give your customer will determine how much they talk about it to their friends. One of my customers has a sixties theme. They wear tie dyed shirts and hippie wigs and EVERYONE knows about them. In contrast, when was the last time you had someone say, “Hey, I just got back from the gas station and you know what? They have HOT DOGS!!!”
All right class, I’m assigning homework today. I want you to go over your sales funnel and see where you are leaking customers, then let me know how you are going to plug the leak in the comments. Let’s help each other brainstorm some creative marketing solutions that will really grease that funnel!