Roger Melanson, president of Great American Software Inc., has given away at least 3,500 copies of his small-business-oriented accounting programs since January.
"If you give out samples of your product and your product is good, a satisfied user will tell five to 10 people about it," said Melanson, a former accountant who co-founded the Nashua, N.H.-based firm.
Giving away software to business owners and accountants serves two purposes. It not only increases awareness of Money Matters and other programs by Great American, but Melanson believes that the goodwill generated contributed to a 40 percent increase in sales, which recently hit $8.6 million.
Melanson began giving away software before he spoke to user groups because not everyone was familiar with his products. He also passes out hundreds of copies at trade shows. At a recent one in San Francisco, accountants lined up three and four deep at the Great American booth to pick up free software packages.
"When I give it to people, they think there is no diskette in the box or it's an old version," said Melanson, who quickly assures recipients that the free computer software is brand-new and ready to use.
The only catch is that Melanson asks recipients to fill out a registration card so he can keep track of them. Money Matters, which retails for $59.95, is his most popular giveaway.
No matter what you do, giving potential customers a sample is a terrific way to attract attention and make a positive impression. In many cases, it makes more sense to spend your marketing and advertising dollars on giving out your own products instead of buying advertisements -- especially if cash is tight.
If your product is too big or expensive to give away outright, why not offer a free trial to qualified customers? Try shipping it out to prospective customers with no strings attached. Most people will appreciate the opportunity to try the product, and many will like it well enough to buy it.
If your product or service isn't suited to offering a sample or free trial, try publishing a booklet with free information or helpful tips for your customers. Be sure your company name, logo, address and telephone number appear on everything you give away.
If you can't afford to give away products, why not offer your services as a way of generating new business? For example, if you own a retail clothing business, send out a flyer offering customers a free fashion consultation to draw them into the store.
Free samples definitely boost food sales, because one taste is worth a thousand words. For example, when Manhattan Beach plum pudding maker Patti Garrity gears up for the holiday season, you can find her giving away samples in local gourmet food stores.
Giant food companies such as Kellogg's have been giving away samples for years.
"The key is to [give samples to] the audience you want to reach," said Karen MacLeod, a product spokeswoman for Kellogg's in Battle reek, Mich. In recent months, she said, Kellogg's has given away thousands of Nutri-Grain cereal bars to consumers who might want to buy the cereal-coated fruit bars as a snack or quick breakfast food.
In addition to in-store samples, Kellogg's sends out thousands of miniature boxes of cereal to consumers at home and passes out samples at trade shows and conventions.
" 'Free' is a very powerful word," said Nina Segovia, director of development for Promax Field Force, an Irvine-based firm that provides in-store demonstrations of new products. Companies such as Promax test-market products for big and small companies every day. A good demonstration company will not only keep track of how much of your product they give away, but submit detailed reports on what people said about the product and how much was purchased. Segovia, a marketing specialist, has been giving away samples on behalf of her clients for years.
In recent years, Segovia has promoted the sale of Citrus Hill orange juice by giving away canvas tote bags. She has given away hot dog-shaped magnets for Oscar Mayer and cooked artichokes in supermarkets to encourage shoppers to taste them.
Promax recently sent representatives into grocery stores to offer hungry shoppers free samples of cooked rice mixed with Contadina tomato sauce. In addition to the free food, Contadina sponsored raffles that gave away $200 cash or four tickets to Disneyland.
"Giving something away for free means the company is willing to put some money behind its product," said Segovia, "And it takes a great deal of confidence in one's product to have it be successful."