How to Benefit from the Lost Art of Canvassing

JANUARY 23RD, 2018
Although canvassing is most commonly considered for things like political causes, it can be a valuable sales and marketing tactic for small businesses as well. At its barest, canvassing is just an in-person cold-call, though it gives you the opportunity to establish a more personal relationship with other businesses. It’s not about an immediate sale, but more about establishing a connection both businesses might profit from in the future. Here are some steps to take as you develop a canvassing strategy.

Define Your Goals

Your goal will likely be signing up new clients to sell more services. The trouble with this goal is it might make you feel like your canvassers need to close a deal right away. Really, canvassing is a lot like content marketing or email campaigning. You certainly want people to be aware of your services, but a hard sell right off the bat usually isn’t welcome. In fact, pushy sales people are what drive many businesses to hang “no soliciting” signs in their windows. Most places don’t want to be sold to, but will be willing to talk with you if you explain that you’re also a local small business and you’re curious about what they do. Your goal should be to establish meaningful connections and let them come to you when they need a hand.

Find Local Businesses to Target

Based on clients you already have, you know what types of businesses you prefer. While you can certainly find businesses that match certain criteria (e.g. industry, zip code, etc.), there’s no harm in casting a wider net. While some businesses might not need your services, they may have friends who do. Go for your preferred targets, but don’t be afraid of establishing connections with those that aren’t the perfect fit because all kinds of connections can bear fruit.

Recruit Personable Canvassers

You may or may not have a team for marketing and sales. Businesses that don’t have teams in place can hire interns or local college students as canvassers. They’ll get an insight into your marketing strategy, and you can benefit from finding affordable help. Canvassers represent your company, so they should be smart and cheerful and capable of making a great first impression on your behalf. They should also understand your business well and be ready to answer questions if they get them, which means they’ll need talking points.

Develop Solid Talking Points

Many sales professionals will suggest creating a script for canvassers that covers your value proposition, and why a local business could benefit from various services. Canvassers should absolutely know and understand your value propositions, but as noted, many businesses don’t want to be sold to. Be careful to ensure that canvassers aren’t going for a hard sell right off the bat. People are suspicious of solicitors or anyone who tries to convince them they need something they don’t. Instead, canvassers should try to get to know what a business does and try to establish a friendly relationship based on offering value. They’ll mention what your company does but shouldn’t dive into a sales pitch unless the business they’re visiting is interested in hearing it. If businesses are interested, canvassers should be ready to explain your value proposition and be comfortable illustrating how your company can solve problems. In some cases, businesses may be interested in a follow up via email or even an onsite consultation. Whether a canvasser gets to the pitch or not, they should have a brochure or leave-behind they can give businesses.

Create Brochures or Collateral

Consider creating a custom brochure your canvassers can leave with businesses they visit. Include your services, a special offer, as well as your contact info. Also, consider using a vanity URL on your handouts (e.g. or CAMPAIGNNAME). That way, people who receive it will be directed to a special landing page with a unique offer. You could give them a free consultation, or a downloadable asset behind a lead gate, asking them to enter some of their personal information. This gets you an email address you can add to your marketing lists, and use for email campaigns. Our two-part guide has great info on how to develop email campaigns.

Track Your Success

There are a couple of common ways how you can measure the success of a canvassing campaign. First, you can simply ask new customers how they found out about you. If they say someone came by to talk, bingo—canvassing success. However, it’s more likely people you visited will research your company’s website before they call and that’s why the unique landing page is helpful. Tools like Google Analytics let you track how many visitors came to your landing page, so you know how many people are taking steps toward making a call.

Follow Up with Businesses

You don’t want to be a pest, and since some businesses might not currently need your services, they may not want a follow up. The best approach is to either let them come to you or to continue the conversation digitally through things like email campaigns. You might have some success dropping off the occasional gift to businesses that seemed interested (who would turn down a box of donuts?), but you can also send them the occasional post card in the mail, just to say hello and to remind them you’re available.ConclusionCanvassing isn’t right for everyone, and it can be challenging since many businesses don’t necessarily want to be bothered by sales people or marketers. But with the right mix of charm, good conversation, and small tokens of appreciation, there’s no reason why you can’t develop a good relationship with prospects and find new clients.