Party plan is a very successful system of social marketing. It involves organising events at the homes of customers (the hostesses) who then invite their friends and acquaintances to attend. The events are informal social gatherings but include opportunities to make a sales presentation. Famous brand names that recommend party plan include: Tupperware and Ann Summers.
Traditionally, party plan has been most used for products bought by women (eg. cosmetics, lingerie, cookware) so the terminology tends to be feminine (hostess rather than host). There are plenty of products aimed at both men and women (eg. books, CDs) so don't exclude male customers from your thinking.
Although many social marketers achieve great results using party plan it is not without hard work and careful preparation. This section runs through the steps in a party plan - and includes suggestions and questions to consider when designing your particular approach.
To build up a business of reasonable size you will need a steady supply of hostesses - customers who will be willing to invite their friends and acquaintances to a "party" event and allow you to make a sales presentation.
Many marketers start with their own circle of friends. Make a list of people you know who might be interested in your products. Then ask them what they think of the idea. Don't push them - this is a good way of losing your friends!
Even the most sociable people only have a limited number of friends so eventually everyone has to widen their search for potential hostesses.
Local schools have been fertile ground in the past. Parent Teacher Associations usually hold regular fundraising and social events for parents. They are always looking for extra attractions and people to help out. For a share in the profits they will often allow you to run a stall or make a presentation.
Contact the organiser. Check whether they already have someone offering your kind of products. For example, you will probably find that most schools have already done deals on books. Be flexible! If they don't want a presentation then offer to run one of their stalls if they will let you hand out leaflets.
Another cunning wheeze is to contact social and special interest clubs in your area. They are often struggling to find interesting speakers at their meetings. For example: Women's Institute, Mothers Union, Round Table, Rotary, football or rugby clubs, chess or camera clubs, amateur dramatic clubs, vegetarian or dieting clubs. Let your brain run free. Any organisation that holds regular meetings. Especially clubs whose members are likely to be interested in your products.
Look them up at your local library (or ask your friends). Contact the organiser. Ask if they would be interested in you making a short presentation at one of their meetings. Be flexible! If they don't want a presentation then ask if you can hand out leaflets, or write something for their club magazine.
Finally, don't forget the customers you found through previous parties. They will have their own circle of friends. Why not ask them to be hostesses at their own events?
Planning The Party
This is vital if the event is to go well. A well organised party makes the products seem more attractive - and therefore easier to sell. Conversely, a shambles will discredit a good product.
Plan the event with your hostess. She knows the people invited much better than you. So listen carefully when she tells you what they prefer. Be flexible! Make sure she is comfortable with the plan. Ignore her gut feelings at your peril.
Who is to be invited? Write down the list of names and addresses/phone numbers.
How will they be invited? By letter or phone call? This is best done by the hostess but make sure you have coached her enough so she makes the invitation attractive. Invitations must state that it's a selling party and give the name of the company. Offer to draft the letter or list the key points for the phone calls.
When will the event be held? Morning? Afternoon? Evening? Some clubs might prefer a breakfast, lunch or dinner event. When will it start? How long will it last? When will it finish? Be flexible! Remember your audience may have other commitments before or after this event, eg. collecting kids from school, family mealtimes. Think about any problems they might have traveling to and from the meeting, eg. rush hour, last buses.
How much time will be allocated to your presentation? What are you going to say and do in that time? Write a list of the key steps and key points. Make sure you cover the products, how to use them, their benefits, how to order them and delivery arrangements. Don't forget to allow time for questions.
How are you going to make your presentation interesting - even entertaining? What jokes will you tell? What visual aids will you use? What products will you show? What leaflets will you hand out? At what stage will you produce them?
Practice what you are going to say. Get someone to listen to you and suggest improvements. Beware of using your spouse for this unless you are already considering divorce.
Where will the event be held? In the hostess's home? If so, which room (or rooms)? In a meeting room? Will it hold the number of people expected? In comfort? How is it laid out? Will everyone be able to see you without twisting round?
On The Day
Get to the venue half an hour before the guests. It gives you time to set up and stops the hostess getting worried that you aren't going to show up. If it's in a meeting room it's not unknown for the room to be untidy or the chairs to still be stacked in a corner. Be prepared for some light furniture shifting!
Set out any materials before the customers start to arrive. It looks really bad if you're not prepared.
Get your hostess to check the list of people invited so you know who actually turned up. Leave her to sort out any gatecrashers. If she is happy to accept uninvited guests, eg friends of friends, then fine - but ask her to get their names and contact details.
Expect to be nervous! Just about everyone gets stage fright to some degree. The adrenaline actually helps your performance. Some people swear it helps defuse the tension if you imagine the audience with no clothes on.
Talk as normally as you can. Use ordinary every day words. No grand phrases. Don't say anything you don't believe. Unless you're a politician the audience will detect the insincerity. If you genuinely believe in your products they will soon pick up on your enthusiasm.
Check your speed of speaking. When you're nervous, the adrenaline can make you talk faster than usual - often without realising - and the audience will have trouble keeping up with you. Keep checking your speed as it's easy to start galloping towards the end.
Check how loud you are speaking. Even in the hostess's home you will need to speak a bit louder than usual so everyone one in the room can hear you. In a meeting room you may have to raise your voice quite a lot. Keep checking your loudness as it's easy to taper off towards the end.
Try to involve the audience. Ask them questions. Get some of them to come and try the products as you speak. Ask them for their questions. Anything to maintain their interest.
At the end, remind them about your brochures and order forms (or where to get them if you haven't handed them out). Encourage them to fill in the order forms there and then. If they take them home they may get distracted and never get round to it. Give a spare order form to anyone who buys - so it is easy for them to order again.
Ask if any of the audience would be interested in holding their own parties. Talk afterwards to anyone who shows interest.
Finish by thanking the hostess publicly for inviting you, and thank the audience for listening. If she is entitled to a gift from the company, present it to her in front of her guests - so they will want the same!
Serve refreshments at the end so they don't distract from your presentation - or get spilled on your stock!
Stay after your presentation. Many people are reluctant to ask questions in public but will approach you for a private word later. So be there for them. You also want to collect any immediate orders there and then.
Make sure you have contact details for everyone who came to the party. If anyone is interested in holding their own event then follow up with them immediately.
Help the hostess to tidy up. After all, you do want her to do this again - don't you? It also gives you a chance to ask how it went from her viewpoint. Listen carefully to what she says. Don't be offended if she seems a bit critical. Treat this feedback as free consultancy and use it to improve your approach next time.
Ask the hostess to set a date for another event. If it will be the same set people invited then it's probably best to arrange the next one in 3-6 months time. Trust her judgement on this. If she seems reluctant don't push. Call her after a few months.
Before you leave, thank the hostess again for all her help.
Delivering Orders & Collecting Payment
With some schemes, orders are delivered direct from the company to the customer. With others the marketer is a crucial link in the delivery chain. Usually you will have to deliver to the hostess (who then delivers to the end customer). Sometimes you have to deliver to the end customer. If your scheme involves you in delivery then here are a few points to remember.
Don't delay! As soon as you receive the goods, check the contents against the customer's order. Chase the company immediately if there is anything wrong or missing. Contact the hostess or customer and arrange a convenient time for delivery. Your customers will be more inclined to buy again if you get the goods to them promptly.
If you're expected to collect payment on delivery don't take chances. One bad debt can wipe out the profit on a whole series of orders. Don't release the goods without payment in full. Don't be caught by promises of future payment. Only accept payments in the forms acceptable to your company.
If you're offered cash, make sure you have the right amount. Count it in front of the hostess/customer - even if it does seem a bit embarrassing. You can't go back later to claim the money was short.
If you're offered a cheque, make sure it is completed correctly. The right date. The right payee (the company or you depending on the scheme). The right amount (in words and in figures). Signed (with the right name). Make sure you see the cheque guarantee card (if required) and make sure you write its number on the back of the cheque.
Take your laptop or mobile phone with you so customers can order direct from your website.
When you're happy with the paperwork hand over the goods and get the customer's signature (if required). Leave another order form so it's easy for the customer to buy again.
Finally, make sure you thank the customer for their business.
Make sure you keep accurate records of hostesses and parties. With contact details for people who attended and customers who bought.
Once you've captured a customer, follow up every few weeks/months. Send them the latest brochure when it's updated. Or phone them for a brief chat (but back off if they don't seem keen to be called). Your aim is to encourage them to buy again - as it's much easier to get repeat orders than to find new customers.
If you didn't arrange it at the time, contact previous hostesses every few months to organise a repeat event. If the previous party was a success - socially rather than sales achieved - it shouldn't be too difficult to persuade her to do another one.