What Business Owners Can Learn About Marketing From Girl Scout Cookie Selling Superstars

It’s Girl Scout cookie time and you don’t have to go out of your way to find a group of girls in green uniforms with a table full of colorful cookie boxes and sweet smiling faces asking if you want to buy a box or two or  three.  From the outside, these girls may look like most other non-profit groups that set up outside the local Walmart to sell their wares and raise some funds.  But when it comes to marketing and sales; these girls rock. Small business owners can learn a lot from those little girls in green.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Tiffany Manley (blogger, homeschooling mom, and one of my awesome 23 Kazoos marketing team members) about how Girl Scouts go about selling so many boxes of cookies.  Tiffany’s daughter Ava, who is 9 years old, sold 500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies last year which is pretty phenomenal.  This year, Ava has set her sights even higher and is working hard to achieve her goal of selling 750 boxes.  Ava, along with four other girls is part of Troop 763 from Chelsea, Alabama, have already pre-sold 1000 boxes of cookies for this season.    With pre-sales that high, it’s no doubt Ava and the other scouts will meet or exceed the sales goals they have set for themselves.

So what is the secret to their success?  I asked Tiffany for some insight to share with small business owners.   Tiffany explained that “They don’t want to fail; they work really hard to reach their goal.”  She added that she lets Ava run the cookie sale the way she wants to because “it’s her own little business.”  With the support of their parents and their eyes on the prize, the Troop comes up with their own ideas about how to market the cookies and increase their sales.  When I heard what Ava and her troop were doing to sell their cookies I thought, “These girls are brilliant!”   I immediately wanted to share their marketing practices with you.

Here’s how they do it.

  1. They set a goal. (The number of boxes they want to sell.)
  2. They have rewards. (Prizes for each level of sales)
  3. They formulate a marketing plan to reach their goal.

To come up with their plan, Ava and her mom visited retail and grocery stores in their local community.  Ava noted what she liked and didn’t like about what the stores were doing and used the best of their ideas to create the Troop’s marketing plan.

Here’s their Girl Scout Cookie Marketing plan.

1. Talk to everyone you know.

When the order forms come out, the girls hit the streets to visit friends and neighbors and ask them to order a couple boxes of cookies.  Business owners can do this too by getting out of the office and talking to people wherever they go about their business.

2. Go to where the most customers are.

The girls visit area businesses and ask the business owner and employees to buy cookies.  One of their marketing tips: Business owners buy more cookies.  I think it is an act of solidarity as small business sales teams have to stick together.  Business owners can benefit from this strategy by doing the same thing, going to networking events, attending chamber of commerce events, and putting themselves in the path of prospective customers at every opportunity.

3. Build a customer list.

The girls keep their order forms from previous years so that when the new order forms arrive, they hit the phones and call all previous customers to ask them how many boxes they want to order.  Customers from previous years will refuse to buy cookies from other Girl Scouts because they have an existing relationship with the Girl Scout who calls them personally every year. This strategy helps secure repeat business but also frees up the Troop members’ time which allows them to market to new customers.  Most business owners know how important it is to build their customer and prospect lists; this example from the Girl Scouts just reinforces the importance of list building and highlights how much difference a personal touch can make.

4. Boost sales by bundling.

The girls tie three boxes of cookies together, wrap them in a bow, and sell them as a unit.  Even without a reduction in price, this increases the total number of boxes they sell.  Business owners can use similar tactics to bundle products and services in complimentary packages and increase their sales.

5. Tie marketing promotions to holidays.

To attract more business and differentiate themselves from other Scout Troops, the girls are turning their bundles of cookies into special Valentine’s Day bundles wrapped in Valentine’s Day ribbon complete with a Valentine’s Day card.  They make it easy for buyers like me who have little imagination and even less time to shop for the holiday.  Business owners can capitalize on this strategy all year long by tying promotions to the various holidays and using the promotions to generate business buzz and attract new customers.

6. Support a charity.

The girls are also taking donations of money that is used to buy cookies to send to the troops overseas.  This is a win for everyone.  It creates good will for the Girl Scout Troop, offers people a creative way to support the troops, gives soldiers a little taste of home, and helps the Troop sell more cookies.  This is a perfect example of how business owners can do good deeds for their community in a way that also boosts their bottom-line.

7. Be prepared for objections.

One of the most common objections the girls hear is “I’m on a diet.”  Their standard reply is, “Well that’s okay, we are also collecting donations so we can send boxes of cookies to the troops overseas.”  This strategy has a 90% success rate at converting an objection to a sale, according to Tiffany.  The girls have learned that if they stick with it, and keep asking, most people will buy at least one box.  There are two great takeaways here for small business owners.  First, be ready to answer objections.  Second, perseverance pays off.

8. Dare to be different.

Like other Troops around the country, the girls set up booths in front of local businesses with lots of foot traffic to sell cookies.  The Troop took this sales tactic to the next level by creating “Girl Scout Cookie Billboards” out of strapping and empty boxes that they walk around in to funnel customers to the table.   This is the kind of “out of the box” thinking that can be sales gold for small businesses.

9. Have a contest.

The girls set up a drawing for a free box of cookies at their booth which helps pull people over to the table where the girls can talk to them and make the sale.  As part of the drawing, they collect email addresses and get permission to email people when their order is in or when cookies come out next year.  This is a great example of how business owners can use a low-cost contest to generate interest for their business and build their customer list for future promotions.

10. Follow up after the sale.

The girls don’t stop after the cookie orders have been delivered to customers.  They send handwritten notes to each customer thanking them for buying cookies and letting them know that they have extra boxes for sale in case they want to buy any more.  They sell lots of extra cookies this way.  And the handwritten thank you notes go a long way in cementing the relationships the girls have built with their customers.  This is another great example of how powerful personalized service can boost sales.  Small business owners can mimic this type of tactic to build customer relationships and attract future sales.

Girl Scout cookies may seem easy to sell because they support great programs, are sold by cute little girls in green uniforms, and they sell a product that most people love.  However, Ava and the girls from Troop 763 in Chelsea, Alabama, are proof that it’s having a marketing plan along, and paying attention to details,  can make the difference between an average cookie selling season and a Troop of cookie selling superstars.

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