At weekend markets, some farm stands have lines out the booth, while others remain deserted. See what the winners are getting right.

I love farmer’s markets. Actually, I love all markets, fairs and festivals. The food, the variety of vendors and bustle of activity, the smells and sights–these all go hand in hand with the warmer weather.

In the summer, I go to one of a number of markets on Saturday mornings with my family. I have started to recognize a pattern of the busy booths. Why should one booth have a line in front of it and two or three others–who sell exactly the same wares–be empty?

The easy answer is reputation and repeat business, which I think accounts for a lot of it. But the simple math will tell you the only way to get someone to be a repeat customer is to get a first-time customer–and that’s where the pattern emerges.

Getting New Customers

There are some real differences between the vendors who had similar product but different traffic. Here are a few of the things that set apart the most successful:

They stand up: The vendors running booths getting traffic stand up at the front of the booth rather than sitting in the back or behind the display table. They are at eye level with the customers, ready to help rather than looking as if a question would be an interruption.

Products, not pictures: I saw a man this weekend selling a variety of gourmet chocolates from his booth. Because it was a warm morning, all of the product was in insulated crates; instead of samples, he had beautiful pictures showing the product displayed on the poles supporting the his booth … but no customers. Two rows over, another vendor was selling chocolate and other confections to a line of customers. Samples were on ice, and product was in a glass refrigerator up front in the booth. The lesson: Get the product closer to the customer.

They smile: If you have been to a market, then you have seen the people working the booths. Some are friendly, laughing and smiling; they make small talk and start conversations. Then there are those who make a furtive smile and a nod to potential customers as the crowds stroll by. It’s not hard to figure out which sellers are busier.

Samples trump displays: Sam’s Club has figured it out; so has Whole Foods. Samples work, especially when you are trying to attract new customers. Beautiful displays are great, but samples create traffic.

Big signage: A market is a sea of noise, sound and competing images. The busy booths work hard to stand out–with big, colorful signs and A-frames in the aisles to attract passing customers.

Lessons for Everyone Else

Even if you don’t sell in a literal market, you still face the challenges of a virtual marketplace. These strategies offer some clear takeaways for any business looking to generate new customers.

  • Go more than halfway: You have to reach out to the market to get its attention; you can’t wait for customers to come to you. Even great advertising and lots of traffic don’t guarantee revenue. It’s up to your team to generate the buying interest at the point of customer contact.
  • Shorten the distance to the product: You need to get prospects to their first experience of product or service as fast as possible. Samples, physical proximity, even clear packaging (rather than photos) are all ways to shorten that distance.
  • Chemistry still counts: New customers have to feel wanted and welcome, not just served well. You have to create an initial experience that creates chemistry.

Getting a new customer to her first purchase almost always requires much greater outreach than for follow-up transactions. Follow these simple rules from the greenmarket.

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