Even when a business steadily brings in sales and secures deals, there are times where marketers will want to stimulate demand and boost sales of their products or offers in the short-term. This is where having a toolbox of sales promotion methods can be helpful.
Sales promotions can have a positive effect on your brand awareness, customer satisfaction and revenue. In this article, we’ll share twelve sales promotion example ideas along with tips on where to run your sales promotions and how to make them effective.
We’ll also help you decide which of the following is a consumer sales promotion activity that will best suit your business needs.
Table of contents
What is sales promotion?
A sales promotion is a marketing strategy where a business will use short-term campaigns to spark interest and create demand for a product, service or other offers.
Sales promotions can have many objectives and ideal outcomes, which we will explore in detail throughout this article.
Primarily, sales promotions are used to motivate buying behavior or trigger an uptick in purchases in order to reach a benchmark or goal, though they have wide-reaching effects outside of immediate sales.
The pros and cons of sales promotions
Running a sales promotion can help create loyalty and enthusiasm for your brand, increase sales and revenue and offer valuable insights into consumer behavior and price sensitivity. Strategically using sales promotions can help support a variety of business interests and keep your existing audience engaged with your offers.
The downside of sales promotions is that some businesses suffer from becoming overly dependent on them in an effort to boost sales. As a result, they enter a precarious short-term marketing cycle and struggle to plan for long-term goals and growth.
Take the “sales promotion trap” as an example. If you consistently run promotions, your consumers may come to expect them. This can work to:
- Devalue your brand
- Make it difficult to sell products or services at your standard price point.
Howard Freidman, former CEO of Aptela (Now Vonage Business) speaks to this pain point:
“The trap is running constant promotions to spike sales. As a result, [owners and manufacturers] condition consumers to wait for them and erode their price integrity.”
Further, if your competitors also run tons of sales promotions, the market itself may be negatively affected. Bidyut Bikash Das, former Demand Manager at OYO, notes that, “...when a number of competitors extensively use promotions to differentiate products or services, and other competitors copy the strategy, [it can result in] no differential advantage and a loss of profit margins to all.”
Therefore, the definition of a good sales promotions is one that’s run strategically to work in conjunction with your sales cycle.
In addition, too many promotions can damage your business reputation because the offers no longer seem exclusive or valuable.
Overall, sales promotions are a powerful tool to rapidly inject sales, attention and demand into your business. To ensure they remain effective, they should be used strategically and with a specific goal in mind.
Although the main driver of running a sales promotion is to increase demand for a particular offer, sales promotions can help you to achieve multiple outcomes, depending on your end-goals.
Generate new leads
In the short-term, sales promotions can help you attract new leads or customers. However, this should also be seen as a long-term strategy since you’ll need to continue to nurture these leads to move them along the sales pipeline or turn them into loyal customers that don’t churn.
An example of using a sales promotion to generate new leads is to offer a free trial for a SaaS tool so that potential customers can see if your product is the solution they’ve been looking for.
Or, if you’re selling a digital template at a reduced price, people may share it with others who could benefit from the discount as well. In this way, sales promotions are a great way to attract qualified leads for your sales team.
Introduce a new product, service or feature
Sales promotions are a great way to grab attention and increase demand when introducing a new product, service or feature.
For example, pairing the announcement of your new SaaS feature with a limited-time discount might be enough to turn long-time lurking leads into paying customers. Alternatively, if you’re revealing a new product, you could share an introductory price that will expire after the first “X” number of purchases.
Sell out extra inventory
Sales promotions are an efficient way to clear out extra inventory. If there’s a particular product taking up too much space, going out of production or becoming redundant, retailers can run a sales promotion such as ‘buy one get one free’ to help clear it out.
Gain valuable insights
Sales promotions work to generate valuable insights into what your customers desire, how they make purchasing decisions and what kinds of promotions they value the most—useful information for both your sales and marketing teams.
When designing your sales promotion campaign, you’ll need to conduct research into your customers' interests, as well as what your competitors offer. Taking time to do this research can help you and your team learn how to attract new clients, improve customer service and create compelling offers that resonate with your target audience.
Encourage existing customers to buy more
Encouraging repeat business is easier and more cost-effective than attracting new clients. In fact, a 5% increase in customer retention generates more than a 25% increase in profit, on average.
By providing existing customers with exclusive incentives, you can increase loyalty, generate repeat purchases and hopefully draw high-quality referrals.
Sell during off-season or slow periods
Similar to selling out extra inventory, if your business is seasonal or has slower periods, well-defined sales promotions can help inject purchases and galvanize interest during a time where sales are often slow or stagnant.
Short burst of revenue increase
Sales promotions can help companies increase the number of products or services sold. Although the sale often occurs at a reduced price, the increased quantity sold helps counteract the difference.
Stay engaged with your existing audience
Once a person makes a purchase, they’re often subscribed to your email list. By sending them a mix of helpful content as well as sales promotions, you can continue to keep them engaged.
Email is a great vehicle for this communication, as research shows that 49% of people would like to receive weekly email blast campaigns from their favorite brands. By segmenting your list, you can ensure that you’re sending them only the most relevant offers.
12 types of sales promotions
Regardless of the type of business or industry you’re in, there are a variety of sales promotion examples and techniques at your disposal that you can align with your sales needs.
1. Competitions and giveaways
Customer competitions can be about getting the most engagement on a social media post your brand is tagged in, or a social media challenge that enters them in a giveaway. This is a fun way to both create buzz around your business and reward customers for being avid supporters and promoters of your brand.
2. Flash sale or limited-time discount
A flash sale is a sales promotion that offers a discount, promotion or rebate that’s only valid for a short period of time, ranging from just a few hours to a few days. Flash sales work well to create a sense of urgency, which can help nudge consumers to make a purchase decision.
Even though the buying window is short, marketers can build interest ahead of time by sharing exactly when the flash sale will occur.
3. Bundling of products or services
If you have a product set that has the potential to create more value as bundled offerings rather than standalone items, selling them as a package for a discounted rate can help to increase overall sales.
This can be highly incentivizing for customers that were struggling to choose between your offers and a competitor’s and can now get both (or many) at a discounted price.
4. Free trial or demo
Free trials are a great way to get a lead to try out your product or service with no risk to or commitment from them. In practice, retailers can offer free samples at the point of purchase, and B2B or B2C services might offer a free trial or demo of their products or services so that their leads and potential customers can take the product for a spin.
To support conversion, consider pairing the free trial or demo with a limited-time discount.
5. Limited-time free shipping or transfer between platform or services
In e-commerce, Baymard Institute estimates that nearly 70% of consumers abandon their cart and 50% of those consumers attributed their cart abandonment to unexpected extra costs like fees, shipping and tax.
Sales promotions that use free shipping and free returns can help eliminate one of the obstacles that cause people to abandon their cart. If you are a B2B or SaaS brand, the final hurdle for purchase might be your customer’s resistance to deal with the challenge of switching providers.
6. Limited-time offer
If you can’t be flexible on price, you can still generate a sense of urgency by creating a limited-time offer.
For example, you could offer an existing product or service alongside a free bonus feature or add-on. This adds perceived value without hurting your bottom line or constraining your resources.
7. First purchase coupon
If someone became connected to your business in a way other than making a purchase, such a free trial, it might take time for them to warm up to becoming a paying customer.
To speed up the process, offer a discount on their first purchase. In fact, some brands even offer discounts on first-purchases in their welcome email as a way to thank their new customer or lead for joining their community. For best results, limit the offer to a couple of days. Even if they don’t use the coupon, they may browse your products or services and learn more about your business.
8. Buy one, get one free
“Buy one, get one free” (also called BOGOF), or “Buy two and get the third free” are commonly-used sales promotion tactics. These campaigns are useful when you want or need to sell several products at once.
This type of promotion can also work to build brand awareness, as your customer may share the extra items with a friend or family member.
9. Coupon or voucher code
Coupons are versatile because they can be delivered in a variety of ways, such as via your website, social media, or print materials like on your receipts or product packaging. Coupons are a great way to thank current customers or incentivize first-time customers to return.
10. Tripwire (upsell)
Tripwire refers to the idea of offering an entry-level product or service to a potential customer. By doing this, you can get them into your ecosystem or sales CRM and begin nurturing them through the buyer’s journey.
Once you build trust, you can show them why upgrading to a higher-priced offer is in their best interest.
11. Recurring sale
If it suits your business, you might consider becoming known for your one-time or biannual sale. A recurring sale can help build anticipation so that when it does finally come around, people are ready and excited to spend.
12. Portion of purchase goes to a charitable cause
Running a sales promotion that dedicates a portion of your purchase to an important cause or charity can be a great way to spark business. Your customers will feel good about their purchase, and you’ll be able to enhance your brand image by associating it with an important cause.
According to the 2018 Cox Business Consumer Pulse report, 71% of people said they would spend more at a small business if they knew it supported a social or environmental cause.
How to prepare your sales team for a sales promotion
When running a sales promotion, it’s important to have a solid grasp on your customer journey and experience. Your sales team, having spent the majority of their time moving customers along the buying journey, are perfectly positioned to answer these questions.
As you prepare your sales promotion, ask your sales team to provide any customer insights that may help with your promotion’s messaging and positioning. For example, your sales team may have valuable observations into:
- The most common barrier to closing a deal. These could be budget issues, time constraints, seemingly better offers from a competitor, the fact that the product feels too complicated, and so on.
- The most common reason a deal successfully closes. For example, they tried the product and loved it, got referred by a friend, competitor pricing was too high, trusted the sales rep throughout the process, and so on.
- Sales enablement resources that tipped the scales. If there is a certain piece of sales collateral that helped to push prospects along the sales pipeline, what is it and why was it so well received?
From these few examples alone, your sales team can add significant value in terms of what motivates your target audience’s buying behavior, what barriers they face when considering purchasing your product or service and what kind of resources resonate with them (and why).
For example, if a barrier to close is that the product feels too complicated, and a sales enablement webinar helps to ease this strain, offering a free sales demo is the perfect fit.
Of course, you’ll need to keep your sales team in the loop so that they know what their role will be in the sales promotion and provide a clear definition of when and how they will be integrated into the process. For example, do you want a rep to be the first point of contact when an inbound lead from the sales promotion comes in, or do you want somebody from the marketing team to have a conversation with them first? The more specific you can be about the workflow, the smoother your sales promotion will run.
Finally, if your sales team is going to be the first point of contact, make sure to provide them with all of the information they need to know. This includes:
- How to decipher who’s eligible, or not, for the sales promotion. For example, is there a minimum business size requirement?
- What exactly they are eligible for. For example, how long is the sales demo slated for and what happens if they want a follow-up sales demo with a decision-maker?
- Any legal information that the sales team should be aware of. This applies predominantly to sales promotions that involve an exchange of money, such as legally being required to have the customer accept terms and conditions before moving ahead with a coupon.
Even if your sales team is not going to be the first point of contact, this information is key so that your reps can follow the guidelines and help to ensure a smooth promotion process.
Where to run your sales promotion
There are many places, both online and offline, where you can run your sales promotion to attract new leads and business.
Email marketing should play a key role in your sales promotions. Unlike social media promotion, there is no guesswork regarding algorithms, ads, or other factors that can impact your reach.
In fact, eMarketer found that 90.9% of internet users use email and that many of them prefer to receive brand communication via that channel. By tweaking your email subject line, you can work to increase open rates and reach more potential leads.
In addition, tools like segmentation can help accelerate the buyer journey by creating personalized messaging that reflects your customer’s interests, needs and past purchasing decisions.
Facebook and Instagram marketing
Facebook and Instagram marketing are powerful digital sales promotion tools because you can reach people across the globe as well as get specific on who you’d like to target.
These social media platforms are also flexible on the type of ads you can create within your specified marketing budget. Even if people ultimately don’t purchase, you can still track and measure other metrics such as new leads, impressions and referral traffic—all key data for your sales team to leverage in their lead generation efforts.
Similar to email marketing, SMS messaging is guaranteed to reach your audience because it’s a direct communication channel, rather than an indirect channel such as a social media post or website banner.
SMS messaging is best used for instant updates, flash sales and time-sensitive deals.
Events, trade shows and conferences
Large networking events create great opportunities to connect with a number of qualified prospects. Even during COVID-19, some in-person events are still running, alongside a plethora of virtual events. Here’s a list of the top events you should know about for your sales calendar in 2021.
By running a virtual conference, leading a training, or hosting a workshop, you can both generate leads and offer a sales promotion as thanks for their attendance.
Tips on how to make your sales promotion effective
Here are some best practices to ensure your sales promotion is effective and helps you achieve your goals.
Set well-defined sales promotion goals
As mentioned at the outset of this guide, sales promotions can work to achieve more outcomes than simply increasing sales and revenue. While planning your sales promotion, consider what other goals you’d like to realize. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Attract new leads and customers
- Improve customer retention
- Separate hot leads from cold leads
- Nurture prospects through the sales pipeline
- Increase purchase frequency
- Generate business during slower periods, seasons, or times of day
- Increase average purchase amount
- Hit team-wide goals in a specific time frame
Your goal should be specific, measurable and achievable.
Select your target audience
Before you’re created the sales promotion definition of what you want to do, you should take time to learn more about the customers you already have. By sending a simple survey or offering an incentive to gather new information, you can begin to better understand their needs, preferences, buying behavior and interests.
Once you have a clear idea of who would be best suited to your offer, you can create a sales promotion that is targeted to those who are most likely to make a purchase or become a sales qualified lead (SQL).
Offer practical value
Think carefully about how to craft your sales promotion so that it adds tangible value to your clients. Running sales promotions that don’t offer a clear benefit to your customers will not only fail but may actually damage your reputation.
As you design your sales promotion, place the highest value on a positive customer experience and be sure that it aligns with your business’s ethical culture and values.
For example, if you craft a sales promotion that states your product can specifically solve X problem, only for customers to buy it and realize it doesn’t actually solve their problem in the way you claimed, that could seriously backfire.
Review, test and improve
Once you run your sales promotion, take time to measure your results before running another one. Try to schedule your analysis during a time that works well for your sales cycle.
Once you compare your campaign to the goals you set earlier, decide what you’d like to tweak, change and improve for your next run.
Align your promotion with common shopping holidays
Aligning with common shopping holidays is a great way to catch your customers’ interest while they’re already on the lookout for gifts, special offers and limited-time deals.
Common holidays to align with include Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Valentine’s Day and summer holidays in your area. In addition, any holiday meaningful for a specific group, like Mother’s Day, can be a great way to target certain segments of your audience.
Make sure to continue to engage and connect with your audience beyond the holiday so that they don’t see you as a ‘holiday sale’ company.
Create a sense of scarcity or urgency
Sales promotions work because your audience knows they won’t last forever. By highlighting when the special offer will no longer be available, you can create a fear-of-missing-out feeling that hastens purchasing decisions.
You can do this by setting a time deadline or offering a limited number of spots, such as “this offer is only valid for the first X purchases”.
Create a loyalty program to promote exclusive offers or discounts
When you provide loyal customers exclusive offers or discounts, it further incentivizes them to continue participating in the program. It also works to make them feel appreciated for their continued commitment to your brand.
A referral program helps reward people who send business your way. A recent report from Kantar Media showed that 93% of respondents trust friends and family recommendations more than they trust advertising (a mere 38%). Therefore, having a referral program is a great way to take advantage of the word-of-mouth conversations already happening.
Further, research by eMarketer shows that most retailers (65%) said referral programs created increases in their sales and revenue. Other benefits include increased customer acquisitions, customer retention boosts and building up email lists.
No matter your end-goal, incentive method, or promotion channel, sales promotions are a proven way to catch your audience’s attention and enhance your sales process.
By using compelling sales strategies like scarcity, urgency and exclusivity, you’re sure to increase revenue and achieve other important business goals in the process.