Hands up if you’ve ever entered a competition? It may have been a business card draw, or “in 25 words or less…” or you completed a survey for a chance to win? OK, everyone put your hands down.

I’ll assume we’ve all entered competitions at some stage in our life.

Now, hands up how many times you’ve received notice of who has won the competition you entered? I can’t see many hands.

The humble sales promotion or competition, is one of the best opportunities you have to start and keep relationships with your customers. Yet most marketers – and particularly sales promotion specialists, don’t get it.

The conditions of entry of most competitions usually include provision of contact details – in case you are the winner. Yet the marketer only contacts the winner, not all the entrants.

The competition is a reason to start a conversation using relevant information – the customer is an entrant. In many cases entry to the competition is conditional on purchasing a product, so the entrant has experience with your brand and probably has an opinion on it.

This is not new thinking for the digital age by the way. Over 25 years ago I was involved in launching a new car wash franchise for the Shell Oil company. It was called car Spa. In those days most new franchises were started in Victoria as a test, because Shell’s head office was in Melbourne, so it was easy to access the test sites.

We launched the brand with a sales promotion – trial the car wash and enter the draw to win a $5,000 cedar wood hot tub. Thousands of people tried the new car wash. And they gave us their contact details including mailing adress and phone number.

We drew the prize winner and advised them. We also mailed all entrants with some rewards. The letter announced and congratulated the winner of the spa tub. It also thanked the entrants for their participation and made them two offers: a 10% discount (from the sponsor) on the price of a spa tub and a free car wash voucher.

Thousands took up the free car wash and the sponsor sold some tubs. We then mailed all those who used the car wash voucher with another offer. We pre-sold them car washes by mail order. That is, we made them an offer to pay for car washes in advance in return for a special deal on the price. The campaign was a huge success with thousands of people buying car wash vouchers in advance.

These days people are conditioned to providing their contact information on websites to receive anything from newsletters to reports and entry into all manner of competitions. Yet sadly almost no marketers use the data to improve customer relationships and build their business.

There is no excuse – each time you run a competition, announce the winner to all the entrants and make them another offer. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to generate sales – and who knows, the customers may even “Like” you and Tweet the offer, post it on Pinterest, blog about it, and really “engage” with your brand. But that’s for another day:)