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Direct Marketing Internet marketing Marketing Sales Word of mouth marketing

No one needs salespeople anymore

Last week, a digital marketer on LinkedIn proposed that he didn’t see a need for companies to have a sales function anymore.

Their comment: I am not sure why you need a ‘Sales’ function anymore. What purpose does it serve in the near future and beyond? The only function of a Sales person is to build a relationship to tip the odds on your side by way of finding customers, building a pipeline, anticipating, building trust, cajoling, impressing and negotiating a favorable transaction. Except for the cajoling part, all the others can and are bring enabled through automated, intelligent systems. And if your product is really good… you really don’t need to cajole anyone. I for one believe the ‘Sales’ function will soon become a vanity function. From car sales to home sales to software sales. There is absolutely no need for a dedicated ‘sales’ person. Unless you feel insecure about what you offer to the market.

I showed this to a friend, who responded, “They’ve never worked in enterprise software before, I’d guess.” – which was my first thought as well. It goes deeper than that, however.

Cajoling?

Regarding “Is sales becoming a vanity function?“, let’s examine that. That’s an odd question. Does anyone you know fluff up their ego by hiring “extra” salespeople? I’d guess not. I suppose that it’s possible that someone somewhere brags about their massive sales team (as opposed to their team’s performance?). It’s possible the idea is that having a sales team raises the cachet of the firm. To me, they exist for a reason: not all products & services sell themselves.

You probably remember a time when you dealt with an ineffective or poorly focused salesperson. I suspect most people have also worked with outstanding salespeople. Their experience & ability to analyze a prospect’s situation add significant value to a relationship. That’s really the difference.

A website can easily provide features & benefits. A series of appropriately timed, in-context emails, surveys, video and other digital content can address objections, guide a prospect through a “funnel” and change context depending on the prospect’s reaction. Automation can discern when a person is ready to buy based solely on things like the use of singular vs. plural responses. You can digitally create something between the company & their prospect that feels like it might be a relationship.

But it isn’t really a relationship.

Some products and services can be sold with little more than a digital storefront and inbound marketing. Not all products and services fit that mold. Some are too complex for most customers to select & configure on their own. Sometimes there’s a highly detailed process to making that happen. Not every business works that way – but many do.

“My product is good enough…”

My product is good enough that I shouldn’t need salespeople. It’s so good, should sell itself.” A naive statement. You might also hear it as “My product is good enough that I shouldn’t need to market it.

How many times have you suggested to someone that they go to this restaurant or that – and the person you’re talking to has never heard of it? The same goes for a contractor, a movie, a band… it doesn’t matter.

Has every person you’ve ever made a recommendation to responded with something like “Already tried them, they’re great.” If not, why would you expect that the same reaction would occur when someone recommends what you do?

What happens in the meantime when no one is referring your work? Maybe the customers who refer you the most have been discouraged lately. Maybe they’ve gone hunting, fishing, or skiing. Are they overseas for a month? Does it make sense to sit around & let sales and marketing “take care of itself” while waiting for the typical volume of referrals you get when those customers return? Is that what your competitors are doing to get new business?

Some businesses are better than others at generating referrals & create a process that makes it easy. Certain types of work is easier to refer. There are other kinds of work that few are likely to crow about because of the reflection it makes on the referrer.

It’s great that you have a product that’s so good that it sells itself or markets itself (whatever that means to you). That doesn’t mean you should sit on your hands & wait for business to waltz in the door.

Good salespeople make it rain.

Photo by Max Rovensky on Unsplash

Categories
Direct Marketing Email marketing Marketing Sales

Make life easier on sales with time travel marketing

Ever have someone visit your store curious about buying a non-impulse item, get all their questions answered, only to have them turn around and leave without buying? Maybe they’re going out into the parking lot to check the Amazon price. Or maybe they simply drive off. Some might even order from Amazon while standing in your store. Most won’t. Even more mysteriously, the same person will return a few days (or hours) later and buy on the spot without asking a single question. Your sales team wonders what changed. If the buyer made the purchase from a different salesperson than the one who answered their questions, everyone else wonders what magic phrase the salesperson used to close the sale. In reality, they simply took the order and did no selling at all, at least for that person. Why does this happen?

I’m ready now.

Almost all of us have done this. We’re making a sizable and/or important purchase. We’ve done some research, made a few calls, searched a few websites and have more or less made a short list of what might work, what won’t, and why. But… we’re just not ready to pull the trigger. We have a few more questions (salespeople might call them objections) before we make a final decision. We go to the store, but not prepared to buy. We’re prepared to get answers. Two totally different intents.

On the other hand, the store’s sales team is prepared to sell. Sure, they’re prepared to answer questions, but really, they want to close a deal. We enter the store and even if the salesperson answers our questions perfectly, we leave. We say things like “Thanks, but I need to discuss this with my wife / husband / SO / dog / cat / boss, etc.” In some cases that might be true, but really, most need to convince themselves now that they have complete information.

Despite removing all those “Nope, this isn’t the right purchase” objections, they simply haven’t had enough time to sell themselves on the purchase. One of the things we sometimes forget when selling to people is the conversation already going on in their minds. They head to your store (or your website) to get answers, not to buy. At that time, they were not convinced to make the purchase, or at least not that particular purchase. Your staff or sales team answered all their questions and were trying to make the close, yet the person left without buying. You’re left wondering what you did wrong, what your salesperson missed, and maybe wondered if they used the “wrong close”. The salesperson probably did nothing wrong.

Time travel catches us as we think

Have you ever decided to buy a new home, looked for, and purchased one all in the same day? Probably not. You had to think about it, consider your options, weigh alternatives, gather information, and…. think about it even more. It’s no different with that car, rototiller, snowcat, four-wheeler, year of lawn service, or backhoe. This is the customer’s system for selling. It rarely matches up with store’s ideal system for selling (if they have one). Thing is, if you don’t have a system for selling, then you end up dealing with the customer’s system for buying.

People sell themselves to make sure they’re making the right decision. At that point, they’re *ready to buy* and move on. That’s why they often return & buy from the first salesperson who approaches them.

That’s where “time travel” marketing becomes important to the sales process. Marketing that considers the decision making process “goes back in time” from the upcoming visit to the store where you’d be answering questions but not making a sale. Ideally, it arrives in time to become a part of the buyer’s thought process. It answers questions before they get to your store, giving them time to consider their decision. Your materials (and your selling system) must consider the customer’s mindset and the conversation they’re having with themselves about that purchase. Knowing how your prospects make a purchase decision helps you create marketing materials that help people make a decision *before* they get to your store. It’s the same reason why pizza coupons tend to arrive on Thursday or Friday.

PS: Be sure to remind your customers that you can deliver *now*. Amazon can’t provide instant gratification like you can (at least not yet). Once we’ve made a decision, most of us want it now.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Categories
Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing

Moving the needle

I recently received an email from someone who creates marketing materials. They’re trying to expand their business and having some trouble. They’ve been approaching the top 100 companies in a particular niche after reviewing their website. The approach involves sending them an email specific to a perceived marketing-related need based on their website review. Unfortunately, the effort isn’t getting much traction. That’s why they approached me – to get some help guiding their efforts. They shared an example of the work they might create for someone. Bottom line: They’re trying to move their own needle by moving someone else’s. I have a few suggestions. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Who has the problem you can solve?

The top 100 companies in any broad national market are going to need a very compelling reason to give you any attention for any reason.

A company of this stature has a marketing team, a plan (hopefully), goals / desires, a budget (probably), and they think they know where they are going marketing-wise. Is there an experienced marketing VP or similar at the helm? Probably. Does their marketing team have a (presumably) well-thought out, strategic plan for “hitting their numbers”. I’m referring not just to achieving the lead and closed sale numbers they want.

Companies at this level worry (sometimes legitimately) about mind share, buzz, PR and other metrics that don’t necessarily reflect the quality of their ability to find a lead and convert them to a customer. They’re a top 100 nationwide company.

Is is possible their marketing team is working with a national media / advertising / marketing firm? Do you have experience working with teams like theirs? Do you have a track record of working with companies of their size and stature? You’re going to need to show them that you can play their game on their field.

This group can be difficult to win over. It’s likely that you’ve approached them about something that, while legitimate, may not be on their radar. This group is typically worrying about much bigger things than a tactical omission on their website, for example.

Suggestion: Rather than going after the top 100 companies nationally, identify a few of the best local companies that you’d like to work with. Perhaps they’re in the national market you’ve chosen. It’s much easier to find local companies that need marketing help. Start by focusing on a market you know best. If your skills help one “blow up” (in a good way), you’ll be in demand – and not just there. It will help you decide exactly who you want to be a hero to (and how). From there, it’ll be easier to head into national markets.

Are they mortally wounded?

What you’re missing in the top 100 market approach is identifying what they see to be a profusely bleeding neck wound. You need to identify something so bad that they’re almost embarrassed to talk about it.

What fatal mistakes are they committing? What about their process is so bad that they’re avoiding conversations about it with the owner or EVP? What are they having hand-wringing discussions about at the local watering hole after work? What marketing problems will senior management be grumbling about over dinner, at the golf course, or on the ski lift with other senior management types? Their perception is this: Problems of this nature aren’t going to be easily solved by someone who emails the marketing team about a tactical issue.

Identifying what’s perceived as a missing tactical item on their website is unlikely to generate any interest. Even if you’ve identified what you feel is a fatal mistake on their website, getting their attention will be difficult. These folks receive pitches regularly. Most of them are lazy, fill in the blank style pitches that do nothing but talk about the company doing the pitching. “We can be YOUR (whatever). We’re experts in this, we’re experienced at that” and so on. There’s no conversation about the desired client, their business, or their problem. There’s certainly nothing about the solution that would make them say “These people totally get what we’re struggling with. CALL THEM NOW!”

I realize these aren’t the problems you proposed to solve, but they’re the problems that team is focused on. The profusely bleeding neck wound demands attention.

Suggestion: Choose people whose “marketing wounds” are severe and life-threatening. Show up with exactly the cure they need.

Go deep

Once you’ve identified a prospect, a generic B2B message won’t do. While many in your desired market have similar pains that seem ideal for a fairly generic message, such messages rarely get anyone’s attention. Each of these businesses think their business is totally, completely unique. Hint: They almost never are, even if what they do or sell is unique. That doesn’t mean your message can treat them generically. The message that communicates your proposed solution has to be targeted carefully so that it doesn’t even remotely resemble the random pitches they’ve getting.

If you’re looking for more specific work, you need to dig a bit deeper. The more specific your proposed solution is to their problem, the better your chances. The better you’re able to demonstrate that you understand them, their market, and their struggle – the more likely they’ll be able to realize you’re the right one to help them. From your perspective, the work may be the same work for 10 or 100 of them. From theirs, that isn’t the case.

If you’re looking to help with their website – dig deep on their site. Sign up for whatever freebies and newsletters they have. Are they delivered as promised? Do they provide the information they promised? Do they communicate the message effectively? Do they compel action? Is the information in a format that’s ideal for the desired audience? Does it include options for people who consume visuals or audio better than text? Are those differences important for this audience? What’s missing? Is there a “bleeding wound”? Is there a “What’s next?” Is there a call to action? Is there a head-scratching disconnect? Do the various parts of their site, their emails and other opportunities to engage seem to fit together? If not, what would tie them together and make them work together to get the prospect what they need, make it easy for prospects to determine that whatever they sell is right (or isn’t) for them?

Ultimately, you have to look to them like the only person who really understands them and their problem. If you work hard enough to make them feel that way, you probably are.

Photo by Doruk Yemenici on Unsplash

Categories
Automation Direct Marketing Marketing Uncategorized

Marketing automation won’t save you

We’ve talked about marketing automation on and off over the years. On any number of occasions, I’ve suggested that you use these tools because they can help you get things done that most businesses simply can’t (or won’t) get done any other way. That’s still true. Even so, it’s important to understand that buying and deploying marketing automation isn’t a cure-all. 

Adjusting expectations

Marketing automation firm ads like to imply that their tools are the reason that a company’s revenue, lead volume, etc are growing like crazy. One look at these lofty figures tempts you to dive right in, assuming that the automation is going to save your bacon. It won’t.

Some assert that their clients’ revenue has grown by xx percent and try to leave the impression that this happened simply because they turned on their software. Not quite. 

You need to understand why I say “It won’t” and “Not quite”, so let’s talk about what marketing automation can do, and what it won’t do. Having proper expectations is crucial. 

Marketing automation can and won’t…

Marketing automation is a great thing – particularly when used well. In my mind, the two best reasons to automate your marketing are to improve the consistency of delivery of your marketing message, and to learn what’s working.

It’s easy for a business owner to forget to send a sales email,  newsletter, postcard, or follow up email. If you use any sort of customer service software, you know exactly what I mean. Customer service software helps you stay on top of service requests. Result: customers and their needs don’t get forgotten in the chaos of a busy day. Ever gotten sidetracked and forgotten to email a particular group about an upcoming event or sale? The wrong time to figure out that you forgot to send email invites is when you see a small turnout at an event. Improved consistency of delivery makes a big difference.

If a vending machine takes your money and gives you nothing, you wouldn’t put another dollar in it. When you start receiving data proving that certain advertising gives you nothing in return… your decision is similar. You fix it, or you stop using it. Learning what works changes everything. It tells you where to spend and where not to spend. Marketing automation software is pretty good at making that easier.

Marketing automation won’t write emails for you. It won’t make your emails better (sort of – more on that later). It won’t put your marketing on autopilot. Autopilot implies “push one button, take a nap until it’s time to land the plane“. You DO have to set it up and regularly attend to it. However, it won’t make you manually sort through user lists, or deal with a number of manual tasks that none of us have time for. While it can automatically take action based on an event, you have to set that up. 

Do something. 

One of the benefits of marketing automation software is that it requires you to DO SOMETHING. When you spend money on something that can send emails at just the right moment, you have to have written and queued these emails. That’s not the same as looking at a fast approaching payroll date and semi-randomly rushing out a marketing email or calling someone to buy an ad (yes, it happens).

Likewise, while these tools can post to social media for you on a day when you’re too busy to do it, you have to have already written and queued that post.

In the presence of automation something interesting happens: we have to be better prepared. The power these tools provide “obligates” you to develop some marketing discipline. That’s what I meant earlier when I said marketing automation tools won’t improve your emails “sort of”. With advance prep and consideration, your email and other messages are certain to become more effective.

Circling back to the “credit” that marketing automation firms claim, well, some of that goes to you. “Accidental” marketing rarely works well, so a portion of the gains from automated marketing are due to better preparation.

Marketing automation won’t save you by itself, yet it’s quite likely to improve results if you prepare well, use the tools, & take action on the data produced. Combined with what’s in your head, these tools will help you find more of the people who need the solutions you offer.

Categories
Direct Marketing Getting new customers Internet marketing Lead generation Marketing

What about the prospect list that isn’t a list?

Last time, we talked about your prospect list (or lack thereof). What about the prospects that aren’t on a list: the folks who have decided to get their info about you via one or more social media platforms. You may feel that the list discussion doesn’t apply to you because your prospects get their product info without signing up for anything. They follow you on Twitter, Instagram and/or Snapchat, they’ve liked your business page on Facebook, or connected on LinkedIn. In most of those cases, you don’t have their contact info other than perhaps the ability to direct message them (don’t, except to reply to their questions).

Like your prospect list members, social media oriented prospects also fit the profile of “a friend who needs the information and advice they’d ask of the friend and expert (you) prior to making a decision about a possible purchase”.

Tracking is different

On a list, you can monitor responses and segment the list into sub-lists so that the people who are clearly showing more interest will be the ones who get the next piece of info you’d typically provide. On social media, there are tools that can make that easier, but you will often find yourself having multiple public-facing conversations at once. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to be prepared for it. Without being a robot, you need to have “canned” responses to the most frequently asked questions and comments about the products and services you sell. You’ll want to post this sequence of thoughts, advice and questions via your social channels.

You might be thinking that you don’t have a list of questions like that, but I suspect you do. It’s in your head, perhaps taken for granted because your responses are so ingrained in your mind that you can answer them as easy as you can turn a doorknob. It’s like muscle memory. We all have those questions that we can answer well, even if someone wakes us up at two am. I suggest transcribing those responses from your head onto paper or perhaps better, into a centrally available document that your team can use even if you and your expertise have gone fishing for the day.

As an example, what are the common sales objections that you have to address? Those things go on the list. Objections aren’t always reasons why people don’t want your stuff, they’re more likely to be an entry point into a discussion that addresses why your product or service fits their needs better than the other options they’re looking at – or why yours don’t.

On a social channel, you’ll attract prospects and buyers. Encourage the formative signs of a helpful community. Be the cheerleader, recruiter and mentor. Your presence when the community is small will be critical to its growth.

Think about the buying process

In order to prepare a series of postcards or emails for your list (or a series of social posts), you need to think deeply about the evaluation and purchase process. If you were to write a guide to buying whatever you sell, and that guide was the only resource you could provide to someone looking to buy – what would it say? What would it talk about first? What process of evaluation and selection would it take the prospective buyer through? What questions would it ask to help them choose the standard item in the warehouse vs. the special order or custom-built item? What installation and delivery questions should someone ask? How do your processes for delivery, installation and service after the sale vary? How do they compare to the “industry norm”?

What happens after the sale?

After the sale, the buyer still has questions. The questions change to care and feeding, update, maintenance, cleaning, re-use, deployment, training, replacement, refills, etc. These same questions are ideal topics for both your prospect list and your social channels. Many times, they’ll help a prospect learn of an important facet of the purchase and ownership process that they hadn’t considered. This is an ideal use for video, even though all of the stages from prospect to seasoned user benefit from help that’s best suited to a specific media type. Video is great for how-to info, for example.

Whether the message gets to your prospects and clients via old school media, new school media, or both – the important thing is that it matters to them.

Photo by p_a_h

Categories
Direct Marketing Lead generation Marketing

Leads : Like a friend who needs advice

Your list. Do you have one? List of what, you say? Fair question. Let’s step back a bit. I’m talking about leads, prospects… ie: interested parties.

Does every lead buy the first time they encounter your products and services? The late Chet Holmes always talked about three percent who are ready to buy “right now”. Your business might “meet” 100 people this month who haven’t encountered you before. Using Chet’s numbers, there’d be three who are ready to buy and 97 who aren’t. Yet.

Your prospects might be different than his were, but there’s a percentage that applies to your business and your prospects. You get to analyze your prospects and how long it takes them to work through the lead process and figure that out. There isn’t one number for you and every other business.

That said, if your numbers match Chet’s, then what are you doing with the other 97% of the people you meet? If they don’t match his, that’s OK. The same question remains… what are you doing with the rest of them?

If you know who they are and can reach out to them to educate them (ie: provide them with info to help them learn more about what they said they’re thinking about buying), then you have a list. If you can’t do that, then you don’t have a list.

“People hate being on a list”

You’ve probably heard that. Or said it. Or lived it. Actually, what people seem to hate is being on a bad list.

A bad list is one:

  • ..where everyone gets the same thing, every time they’re emailed, mailed and/or called – regardless of age, gender, income, marital status, history as a customer, or time as a prospect.
  • ..that gets emailed, mailed and/or called with hard sales pitches about things they haven’t shown an interest in. For example, if I stop in to look at a four wheel drive diesel pickup, I don’t expect you to bug me about the latest hybrid two-seater you received. The reverse is also true.
  • ..that’s all about them and rarely about you (the prospective buyer) & your needs. Generally speaking, we don’t care about your end of month sales quota, or your boat payment coming due.

Political campaigns are a good example of a bad list. You get…

  • Mailings whose message resonates only to already-decided voters. See above.
  • Mailings that are all about the candidate’s party and not one iota about the voter they are trying to convince.
  • Mailings that think they can get you to change your mind because someone is, or isn’t wearing a cowboy hat.

If you want an example of what it’s like to be on a bad list… register to vote. If your mailings treat prospects in a manner that’s even close to the way parties and PACs treat their mailing lists, it’s time to reboot.

A good list serves leads

“Lead” is a somewhat impersonal name for these folks – after all, they are real people who have shown an interest in what you do. Leads is just a word. Don’t let it distract you from the purpose of your list of them. Treating them as if they’re all the same is a bad idea.

Why didn’t the other 97% buy? Maybe they’re waiting to get paid. Maybe they need to complete a few other tasks before they can buy. Perhaps they’re starting to learn about something they know they need or want, but they’re far from ready to buy. Maybe they have to wait until their new budget year starts. They all have a reason (want or need) and each one has a timeline. Some are more urgent than others.

You probably know 100 (often taken for granted) things that’d help the 97 (or whatever) percentage of people who didn’t buy figure out what to buy and when. These are the people who, if treated intelligently and kindly, would benefit from being on a good list.

“What do I say to make my list good?”

Imagine that one of your friends decides they need to buy what you sell. What questions would you want them to have the answers to before they make a buying decision? How would you advise them as they navigate the learning & purchase process?

These are the things a good list says. A good list treats leads like a friend who needs advice.

Photo by ccampbell10

Categories
Direct Marketing Email marketing Lead generation Marketing

How to take the chill out of a cold email

With double digit below zero weather arriving in Montana this week, the last thing any of us need is a cold email.

What I call a cold email isn’t quite the same as a bulk email. While bulk email is indiscriminately sent to many thousands of people, a cold email might be sent to 10, 50 or 100 people. Bulk emails are seldom effective as lead generation tools, while cold emails can be an effective lead generation tool from a somewhat targeted list.

What is a cold email?

Cold emails are often written from templates and sometimes are pasted into an email program before they are sent. Sometimes, they’re mail merged (ie: personalized), sometimes not. Template-based, mail-merged emails aren’t a bad thing until you send a generic one to the decent quality lead with a message that makes little sense.

Who gets a cold email?

They’re often sent to people you might have seen or heard of at a Chamber of Commerce event – but you weren’t introduced to them and you didn’t meet. You might have their email because of a list you have (or bought) access to, such as an industry group list or a list of trade show attendees.

You might have manually harvested the email addresses from web sites of companies that might be a good fit for your services. For example, if you serve small bakeries, maybe you Google’d “bakery northwest montana”, found a list of bakeries within 100 miles, then grabbed the owner name and email from each site.

While that shows a little effort, it can all be lost depending on your next move.

The trouble with cold emails

Cold emails don’t often get a response, because their content simply doesn’t encourage you to read them, much less take action.

Cold email failures:

  • The subject line doesn’t provoke you to open the email. Instead it says something like “sender’s company name product category”. Example: “Smith-Jones Systems – Point of Sale Software”.
  • Your content is so general that it shows you made no effort to understand the recipient or their needs, so it reads like every other spam they receive.
  • The email is written from the “me, me, me” perspective (talks about the company and its services) rather than talking about the reader.
  • Your email reads as if it came from a template. While the slightest bit of work could make it personal, that effort wasn’t invested.

Making a cold email personal

This email is your proxy. If you read an email you sent last week, does it sound like you? Is it the introductory conversation you’d have in person with a prospect? My guess is that it doesn’t and it doesn’t.

The email needs to speak to a specific problem. What problem do most bakeries have that your point of sale (POS) software solves? Bakery owners don’t wake up in the morning thinking “Boy, I sure wish someone would try to sell me point of sale software today.” Yet these same bakery owners might be thinking about how annoyed they are about the inability to predict shift coverage based on sales levels, print tax reports, produce custom order tickets, add stations, or some other thing. Their staff may have complained about other problems with their POS.

40% of your clients may have used a specific POS and moved to yours because of three specific benefits, differences or improvements. Do you know what these prospect bakeries currently use? What do their people think about it? Given that 40% of your clients used that tool, you should have some specific info for bakeries still using that old POS. Send a specific email to users of that POS vs. bakeries using other software.

Observation

Have you been in their bakery and bought something so you can see how the staff reacts to working on their registers or POS stations? Did you sit there, as appropriate, and have a cup of coffee while observing how things go when they are busy? Did you listen for comments from the staff?

While you don’t want to fill an email with ALL of this info, this knowledge is critical to understanding why a baker would want your POS.

Sure, these emails are more laborious to produce, but your job is to get new clients, not see how many emails you can send.

You don’t send marketing email? This knowledge also applies to phone and in-person sales calls.

Categories
Customer relationships Direct Marketing Getting new customers Marketing Politics Small Business

Understand anything and everything

On this Armistice Day, I’m reminded of the wisdom of the Vets who influenced my life. Typically, this means lessons learned from my dad and father-in-law, who both served as B-52 mechanics (Presque Isle, Carswell, etc). Seems that the harder the lesson was to understand and learn, the more value it holds.

Watching the election returns come in reminded me of an old joke that a successful landing is any landing you can walk away from. When the context of survivors is “political parties who do things the way they’ve always done them”, it’s too early to tell if anyone survived Tuesday’s landing.

For those who didn’t come here for politics, have no fear, we’ll circle back to a place very much in context with you and your clientele.

I have often noted that anything you do is everything you do, and Tuesday was a world-class illustration.

Hearing what you want to hear

After the Presidential votes are counted, everyone’s a pundit. We know what happened through the view seen from our own window on the world. Some saw it as a shocker. Some as a GOP mandate. Some as a long overdue rejection of the political establishment. You can count me in the third group.

It’s like the “crazy” family member at Thanksgiving dinner. If you don’t know who it is, it’s probably you.

Collectively, the RNC couldn’t believe they had to run with Trump until they had no choice. Likewise, the DNC couldn’t believe their “luck” that the RNC was stuck with Trump. I suspect the RNC couldn’t believe their luck when Hillary was nominated.

Neither party realizes they’re the crazy family members at the table.

Each party’s echo chamber remains in pre-election condition. Before long, I expect you will start seeing signs of “not getting it” in each party’s behavior. I’d like to be wrong about that, but it’s difficult to change organizations of this type, particularly when they say what they say so they can hear it again.

Listen to, understand and know your clientele

Neither party seems to understand one of the messages the election sent: “Stop sending us the same old candidates who do whatever the party wonks say while delivering nothing the candidate promised“. That it was delivered to both parties by the same candidate is noteworthy.

This happens after decades of not listening to your clientele (yes, voters are a clientele). It happens after decades of telling your clientele you’re going to deliver, but you never do. Not that they delivered two days late, or two months late but NEVER.

With that, let’s start to tie these events to your business.

Circling back with understanding

Until it happens, it’s extraordinarily difficult to understand what it’s like for a factory to close in your town. Most politicians think they understand it because they’ve seen photos and spreadsheets, talked to the former plant manager and toured the factory. You can’t really understand it without living it. Unless you worked there, live in the town, know the people, know their kids, see them them at ball games and grocery stores, it’s difficult to understand. Even then, unless your job is one of the ones that was lost, you don’t really get it.

The business owner has a parallel. They’ve lost customers, or lost or closed a business in the past. They understand that every day, their business is up for re-election.

If I asked your clientele to vote anonymously for your business’ survival, what outcome would you expect? Every stop or visit to your website is a vote of confidence. If they’re tired of your place or want a change, it’s a vote in the other direction.

Like a politician, you have two choices. You can depend on your echo chamber like those political parties, or you can get nose to nose, toes to toes with your clientele and learn what really makes them tick, what makes them worry, what takes away their pain and why they like (or don’t like) you. It’s hard (sometimes exhausting) work much like campaigning.

When you know your clientele better than anyone, it changes anything and everything. Your behavior, service, team, products, marketing and reaction to events that affect your clientele – they all reflect that knowledge.

If you’re a politician… it works roughly the same way, notwithstanding the votes you get simply because you’re a member of a particular party.

Categories
Direct Mail Direct Marketing Lead generation Marketing

One sentence can make or break a campaign

As we’ve discussed before, I still believe that well written direct mail works when it is done properly because I see the results. While much of it is “junk”, there are folks out there producing high-producing mail pieces. What do I mean by “high-producing”? I mean mail that survives a trip from the PO Box or the mail box to the kitchen table, then gets opened, then gets read, then prompts the recipient to take action.

If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, fix it, or stop doing it unless you’re willing to fix it. Many have taken the second option, believing that it no longer works.

Each of those steps must be successful for a piece to be high-producing. Otherwise, the piece gets tossed at the post office, or on the way home, or on the way from the street-side mailbox to the house, and so on. Even if it does make it to the kitchen table, it has to meet the smell test to get opened, and then again to get read and so on.

About that one sentence

That one sentence occurs in your mail piece multiple times. Anything that appears on the face of a mail piece can be the one sentence that either provokes someone to keep the mail or toss it. This same cycle occurs for the face of the mail piece, the back of the envelope, the headline and salutation on the letter inside, and every sentence thereafter.

Too many mail pieces (and emails) ignore this simple progression. It’s a conversation. If you’re standing in front of someone talking with them to both understand what their needs are and help them understand how you can help them, you’re doing the same thing. If you say something that breaks the trust you’re building with the prospect / client you’re speaking with, the conversation is effectively over – which is the equivalent of your mail piece going into the trash.

Remember, your email or your mail piece is no more than a proxy for you standing there. It needs to be in your voice, while reflecting your perspective and expertise. I find that reading these things aloud before sending helps me write them in my voice. When I read something written in a way that doesn’t sound like my voice, it feels terribly obvious as soon as I say it out loud.

Do your emails sound like your voice? Do the things you put in the mail sound like your voice? Sounding like you, i.e.: using the words and sentence structure you use is the easy part. It’s crucial to convey your message with your personal credibility and desire to help the client. Perfect it one sentence at a time.

What about the one sentence that can break it?

There’s always a risk that a mail piece will go down in flames at any point between the PO Box / mailbox and the kitchen table. The aforementioned smell test isn’t a one time thing – it has to be passed at every step of the way.

The one sentence that can break it and make all the effort and expense of sending that piece is the one that destroys your credibility.

I received a letter like this last week. Someone tried to be clever on the face of the envelope and trick the reader into opening the envelope. While it probably worked on some people, it will destroy the credibility of the sender with many other readers. At best, that piece will go straight to the trash, which is how I handled it. With others, it could create some blowback to the organization who mailed it. With some, it could make that organization all but dead to the reader.

You obviously don’t want any of these things to happen. It may seem like a waste to spend a couple of paragraphs to remind you of this possibility, and I simply do so to make it clear that every step in the process of reviewing, opening and reading the mail is an opportunity to both provoke interest and lose it.

These same challenges affect your email pieces, blog posts and any other materials you place in front of clients. In fact, the same can be said for a face to face conversation you have with a client or prospect.

Categories
Customer relationships Direct Marketing Email marketing Management planning Public Relations Setting Expectations Small Business strategic planning systems Travel marketing

Communicate when nature threatens

Last week I said “Allowing perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

Part of your job is to set guests’ minds at ease by giving them the advice they need to make considered decisions during situations they’re unaccustomed to.

They want to protect their investment, their vacation and their families. It’s safe to say that your local, regional and/or state tourism groups, media and attractions will put effort into this. What isn’t safe to assume is that your guests will see their message and understand it as you do.

You might be the only one in the area with their name and contact info. You might be the only one who develops a relationship with them. Your business is the one that will pay the price if they get off a plane in Minneapolis and see an airport gate “if it bleeds, it leads” style news video with an uninformed announcer from 2500 miles away saying “Glacier Park is on fire“.

They don’t know what you know. You’ve seen all of this before.

Make sure they understand that and that you are giving them time-tested advice based on your knowledge of their visit and their family. YOU need to contact them and make sure they have accurate information, otherwise, their next flight might be toward home.

Details protect your business

Last time, I added a lot to your plate:

Segmenting guests into groups. Collecting emails. Collecting cell numbers. Writing emails. Sending emails. Documenting the various communication processes so anyone can do it, even if you’re tending to a sick parent. Producing templates for the emails you might need to send. Producing templates for the text messages you might need to send. Producing a fill-in-the-blanks script that a staffer can read when calling guests who are in transit or in the area. Documenting the process so that anyone on site knows who is responsible for starting the process, which one to start, who to notify and what to say.

This isn’t about creating more work for the owner/manager. This is about putting a trust-building, by the numbers, automated where necessary system in place so that it can be handled by employees who never dealt with it before.

You won’t have time to do any of this when a fire blows up in the park. You won’t have time to manually send 300 emails or make 100 phone calls while deciding what to say on the fly.

This is about creating time to deal with critical high-season work when you least want to be “messing around with emails”, even if your place isn’t directly threatened. These tasks need to be organized, tested and ready to implement before the season starts.

Fine tuning the message

When you sit down to build this system, you’ll have a lot to think about. For example, the urgency and means of contacting them is as different as the message for each group and situation.

What conditions that merit separate communications and (most likely) separate messages? What groups should be split out of “the entire list of guests”?

A number of situations will expose themselves as you think it through. Go back over prior years and think about the times you handled this well and not so well. What did you learn after the fact that you didn’t consider when things were unfolding? Your own experiences count too – How was this done when you were on vacation and unexpected problems occurred?

Two examples:

  • If evacuations or cancellations are necessary, will evacuated / cancelled guests get priority booking for a substitute stay at your property?
  • As the situation unfolds, it will become more clear what to say to your guests with reservations a month or more out – but you need to communicate the plan now so they know what to expect. What will you say?

Your business may not be affected by fire season but nature threatens your business somehow and when it does, “fire season lessons” apply. Your area might be subject to drought, low (or high) water in rivers/lakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or a damaged bridge instead of a forest fire.

No matter what happens, send the right message to the right guests in a timely manner in the right way. Build trust. Practice, automate, document, delegate.