What premier service do they reach for?

How do you keep your clients excited and/or interested in your company? This shouldn’t be any problem doing this for your highest-value clients as I expect you already have premier programs and services for them. I’m talking about your newest clients, as well as those who have been around a while but haven’t yet “made it big”. Have they seen a premier service or product waiting for them on the next rung of the ladder?

What convinced your newest clients to buy ProductX? How do their reasons vary from those who have used ProductX for a decade or more? These two types of businesses could be quite different. It’s likely they see your business and your offerings in two completely different light.

Why did your newest client buy your products and services? Right now, you would hope that means that you’re best of breed. The long-time client not only wants the product that supports their needs, but they also have to see a compelling reason that prevents them from changing to another provider. The pain of change is a substantial contributor to decisions not to move to another solution, but you’d probably prefer that the primary reason for not changing is that you are keeping up with (and preferably anticipating) their needs.

Both groups need to climb the ladder.

What’s on the next floor?

One thing that you rarely see from companies that have multiple levels of product and/or service offerings is guerrilla-style marketing of those options to people who don’t yet qualify for them, or don’t know of them. This creates a gap in your clients’ understanding of the maturity of your business and what offers to them. As an example, some hotel chains have concierge floors. These are typically available only to clients who have a long history of stays with that hotel chain.

If you haven’t yet developed an allegiance to a hotel chain, or don’t see much difference between them, you’re likely to pick the cheapest one that fits your level of comfort. That isn’t what the chain wants, yet they seldom do anything to inspire allegiance, much less aspiration to the next level.

Have you ever toured the concierge level facilities of a hotel prior to earning access to them? Have you seen the differences between a regular and concierge level rooms? If not, what motivates you to choose that chain consistently and move up to a frequent lodging level that has access to those floors?

While a hotel couldn’t do this every night, on nights when room capacity is lower, the hotel’s systems could automatically identify a handful of travelers for a free upgrade to a concierge level. They should be people whose stay history indicates they’ll be good candidates for the company’s frequent lodging programs. If the systems can’t do that, local management can make the upgrades happen.

You’d be surprised how a “small favor” like this can turn a relationship up a notch and generate long term loyalty.

Peek behind the curtain

The same sort of idea works for an airline, or a company that has multiple service levels. I was recently on a sparsely seated flight to Minneapolis and was surprised to find eight empty first class seats on the plane. These days, that’s very unusual.

A smart automated system should have identified fliers in economy who are close to reaching the next frequent flier level and upgraded them to a higher level seat moments prior to boarding. These systems might choose a passenger whose originating airport is a United hub, presuming that a percentage of those passengers might be ripe for change.

Similarly, if your company staffs premier service levels such as extended weekday or weekend hours, you may have people in place who can service a one-time upgrade. When someone asks for help outside their allotted service window, they’d normally expect to wait until the next business day. Instead, you could occasionally deliver service right then – even if they aren’t paying for extended service.

Be sure to explain what you’re doing and offer this to a good candidate for your premier services. A follow up with their management to explain why you provided a taste of up-level service might be the conversation that moves them up a tier.

Every business should seek ways to provide an ascension ladder for their clientele – and create the desire to climb it.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tipsfortravellers/

Truth in advertising?

Ever watch a TV commercial for a restaurant and see examples of food that you know they’ll never serve? Of course you have. It’s particularly common among national fast food restaurants. At this point, do you have any expectation that the food in the ad will even remotely resemble what you’ll receive if you eat there?

Probably not.

Advertisements which present something the restaurant will never deliver set the tone for what people expect from all advertising – including yours. You need to inoculate your marketing so that it never makes this mistake.

It takes one time for people to lose trust in your advertising. ONE TIME.

Politics – an obvious example

A politician’s financial or legal issues make for an ideal illustration. Are financial problems all that unusual for folks who have dealt with long-term health care challenges? Among all the people you know, probably not. How much different is this vs. a lawsuit over stream access? While you may not know anyone who has dealt with the latter, you can be all but certain that neither party will present these situations accurately and completely.

In their minds, the truth seems to be something to be used only when it’s a weapon. In both cases, the actual truth might be seem reasonable – but we’ll be sure that each candidate’s negative ads will carefully paint these situations to make them look as evil and/or incompetent as possible.

OK, sure. No one believes anything they see in a political ad. Or… no one believe anything in a political ad for the opponent of the person you plan to vote for. And we’re so used to it that we expect everything but the truth.

Just like the ads from many national restaurants.

Don’t create problems for yourself

For a politician, these kinds of problems occur when you don’t get out in front of your own issues. When you let the opponent and their party announce your problems, they get the pleasure of positioning them for you. They also get first shot at defining “the facts”. No matter how true their version is, if they’re first to bring up your flaws or mistakes, you’re the one with the terrible strategy.

It’s no different for your business. You have to bring up common sales objections that others would use against you. Anyone who has done their homework has probably already thought of these objections. Anything you think you can ignore, wave away or hide is best handled by you on your terms, before you get cornered.

Inoculate your marketing

When it comes to your advertising, you have to think hard about this from the customer’s perspective. What are they really looking for? What about my business is a reason to grab their attention? What is unique about what you do and how you do it that would attract a certain person looking for a certain product or service?

If your ad manages to successfully convince someone to give your business a chance, what would possibly make you think that you can show them something in an ad that they’ll never get, or never see when they visit your place?

How do you react when that happens to you? Would you ever go back? Think back to the last time you felt this way.

Given that feeling – what’s necessary for you to inoculate your marketing against producing something like that for your prospects and customers? Start by asking others for their first impression of the ad. Get out of the echo chamber (as politicians, parties and big media should). Ask someone you trust if your ad accurately represents what you do. Ask them if it identifies something that’s important about the decision making process that would make them choose your business.

Ask around

Now ask a trusted customer what they think. Does it resonate with them? Does it ring true to them? Do they feel it’s an important factor when selecting your business, much less your products and services?

Imagine if a politician or a party asked an undecided voter what they thought about their ads. Thinking of your prospects as undecided voters, ask yourself this: Would this help or hurt my cause?

What would someone who didn’t choose your business say about your ads? How do they feel about the ad you currently feel is your best?

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.

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.

This year, customer follow up will be different.

For many businesses, two things happen this time of year. One: You get a bunch of new customers. Two: Many of the new customers you acquired during this time last year “forget” to come back. The customers on the first list cost time and money to acquire. A fair amount of the people who “forget” to come back were never asked to. In other words, the business didnt invest the time / money for new customer follow up.

There is a problem with this concept. Being able to follow up requires having some contact info for your clients. These days, people are all too used to being nagged incessantly, mostly by mail and email. They’re also concerned about privacy and identity theft, which increases their reluctance to provide you with their contact info.

Why they think you’re a spammer

While it keeps the FCC and others “happy” to publish boilerplate privacy and security policies, most people either won’t read them or won’t care that you have them. Until given a reason to think otherwise, they will group your request with all the ones they’ve received before. This means that you will be thrown into the bucket with the companies who used their contact info inappropriately.

Inappropriate doesn’t necessarily mean illegal but the net impact on the business is roughly the same.

While many marketing people and business owners think otherwise, they don’t get to decide what is spam and what isn’t. The recipient does. The legal definition is irrelevant. No matter how good you think the message is, the recipient decides whether your messages are out of context, incessant, annoying or of no use. If your new customer follow up message matches any of those criteria, they will unsubscribe, opt out and might even stop doing business with you.

Even worse, they will group you with all the other spammers and be super hesitant to provide you with information in the future – even if you need it in order to serve them as they wish.

Poorly conceived customer follow up has a hard cost

Spammers are of the mind that they can send millions of emails for free. They have the luxury of not caring if they retain a “customer”. You do not. They have the luxury of not caring about the cost of a lead, much less the lifetime value of a customer. You do not.

When you send a message that feels to your customer like spam and it causes them to unsubscribe, there’s a hard cost associated with that. Think about what it cost to get that person to visit your store or website. We’re talking about labor, materials, time, consultants, employee salaries, service costs, etc. Every lead source has a cost and a ROI. The latter comes from the lifetime of that client relationship with your company.

When your message causes the client to unsubscribe, your lead cost rises and your ROI is likely to drop because the lifetime customer value of that person or business will probably stagnate.

Great, so how does my customer follow up avoid this?

Expectation management.

When they provide contact info these days, people have questions about the use of their contact info:

  • How it will be used.
  • How it will be shared (short answer: DON’T)
  • How it will be secured.

You have to be crystal clear (and succinct) when answering those questions. You have to adhere to what you said. Stepping outside the bounds of what you said you’d do, even once, breaks what little trust was granted when their contact info was shared.

Whether you feel it’s justified or not, people are hyper-sensitive to this. If you want to build a lifetime customer relationship with them, your behavior has to show it.

A suggestion

Everyone likes getting stuff on their birthday. It doesn’t have to be a (heaven forbid) 50% discount. You don’t need their birth date – which they will be protective of due to identity theft. You only need the month. During their birthday month, a simple offer or add-on that is special to them is all you need. Do you have any low cost, high perceived value services that could be given away with purchase during their birthday month? Make sure it’s clear to them that you will use this info to send them something of value during their birthday month – and stick to that.

The alternative is to keep paying more for leads. There are only so many people in your market. Nurture your clientele and show them you’re always thinking about how to help them. Win the long term game.

Merchandising means “Don’t forget the ice”

If you have a retail storefront, do you have a solid idea what business you lose to big online retailers vs. the business you can depend on? What sales do you lose to big box retail? Perhaps the bigger question is this: Are you selling what your clients want and need? Does your merchandising support those needs?

Let’s backtrack a bit. Yesterday was a “honey-do day”. A retail experience or two is often required to complete the day’s achievements and “level up” to good husband for the weekend.  For me, retail shopping is more like a marksmanship thing than a grazing-like activity. I prefer to get in, get what I need and get out with a minimum of time and friction.

Sell what they need to finish the job

My first stop was at a big retailer that specializes in stuff you might buy on a honey-do trip. I picked up a corner shelf for the bathroom in a section of the store where shelves of this nature (free-standing or otherwise) are plentiful. The one I selected is intended for hanging.

Despite selling a plentiful amount of “hang this to use it” items across many departments, the store had none of the hardware needed to hang something – not for the item I bought or any other. However, they had what seemed like hundreds of (often ridiculous) “As seen on TV” items that prompted me to wonder who would pay for warehouse space for such things. But I digress.

I asked one of the people in the store if they had hanging hardware. They didn’t.

Why would you sell stuff that hangs without selling stuff used to hang those things? Because you aren’t thinking like a customer.

Thinking like a customer

When a shopper ventures out into retail, we tend to have one of two missions: “browse” or “complete task”. I think it’s best to serve clients on both missions. In the latter mode, we humans are often forgetful people. We multi-task. The phone rings. We leave our list at home. We’re imperfect at times.

Smart merchandisers can cure some of that.

When you go into a beer store, they have beer. They also have ice, coolers, bottle openers, snacks and other things you may need, or may have forgotten before leaving the house for a day at the lake. Sure, they are there to increase sales, but they are also there to save your trip by triggering any remaining “Oops, forgot to get ice” thoughts before they become expensive. It’s annoying to get out in the middle of the lake or settled in camp two hours back in the woods on a dirt road, only to find you forgot the ice. They understand that your needs extend beyond beer.

When you go into a fly fishing store, you can buy flies. For an expert who has what they need, a fly fishing store has local flies. For the noob who doesn’t have what they need (or the expert who forgot something), a fly fishing store has local flies, and just about any other fly fishing related item you need. They understand that your needs extend beyond flies.

Smart merchandising is good for you and your customers

At some of the best merchandised stores, you’ll find the mission completion items you need right there in the aisle with the item that took you to that aisle. These simple, thoughtful (and yes, sales-increasing) acts of merchandising save shoppers time and steps. They allow shoppers to avoid the time needed to dig around elsewhere in the store for an item. Even better, they may remind your customers to get the (in my case) hardware to hang an item so that they don’t drive all the way home only to realize they need to return to town to get the pieces and parts to finish the job.

Are these things incredibly obvious? Certainly. Obvious or not, does every store do so? No.

Be one of the stores that does.

Don’t have a retail location? Your online store’s shoppers have the same challenges. They forget the ice, or the cables, or the hanging hardware, and other little things needed to complete their mission.

It’s OK to be focused on being the best at selling the item your customers need – but don’t let them forget the ice.

Buying decisions are personal

One of the challenges we have when running a business, and more importantly, when trying to make a sale – is understanding what makes our clients, buy (or not buy), run away screaming (or some such). They have their own reasons which may (or may not) relate to you and the actions you and your business have taken while dealing with them. Combined, these things are yet another complex reason why buying decisions are another angle at Business is Personal.

Personal to them, not simply to you.

Why they don’t buy

Many times, the reason they decided not to buy has nothing to do with you. It’s personal.

Business is Personal to them because their transmission went out over the weekend, or their best friend’s niece is in the hospital, because the basement flooded at home so for the next few weeks, they probably don’t have time to install and configure that software you’re trying to sell them (or it no longer seems important), or they got into an argument with their spouse last night and that RV is no longer important… until the argument is forgotten and the lure of being in the boonies (with a little comfort) is important again, or their daughter got a full scholarship to a college 2500 miles away and now your spouse is a wreck because the reality that their little girl is growing up and leaving the house has hit home and distracted everyone.

For now, that is.

Distraction is personal

The things that change your prospect’s minds, or put off their buying decisions are countless. Most of them are personal. The phone rang and their mother wasn’t feeling well. The teacher called and their son needs to study harder. Some of them are not personal. The boss emailed and they have to go out of town next week. Priorities changed for any number of reasons.

These are not reasons not to buy, or reasons to buy – but they impact your clients every day. Life is quite often more important than your products and services. You might have the best RV in town, the best service department, the best price and the best financing, but today – none of that matters and it’s not your fault. It just is.

It’s easy to get discouraged when this is going on, but that’s the one thing you can’t allow for. You can’t give up. You can’t assume that they changed their mind because your product or service aren’t good enough, or your salespeople aren’t good enough, or your price isn’t cheap enough. There may be occasions when one or more of those conditions are valid, but most of the time – that isn’t the problem.

Distraction is.

People’s lives don’t revolve around your product or service until they do, and then they don’t 19 hours later when the phone rings or that email arrives.

Why they need your patience… and your reminders

Engagement is critical. Nurturing is critical. Both play a role in your business and do far more than keep your name in front of them. They remind your prospects that something you sell was important to them a few weeks ago before they were distracted by something that was important to them at the time.

Seems like a simple thing, but the difference between re-engaging with a prospect, getting the conversation back on track and eventually completing a sale, vs. “unexpectedly” losing a formerly hot prospect is the difference between a re-engagement follow up and waiting around for the prospect to figure out that they were going to buy something that at one time or another was important to them.

It’s work. It’s marketing. And it’s the kind of re-engagement effort that is often the difference between reaching next month’s revenue goals…. or not.

What stage?

A critical aspect of your re-engagement effort is gauging where your prospects are along the buying timeline. It’s not really a timeline though. It’s more like a set of behaviors about-to-be buyers exhibit when they’re at a certain point in the process of buying. Years ago, Perry Marshall and his crew noticed that when someone searched Google for “guinea pig”, it meant they were ready to buy, vs when they searched for “guinea pigs”, they were doing pre-purchase decision research.

Study your buyers’ timelines and use what you learn to create a re-engagement plan. You’ll need communications appropriate to re-engage people at each stage of the purchase timeline.

Are you using your marketing data effectively?

Earlier this year, we discussed planning your marketing, advertising and the run up to promotions and events using a marketing calendar. Today, let’s dive in a little deeper by adding metrics to the equation, specifically – marketing data.

Got income goals?

Presumably you have a budget and as a part of it, income / revenue goals. How certain are you that you’ll hit them this month? How certain are you about hitting them seven months from now?

A few pieces of math might help, but it will require some data collection, or analysis of your existing sales / order data to get there. Keeping it simple, here’s the questions you’ll need to be able to answer:

  • How many new leads did you get last month?
  • Did any of these new leads come from special events or promotions?
  • How many of the new leads who DIDN’T come from special events or promotions have already purchased something?
  • How many of the new leads who DID come from special events or promotions have already purchased something?
  • Was last month’s lead count typical for this month last year?
  • Is your close rate from promotions and events different from other lead sources? If so, why?
  • What’s the average order amount from a lead that comes to you via special promotions and/or events?
  • What’s the average order amount from all other leads?
  • How many leads does it take to close one order, on average? If this varies substantially for leads gained through promotions or events, make note of this.
  • Can you track leads to the source of advertising that brought them in? If so, are the close rate and/or average order amount from any one lead source substantially different from other sources? (high or low)
  • What’s the average number of days needed to close a sale? Is this number of days different for “regular” leads vs leads gained from promotions and/or events?
  • Is the average number of days it takes to close a lead shorter for any particular lead source (or sources)? If any sources stand out as notably longer or shorter, make note of them

That should get you started. Gather this information and we’ll move on to the next step.

Making use of all that work

It will probably seem like a lot of work to gather (and keep gathering) all that info. It is, but solid order and advertising management systems can make it easier. Even if you’re doing it with a yellow pad or an Excel spreadsheet, it’ll be worth it.

Start with the amount of income you have budgeted for next month.

Given the numbers from the prior section, how many sales will you close next month? What about the month after?

If that number is below your budgeted revenue, how many more leads will it take to reach your revenue budget next month?

Given that number, how will you get that number of leads this month so that you can reach your revenue goals in future months, based on your close rate and the number of days it typically takes to close a sale?

Step back

Let’s change tracks for a bit and step back to why we’re doing all of this work and why you might feel a little uncomfortable at this point.

Do you regularly make your monthly revenue goals? Do you know why?

If “regularly” doesn’t describe your business’ achievement of revenue goals, I have more questions: Have you ever made your revenue goals? How did you arrive at them? Why did you make them? Do you make a push every month that sales appear to be coming in below budget? What does “a push” look like? Does that mean you advertise more? Hold more promotions and/or events? Pick up the phone and cold call more than usual?

Does it feel like you’d have a better shot at confidently predicting how next month is going to go, revenue-wise, if you were using your lead, order and marketing data in this way? Would you (and your employees) feel more confident if your achievement of revenue goals was more systematic and less arbitrary? How would it affect how your family feels about your business? Regardless of what retirement means to you, how would a systematic way of “controlling” revenue impact your ability to plan and eventually exit when you decide to retire?

Start simple, but start today.

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.

And after Small Business Saturday?

Besides being a particularly busy Christmas shopping day, this coming Saturday is “Small Business Saturday”.

Once a year, American Express (organizer of Small Business Saturday) encourages shoppers to shop at a small local business and offers marketing materials to help small businesses take part in the event by encouraging locals to shop their store.

While you might be thankful that Amex makes an effort to place shoppers’ focus on small retailers for that all-important Saturday in November, and for the (hopefully) positive effect it has on your Christmas season sales, Small Business Saturday (and the holiday shopping season in general) is far more important than a one day sales boost.

For many shoppers, it might be the one opportunity you have all year to get their attention and leave an impression on them that helps them remember to shop your store all year long. Bottom line: Amex has gotten the ball rolling for Thanksgiving Saturday. The other 51 Saturdays are on you.

Not simply another sales day

Even without Amex’s help to promote Small Business Saturday, it’s an opportunity to do so many things because you’ll see shoppers you usually don’t see.

Show them why they should shop at your place more often. Make it clear to price shoppers that your prices are competitive, and if they aren’t, make it clear that your prices are justifiably higher because your products/services are of higher value, or that you deliver more, save time, save hassle, etc.

Use this opportunity to engage shoppers in recurring purchase opportunities, but do it in a way that makes sense for your clientele, not simply because I suggested it.

Collect contact information. While some are protective of this info, it’s often because their contact info has been misused or used ineffectively. No one wants to hear more noise, but most people will happily accept valuable info that helps them. Tell people what you will do and do that and nothing else. Let them be selective about the resources you send them rather than giving them only one choice.

You might have lists for monthly promotions, value shoppers, last minute (or low stock / closeout) deals, as well as for special events. Let THEM decide what list they’re on and treat that list with great care.

Make your place a refuge from shopping mayhem

We’ve all seen the news stories and video of the ugliness of box store Black Friday sales. People are fighting traffic, fighting for parking spaces, fighting to be one of the first 62 people to get the Barbie Turbo Fashion Corvette, fighting massive crowds and so on.

Don’t let your store become a part of that. REI decided to close their store on Black Friday. To be sure, some of this is about publicity and this decision was likely made based on their Friday sales figures (think about their clientele), but no matter what really drove the decision, they really are making a point about not taking part in what goes on during Black Friday.

While closing shop probably doesn’t make sense for you, the idea to stand out and take steps to be a refuge from the mayhem is a good one.

Standing out in a crowd

Think about the things that reduce the enjoyment that people get when shopping for gifts for the people they love:

  • Starting at 4am
  • Lines
  • Crowds
  • Parking
  • Dealing with “those people who only seem to drive/park/shop one weekend a year”
  • Shortages of items
  • Hauling around the day’s booty

Everyone’s list might be different. What steps can you take to take the pain, hassle and aggravation out of their day?

While it might be too late to plan and execute a big splash, do nothing wastes everyone else’s efforts and puts off your gains for a year. Even if you start today, a focused effort to do what you *can* do will help.

If you have a preferred client list, this is a great time to bestow a nice benefit for those who have earned the right to be on that list. Offer them valet parking, special shopping hours all to themselves and deferred pickup of items.

Let them order by phone or via your website, even if you aren’t setup to take their money until they arrive for pickup.

Next year, plan your Small Business Saturday

Next year, be sure to plan and promote your Small Business Saturday event well in advance.

Ask your local retailers group and your Chamber of Commerce to get involved in promoting the event both to shoppers and to local retailers, if they aren’t already.

Take advantage of the effort Amex is making, and the resources they provide to make Small Business Saturday your own – and not simply a one day bump in sales.