Run Circles Around Your Competition: How to Build a Loyal Fan Base

running-shoe.jpgAt first glance, you might consider Pacer’s, a running store in Alexandria, VA to be about the same as, say, the Foot Locker in the mall. After all, they carry similar products, market to a similar audience, and have a similar pricing structure. But Pacer’s does something truly remarkable. They have fans. Evangelists. People like me who just can’t wait to tell the world how wonderful this store is. And that is brilliant marketing.

So how is Pacer’s different? Upon purchasing a pair of running shoes, here are some of my observations:

  1. A passionate (and therefore knowledgeable) staff. Every employee of Pacers is a runner – not a minimum wage high-school kid. Why is this important? Knowledge. When I asked questions (like should I stretch before or after a run) the staff responded quickly and with authority (both). These guys know what they’re talking about. And because they love it so much, they’re happy to chat with customers about ways to shave a minute off your mile or how to train for your next big race.
  2. Overwhelmingly exceeding expectations. When I purchase shoes, I expect friendly customer service, and someone to go to the back of the store to get the shoes for me to try on. But if you want to really impress me you’ll measure my feet, watch me walk, analyze the fact that I have high arches and roll slightly inward in my stride and then pull several pairs of shoes that I can “test drive” before making a purchase (seriously, these guys are awesome). This goes back to the whole knowledgeable employees thing. When I’m impressed, I want to tell all of my friends about my amazing experience so my friend can experience the same thing.
  3. Creating a community. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the Pacer’s fun run. 30 or so people will gather in front of the store, run several miles and then go out for a tasty beverage. There’s no charge, you simply show up. This event gets Pacer’s loyal fans interacting with the brand on a whole new level. (Plus, if you attend regularly there’s a discount which further solidifies the devotion to your brand).

It works because it’s genuine – it’s not a hackneyed “we offer outstanding customer service” slogan when really they don’t. That doesn’t work. Instead, Pacer’s has invested in their training, people and community which leads to lots of word of mouth. The funny thing is, Pacer’s does minimal advertising. Why would they need to? They’ve created a better retail experience and therefore people are talking – that’s their marketing. So how can you be outstanding? Are you and your people completely passionate about your product or service?

Related Links

Personal Attention = Great Word of Mouth by Andy Sernovitz

What Makes Good For Marketing? The Experience! by Jeff Kallay

The Art of Evangelism Web Conference by Guy Kawasaki (if you missed it, keep your eyes peeled to see if he does another one)

A Picture is Worth…

A big shout out to my friend Doug Kean for the AMAZING job on my new headshots! I was so impressed with his level of creativity and professionalism and would highly recommend him to anyone in the DC area in need of a great pic for business.

His website is still under development, but you can e-mail him at yourbestside at shotzphotos dot com.

Ditch the Pitch

phone.jpgWhen I was 16 my dad gave me a gift. Our neighbor had just opened an insurance office down the street and my father got me a job as a telemarketer. Granted, I wanted a new car. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the thought of calling people during dinner to solicit auto insurance quotes. But as I look back, this part-time job shaped my entire career. It’s where I learned that if I wanted to be successful in sales, I needed to ditch the pitch.

My first day of work our neighbor sat me down at my desk, gave me a stack of cards filled with names, addresses & phone numbers, showed me how to dial 9 for an outside line and gave me a pink piece of paper with “the pitch.” My job was simple. Call people and get them to agree to getting an auto insurance quote.

The “pitch” proved to be worthless. This sorry excuse for a script was probably written by some sort of insurance monkey at the corporate office who didn’t know a lick about sales. Here were my first 30 calls:

Andrea: Hi, Mrs. So-and-so. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mrs. So-and-So: <hang up expediently>

or

Andrea: Hi, Mr. Someone. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mr. Someone: Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? <hang up>

Andrea: (mumbling under breath so her new boss doesn’t hear) Of course I do. I’m sixteen and could be out partying with my friends.

People don’t want to talk to insurance agents. I was seen as a big fat waste of time. So I decided to try things my own way.

I tried all sorts of things, like:

  • Talking in a (very fake, but I tried so hard) British accent

and

  • Being blunt by saying “Hi, I know I probably just interrupted your dinner and I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job. would you like an auto insurance quote?”

After all sorts of trials and errors, I stumbled upon a method that actually worked.

First a little back story; I grew up in Ashland, VA which is a town so small we actually had a town song that we would all get together and sing at the town talent show each spring (true story). Think “The Music Man” meets “Leave it to Beaver” and you’re close.

So being from a small town I noticed that I personally knew half the people on the list – or at least their children.

I changed my sales pitch to something like this:

Andrea: Hi, Ms. Smith. This is Andrea – I go to school with your daughter Amy.

Ms. Smith: Hi, Andrea. How are you?

Andrea: I’m doing great. How about yourself?

Ms. Smith: Pretty well, thanks. Did you want to talk to Amy?

Andrea: Actually, I was calling to talk to you. See, I have a new job working at Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company. I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m just collecting information so we can send you a quote, followed up by a nice hand-written thank you card and then you can decide if you want to do anything with it.

Ms. Smith: (slightly taken aback) Oh. (usually a pause) How long will it take me to fill out?

Andrea: About 3 minutes.

Ms. Smith: Well, OK. Go ahead.

Yep, it was that simple. Eventually I outsold everyone in the office (and made darn good money).

So why did this method work when everything else failed?

  1. Establishing a personal connection. Once it’s established that you and your prospect have something in common – it takes your chances of closing to a whole new level.
  2. Removing the pressure. No one wants to be “sold.” When is the last time you went to a sketchy used car lot seeking the thrill of being pressured into something you don’t want to buy? Saying “you can decide what you do with it” signaled to my prospects that I respected their time and wasn’t going to pressure them into something they didn’t want.
  3. Cutting ties quickly. Occasionally I’d get the “No, thank you.” My reply was always, “Thanks for your time. Have a great day.” The way I saw it, it was much easier to dial more numbers than it was to convince someone that they really did want a quote. In the end, if a customer is sold because of pressure, the likelihood of them being a loyal customer is greatly diminished.
  4. Sincerely believing in my product. Most of the people who stuck it out to get a quote ended up saving money. I thought this was a good thing, so I felt like I was providing a great value. Later in life, I sold advertising in a low-quality and very expensive print publication. I knew the ads were a bad investment and learned quickly that you can’t “fake” belief in your product. And if you don’t believe in it – you can’t sell it.

What Happens to Creative Accountants?

gapp-jail.jpgThey go to jail – or at least that’s what Dr. O told me upon my third attempt at Managerial Accounting. Here’s how the conversation went:

Dr. O: This is the way you apply this to the balance sheet (scribbling on board)

Andrea: (hand raised, while others in class roll their eyes) Dr. O?

Dr. O: Yes, Andrea? (slight sigh of annoyance)

Andrea: If you swapped step 3 and 5 and deleted step 8 you would get the same answer in half the work. Why do you have to do all the extra steps?

Dr. O: Andrea – creative accountants go to jail. Just do it the way it’s written.

Andrea: (grumbling under her breath) I hate accounting.

While Dr. O had a very valid point (weeks later revealed the Enron and Arthur Andersen debacle), I disagree.

I think the world is in need of creative accountants. Not ones who will manipulate the rules like I tried to do, but accountants who can see the big picture, understand the tax implications and honestly, legally and ethically find ways to save me money on my tax liabilities. No one wants a bean counter – I can buy software for that. What I need is an accounting consultant (hard to find, by the way).

I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I’m currently reading Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future (excellent read – you should check it out). Next on my list is Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class.

Basically, Pink states how we are leaving the Information Age and entering the Conceptual Age where the ability to create, see the big picture, make connections, etc. will be necessary for survival because bean counting type jobs will be either replaced by a computer or shipped overseas for a 16th of the cost of doing it domestically.

So, in this new Conceptual Age what happens to creative accountants? They get hired.

The Amazing Technicolor Networking Jacket

andrea-and-her-technicolor-networking-jacket.jpgIn the ten years I’ve been in sales I’ve attended a lot of networking events where a lot of people stand around in black suits. Black suits are safe. Black suits blend in. Black suits don’t get noticed. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a black suit, just don’t expect anyone to remember you.

A few months ago I was browsing through one of my favorite department stores when the loudest, most brightly colored jacket caught my eye from across the room. It was so bold that several sat on the clearance rack for a whopping 75% off. It was almost as if you could hear the voices of the people who had picked it up prior saying, “there’s no way I could wear this – I’d stand out too much.”

Suddenly, I had a thought. If this jacket could stand out among racks of other brightly colored clothes, imagine what it would do in a room full of black suits. I found my size, tried it on and was pleasantly surprised at how well it fit. It seemed to perfectly embody the image of the “fun, young, hip, creative chick” look that I was going for. Bingo.

So it’s been three months and here’s the result. I’ve worn this jacket 4 times to networking events (considering I go to 3 -5 events per week, that’s not very often). Yet, I’ve had the following experiences:

  1. A friend of mine gave me a pair of earrings she had that “just seemed to match that jacket of yours perfectly.”
  2. A fellow networking professional remembered me as “the girl in the bright colored jacket I met last week.”
  3. A colleague confessed that she thought of me and my jacket when she purchased her shirt.

Proof that it’s working – this jacket helps me not only stand out in a crowd, but people remember me more afterwards because of this jacket. Association and recall are two goals of any branding effort.

So where is your technicolor jacket in a room full of black suits?

  • If everyone else uses words like “innovative”, “quality”, “turnkey”, “synergy”, and the other overused business phrases do you opt instead for a genuine and conversational tone to your writing?
  • When every other IT service firm is using blue corporate colors and pictures of politically correct people for their websites are you being bold with bright colors and custom illustrations?
  • If every other financial services professional is focused on pushing a product do you flat out say (and mean it!) “I do this because I’m passionate – not because of the money. I do this because my clients become friends for life. I want to grow with them and be involved in helping them grow. If you’re looking for someone to simply transact on your behalf, I might not be the fit for you.”

Keep in mind that markets change and shift. People catch on to a good thing. In time your once bright jacket begins to blend in. In which case, a black suit just may stand out against a room full of color.

Related Links

Be Remembered at Networking Events

16 Ways to Make Your Business Card Unforgettable

Scarcity Matters

Before & After

andrea-before.jpgandrea-at-ocean-city.jpgI’ve lost 95 pounds this year. Really – here are the pics to prove it. Size 20 to a size 6. But this post isn’t about me – it’s about your marketing.

See, marketing is a lot like weight loss. Everyone’s looking for the “magic pill” to make you thin or rich. And there are a lot of people who make a lot of money pushing the latest fad. Sometimes these fads work in the short term, but more often than not, they’re ineffective in the long run.

What does work are the fundamentals. For losing weight – it’s eating healthy and exercise. It’s simple. Yet, there is a multi-billion dollar industry out there to try to distract you. Yes, there are tools to help make that process easier (like joining a gym or attending Weight Watchers meetings). But in large part, your success will be whether or not you can master the fundamentals.

Same with marketing. If you don’t have:

1) a product or service that offers people some kind of real value (the ratio between price and quality)

2) a clear message that moves your audience into action

3) a channel to communicate that message to your audience when they are receptive to it

then the rest doesn’t matter.

100 Things to Do Before I Die (um, make that 63).

life-list.jpgA couple of months ago my friend Jen Sterling and I were having dinner discussing how we always wanted to get together and write our “life list.” We were inspired by Ted Leonsis who survived a plane crash in 1983. Upon walking away with a new found appreciation for life, he wrote a life list of the 101 things he wanted to do before he died. He put things like “own a yacht” and “win an Oscar/Emmy/Tony award” – he dared to dream big. Thing is, he’s now crossed off 71 items off his list.

So last night Jen and I sat down with our other friend Kristen to write our own “life list”. Turns out it’s harder than you may think. After a couple hours (and dry martinis) I came up with 63. We decided to take a break and reconvene for round two in about a month.

Here’s what I have so far. I’d love to hear some of your ideas so maybe I can get inspired and actually make it to 100. 🙂

1. Write a book and get it published
2. Run a marathon
3. Donate $1 million dollars anonymously
4. Earn $10,000 for an hours worth of work
5. Start a foundation/organization/association
6. Go sky diving
7. Visit all 50 States
8. Backpack through Europe
9. Scuba dive along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
10. Eat sushi in Japan.
11. Go to Carnival in Rio
12. Take a safari in Africa
13. Get interviewed by Oprah
14. Be on the cover of a magazine
15. Land a Fortune 500 client
16. Work for the Martin Agency
17. Own an island
18. Sing on Broadway
19. License a product or idea
20. Become conversational in French
21. Become conversational in Spanish
22. Invent something and bring it to market
23. Start a band
24. Own a sports team
25. Live in Manhattan for one year
26. Live in San Francisco for one year
27. Get married on a beach
28. Have children
29. Have a net worth of $10 million (after taxes)
30. Go to the Olympics
31. Leave a $5000 tip to someone who deserves it
32. Visit the White House on a private tour
33. Have a syndicated column in a national magazine
34. Create an idea that earns $1,000,000
35. Be a mentor
36. Learn calligraphy
37. Own a Matisse
38. Own a successful restaurant
39. Pass the sommelier exam
40. Own a villa in Tuscany (vineyard optional)
41. Get a tattoo
42. Speak to an audience of more than 5000 people
43. Own a townhouse in Old Town Alexandria
44. Be invited to an A-List party
45. Take a 2 week vacation by myself
46. Own something that is haute couture
47. Donate my hair to locks of love
48. Have lunch with Seth Godin
49. Take a photography class
50. Visit Sedona
51. Learn how to tango
52. Take a helicoptor tour of Hawaii
53. Drive a motorcycle
54. Swim on a master’s swim team
55. Sell one of my paintings for over $500
56. Write a song and perform it in public
57. Take care of my parents
58. Win a “best in business” type of award
59. Become an aerobics instructor
60. Visit Sedona The Grand Canyon
61. Earn my Master’s degree
62. Own a convertible car
63. Fly an airplane

So that’s what I’ve got so far. What would you do?

Update: I must really want to go to Sedona – I put it on my list twice originally. 🙂