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.

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. 🙂

Yikes! Getting What You Wish For

visionboard.jpgI’m about to share something that is intensely personal.

About a year ago I watched a movie called The Secret. Part of me thought it was a hokey, over-simplified way to state the complex state of the universe. But overall, I bought into the underlying theme of the Law of Attraction.

In the movie, they discuss the idea of a vision board – where you collect images of what your “ideal life” would be like and then by looking at these images every day you begin to attract these things into your life. Intrigued, I started my own vision board – and it’s starting to work (yep, that pic is of my vision board).

I’ve been so swamped with new work from amazing clients that I have barely had time to post on my blog. I’ve also shed some relationships that I thought were rock-solid in order to make room for new people that more closely match my “vibration” (or whatever it’s called.)

I guess that’s the dilemma – the classic struggle of so many plotlines (like Aladdin or Bedazzled). What happens when you get what you wish for? How do adjust? What if what you thought you wanted ends up not really being what you want?

They say change is the only true constant in your life – and I believe it. There’s a strange feeling of comfort in change; a welcomed knowing that you are in control of your destiny (although the way it materializes is downright bizzare sometimes).

Write for free? I don’t think so.

Barry Gluck wrote a magnificent post about companies who try to solicit writing services for free or next to nothing. I highly suggest reading his post in its entirety by clicking here.

Barry makes the point of how,

“In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are ‘professional’ copywriters. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are seventy times as many people in the IT field.

So tell me…why do you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy of getting something for nothing (or next to nothing) when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Given that they are less rare, and therefore individually less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the ‘opportunity’ to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him a few bucks for materials. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even consider offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re obviously crazy. If you answered no, then kudos for living in the real world.”

Cheers to you, Barry for putting it out there. Copywriting is a talent – and worth compensation.

How to Get Your Name in Print

market-square-in-alexandria.jpgEver wondered how people are chosen for feature articles in the newspaper? Here’s how it worked for me.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my “satellite office” at Market Square in Alexandria, VA. I go here on warm summer days because the granite benches surrounding the water fountain have power outlets right next to them. With my Sprint Broadband service and my power outlet, I have everything I need to work productively. And, might I add, the scenery calms me down and makes me appreciate my life as an entrepreneur.

During the lunch-hour, this place gets pretty packed, and strangers pass by, look at me and remark, “You look like you’re actually working – wow, I wish I had your job!” On this particular afternoon, a gentleman sat down on the bench next to me. He inquired as to the nature of my job and I replied that I was a “freelance writer and marketing consultant and I focused on Online writing like websites and blogs.”

Turns out this gentleman was a reporter with the Alexandria Times. We carried on for a bit with a conversation about the difference between “old media” and “new media”, I mentioned my involvement with the New Media Nouveaux Conference and we casually exchanged business cards.

Fast forward two weeks and I see in my inbox the following e-mail:

Hi Andrea, it was nice meeting you the other day. I want to write an article about you and blogging – what do you think? Let me know when is a good time to sit down and interview you – maybe at Starbucks or out on the market square like when we met the first time.”

So, if you want to get your name in print, be prepared to:

1. Do something different. Reporters need an angle – something actually worth reading about. If you’re doing the same-ol-thing as everyone else your chances for an interview are slim.

2. Have a tight elevator pitch. Be prepared to explain exactly what you do, how it is different from everyone else, in bulleted benefits and in less than 15 seconds.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. You never know who you are going to meet. Networking is not reserved for places with nametags and an open bar.

4. Be yourself. Reporters (make that most people) can tell when you’re being authentic vs. when you’re being a flack. People like to work with people who are genuine.

5. Follow up immediately. If the media calls to ask you for an interview, drop everything you’re doing and reply right away. Otherwise, they will move on to somebody else.

Related Links:

Execupundit.com – Make it Pithy

Modern Magellans – Elevator Pitching

Scott Ginsberg – 10 Different approaches for your 10 second commercial

PR Squared – Pitching in Public

Toby Bloomberg – Relationships are the New Currency

Conversation Agent – Media as Connectors of Ideas and People

What Karaoke Can Teach You About Marketing

woman-singing.gifOK, I admit it – I’m a karaoke junkie. My friends and I go every week. I have a standard set of songs I sing – because I’ve practiced them so often I could sing them in my sleep. I don’t have to worry about going out on a limb – I’ll sound good as long as I stick to what I know.

Last night after singing “Moondance” for about the 98th time the DJ kept me up on stage. “A gentleman has requested Andrea sing ‘Fever’ so we’re gonna keep her up here for one more song.”

What!? I thought, “I haven’t practiced this song. What if I fail? What if I sound terrible in front of this room full of people? No way – I just can’t do this.”

It took some persuading, but I eventually agreed to sing the song. I stood on stage praying that I wouldn’t mess up.

The comfortable feeling I had during the last song apparently decided to go outside and have a cigarette. I held the microphone in my slightly shaking hand when the seductive beat began. I swayed my hips at each pluck of the bass and started to find my grove.

Then a miracle happened (ok, maybe not a miracle – but something pretty cool). I started singing and I was good – damn good. So good I got a standing ovation.

Strutting back to my seat I reflected on what had just happened. Because I had something that worked, there was little incentive for me to go outside of my comfort zone. But because I didn’t take the risk, I missed out on an even better opportunity.

Marketing strategies can fall into the same routine. Year after year companies stick with “what works” because they fear the unknown.

Trying something new is risky. There’s a chance you’ll fail – but there’s also the chance that you’ll have overwhelming success. And if you’re missing out on a standing ovation – doesn’t that make staying comfortable the really risky choice?

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Andrea Morris is a marketing coach who specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit writeideasmarketing.com