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.

5 Myths of Business Communications

Take a moment and think about all the words you send to your prospects and clients – all the content of your website, brochures, e-mails, letters, fliers, blogs, etc., etc., etc. Imagine all the vowels and consonants you’ve used to describe what you do piled high into an ever growing heap of words. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? In business, we communicate…a lot.

The ability to clearly describe what you do, how it is different from everyone else and why your prospects should buy from you is an essential part of the success of any business. From the smallest e-mail to the most expensive advertisement every piece of communication is an opportunity to form an impression in your customer’s mind (A.K.A. your “brand”).

But are we really clear when we write our business communications? Do we accurately convey the points we are trying to make so our prospects and clients can “get” our message? Take these 5 common myths of business communications and test your CQ (communication quotient).

Myth #1 – The more information I can cram in, the better.
Have you ever tried to find a needle in a haystack? It takes a lot of patience. Unfortunately, patience is not something readers of your business communications will have. Simply put, if your message is buried in mounds of text no one will take the time to search for it. Effective business communications focus on a singular message and eliminate everything else.

Do you pass the test?
Show your business communication piece to a stranger and give them only 5 seconds to look at it. Can they tell you the main message?

Myth #2 – If I use big words, people will think I’m smarter.
Prodigious colloquy induces an antipodal consequence. Using big words is like a guy with an expensive sports car – it can be perceived that you are trying to compensate for something. Instead, go for short, clear, easy-to-understand words that you would use in everyday conversation. Your tone will be friendlier and your readers will be more receptive to your message.

Do you pass the test?
Give your business communication piece to a 4th grader. Do they understand every word?

Myth #3 – By using buzzwords, jargon and acronyms I’ll prove my industry knowledge.
You might as well write in Ancient Greek because that’s about how many people will actually understand what you’re trying to say. Acronyms are especially deadly, so if they’re necessary – take the time to spell them out. As for buzzwords and jargon – save them for the water cooler.

Do you pass the test?
Have a friend from an opposite industry read your marketing material. Do they understand it?

Myth #4 – I’ll use adjectives like “best”, “excellent” or “outstanding” to set myself apart.
Have you ever been stuck at a party with a person who just won’t shut up about how great they are? Not only is it annoying – it actually turns you off. Instead of bragging about yourself, gather testimonials and allow your customers to boast on your behalf. You’ll find prospects intrigued and eager to learn more.

Do you pass the test?
Ask your best clients to give you a quote about their experience working with you. Did you replace your boastful comments with their testimonials?

Myth #5 – I’ll write in first person so it won’t be boring.
Most of your readers will have one question in their mind when reading your document – “What’s in it for ME?” That means, using the Y-O-U word – not the I (or W-E) word. Yes, there are times that a compelling narrative story can make an impact. But in general, business communications should be about the client – not about you.

Do you pass the test?
Take a piece of business communication and change “I” and “we” to “you” (also, change the tense of the verbs, etc.). Give both versions to a friend and ask them which is more compelling.

Hopefully by now your pile is a little lighter and your message a bit clearer. By taking the time to crystallize a clear and conversational message you engage your audience with your message. This can lead to longer loyalty, more referrals and ultimately increased revenue – and who couldn’t use that?

 

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.

Toby Bloomberg’s Kick-Ass Keynote (as presented at the New Media Nouveaux Conference)

diva_marketing1.jpg

Transparency, passion and lessons learned – all presented in a clear and entertaining fashion. How could you have a better keynote?

Toby Bloomberg is the author of the top-ranked blog Diva Marketing Blog (in the top 2,000 of Technorati), and is a self professed “Atlanta gal who is a Yankee from Boston.” She believes new media, “is a credible marketing strategy – even an industry. It can help you with branding, marketing research and public relations. But the most powerful part is building relationships with customers.” Diva Marketing Blog has literally changed her life.

It all began when she wanted a way to make marketing “not boring” so she began writing in a sassy and pithy style that maintained professional credibility while tossing in fun references to appletinis & pink boas.

To her surprise, days after launching the blog e-mails started coming in from people saying people liked what she had to say. Her website never got comments, but her blog did – this was the first sign that something was different. Weeks after launching the blog, search engines began indexing Diva Marketing Blog where it took seemingly months for Google to find her traditional website – obviously this “blog thing” was a powerful marketing tool.

Toby’s keynote was delightful because she expertly weaved in personal stories and shared her lessons learned. It was simply awe-inspiring to sit back and listen to her experience.

While I was furiously taking notes, typing as fast as my little fingers could, I was unable to capture all of the details of the stories, which are the real juice to her keynote. I was however, able to jot down a few of her lessons learned:

  • Social media can be used as a credible marketing strategy that supports branding, public relations, customer service, research and other marketing and business initiatives.
  • The heart of social media marketing, and the real power is in establishing relationships. Successful blogging does not occur in a vacuum.
  • If the passion about a topic doesn’t exist – the blog will die on the vine.
  • People interact with you. You can carry on a conversation on a blog and then take that conversation off-line if you want to pursue it further.
  • Search engines and blogs go together.
  • Check your blog stats. Create an ego search using key words that include: your blog title, your name, your company name. Consider adding competitors and industry trends.
  • Bloggers care. Bloggers are people.
  • With the ease of using blogs, podcasts, vlogs, you can’t contraol the message, but you can manage the conversation.
  • You can manage user generated media conversations by listening, participating, engaging and caring.
  • Social media is built on culture.
  • The voice of one turns into the voices of many and changes how a company conducts business.
  • Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to ensure your posts are accurate. Credibility builds trust, builds readership which can lead to relationships and community.
  • It wasn’t the voice of one blogger who influenced a major research company to change their business practices – it was the community.
  • Bloggers take blogger relations very seriously and believe they have a role to play in communication and information dissemination
  • Mainstream media is looking at blogs and they may just look at yours.
  • Blogging is not a silver bullet.
  • Social Media is not like any other marketing strategy
  • Do something great and you’ll be cheered.
  • The culture is very demanding. Break the trust by being disingenuous and you might harm you brand…and your reputations.
  • Social Media Mantra: transparency, authenticity, honesty and passion.
  • You have to put something of yourself in this game.
  • The rules are still being defined. No one has all the answers or all the questions.
  • There is no going back – social media is here to stay.

I can’t wait to see her live in action again soon!