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.

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?

 

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.

Adventures in Amazing Copywriting #6 – Creating Conversation

aussieshampoo.pngThis week’s adventure brings us Down Under with Aussie’s revamped branding. You may recognize their mascot – the iconic kangaroo and their signature purple bottle. But what catches my eye is the overwhelming personality of the product descriptions.

I’ve been an Aussie fan for years and on my list this weekend was to pick up more product for my personal stash. Since the brand rollout, Aussie has introduced new products, which gave me a perfect excuse to take some time to read each description. (Yes, I do enjoy reading the backs of shampoo bottles in my spare time – when they’re well written.) You know the copywriter has done a good job when I’m laughing out loud in the middle of the aisle.

My favorite description comes from their “Clense & Mend” line:

Front:
“Sometimes your roots are greasy, your ends are frazzled and your car won’t start. This helps two of those problems.”

Back:
“Listen…we’ve all got problems. If yours include greasy roots and frazzled ends, Cleanse & Mend shampoo can cease the crease and quench the tips. If your problems include greasy tips and frazzled roots, you’re in deep trouble.”

Directions:
Work through your other problems as you work this through your clean, damp hair. Rinse well and prosper.”

And I’m also a fan of their new “sprunch” spray:

Description:
“Combine a kickin styling spray with a little scrunch and what do you get? That’s right – Sprunch”

Directions:
“Spray into your hair as you style. Pretty clever, huh? Spray it all over to set your style, which is even more clever. Clever-er, if you will.”

Tagline:
Add some Roo to your do.

Why this works:

1. Understand Your Target Market. Aussie understands their target market which, I’m guessing is 16 to 35 year old women who are hip, thrifty and down to earth. This style of copywriting might not resonate with everyone, but that’s okay. The quirky conversation tugs at the heartstrings (and pursestrings) of the people who matter most.

2. Conversational Copy Creates Emotion. The overall goal of any copywriting is to sell. When a product or service uses a conversational and descriptive style, an emotional connection is made with the consumer. This emotional connection leads to increased brand loyalty which adds to a customer’s lifetime value.

3. Stand Out. Let’s face it, facts, figures and features are BORING! As a consumer, I have far to much information to filter out already, so to make me notice you – you’ll need to stand out from the crowd. Conversational copy can help you do just that.

Related Links

Dawud Miracle – “Maybe The Best Copywriting Tip Ever”

Scott H Young – “Ten Skills Everyone Should Have”

Open IT Strategies – “Finding a voice people can understand”