Stop Pushing and Start Pulling in Prospects
Rather than trying to improve your push strategy, consider these five
ways to pull new customers in.
by John Graham
WHEN IT COMES to sales, push is the problem
— perhaps the biggest problem
those in sales face today.
A business owner tells of getting a call from a local printing services
salesperson of a Fortune 500 company, who immediately stated that his
company “does everything” and then asked for a meeting to find out “the
needs of the business.” The owner indicated that he would welcome
information, but refused to have a meeting. Several weeks later, the same
salesperson called again, pressing even harder for a meeting. Again, it was
This is a classic case of “push” creating “shove.” The greater the push, the
greater the shove. “I sensed that this salesperson only wanted ‘some
business’ and he wasn’t interested in us as a customer.”
The economy has forced salespeople into becoming marketers. Some recognize
the need for a change in strategy, while others, such as the printing
salesperson — and his company
— don’t understand the message.
They still think that it takes more and better push, while what it really
takes is more pull, using tactics that help demonstrate your value to
Here are five ways to pull customers in. Each one requires planning and
effort, which is a good trade-off from getting a rejection from those who do
not have the time or a reason to listen to your spiel.
1. Provide customer service that gets people talking. When
his car needed an oil change, sales executive Edward Testa of Champion
Capital called the dealer, who listed off a litany of needed services
totaling nearly $500.
After the initial shock, he recalled Barry Steinberg’s commercial for Direct
Tire in Watertown, Mass., indicating they would do a complete car check and
do any necessary work for less than a dealer.
When Ed arrived at Direct Tire, the woman behind the counter welcomed him
for a tip-to-toe checkup and an oil change.
About an hour later, the mechanic reported his findings, indicating when
certain things should be done, but, in most cases, there was no hurry. Along
with a $47.53 bill, he received quotes on the suggested work. Needless to
say, Ed tells everyone about this experience.
2. Learn the cycle of a sale. If one word can adequately
describe the primary role of a salesperson in the sales process, it’s
“orchestration.” It’s something that’s missing most of the time. “If I can
get you another $1,000 for your trade in right now, do we have a deal?” says
the car salesperson. If the customer fails to buy, the salesperson fails to
follow up. Why? The sale hasn’t gone as the salesperson thinks it should and
Yet, MarketingSherpa.com conducted a survey on the length of time it takes
to convert leads into sales. The findings are revealing: 17% of the
respondents indicated one month, 14% said two months, 26% reported three
months, 22% said 6 months, 10% said 12 months and 11% said more than 12
While the length of the cycle varies with the product or service, the
salesperson’s role is to anticipate that there will be a cycle and to plan
an appropriate course of action that will transform leads into sales.
3. Create excitement. A business writer was asked to
interview a life insurance salesperson. From the moment she answered the
phone, the interviewer detected a sense of enthusiasm, even though she had
been sick for several days. At the end of the conversation, the writer
commented on her upbeat attitude. “I really like what I do because I’ve seen
how I can really help people.”
In the same way, a recent series of Southwest Airlines TV commercials show
what appears to be a group of fun-loving employees on a moving walkway.
What’s striking is their clear enthusiasm for being part of the airline’s
Both the life insurance producer and Southwest are sending the message that
they believe in what they do. Excitement is contagious and that’s what
4. Involve customers. To a neophyte cook, following a
recipe must seem like a daunting and lonely process. Yet, having others
around can be disconcerting. But recipe apps, such as Spark, for example,
make it a social experience. While preparing a recipe for the first time,
the male “cook” printed out the comments from more than 200 people who had
used it. He read them with more attention than he gave to that day’s
Wall Street Journal.
Those comments gave the recipe a sense of community, as he made notes and
added ingredients. With a rating of 4.5 (out of 5), it was as if all those
making comments were urging him on.
Hokey? Perhaps. But giving customers the opportunity to respond and add
their thoughts creates community.
5. Go where the customers are. Retailer Target has turned
to personalized ads to reach more consumers. The new version gives customers
the option of how they want to view the ad as well as “alerts” when a
viewer’s favorite brands or products go on sale. Clearly, Target is aiming
at a smaller number of hard-to-reach digitally-savvy shoppers who tend to
spend more than others. Along with online and mobile phone access, there’s a
Facebook fan page where visitors can share products and shopping experiences
While some Target customers may not make the effort to become involved, that
doesn’t undermine the significance of customizing for those who know what
they want. As Rebecca Lieb of the research firm Econsultancy points out in a
USA Today article, “Target is doing what smart retailers have to
do: Go to where the customers are…engage people on their own terms.”
Retailing may be pointing the way for other industries, whether it’s selling
insurance, medical services or even cars.
From compelling customer service to customized advertising content, these
five strategies are benchmarks for marketing and sales, both now and in the
is president of Graham Communications, a
marketing services and sales consulting firm based in Quincy, Mass. He
writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business,
marketing and sales issues. He may be contacted at 617-328-0069 or
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at
Hints of economic improvement for small biz
After years of gloom, the clouds could lift a little for small businesses in
2011.Companies, helped by a loosening in the credit markets as well as
improvements in consumer spending, are showing some interest in raising prices
and hiring new employees. But most improvements are expected to be marginal,
likely benefiting only the healthiest small businesses while the rest continue
to struggle, relying on survival tactics adopted during the recession, such as
offering deep discounts and operating with fewer hands.
New government programs, such as the recently created Small Business Lending
Fund, a $30 billion initiative directed toward community banks, are expected to
boost the number of loans that banks dole out this year. But amid strict
regulations, banks will continue to shy away from all but the strongest
companies, experts say.
Small business owners are looking to raise prices in 2011 after the blowout
sales they offered to woo buyers last year took a big bite out of their bottom
line. But making that switch won’t be easy. “During the recession, customers
learned to expect discounts,” says Catherine Tucker, who teaches pricing
strategies at the MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She expects many owners to
take an incremental approach to raising prices in the year ahead.
“You need to start thinking hard about which of your customers is going to be
willing to pay a little more and target the products they buy,” Ms. Tucker says,
citing higher-end goods and services that would normally command a premium. Some
owners might modify their products, she adds, offering both higher-priced goods
and cheaper options, until consumer spending picks up.
On the employment front, small business owners are expected to increase hiring
in 2011, but with caution. Fifty-four percent of chief executives plan to add
employees this year, according to a December survey of 1,729 small businesses
with between $5 million and $50 million in annual revenue, by Vistage
International, Inc. It was the first time in three years that the majority of
respondents to the quarterly survey said they intended to add jobs.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2011
How b-to-b marketing is evolving in 2011
BtoB magazine talked to marketers, ad agency executives and
industry experts about the marketing trends for 2011. Below are some of the main
More emotional, personal communications – As marketers strive
to connect with business executives at work and at home, they are getting much
more personal and emotional.
“The distinction between b-to-b companies and b-to-c companies is artificial,”
said Marty Homlish, global CMO at software company SAP. “At the end of the day,
it is all about business-to-people.”
The result is TV, print and online ads that are energetic and edgy, with much
more of a consumer feel, although the subject matter is distinctly b-to-b.
Database-driven marketing – B-to-b marketers will get much more
sophisticated at mining customer data and making that information the focal
point of their communications.
Optimizing social media – Social media has become an integral
part of marketing for b-to-b companies, with 62.6% of marketers planning to
increase spending on such channels this year.
Look for marketers to go beyond dabbling in social media to making it mainstream
in their marketing programs — no longer simply buying advertising on social
networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, but optimizing their social media
Feeding the content machine – As more and more marketing
channels roll out, including social media networks, landing pages, blogs and
thought leadership events, marketers must continuously create and maintain
content used for marketing purposes.
According to a recent study published by Junta42, 51% of b-to-b marketers said
they will increase their content marketing budgets this year, and content
marketing will make up 26% of overall b-to-b marketing budgets.
Source: BtoB, January 17, 2011
Neuroscience shows women’s buying triggers
Forget everything you think you know about how to market to women because
instinct is what really motivates women to buy, says A.K. Pradeep, CEO of
Based on research coming from university labs and his own marketing tests,
Pradeep asserts that women and men are hardwired differently and respond to
different triggers when considering a purchase. Pradeep says physiologically,
women’s brains tend to be wired for multitasking, cultivating communities and
protection of the species.
Pradeep isn’t claiming that the cavewoman supersedes education, income,
preference and personal experience; however, under those conscious motivations
is a layer of subliminal triggers that marketers can benefit from knowing.
“Because the hemispheres in her brain are so connected, she filters ideas and
concepts through the lens of her emotions. The number one thing marketers need
to know is that it’s better to come in through emotions than through facts and
figures,” says Pradeep.
Of course, women still want products that are functional and reasonably priced,
but he says neuroscience suggests the most effective marketing to women will:
1) Show a woman using or enjoying a product with a few people, not by herself.
Evoke the benefits of the product experience through response and reaction to
the sensory experience of using the product.
2) Demonstrate that your company walks the talk. Authenticity and transparency
tap into the urge to protect the species. Kimberly-Clark hit a home run with its
“Every Little Bottom” campaign, which lets moms direct frequent-buyer points to
donate diapers to needy families.
3) Prove that the company is on the customer’s side, offering support and
appreciation. A little humor about the tedium of household chores or a flash of
empathy for the tuckered-out mom who sees her minivan as a personal retreat
convey that your brand is in sync with the emotional rhythms of your customer.
Source: Bnet.com, January 12, 2011
- Increase prospects’ level of trust in your
company by placing 10 simple words at the end of
your ad: “You can trust us to do the job for
you.” Researchers found that placing that
statement at the end of an ad for an auto
service firm caused their trust scores to jump
as much as 33%. More specifically, the firm was
rated higher in every category: fair price, up
7%; caring, 11%, fair treatment, 20%; quality,
30%; and competency, 33%.
- If you have high turnover among hourly
employees, try adjusting your compensation
practices to better motivate them. Start by
granting smaller raises more frequently. A year
is too long for low-wage workers to wait.
Acknowledge every level of skill growth by
offering small increases when appropriate. Also,
reward workers that mentor or train new
employees. Make it worth their while by
providing spot cash awards, merchandise or gift
certificates. This positive reinforcement will
help them feel that they are recognized as a
valued member of the business.
- Feeling overwhelmed by all your marketing
projects? This often happens because your daily,
weekly or monthly tasks from your marketing plan
don’t really relate to each other. Often, a
better approach to organizing your marketing
to-dos is to create a monthly theme. For
example, devote March to updating your website
and marketing materials, April to focusing on
ways to attract new customers, May to coaxing
back former clients, June to building alliances,
etc. Many people discover this focused approach
to be more motivating and manageable.
- Is your loyalty program not taking off like
you thought it would? The problem is that
today’s customers don’t want to wait for
rewards. Instead, almost half (47%) of consumers
surveyed by Mintel said they were more motivated
to join loyalty programs that provided instant
gratification, such as cash back and discounts
at the point of purchase. And once they’ve
joined a loyalty program, most consumers want to
be rewarded with product discounts or exclusive
merchandise they normally wouldn’t be able to
- Before signing that document, be sure you
know the differences between agreeing,
acknowledging and certifying something. When a
contract says you “agree” or “acknowledge,” it
means that you consent to perform under the
terms and conditions of the contract. But
sometimes a document will be called an
acknowledgment, such as an acknowledgment of a
purchase order. Be careful. You might think you
are signing a receipt, but it could be an
agreement about which terms and conditions of
sale governed the purchase order –– essentially
an amendment to your contract. Certifications,
however, are the ones you really need to look
out for. Certifying a document, such as a
financial statement, means you are saying that
the information in the document is true and
accurate. If there’s an error you could be
- Dramatically improve email open and click
rates by creating a friends-and-family campaign.
A recent report by Experian describes how
friends-and-family campaigns were once targeted
toward employees and perhaps a few best
customers, creating the impression that they
offered better deals than the general public
could get. When these campaigns were expanded to
entire lists, they continued to see an
above-average response. For example, their study
showed an open rate of 20.4% and a click rate of
3.7% for friends-and-family messages compared to
an open rate of 14.3% and a click rate of 2.9%
for bulk mailings sent by the same company.
What’s more, friends-and-family recipients were
three times more likely to forward the email to
- Presenting to a big company? Big-company
buyers are often fearful of making decisions —
especially the decision to do business with a
small or new company. Instead of touting your
benefits, demonstrate the safety in choosing
you. The four main fears that plague employees
of large companies are: change (represents a big
hassle); conflict (decisions that colleagues or
supervisors may oppose); additional work; and
failure that they could be held accountable for.
To alleviate those fears, brainstorm to identify
why a big company might fear you. Do you have
enough experience? Can you really ramp up to
serve their needs? Then, address their fears up
front. Develop documents or other tools to
counteract their fears and introduce your
reassuring materials early in the sales process.
- Avoid long or unproductive meetings by
holding “standing meetings” in which everyone
literally stands for the meeting’s duration —
usually near a project schedule wall or project
issue white board. These meetings are often
unscheduled and are initiated for some specific
purpose. No chairs usually equals more efficient
- If your business is finding it difficult to
get funding, consider Community Development
Financial Institutions (CDFIs). There are more
than 1,000 registered CDFIs in the U.S. And
while typically thought of as micro-lenders,
they can offer more substantive capital. Most
CDFIs require a business to have been
operational for at least a year, with most
successful applicants having been in business
for three to five years. All CDFIs require
rigorous documentation and most have a regional
focus, but they are willing to work with you to
gather and assemble clear financial statements
as needed. The capital can cost more, so if you
can get a loan elsewhere, you should. To find a
CDFI near you, go to
Business Intelligence Report
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