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Finding Your Marketing Edge
Tuesday, May 1, 2001

I haven’t met a CEO yet who has not complained about how difficult it is to find prospects, how many totally unqualified leads his — or her — salespersons are pursuing and how ridiculously expensive marketing is.

I will show you, right now, in this column how you can get droves of highly qualified prospects. And you will not have to sell your first-born to get them. In fact, I will wager that my method will actually decrease your current marketing expenditure.

Recognize something. Your prospect is oblivious to your existence and unconcerned about your well-being. If you succeed in thrusting yourself into his attention through intrusive means — telemarketers, take note! — you are likely to annoy him. He does not care a whit about what your sales quotas are and how much pressure your investors are putting on you to meet them. He is interested solely and wholly in himself. I mentioned this in an earlier column. It bears repeating.

So what do you do? Easy. Appeal to your prospect’s self-interest. Give him something that he finds valuable, that makes his harried existence a little more bearable, something that makes him think favorably of you.

The most powerful word in all of advertising is FREE! Direct marketers — who are the only persons who truly know how to get a bang for a buck — discovered this decades back. Get yourself a copy of the National Enquirer and peruse the advertisements. Tune in to CNBC at 4:00 a.m. — use a VCR if you have to — and catch the infomercials. They load you with FREE stuff. FREE videos, FREE CDs, FREE booklets. They offer you FREE bonus on top of FREE bonus. Don’t feel supercilious and above the fray. These guys know what they are doing. And they are raking in the moola in tractor-trailer loads.

Want to get the attention of a senior executive? Offer a free premium. A valuable one. Sleek, silver-colored solar powered calculators are working very well right now. Palm Pilots work even better. If you are a cheapskate you might offer a “chance” to win a Palm Pilot and even this works reasonably well.

Would senior executives be swayed by such gewgaws? Absolutely. When was the last time YOU sent away for something merely because it was FREE? I rest my case.

There are two problems with this method. 1) Many persons respond who have more interest in the gewgaw you are offering than your superb product or service. On the whole, the population of respondents will have many more people who have some interest in your offering than the general population. This is why the approach works and so many are using it. Nevertheless, there is waste. Quite a lot of waste. 2) It can be quite expensive. Cheap gewgaws don’t draw responses. Good ones cost dollars. Many dollars.

The traditional solution to this is to scour the world — especially countries within two time zones of Hong Kong — for items that look classy and cost pennies. There is an entire industry built up to cater to such efforts. To appreciate this get yourself the annual directory put out by Catalog Age and look at how many pages are filled by purveyors of premiums.

But there is another method that is better and cheaper. It virtually eliminates waste, costs you very little and has huge perceived value to your prospect. Only a few companies use this method and they keep quiet about how well they are doing. This is the method I advocate for you. Start before your competitors do.

What do you have and what can you give away that does not cost you much, is valuable to your prospect and greatly strengthens the chances of your eventually getting a sale? INFORMATION! Your cumulative knowledge about your prospect’s situation and dilemma, and the environment in which he functions, is priceless. Further, this knowledge is only appreciated by those who have the pain you seek to alleviate, so no tire-kickers will apply.

Take an example. You have bought a house and are concerned about termites. You don’t have a protection plan and your bank requires you to get one as a mortgage condition. What do you do? You ask neighbors, look in the yellow pages and type “pest control” in search engine subject fields. You turn up a bunch of companies, all of whom extol the friendliness of their service, the completeness of their treatment and the pulchritude of their office staff (I’m only kidding about the last!).

One of the firms offers you a bunch of FREE white papers. They have titles like: What every homeowner should know about termite protection plans; Ten things your exterminator will not tell you, but which will cost you money; The seven things you must do to termite proof your home and how to tell if your exterminator has done them, etc.

Will you send away for one or more? I don’t know about you, but many will. Even more will if they can simply download the papers from the Internet. You find the papers informative. They tell you matter-of-factly about termites, how they propagate and search for food and how and when they damage houses. They tell you that chemicals like Chlordane formed barriers around the house before the EPA, for environmental reasons, banned their use. They tell you about chemical, biological and natural ways of combating termites, and the pros and cons of each. They refer you to helpful sources for more information just in case you develop a passion for the subject and have little else to do with your time. This company, along with its informative white papers, and AFTER you have obtained the white papers, also offers to give you a FREE termite inspection and an assessment of your home from a pest-control standpoint. Do you take the offer? You bet you do. And, unless the person who shows up is Frankenstein’s double and has halitosis to boot, you favor the firm with your business. You don’t have time to shop around.

Recognize what has just happened. The white papers have established the firm as an “expert” and enhanced its credibility. The information provided was understandable and pertinent. It saved you hours of search time leading to a favorable view of the firm. The free inspection showed concern and reduced your risk. Together, they get the firm your business.

Use this example as a blueprint and adapt it to your situation. Do you sell computer security services? Create white papers such as: Thirteen ways in which hackers can infiltrate your computers and how you can block them. Is your firewall impregnable? Think again. Here are some security gaps you probably don’t even know about, the complete checklist to evaluate your computer security.

Here are some points worth noting. DO NOT make the white papers a paean for your firm. A good idea is to not even mention your company except for a name/address/phone number listing on the back page. Level with the reader. Give good, accurate, honest information. The kind of information you would like to have if you were in his shoes. If there are flaws in a methodology and problems in an approach, acknowledge them. You cannot even fathom how much this will improve your credibility. In the seventies, Joe Sugarman built JS&A into the leading gizmo-selling direct mail firm by admitting — in a nice, tongue-in-cheek way — that some of the products he sold had shortcomings.

DO NOT delegate anyone in your company to write the white papers. Would you let the person you are thinking of make a sales call on your very best prospect? This is no different, and the success of your company may well be riding on it. The written word is an art and a craft. When you read the work of a master you do not even notice it, but you do remember the feelings evoked, the passion generated. You need a skilled copywriter who has an excellent grasp — or can acquire one — of the technicalities of your particular product. Such persons can be found. Make the effort. Do not attempt to skimp on the several thousand dollars this will cost you. If your white papers do not deliver on the implied promise you will alienate your prospect and forever destroy chances of earning his patronage. If they do deliver on the implied promise, no lamb will eat more willingly from your hand.

DO NOT attempt to qualify your prospects or ask questions. He asks for your white paper because he is concerned about termites, or computer security or transforming legacy platforms. The mere asking qualifies him. This is a delicate phase of the wooing process. Move too fast and you will find yourself taking a cold shower.

After you have delivered value in the white papers, deliver still more value to those who requested them. A FREE assessment is a wonderful vehicle. If you cannot come up with some such offer that will completely qualify your prospect and showcase the coruscating brilliance of your product, then fold up shop. You do not deserve to be in business.

Let your competitors thump their chests and launch costly attacks on well-fortified ramparts behind which prospects are entrenched. You will be the honored guest, wined and dined and pressed to accept their custom. Do so graciously.

Next month we will discuss how you get prospects to send for your white papers. It will cost less than you are spending for advertising right now. Hold tight. There is more good stuff coming. Prof. Srikumar S. Rao is Louis and Johanna Vorzimer Professor of Marketing at Long Island University, New York. Write to him with comments or questions on marketing at: rao@corp.siliconindia.com.

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