August 31, 2010

What If Your Clients Could Buy Direct?

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We've been looking for solid wood beds made in Canada. No veneer. Only solid oak or maple. Made with care by artists.

We found a retailer and placed an order. The process was like visiting a car dealer (see recovering from bad service). There were several mark-ups at the last minute. Delivery takes 4-6 weeks and only takes place on Thursdays.

We would have preferred to deal direct with the manufacturer because the advisor added more to the price than the experience.

What about your customers?

If you're the exclusive source for a hot gadget like the iPhone4 or iPad, customers will seek you out. If you only face limited competition, you can force your clients to accept the world's longest mobile phone contracts even if they feel cheated.

Most of us face real competition and reasonable substitutes. So client-friendly actions become good business.
Maybe your clients can't buy directly. If they could, can you show why dealing through you is a better choice?

Twelve Books

Seth Godin has written 12 books but now he's going to bypass the traditional publishing world. That process creates delay and adds expense. Seth already reaches readers directly through his excellent blog. He realizes that most of them never bought any of his books at a bookstore. So why stick to old ways that give so little to the readers and the authors?

How does blogging create a viable business model? Well giving away value attracts people to you. Some become clients. Blogging may not be ideal for you.

What if you're in the role of the publisher or if you run a physical book store? Consider getting nicer bed for more comfort during your sleepless nights.

The Middleman Matters

Sometimes the middleman plays a valuable role. For example: the Ferrari Market Letter targets a small niche. Yet roughly 5,000 subscribers pay $130 a year. That's $650,000 of revenue from a select group of buyers, sellers and aficionados.

How can you create value from the viewpoint of the clients who buy your offerings? Here client means the final purchaser, not another intermediary. You may think you're adding value but you're hardly objective.

Why They Buy From You Now

Clients buy for a range of reasons.

Bad Reasons

If your clients deal with you because of
  • ignorance (e.g., comparing mobile phone rate plans)
  • regulation (e.g., limited mobile phone carriers)
  • exclusivity (e.g., AT&T and the iPhone)
how secure is your future in a world of information, deregulation and choice?

Good Reasons

Maybe your clients choose you for your
  1. service (you cure and prevent the headaches)
  2. speed (you eliminate the learning curve a DIYer faces)
  3. quality (your craftsmanship vs their handyman skills)
  4. warranty (your E&O insurance vs their buyer beware)
  5. convenience (who has time to grate cheese anymore?)

Best Reasons

With the right offer, your clients value you and welcome your involvement. Even if they can buy direct.


August 24, 2010

The Return Of The Door-To-Door Salesman?

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Knock knock? Who's there?

When the doorbell rings unexpectedly, the cause is usually a handyman giving free quotes, a fundraiser, a politician at election time, a location scout or a Jehovah's Witness. Annoying pests.

Occasionally there's a pleasant surprise like family, friends or a courier delivery. Welcome guests. Usually we're notified in advance and anticipate these visits.

This time, I was greeted by an investment advisor who just joined a big bank. Unusual but still an intrusion. Normally advisors send letter or fliers.

We chatted briefly about marketing — the kind of things you'll find on this blog. We exchanged business cards at my suggestion. He's having some success going door-to-door.

Second Impressions

Afterwards, I looked for him online. A web search yielded no useful results. He's not listed on his firm's website but will be soon. The process is surprisingly slow.

He said he has a proper LinkedIn profile. I checked. His common name produced 511 results and he wasn't on page one. Drilling down, I think I found him. I'm not sure because there's
  • no photo
  • no mention of his new employer
  • no relevant experience
  • no relevant recommendations (and only one in total)
Would you invest with a person like that? For the same price, you could get an advisor with experience and the three marketing essentials for today.

Create Intrigue

If you're going to annoy people by knocking on their doors, why not compensate them with novelty. What's possible depends on how much you're willing to invest to acquire a new client.

The ideal gift is significant, personalized and unexpected. That doesn't mean expensive. You've probably received fridge magnets, calendars and pens. Big deal. How about a historical photo of the neighbourhood or an old-time newspaper clipping? You'd put your contact information on the gift, saving you the price of a business card. Maybe you offer a monthly eNewsletter with more of the same. Maybe you give a framed photo/article for those who get a free portfolio review.

You could hire others to deliver your initial gifts. That lets you focus on those who raise their hands for your services.


People see us at our best when we're helping others. That's one of the lessons from networking with millionaires. How about increasing public awareness for a little-known charity you're passionate about? Maybe you're conducting a quick survey on their behalf. You probably don't want to collect donations.
"I'm from [firm] asking if you know about [cause]. My name is [name] and I'm an [job]"
Would that be more intriguing than saying "I'm an investment advisor"? The handouts would focus on the cause but also mention you.

Whatever you do, be sure to leave something behind. That way people who aren't at home know you were there.

'A' for Effort

Going door-to-door gets an 'A' for effort but is still an annoying interruption. At least with phone calls you can screen out the intruders.


PS A "No Solicitations" sign makes a great gift

August 18, 2010

Opinions, Errors And Creativity

black marker 500x298I am ok with putting opinions out there. I am ok with being wrong about them. I am just trying to think creatively. You?
--- Mitch Joel on LinkedIn
Mitch has a knack for writing short, intriguing messages like this. Often they link to online content or his blog posts.

Let's look at each point in a marketing context
  1. expressing your opinions
  2. being wrong
  3. thinking creatively

Expressing Your Opinions

We're bursting with opinions. In the right context, they spew out. Let's focus on ones related to your product or service.

Why not share your thoughts in view of your current and prospective clients? That gives maximum impact. If only your peers and competitors know your opinions, you forfeit valuable marketing benefits.

With consistent expression, you'll build a reputation. Your opinions may even be sought. Your views won't get unanimous agreement but you'll attract some clients and get respect for your courage.

As a bonus, your competition will mostly vanish through their silence.

Being Wrong

As a husband and father, I'm often told I'm wrong. And how. When my son was a twink, he often said "I'm just a kid and I know that." Ouch!

The consequences of being wrong depend on the context and your positioning. If you're "the expert", mistakes can harm your credibility because you're expected to know. If you're "the concierge" or "the quarterback", you need to find an expert through your relationships. If you're "the consultant", you ask questions and return later with the answers (and maybe an expert, unless you become one in the process).

You will be wrong many times. Magician David Ben said you choose the place: in public during a performance or privately during your 10,000 hours of practice.

Overcoming The Fear

When I started doing presentations, I was afraid of
  • making mistakes and
  • getting stumped by tough questions
The solutions were (eventually) easy.

You make fewer mistakes when you prepare. Even if you flub, it's unlikely as serious as you think. The audience rarely remembers. Having visuals or brief notes helps you keep on track.

Answering questions becomes simpler when you talk about your area of expertise. If you don't know the answer, you can provide it later. Knowing how to get the answer is often more important than knowing the answer.

Thinking Creatively

Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage? --- Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)
These words, the music and the back-story are poignant. When you think creatively, you increase your chances of making mistakes. And breakthroughs.

When the play-it-safe trap beckons, I think of those who dared. Movies have many examples. Think of poor Frodo and Sam going on a quest well beyond their abilities in The Lord Of The Rings. Our challenges are rarely life/death.

You'll have your own sources of inspiration to overcome inertia and spark creativity.


PS I agree with Mitch on all three points. What about you?

August 10, 2010

Two Tips For Doing Business With A Government

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We tend to associate governments (and big business) with bureaucracy. Mark Twain exposed red tape brilliantly in The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract.

Governments also buy thousands of products and services. Why not get them to buy from you and your network?

I attended a three hour seminar on how to sell to the provincial and federal governments. The same basic ideas probably apply in other other countries and with other levels of government.

The Seminar

The room was filled with over 100 attendees seated at 12 tables with eight seats, and in chairs at the back. There were many meaningful audience questions, an excellent sign of interest.

The presenters were sincere and knowledgeable. They wanted to help. Questions were recorded to help improve the answers. Isn't that a great idea?

Two Tips

Here are two key tips
  1. eliminate surprises
  2. follow instructions

Eliminate Surprises

Buyers don't like surprises. They've spent time deciding out what they want. Give them credit for figuring out their own requirements. If they wanted help, they would have asked.

If your bid goes beyond the scope of the request, you won't get credit. In a sense, you're wasting the time of the reviewers by giving other options. You might not agree with what they want since we see as we are. If you were looking for a particular house, would you like your architect to propose something else? Maybe early on, not when you're ready to make your final decision.

Do your proposals include surprises? A "free prize" is fine because that's a bonus. I mean a twist where the client is expecting Q and you propose R? In a competitive situation, you may want to surprise the competition at the last minute when they can't react. That's a bad strategy when dealing with governments. They want to make sure all bids are on the same basis.

Follow Instructions

Following instructions is boring but helps the buyer by accommodating the structure they prefer. For example, there are different formats for dates. Does 3-11 mean March 11 or Nov 3?

Rules needn't confine you. Think of how creative a 140 character tweet can be.

You want to stand out but breaking the rules isn't the path to distinction. For instance, proposals must be on time. Why not submit them in advance to allow for potential delays?

Have you ever completed an RFP (Request For Proposal)? I've worked on several that were successful. Each time, we focused on answering the questions as written and got thorough reviews from colleagues. That's the power of teams. That's also exactly what the buyers wanted.

Attend A Seminar

Governments may not buy your category of product or service, or they may not buy from a company your size. That's okay. By attending a seminar, you'll get a better idea of how to market your offering in general. That's valuable since we may get sloppy and take shortcuts.

Losing bidders might even get a private debriefing to help them improve. Do you have a process like that when buying or selling?

You probably have people in your network who could sell to governments. Why not help them by sharing what you've learned. You may open up a major source of revenue for them (and perhaps yourself).


August 3, 2010

Do Your Clients Feel Cheated?

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Your clients may have difficulty leaving you, but that doesn't mean they're happy or believing you.

We'll use mobile phone rates as an example.

Here's a text message that Bell Canada sent me when I entered the United States on a recent trip:
Free Bell Msg: While travelling in United States STD roaming rates are $1.45/min, $0.75/sent txt msg & $51.20/MB for data
The data rate is shocking, especially in 2010. US partner AT&T's new monthly charges for mobile data are
  • $15 for 200 MB [Bell roaming costs: $10,240]
  • $25 for 2 GB [Bell roaming costs: $102,400]
At least the text message was free and sent before any charges were incurred. My Blackberry is set to turn off data while roaming. That's an ideal since applications running in the background could Bell US roaming rates (click to enlarge) inadvertently run up hefty bills.

If you click on the screenshot to the right, you'll see the Bell website doesn't disclose the mobile data rates clearly or offer a travel bundle. What's the meaning of "billed according to US roaming rate"?

Actual Size

Maybe the data rates make sense to Bell and AT&T but how would you feel if you received an expensive surprise on your next phone bill?

In three days, a traveller created a $7,763.70 bill before service was cut off. The reader comments aren't sympathetic to his I'm-ignorant-give-me-a-break argument. However, the bill was reduced to only $2,000.

Your Clients

What do your clients think about your prices?

They may not tell you. They may not even leave you because of the hassle or cost. But would they recommend you? Would they share their woeful tale?

It's risky to underwhelm clients. There's so much information online and so many opportunities for feedback. For example, websites like The Consumerist or bloggers like Ellen Roseman have many reader comments.

Differential pricing gets spotted easily. Did you get Microsoft Office 2010 yet? The Home and Business edition costs $280 US or $349 CDN (25% more). The Professional edition costs $500 US or $669 CDN (34% more). There's no explanation for the inconsistency.


Maybe you've got solid reasons for an unfriendly policy, high prices or slow service. Maybe hefty taxes or government regulations or heightened security are the true culprits. How about explaining this?

For example, AT&T's iPhone reception in San Francisco may be lousy because approval for a new cell tower takes three years. This wasn't known until Steve Jobs told the world last month. The explanations may help the affected understand.

In my case, I survived 75 hours without Internet access. There were no withdrawal symptoms. I could have gone to Starbucks with my netbook but didn't even take it out of the case. The biggest consequence was spending more time with my family. Oh the sacrifices …