This post was originally featured in the AMEX OPEN Forum, Sept. 2 09.
We got a surprising phone call last week. It was great news – a nice piece of business – but surprising because we had written the lead off several months ago. We had been consistently ignored and then rejected when we finally managed to get in front of the decision-maker.
Here’s the story. About a year ago, we identified a number of key targets for our business. On paper, these were the ideal prospects for us: we wanted to add privately-held profitable companies in the $6 million dollar range, who had no internal capabilities that matched ours, and who wanted to move up to the next stage of growth.
These canny business owners recognize that they need a systematic approach to marketing and are willing to invest in outside coaching and consulting to install it.
Our marketing program is pretty classic. We reach out via social marketing, make sure our site is optimized, offer lots of valuable educational materials and seminars, feature our target companies in our weekly newspaper columns and work our network to get personal introductions and speaking engagements.
We have researched our prospects and their issues and make sure we offer solutions that make sense to them. We have tons of terrific testimonials from similar firms attesting to how easy we are to work with, and how effective our solutions have been.
Well it was clear when we met Marty that nothing we could say or do would make him even consider working with us.
Yes, he wanted to move the business ahead. Yes, he liked our educational materials and thought our work was “interesting”. Sure, he’d love to see us.
But no, he wasn’t going to invest in our help. Actually he never came right out and said this; he’d give us all kinds of buying signals, react positively to out story...and never commit.
We couldn’t figure out why. Now we really wanted Marty as a client; he’s well-known in his industry, and we figured that we would be set for life if we could say we had him on board.
But we also knew Marty was eating up hours of our time as we tried to invest a new way to do sales so Marty would sign up.
Finally my partner Ken said, “This is nuts. We are redesigning our own marketing process around a guy who won’t even buy our services!”
We took the advice we give to all our clients, and put Marty on our automated follow-up system. We have a category we call “long shots” and we put Marty in with them. These people “should” buy from us, but don’t.
“Long shots” get a 45-day series of educational emails with pithy, useful business articles and ideas. They get event invitations and any important or meaningful news we think they might find useful. If we don’t hear from them, they go on our monthly newsletter list. We’ve re-worked the system a couple of times, and we’re still tweaking it, but that’s what it is right now.
The open rate for people on the long-shot list isn’t great. Sometimes we get a 15% open rate; sometimes it’s zero. Occasionally it shoots up to 40%. We track the open rates so we can optimize our subject lines and landing pages based on real world data.
So imagine our surprise when Marty called us to ask us to drop by after 8 months on the long shot list. We almost didn’t go, but it was a beautiful day and frankly it was more fun to get out of the office than continue to do the onerous month-end paperwork that we were facing, so off we went.
“I’m glad to see you,” said Marty. “And thanks for all that stuff you send me. It’s been interesting. Here’s why I wanted to see you. We just reviewed our customer list, and there are some things we’ve discovered that you could help us sort out. I’m willing to invest $25 thousand in fees for a three month contract, with an option to renew depending on what you find. Is this something you could do?”
So after 25 years in the marketing business, Marty reminded me of the basic marketing principle I had lost sight of: People buy when THEY are ready to buy, not when you are ready to sell.
It’s all about timing. You know – maybe I should pay Marty for that lesson!