“Interact first.  Sell Second” – Seth Godin

I preach that line again and again and again to my interns.  Constantly I find myself telling my clients repeatedly, “just stop trying to sell to them”. And finally, you’ll find pasted on the top of my marketing calendar in the largest font available “BE HUMAN”.

Why is crucial to small biz owners?

Do you enjoy hitting an automated phone system when trying to resolve a billing issue with Sprint?

Or how about receiving a generic auto-responder when you painstakingly write to a local business that you want to do business with.

Or better yet, how much do you enjoy taking a number when you go to a restaurant to spend your hard-earned money.

Or how about that junk mail?

Most people do business with your small businesses because they want to deal with a human, and if something goes wrong, they want a human to help them fix it.

Same applies to marketing. I hate receiving cold calls.  But I’ll happily speak to someone who obviously has done their homework.  A 10 second look at my website and you’ll see that I live in Chico, that my name is Nate Wright, I help small businesses with sales and marketing and my cell phone number is (206) 271-6575.  So when I get a call from a big-box competitor trying to sell me their services?  Come on.

So what’s the right way to do it?

A few Google searches will yield 1,000’s of digital marketing experts touting the importance of creating content for your customers, email newsletters, and segmentation.  

And they would be right – if you are capable to create this so-called ‘killer content’.  I have a degree in English, spent years writing in the Air Force and make roughly 30% of my revenue off of writing, and I STILL have a hard time creating decent content, let alone killer. I’m not convinced that killing my customers (and prospects) with content is the answer.

So what now?

Go back to basics.  Telephone. Email. In-Person. Mail. Referrals.

Yes, I said a telephone. The most successful sales campaign I ever managed was a call campaign for Wonderware Pacwest last winter.  We bought a few Skype phone numbers with area codes that matched the areas we were targeting. Then we called all of our clients dormant customers with a simple message:

“Hey, it’s Nate here with Wonderware Pacwest.  You did some business with us a little while back, and we just wanted to say thank you, and wish you a happy holiday.”

Invariably, we’d receive the skeptical secretary’s, “And?” and we would reply with, “That’s it. We just really appreciate your business and wanted to wish you a Happy Holiday.  If you have any questions or problems, call us here:_________”.

Simple. Straightforward. Sincere.

It worked.  Several customer called back.  It worked especially well when we left them that call in a voicemail form … they were just plain curious, and when called back, the salesperson would chat for a bit, ask a few questions, and next thing you know the customer realized that they actually needed an upgrade.  Wonderware made the sale.  Client saved a ton of money due to the new efficiencies the software created.

We interacted then offered to help.  Then their sales department interacted again and again offered to help. And if there was a need, a sale was made.  Interact First. Sell Second.

But what if I suck at selling?

I hear this a lot.  Some small biz owners survived till now because of a strong service or product with a built-in client base.  But in order to grow, your product/service needs to be introduced to strangers.   In that scenario, you have a few options:

  1. Stick with what you know. If you are good on the phone, introduce yourself to potential customers, and just say hello. If you are good on email, use that.  Facebook?  Use that.  Each method of communication has it’s own ‘dialect’ so stick with what you know and you’ll do okay, and with practice can actually become awesome at it. Want to go truly old school?  Send them a  card, hand-written, hand-addressed.  Drop in a business card with the simple salutation, “Let me know how I can help.  Until then,.”
  2. Hire someone else to do it. You may have a sparky kid that works the front-desk that can by a dynamite salesperson with a little more product knowledge and some guidelines.  In the B2B sector there are a ton of highly talented 1099 Sales pro’s that have a stacked black-book and will work on commission.  It’s a hefty commission, but a good solution if you are short on manpower.
  3. Get someone to refer customers to your business for free.  In the pre-Internet days, this was achieved via “the good ‘ole boys network”, the local Chamber of Commerce, or via expensive (but usually effective) PR campaigns. Remember when a mention by Oprah became your fast-track to success?  Nowadays that can be done by creating relationships with people whose fan base is your fan base.  For example, a window installer can establish a mutually beneficial relationship with local real estate agents and get dozen of new referrals without have to sell at all.

There’s a lot of ways to do this, so I’m creating a series of articles to show you how with actual examples pulled from my work with fellow small biz owners.  A quick snapshot of what’s coming:

Part 2 – What is an Influencer
Part 3 – Finding your influencers
Part 4 – Making First Contact

Before writing this article I spent a few weeks re-building Small Biz Triage’s sales and marketing approach to incorporate more of the tactics listed above.  Specifically, I’m implementing a hand-written, heavily personalized holiday mailing this Christmas, and focusing more efforts on influencers. I’ll of course let you all know how that goes.


Whaddya think?  Let me know in the comments below and let the heckling begin 😉  Oh, and if your small biz needs help yesterday, take a look at this – and no, there’s not selling on that page either.

photo credit: Johnson Cameraface via photopin cc

4 Responses

  1. I lLOVE it, but the card stock it’s written on seemed a bit flimsy. 😉 Seriously, people always ask me how I “get clients”. But I never “get clients”. Individuals get a look at me and then talk to me and then we chat about what they need. And then, if it’s a good fit and we both want to work together, they hire me. Sometimes it’s a year into the dance. And clients are always amazed that I am working to be fired. Relationships are everything, so I hope this message sinks in to people. Thanks!

  2. Spot on Nate. Establishing rapport by being an active listhener, whether in business, counseling, teaching, investigating or personal relationships is number one. The old fashion eye contact, smile and firm handshake never fails. Being your authentic self establishes confidence in both parties and the rest is easy. In most sales, the bottom line is that someone will only buy from you if they like you and trust you. No one likes doing business with an unfeeling machine.

    1. Andy, thanks for your comment, especially the bit about trusting AND liking. I’ll certainly be dovetailing that critical concept into other blogs in this series.