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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Selling without selling

A glance through the Amazon references to How To Sell Without Selling : A revolutionary approach to building business - without leaving your comfort zone suggests that, indeed, today I achieved the objective of selling without selling. Marketing is largely about creating the environment when people want to buy from your organization, naturally, and with that, are far less price-sensitive or interested in shopping around with your competitors.

Today, on returning from vacation, I went to work, catching up on writing, the recruiting process for our new editor and salesperson, and taking some calls. One, a local business around for 35 years, wanted information about advertising, and quickly agreed to a full-scale feature.
Then another person called, representing a major Toronto developer. As Amanda was on the other line, I fielded the call -- the person calling the office wished to confirm that her company's paid subscription renewal had arrived. I took down the details, then remarked: "We'll look into this, but since I'm the company president, I'm going to ask you a big question: 'Would you like us to publish a full-scale feature about your business." She quickly said, in fact, that their business had participated in similar features with other publishers, and provided me with the name of the vice-president responsible for the decision.

Then, I returned a third call, someone who advertised in a previous feature, and wanted to receive some pictures. I explained that we didn't own the artwork; we would have to refer to the general contractor responsible for the project, and then, yes, I asked the question: "Would you like us to feature your business in the paper?" Again, no final decision -- I really didn't expect it on this call -- but this lead is much warmer than a traditional cold call (and I had an entertaining and friendly email exchange with the marketing co-ordinator for the general contractor as we fulfilled his request.)

Note something interesting here -- with the exception of the first call, a genuine in-bound advertising inquiry, the other communications related to matters far from the primary source of revenue for our business; but with a quick question or two, I gained sufficient connections and insights to offer our primary service. And this 'selling' is almost magically effective, because
although I am definitely selling -- and asking for the order -- I am doing it far from the stereotypical 'salesperson' place.

Why? The people I've been talking with today already have a warm feeling about our business. In one case, we served a client with some extra care in responding to a special request. In another, a major developer obviously values our publication sufficiently to make sure that the subscription renewal is processed! Surely, we are not intrusive or unreasonable in proposing to deliver even greater value to this organization, and others in the community.
Conversely, one of ours sales representatives today emailed me today to say the representative of a major national association declined to have a feature produced in our publication because of privacy concerns. Our sales representative asked what we should do, other than propose a feature where the association would need to pay for its publicity. I emailed her this response:
(disguising some elements here to respect the association's privacy):

Maybe we forget the ‘selling’ of the feature, and focus on the relationships. Like doing a story each issue on a leading (association members) – recommended by the association. This would be handled as an editorial rather than sales thing – but of course we could approach the (member) after the profile is done and see about a feature about his/her business!

The point of this posting is increasingly I think that most effective selling occurs in a non-selling environment; in that natural space where people are comfortable in relating to you and your brand. And sometimes salespeople will be much more effective if they turn the sales machine off for a while, and think about the needs of the people they are working with -- the actual sale will come later, when the relationship is truly established.

In the AEC environment, of course, this means that my 'mantra' that every day with every client is your marketing opportunity -- and when your marketing is strong enough, the selling is easy because the relationships are natural, effective, and respectful. Now I've just got to find someone who can help out here.

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