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Saturday, August 30, 2008

The marketing paradox: The less you 'try', the more you succeed

If there is an irony in marketing, it is this: The greatest results seem to come from the least effort. You pick up your phone, and a former client calls you and invites you to bid on a job -- or even better, you are told a competitor is bidding, and the client really wants you, so could you come in with a proposal of your own, with the expectation that you will win. (In the AEC world, this is called "wired" proposals -- with qualitative as well as quantitative measures, fairness is often in the eyes of the beholder -- and the business that wins (and thinks things are fair) usually has an inside track from the beginning.)

Clearly, you have good reason to feel good about the progress of your business when this sort of thing happens in less-than-buoyant economies. I'm sure it is happening for some of this blog's readers -- others, however, are in a more difficult situation: Their flow of repeat and referral business seems to be drying up; as low-cost competitors and aggressive marketers fight for the smaller pieces of the pie that remain available. "What should we do," they ask, sometimes floundering, sometimes reaching desperately for lead services, or faulty and ill-planned advertising campaigns.

I continue to believe the best approach in marketing, always, is to give value -- to current, former, and potential future clients. In the new environment of Permission Marketing, you need to create resources and services to win and sustain your clients' good-will. But if you have to put food on your table to survive, while you build your package of services and gifts to your marketing community, you may have to get down and dirty -- calling in favours, asking old clients for some special help and, in some cases, engaging in hard-to-do cold calling and canvassing. (In the next few months, I expect to study canvassing closely with canvassing consultant Joseph Needham to gain a better understanding of how to effectively implement this methodology.)

What can you give to your clients that creates value and memories? A simple gift basket on the completion of the work might work wonders (and a hand-written Thank You card is always helpful.) Straightforward and simple to implement do-it-yourself maintenance tips may be worthy; (coupled with marketing where appropriate for maintenance contracts.) Informative, insightful ideas, maybe some humour, maybe contributions to local homeowners associations or business improvement groups; maybe support of relevant trade associations within your commercial marketing community. And of course you can consider the blog and e-letter.

Of course, getting the basics right: Courtesy, respect, and truly competent work will go much further than fancy marketing campaigns. You really win if you connect with centres of influence, community leaders, and others who carry weight beyond their obvious status. But you'll connect with these leaders best if you treat everyone you do business with the same fairness, respect and dignity.

Then, if all goes well, the fun begins. Your phone rings, or your email pings. The caller or emailer is ready to place a huge order, sign on for a major project, or invite you to bid on a job (telling you that you will win it.) It seems just a little too easy and simple -- but of course it isn't -- you've paved the way and prepared yourself for the opportunity. You've found the magic marketing formula.

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