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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Marketing, sales and decision-making power

You can talk about democracy and independence, but when it comes down to the real world, the decision-making funnel narrows to a truly small group when the choices are (a) large and (b) important.

The cliche "the buck stops here" has real elements of truth especially when you are seeking business in the non-residential space. (And it has validity in the residential consumer market as well, but you have many more potential decision-makers for smaller individual amounts.)

These elements are truly important for construction industry marketers, especially in the sub-trades. Some successful construction business owners say they have decided to stay completely out of the non-residential market because they find they cannot make a profit as their prices are beaten down to the point that they are working for a rather risky "job" rather than to run a successful business.

They seek out middle and lower-end consumers with some money to spend. Their marketing power and effusiveness is intense because they have a large demographic pool, and they know they can sell through effective and systematic marketing. (See Mike Feazel at Feazel Roofing in Columbus, Ohio and Leonard Megliola from Bestline Plumbing in the Los Angeles area for example.)

Nevertheless many readers here serve the non-residential market, and here you have the challenge of somehow making a very small pool of very important decision-makers think your service is of such value that they will pay a premium price for it.

Here the challenge is to think, feel, and have the responsibility of a real decision-maker. Without this background (or perspective) you are not likely to be effective in your marketing or sales strategies. You can read the textbooks and talk with mentors, but if you can't feel the emotional and mental challenges of the individuals who must say "Yes" or "No" and take full responsibility for their choices, then how can you relate to their circumstances?

On one scale, consider Donald Trump. After reading his books, and speaking with people who have first hand connections with him, I wonder why any sub trade or contractor would want to even think of doing business with him. He constantly impugns the integrity and competence of trades and suppliers, browbeating their prices and making clear that he is 100 per cent the boss.

Nothing wrong with that -- he knows his stuff, and he certainly deserves his success (or failures). The challenge is, how do you conduct business profitably with someone like that?

On the other, consider the small to medium-sized business owner or (even more challenging) the non-profit or government agency, or (if you really want to have fun reaching and dealing with decision-makers), the medium to large-size publicly traded corporation.

In Trump's case, it is superficially easy to know who the decision-maker is, but it is rather hard to reach him, and even harder to convince him you are the right organization for the project (at least at a profitable level). In the other situations, you have the challenge of knowing that the decision-maker is real and has the authority, and weaving through various barriers in convincing the authority person to commit to a "yes" answer.

Complicating matters, the most successful decision-makers rarely say "yes" without a buy-in or support of key influencers, who are sometimes obvious, but more often not.

Yesterday, for example, I made a major decision with truly significant economic impact on the advice of at least three key influencers, none of whom would be obvious to a marketer or sales representative seeking my attention. These influencers satisfied me that I have the money available to take the decision and that it is in the best interests of the business. I listened carefully to their opinions and cross-checked their feelings with each other, and satisfied myself that the advice matched my own understandings and perceptions. I didn't act rashly, taking time to ensure that I had all the facts. Today, I must implement my choice, which has real consequences. But no marketer could even guess who these influencers are, let alone reach them through conventional methods.

Here are some ideas that may help you solve the decision-making access challenge. They aren't perfect but at least will help you to find the right direction.

Become a decision-maker yourself through voluntary community service.

Working with non-profit and community groups, providing your expertise and support, you can often land a position on a board or committee which can say "yes" to an action (even if it is to mount a painfully challenging fund-raising campaign where you try to reach other decision-makers). Community service also allows you to connect in a non-contentious manner with other decision-makers, and allows you to show your stuff.

Become a leader in communicating with your market community through conventional and new media.

Speaking opportunities at conferences, published articles in trade journals, blogs read by current and potential clients, all have real power in establishing your credibility. You will connect and build your reputation.

Truly respect and interact constructively with "gatekeepers".

For many projects and initiatives, the person you really want to know is the executive assistant to the person on the front-line. (For someone like Donald Trump, the person may be the assistant to the executive assistant!) They are accessible, intelligent, and really know their organization and its priorities.

I have recovered many stalled projects by working with EAs, never actually speaking directly with the boss. You will often be shunted to the person either given authority, or the key influencer, for a task. (Or you may be shunted to an "egress" person whose job is simply to nod his or her head, fake out that there is some interest, and get you off the property. This happens if you aren't compelling or effective in your communications.)

Avoid dumb scripted communications.

Stupid telemarketing and spam emails drain time, energy, and don't produce results.

Yesterday, my assistant forwarded a rambling voice message from someone selling an employment listing service that I perceive costs hundreds of dollars for marginal results -- when we have free or highly inexpensive alternatives. If that service really is worth using, why would I even respond to the stupid telemarketer who reads the same script to hundreds of people, it seems?)

You can break through the clutter if you have something great to offer, and know it.

Decision-makers are always open to new and innovative ideas. We are ready to experiment, to take risks, to try something different. But you have to be realistic. We aren't going to spend large amounts of money without the confidence and comfort that you are going to deliver the goods.

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