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Imaginary Friends Help Break Through Barriers

  |  February 1, 2002   |  Comments

Before you make a sales pitch, you need to find out specifically what prospects need and want. How about surveying them?

Did you ever think that having imaginary friends could help you succeed in business? Well, all those years you spent talking to yourself are about to pay off.

It's time to bring your imaginary friends out of early retirement because they are going to help you break down the barriers that stifle most attempts at new-client development. As my kid brother still says, even though he's now in his 30s, it's going to pay off "big time." Here's how.

Let's start with a simple analysis of the steps we generally take when embarking on a quest for a new customer or affiliate:

  1. Find the right company that can benefit from your product/service (either as a client or as a reseller).

  2. Determine what needs the company has so you can make your elevator pitch more rationally relevant (i.e., be able to soundly resolve your prospect's classic deal-breaking question of "What's in it for me?").

  3. Locate the appropriate person in the prospective company who has authority to make a decision.

  4. Get through the person's assistant and get that person on the phone.

  5. Get that person to actually pay attention to your pitch rather than spending the few minutes on the phone cleaning out debris from his mouse.

To review, step 1 is pretty easy. It just requires some quiet time with a pencil and paper to think about your product and figure out who would buy such a product or who sells similar items. One of the best suggestions I've heard for coming up with a prospective client list is the following:

  1. Make a list of about 100 keywords that relate to your product.

  2. Use a search engine such as Google or Yahoo to search for each of the keywords.

  3. Review each of the results to find Web sites that match your intended prospect audience.

Alternatively, you can use an email address extractor program as long as it captures the Web site URL and a description of the Web site. You need to see what the Web sites are about, rather than just randomly contacting each site.

Once you've put a list together of prospective clients, you have two tempting choices:

  • Do what seems really easy and use an email program such as Mailloop or WorldMerge to send out a generic email to the entire list and hope for the best.

    In addition to the probability of receiving a lot of flames and spam threats from angry recipients of your unexpected email, the odds of success here are not tremendously in your favor, even if you think you are being smart by mail merging their Web sites into the email so the prospects think it is a "personal" letter.

  • Go back to the farm and separate the chaff from the wheat. Spend the time investigating each of your results and extract the choicest prospects from your list so that you can then contact them individually.

So now you have your list of companies to contact. What do you do next? I do not recommend sending an email. Instead, you should call each company. Who do you call? Well, MagMall's sales development professionals average about 10 to 15 calls to each company to get the right person on the phone -- smaller companies should be easier to reach. So just start with the main office line and shoot for the affiliate manager, the head of purchasing, or the CFO.

Assuming that you get through all the red tape and the assistants and you get the right person on the phone, you've got to overcome three barriers to success that usually stop most lead generators right in their tracks:

  • Your prospect is overwhelmed with existing projects and has no time for "new" ideas.

  • Your company may not be well known to your prospect, so you've got to waste a lot of time in your elevator pitch just breaking down the introductory barrier to let him know who "you" are. Often, you run out of time here before you even get to make the real pitch.

  • Though you think you have a great product that will solve all his problems, you don't really know what your prospect needs specifically.

Enter your imaginary friend, Shelby, the master of the secret survey technique.

  1. Shelby -- who seemingly works for an independent company -- is the one who calls each company before the sales team gets on the phone.

  2. She asks the prospect for less than two minutes to take a five- or six-question survey (which she alone knows has been surreptitiously designed to elicit the specific needs of each prospect).

  3. Shelby makes sure to mention that she will be calling the prospect's competitors. This stimulates envy and invites even more participation. They don't want to miss the party, right?

  4. She asks the prospect for permission to forward the results of the survey.

  5. She subtly drops the name of MagMall into the conversation once or twice.

What has Shelby accomplished? When the survey arrives -- hopefully no more than five business days later -- it highlights two elements from a longer list of surveyed items: the prospect's immediate needs and MagMall as one of a few recommended solutions to those needs.

Is this deceptive? Maybe. But even if it is initially deceptive, the bottom line is that it's worth it if a deal happens. If a deal doesn't happen, all the prospect lost was two minutes of time taking a survey that would have covered the same ground as a sales call.

Does this imaginary friend system work? Probably. Is it worth the effort? Definitely.

In keeping with the tradition of getting as much you can for as little money as you can afford, I would submit that this is one of the most affordable guerilla marketing techniques around. Good luck with your creativity. By the way, please share the results of your surveys or forward surveys you've used. I want to keep track of how readers do. If you want some sample surveys, drop me a note.

By the way, a nice byproduct of the secret survey is that you can actually tally the results of all the questions and turn it into a nice article to submit to a magazine or post on your own Web site.

Shalom from Israel, where this article was written.

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Jason Ciment Jason Ciment is CEO of MagMall, which he founded 1997. He designed, programmed, and developed the fully interactive java and perl-based magazine subscription Web site that has more than 10,000 individual and corporate partners. He has also worked with manufacturing companies such as Liz Claiborne and Jones New York to maintain quality standards and prompt order fulfillment.

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