Tag : prospects

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194: The Right Marketing Questions at the Wrong Time

I need to get better at asking questions of my clients earlier in the advertising process. Sadly, I often struggle to focus on the marketing strategy instead of billable tasks.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a direct mail piece designed for a client and then asked them for the mailing list—only to learn that they do they not have a mailing list and don’t know to whom they will mail it. Or right before I dive into some Facebook ads, I’ve realized I forgot to ask, “Who do you want to target?”

I’m apparently not alone in my absentmindedness, because a common response is: “I don’t know. What do you think?”

On the times when I’m actually on my marketing game early in the process, I’ve asked the auctioneer, “Who’s our buyer? What’s our prospect profile?”

“Well, I was hoping you could help me with that.”

Mind you, this is after the auction contract was signed. That means auctioneers are booking deals in new asset and/or geographic markets without knowing who their prospects are, let alone which media they need (and in what proportion) to reach targeted potential buyers.

The problem with this tardiness is that the buyer determines the advertising campaign.

The prospect guides where we have to advertise—in terms of both media type and geographic area. That profile dictates what kind of impression we need to make, and that (along with asset value) governs the budget.

So, how is it that so many auctions are booked and budgets are set before anyone asks, “Who is the buyer?”

Right Questions at the Wrong Time

Some of it might be too much trust in “the sound that sells”—the idea that auctions in and of themselves get stuff sold, regardless of asset. While an auction is a great vehicle for transactions of a myriad of items, there is no auction without bidders. So, the most important part of the auction marketing process is the attraction and accumulation of bidders.

To do that, we have to stop thinking like auctioneers or real estate agents or salespeople—or graphic designers. We have to get into the heads of the people who would want what we’re selling. Often, that’s the most difficult part of the process—for both my auctioneers and their advertising vendor. If we personally wouldn’t buy that asset, we have to research who would. We need to have a good idea what they need, and what motivates them.

Why would someone want farm equipment with this age and these hours?
Do hunters check their Facebook during hunting season? (And when is deer season where this land is?)
What kind of consumer is looking for an unfinished condo unit?
Where do subdivision developers search for new opportunities?
How far would someone travel to purchase from an on-site estate auction or pick up from an online auction?
What would convince a real estate investor to buy farmland instead of residential properties?
How much disposable income would someone need to purchase this asset?
For what other industries could this commercial equipment or real estate be used?
Are we building any media only to impress the seller instead of buyers?

These questions speak to buyer motive, media mix, and targeting options. Their answers help us write headlines and select demographic criteria. The followup questions to the examples above would further focus our advertising and make our budget more efficient—even if it means spending more money on fewer people to attract an action from them.

It doesn’t cost you money to ask these questions.

In fact, it might cost you significant money if you don’t ask these questions—especially if you don’t ask them before you sign the auction contract. Save yourself some headaches. Take the prescription four out of five TV doctors recommend: ask two of these questions, and then email your advertising vendors in the morning.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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155: Why Businesses Advertise Backwards

When someone says “Super Bowl commercial,”  your mind probably imagines one of the whacky or sentimental spots that Forbes reports costs $5 million per 30 seconds in this year’s Super Bowl. This creative ad, though, won’t be shown Sunday night. It’s a commercial about Super Bowl commercials.

The moral of this short story is that Super Bowl commercials are big gambles for the vast majority of brands in our country. Most of us get that; so, the ad plays as an inside joke.

That said, I regularly see auctioneers fall for the same line of thinking: that a bigger audience is a better audience. I’ve seen auction marketers try to hedge their bets with the assumptions that a bigger mailing list is better than a small one, that a metro newspaper with 300,000 subscribers trumps the local paper with fewer than 5,000 weekly readers, or that a boosted Facebook post to everybody in a radius beats a demographically-targeted post to 1,200 people.

Maybe sometimes. Not usually, though.

Media is typically sold to advertisers using a measurement called “cost per mille.” The basic idea is to take the cost of an advertisement and divide it by the quantity of potential audience impressions. So, if you pay $500 to reach 10,000 subscribers, you’re looking at cost of $50 per thousand.

In the auction industry, my clients are regularly marketing to smaller audiences.

So, I like to take that one step further and determine the cost per person. In the example above, you as an advertiser would be looking at an investment of $.05 per person. This number can be helpful, when budgets are tight; and you’re looking for the most efficient media possible. We all want the most bang for the buck.

The problem with both cost per mille and cost per person, though, is that they distract from a more important metric: cost per prospect. Cost per mille asks, “How many people can I reach with my money?” Cost per prospect asks, “Who are my most likely buyers (or sellers)? What will it cost to reach them?” Cost per mille promotes scale. Cost per prospect promotes efficiency and effectiveness.

Size of the audience is less important than relevance of the audience.

Whether it’s a mailing list or a publication, a website or a social media platform, the primary question marketers should ask is not, “How big is its reach?” but “Are these the right people?” It’s the difference between spectators and participants. (Helpful tip: we want participants.)

Once you know you have the right people, divide your budget by the number of those prospects to determine what you can spend per potential client. If you don’t have a budget big enough to make a good impression to all of the prospects, maybe sift those prospects down to a quantity you can. Some auctioneers work it the other way, cutting the size or impact of the media. So, they send a postcard instead of brochure or an email instead of direct mail.

For company promotion, I’d keep sifting until I can make an impression that can’t be ignored. It’s not uncommon for me to spend $150 to $500 of my time and resources per potential client I pursue, but I only work for 15-30 auction companies per year. I’ve helped auctioneers spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on a single proposal presentation to a single client. The nuclear company in my area probably spend tens of thousands of dollars to convince a power company or municipality to buy one of their eight- and nine-figure reactor systems. Your effort should be proportional to the value of their business.

That might mean you’re looking at mailing a package instead of a postcard, arranging a free seminar instead of an advertorial in the business journal, or drafting hand-written notes instead of form letters. Discover what would impress a client; then do it.

A media sales representative can’t tell you your cost per prospect.

Only you can do that. Whether you’re actually taking a calculator or spreadsheet to it is less important than operating from the prospect mindset. Start with the audience and work backwards. If you’re going to gamble, improve your odds. Work to find the valuable few instead of the risky many. No matter how many people see your advertising media, you want the ones who do interact with it (1) to relate to the content and (2) to be impressed.

Feature image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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122: The Right Mailing List for the Job

Direct mail typically accounts for almost 60% of my company’s billable work, and a bunch of mailing lists pass through my inbox every week. (My preferred mail house currently averages about 30,000 pieces of mail per business day.) Because of this experience, I regularly get asked where to find lists of buyers and sellers.

Usually I get a request like, “Where do I find people who want to buy [insert asset here]?” There is no such list of people with intentions. There are, however, multiple resources for lists of people who categorically are more likely to be interested in specific assets or services. I’ve narrowed them down to seven categories. Below, you’ll find a brief description of each category and then a flow chart to help you determine which is right for your situation.

Chamber of Commerce

Chambers of Commerce are typically looking for new infusions of income and are open to new members, even those from outside the community.

Pros: gets you in front of local movers & shakers, business people, and referral agents

Cons: usually only give addresses on labels (which can’t be automated and don’t receive USPS discounts); usually takes longer to obtain than electronic lists

Business SIC Codes

Big brother knows what companies do according to tax records and other public information. If you’re selling items with commercial value, it’s fairly easy to find similar businesses to the assets’ current user.

Pros: connects you with targeted prospects; lists arrive electronically and usually can be reused for little or no list cost; geographic targeting ranges from hyper-local to national

Cons: no guarantee that the piece will get past gate keeper to decision maker; mailing typically to a company, not a person; dependent on company accurately reporting their industry specialty

Trade Publication Subscribers

This can be industry-specific publications on the state, regional, or national level or generic business publications in a small geographic area. Regularly, because of publication dates and deadlines, advertising in these print publications isn’t feasible. However, many publications offer rental of their subscriber list.

Pros: gets you in front of niche buyers or local investors & referral agents; often come with surveyed demographics

Cons: can be very expensive, if available at all; often come as labels, which cost you postage and automated addressing

Every Door Direct Mail

The United States Postal Service (USPS) allows you to saturate neighborhoods like no other media with reduced postage costs.

Pros: concentrated geographic coverage, lower postage

Cons: can be slower than first class if not circumvented with secondary services; printing and mailing quantities can be higher to cover geographic area and USPS size minimums

Interest-Based Publication Subscribers

Collectors and people with similar interests often read niche publications. Regularly, because of publication dates and deadlines, advertising in these print publications isn’t feasible. However, many publications offer rental of their subscriber list.

Pros: gets you in front of niche buyers and highly-qualified prospects; often come with surveyed demographics

Cons: can be very expensive, if available at all; often come as labels, which cost you postage and automated addressing

Demographic Consumers

Thanks to public records, you can find people from a wide variety of demographic selectors, including some lists related to hobbies or interests.

Pros: connects you with targeted prospects; lists arrive electronically and usually can be reused for little or no list cost; geographic targeting ranges from hyper-local to national

Cons: prices can vary greatly, according to specificity of selectors

In-House Contacts

Auction, contact management, and database software allow you to capture past clients. Some of that software allows you to query specific indicators such as geography, spend level, etc.

Pros: typically free to use; offers pre-qualified prospects based on past interest; electronic nature allows for electronic use and USPS presorted discounts

Cons: requires maintenance (content input) and constant updating; not as exhaustive as purchased lists in that the selection is only from past interactions, not the community at large.

Mailing List Flow Chart

Stock image of mail boxes purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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111: The 4 Steps to Advertising Success

I’ve learned that one of the first questions I need to ask a client on a campaign is, “Do you have a mailing list?”

I can’t tell you how many times that a client and I have been corresponding about the final changes to a direct mail piece, when I’ve asked if they had their mailing list ready to send to the print shop. “Oh, we don’t have one; could you find one for us?”

By this point of the campaign, the budget is pretty much set; the website and newsprint distribution is already in play; and we have to adjust the direct mail audience to however many we can reach with what’s left in the budget. If analytics have proven that direct mail won’t be a primary or secondary media for a particular asset or geographic category, this would be more understandable. So often, though, we are highly dependent on a mailing list to reach the most likely prospects.

I don’t mind working with my mailing list broker to build lists for my clients, but the mailing list being unsettled at this point means that the campaign was planned backward. The marketing plan started with a dollar amount rather than a defined audience.

This problem is bigger than mailing lists or even budgets. Most successful campaigns require four strategic stages in this specific order: audience, then medium, then message, then production.

1: Audience

You can have an amazing, award-winning piece of advertising; but if the right people don’t see or hear it, they won’t know to transact with you. The first question of a campaign should be, “Who would be the best prospect—the best buyer, seller, or referral agent—for this campaign?”

2: Medium

Once you have that profile in your head, you can then ask, “How or where would this prospect most likely need to see or hear our notification?” It’s at this point, when you should start researching mailing lists along with applicable websites, print publications, and other media. You can then adapt the size or reach of each respective media to match the quantity of prospects that you can reach with your budget. This mix could vary from one asset market to another and from one geographic market to another, and polling bidders at your auctions will let you know how to manage that mix for the next similar auction. Similarly, you can survey sellers and referral agents for similar campaigns to them.

3: Message

You can successfully get your advertising in front of the right people; but if it doesn’t speak to their needs or wants, you’ve only annoyed the best prospects. We have only a few seconds to appeal to what the seller values.

 

So, lead with facts. Explain the benefit of the facts, only if you have room. (Most of your audience is smart enough to decipher their benefit from the facts.) Leave information like preview dates, terms, and company information at the end of your medium—not in places of prominence. Nine times out of ten, “auction” should not be the headline, because it’s very rarely the primary benefit for the buyer or seller. And if your logo is at the top, please go back to Go. Do not collect $200.

4: Production

You can be in the right place in front of the right people, saying the right message; but if you’re there at the wrong time, you can still fail to connect with the prosper. If you have the right words but also have images that look like they came from a security camera, your pitch will lose punch. If the design of the print piece or production of the broadcast piece is shoddy or distracts from the asset(s) for sale, that will be the impression of your brand and, by extension, what you’re selling. Spelling and grammar matter. Readability (or ease of inferring from a broadcast) matters. Sometimes, even creativity matters.

There are no universal marketing guarantees, but starting from our audience’s perspective helps us ask the right strategic questions throughout a campaign. It’s not always easy to look through our audience’s lens, because we are often in a different head space than our prospect. When we do, though, we improve your chances of a successful campaign.

TAKING IT PERSONALLY

I find that people get the whole Jesus thing out of order—even more often than marketers get their strategy backward.  A lot of people think they have to clean up their mess before Jesus can come into their space, that they have to complete a certain amount of self-improvement or lifestyle detox to invite him into their lives.

The truth is that any movement toward perfection is still short of perfection.  Jesus wants to join us in the chaos, destruction, and dysfunction of our lives in order to display what he brings to the table.  He wants us to realize how much we need him, how much he has done and keeps doing for us.  The Bible says all of our righteous attempts without him are like used menstrual rags—not exactly impressive gifts to give him or our world.

Jesus doesn’t need us to do anything but surrender to his sovereignty.  Once he’s the one steering our lives, his power changes us from the inside out.

Stock images purchased from iStockphoto.com.

71: Getting the Right Clients On Board

Jetliner SeatsI’m writing this post on what will probably be my last jet flight out of the Lynchburg airport. To kick off 2011 on an efficient foot, Delta will be withdrawing its regional jet service from Atlanta, leaving Region 2000 citizens with the choice of US Airways prop service to Charlotte, private jet charter, or a long drive to a Virginia or North Carolina city with an interstate exit.

Even with 80% average occupancy on it’s 2010 flights, Delta hasn’t turned a profit here since 2008, when it operated at 62% average occupancy.† In an effort to offer Delta a package that would keep flights connecting ATL and LYH, Lynchburg city officials brought in airline industry consultant Mike Boyd. Boyd told them the problem was not how many passengers were on the planes but what type of passengers were on the plane.†† In a small city with multiple college campuses, our jets fill early with lower fares, instead of higher-margin last minute purchases typically purchased by business travelers. (Boyd suggests that Delta embargo availability of a number of seats until the last two weeks before departure to regain the higher-margin fares.)††

I can’t fault Delta. As I track productivity and profitability for biplane, I excuse myself from specific accounts, refer work to competitors or peers, and selectively change pricing structures.

Not all clients are created equal, even if they can keep you equally busy. Most of us want high-margin, headache-free work; the challenge is how to attract that work.

Part of that is branding—answering the questions, “What public personae are we projecting? And what kind of business does that attract?” You will have an uphill battle attracting premium clients with subpar marketing or high volume liquidators with a mom-and-pop feel to your collateral.

Part of that is taking the time to measure efficiency, review profitability, and quantify intangible aspects of your work. You might be surprised where you’re most efficiently generating revenue. Then there’s the question I asked during a recent consultation: “How much do you need the money that comes with that headache?”

Part of that is a brave self-control to shew away a bird in the hand to make room for one or two in the bush. A good, indirect way to sift prospects is changing your price points and/or terms of transaction. Sometimes, I just explain to now-former clients or prospects that biplane is not a good fit for them. It’s better to have a difficult conversation on the front end of a poor fit than on the post-game evaluation. (I’ve learned that one the hard way.)

So, where’s your sweet spot? For some it’s in high risk/reward problem solving; for others it’s in predictable efficiency.

And with whom are you working when you’re in your wheel house? It might be a demographic group, a personality type, or infrastructure.

From where do these good fits come to you? Answering this question will give you a good start on where you can go to find more clients like them.

Successful, popular brands—name plates like Apple & BOSE, CNN & FoxNews, MINI & Jeep—don’t appeal to the blank masses. They implement specific brand strategies to duplicate their happy customers. Do you?

[footer]†Bryan Gentry, “Delta to discontinue service from Lynchburg airport,” October 27, 2010, Lynchburg News & Advance
††Bryan Gentry, “Consultant: Lynchburg airport could keep Delta,” November 12, 2010 Lynchburg News & Advance[/footer]
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I’m really glad God doesn’t take just the easier cases, those with wills more pliable than mine. I’m thankful his invitation isn’t segmented to a specific people group.

The hard part for me is extending that patient, unbiased, consistent grace to others. So often, I prefer to associate with those who agree with my theology, those whose journeys are closest to my own, those whose needs fit into my available time and resource windows—the people who I’d look forward to having on my street in heaven.

But, as Andy Stanley wrote, “Grace is inviting to the unrighteous and threatening to the self-righteous.” When ugly feelings brew inside me over certain people, I am convicted by this litmus test and have to ask myself if I’m starting to take credit for any transformation Christ has accomplished in me.

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.[/footer]

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35: Running Into My 7-year Niche

Bulls EyeSometimes, “No” wakes me up.

See, this post was supposed to include the highlights of an interview with a local aviation company on how to market yourself as a premium brand. But when I emailed a request to the Lynchburg firm that charters for the jet-set, I got a succinct reply: “We are not currently marketing our services to the general public.”

Over the weekend, I pondered where they get their hangar full of clients—enough to employ nine pilots with their “Your jet is ready” slogan. Then it hit me, when I heard my own voice telling a Yellow Pages telemarketer why biplane didn’t want a phone book ad, “I don’t pursue local clients.”

Over 90% of biplane‘s income arrives in my mailbox from auction companies, and over 90% of my marketing dollars and time head back to the same industry. That focus is narrowed even further by not using auction convention trade show booths or magazine ads, because I am searching for a select number and kind of accounts from the auction industry.

biplane‘s growth and maintenance strategies look for a specific feel, size, and inertia in an auction company. I prefer writing and conference speaking as marketing vehicles to sift new clients who buy into my approach. I also rely on my current clients’ referrals to pre-qualify their peers, both relationally and financially.

As you brand your firm toward a specific specialty or market segment, you will similarly start to thin the audience to whom you need to advertise. This allows you a bigger impact to a smaller group of more likely prospects. It might not have to get as narrow as that of biplane productions or Falwell Aviation. In fact, the geographic radius of your market might actually grow, if your core competencies are tied less to location than to asset type or skill set. Conversely, if you are the king of a specific geographic area, emphasize that dominance to its citizens.

As you get sellers (or buyers), evaluate what makes the good ones good and the poor fits so problematic. Look for common denominators; ask them how they heard about you. Focus your marketing where those answers take you; then evaluate those efforts regularly. You don’t have to abandon all of your shotgun-style efforts, if you’re not comfortable with that. If you build demand from one or several segments, though, you will grow less addicted to mass marketing.
[tip]

So many Christians are focused on mass evangelism—crusades, campaigns, and broadcast media. They’re handing out Gospel tracts at the carnival on a hot summer night. They’re hitting neighborhoods door to door, mega-phoning at flea markets, or holding up John 3:16 signs in an end zone near you. They’re the devout parents or even ministers who work in a church but have lost their own kids.

Sure, some people cross the line of faith [in Jesus’ substitution] from impersonal/mass efforts. Others go through the motions only to wither without discipleship or without truly taking that initial faith step. But is mass marketing the best practice for evangelism?

In most purchasing decisions, I put more stock in a friend’s recommendation than a TV commercial. You do the same. So, why would it be any different in a spiritual context? It seems to me, while far more difficult, that our greatest life impact for lasting change in the spiritual landscape is through our inner circles first–outward through concentric spheres of influence.

Jesus’ contemporary disciples about whom we read at the end of the gospels and in Acts–the ones who changed the world as we know it–aren’t the masses who listened to the Sermon on the Mount or the sea-side message with a free dinner. They weren’t even the crowds shouting “Hosannah!” for his ride into Jerusalem. For the most part, no. Those who walked with Jesus, ate with him, felt his physical touch or healing—they took Jesus’ words and faith and salvation with them. Seems to me that should be our approach, too.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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