What do they say about a little knowledge?

Let me point out something that I hope is obvious: Hearing about something is different from knowing about it.

Until recently “grass roots marketing” was out there to save the day. Why pay to advertise when “grass roots” would do the trick…free. Fighting this objection wears a guy out. It becomes tedious, dull, predictable. So have fun with it. Play dumb when a client starts talking all fancy and smart about something like grass roots marketing. Ask them: “What is grass roots marketing?” This opens the door.

What reply might you hear?

Well, recently a business owner explained that a bake sale at her daughter’s school was a great form of advertising. Yes, I asked, but I am still not sure how the bake sale helps sell roofing and siding products. Presumably people at the kid’s school already know mommy sells roofing and siding products. Surely they line up after buying a cake requesting an estimate. This all works great, of course, but you wouldn’t advertise to these people anyway. They already know you, your business, and your cakes…and if they don’t like one of the three, they ain’t calling anyway. So it is best to advertise to people who don’t know about you, your daughter, and your cakes. This is called prospecting for NEW leads.

But what do you hear? The same old cheapo half-baked excuse for believing that advertising won’t work and isn’t necessary. The Number One grass roots “success story” is the value of repeat and referral business.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our business is repeat and referral business!” You hear that all the time. Then ask, “Do you advertise?”

“Nope, don’t need to…all of our business is referral and repeat, like I said.”

“Well, Mr. Customer, how could it be otherwise? You don’t advertise so seems obvious that you would not get any business from advertising, right? Could you use more business?”

“Sure…but you’re not listening, all of our business is repeat and referral. We have a great grass roots program going in this community.”

A business owner like that probably is correct. I don’t get it. And frankly I really don’t have the patience to try to get it…or more accurately, I don’t have the patience to help them get it. If a client like that is particularly rude or in some other way rubs me the wrong way, however, I might hang in there to dust things up a bit. I try to be Socratic and ask questions that might lead the client in the right direction and entertain me at the same time.

“Can you tell me, Socrates, is business built by reputation alone or must one build a reputation first?”

Unfortunately Socrates’s audience of bright young men with smart names like Meno, Phaedo, and Cratylus is not matched by today’s mix of Nicks, Toms, and Daves. Intelligent dialogue, even in the vulgar sense, evades too many sales calls. You have to learn how to deal with that if you’re going to succeed in this business, but choose your battles. You can’t win by making someone see that they were wrong, you need to lead them to seeing that they were right all along, but in a way different from where they started. Not every business owner works that way. Some simply don’t hear, don’t think, and don’t care. Have fun with those – briefly – and move on.

But now there is a new freebie on the block. Suddenly the Nicks and Toms of the world have “social networks” ready as the solution to all their business-building needs. This is the latest sure-fire way to market your business cheap. Keep in mind that many of these people barely understand the internet and yet they tell you with absolute certainty that they are destined to be the next Sam Walton because everyone on the planet will be “twittering” the great value of their carpet cleaning services. Again, if you’re the salesman, playing dumb will be fun. Just ask: “Really? How does that work?”

“Well, all these people use computers to twitter. They send short messages to each other and it is free. So we will use that to tell people about our carpet specials.”

“How will people know to find you?”

“They don’t find me, I twitter and they get the note.”

“They don’t have to sign up or anything?”

“They do, but it is free so everyone does it.” (Brace yourself for a smug threat here.) “This will certainly be bad for your business!”

“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know much about it. So people just twitter about carpets and stuff, huh?”

“No, I do and people will see it and that’s how we advertise.”

It certainly could be true that a business owner could use Twitter or Facebook or any other social networking site to tell customers about specials and events and things. Bars and restaurants do this all the time. But do you really think a huge demand for “chemical neutral” carpet cleaning facts exists out there on social networks? If I am at a bar with my girlfriend trying to look cool ignoring her, the last thing I want to read about is carpet cleaning. How cool can you look reading about zero residue carpet sucking equipment? Give me some dirt on one of those drug addled pop stars that Los Angeles County has locked up. That works. Cleaning carpets? Flushing my radiator? Filling a cavity? I don’t know that I’m convinced.

So let’s talk about the weather. If nothing else today’s weather shined brightly on picture-perfect day. Just a few happy little clouds scattered here and there, nothing threatening or dark at all. The beauty of calling on clients miles away is the time spent getting to and fro. I like that part of the job. The rest…well, these people are wearing on me.

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