Issue 4: Direct Marketing Summer School

Did you miss Issue 3? Titled: Cloning Success
Click here to read

Summer is here. The wind is steady, the bay is beautiful, and I’m finding every excuse I can to get in as much sailing as possible.

Meanwhile, my 18-year old son has to work. Hey, I’ve paid my dues. This is his first real foray into the real world of business. Sure, he had an after school job at the local donut shop, worked as a counselor at summer camp, and a few other odd jobs while he was in school, but now it’s time for him to find out what life is all about.

So what has he learned so far in the real world? Quite a bit, actually. First, he realizes that working for someone else puts severe limits on how much you can earn. So he’s already thinking about a couple of businesses he’d like to eventually start on his own.

More importantly, he recently had an experience that has taught him some very valuable direct marketing lessons.

Some of the most valuable lessons
come from unlikely sources

My son’s great passion is offroad racing. Because we live in San Diego and we’re just an hour and a half from the desert, offroad racing is extremely popular here. And it’s a billion dollar industry.

My son and his friends pour every spare dollar they earn into their desert rigs. Maybe you’ve seen trucks like these on the road. Lifted front and rear ends to clear bushes and boulders, fiberglass fenders to reduce weight, protective steel plates coming down from the front bumper to deflect rocks away from the engine, and oversized, deep tread tires to better navigate the terrain.
grey SUV on mud road
All of this is covered with a mottled coat of mud, grime, bug juice and dust. Because when you’re racing offroad and doing “donuts” at a coveted muddy construction site, keeping your rig clean isn’t high on your list of priorities.

A rude awakening

Last Monday morning, I woke up and walked down the driveway to get the newspaper. When I returned to the house, I solemnly told my son, “I’m afraid there’s a major problem with your truck”.

The sanitized version of his reply was, “What the heck do you mean?”

“Apparently someone stole your truck during the night, I replied. And replaced it with another truck that looks just like yours, except that it’s clean!”

“You jerk! You really had me scared for a minute,” he said (this is an even more sanitized version of his actual words).

“When did you wash your truck?” I asked.

“I didn’t. I got a professional detail job done on it. For free.”

He went on to explain that he had been at the truck races over the weekend and met a guy who owns a custom detailing business. His clientele are primarily owners of high-end sports cars, and he’s looking to expand into trophy trucks.

Trophy trucks are ultra-expensive versions of offroad trucks, but they’re never raced. Instead, they are show cars that are customized and “tricked out” to the nth degree. I’m told that the price tag for a trophy truck starts at around $200,000.

Stick with me for a moment. Within this story are a couple of very valuable marketing lessons.

The rest of the story

Here’s how he got a $200 detail job for free. My son is very popular. He’s bright, funny, easy going, and always knows where the best parties are. When he changed cellular phone companies, he had to move his addresses from his old phone to his new phone. Because the new phone used an updated technology, he had to find a computer program to transfer the numbers between the two. When I asked him why he didn’t just key the phone numbers into his new phone, he explained that he has 340 friend’s numbers in his address book.

Because he knows so many people, he always has a crowd around him at a party or a race. And this causes him to meet even more people. At the race, there was an extremely large group of young adults tailgating around my son’s truck.

This immediately drew the attention of the car detailer who came over and struck up a conversation. They quickly became friends, and before the weekend was over, a deal was struck. In exchange for a free detail job, my son would pitch the detailer’s services to his friends, his friends’ parents, and all the trophy truck owners he knows.

So now my son’s truck shines like a freshly minted silver dollar.

Summer school marketing lesson #1 — the power of sampling

Between the two of them, these young men managed to stumble upon one of the most effective direct marketing methods: sampling.

Sampling simply means that you give prospects a free or low-cost sample of part or all of your goods or services, and by using them, your prospects will be convinced to become paying customers.

This is a proven, time tested technique that any business can make profitable use of. For example, when the printer giant, Epson, was first starting out, they had little money for marketing. So with a single roll of the dice, they invested every last penny they had available for marketing to send 400 printers to middle level IT managers. Within a few months, sales were soaring and a foundation was established for building a massively successful business.

This ezine is another form of sampling. By providing my subscribers with valuable advice, many of them will end up purchasing my products or services.

Similarly, I’ll be conducting a free webinar for a major software industry portal next month. The portal will make a nice chunk of change from the event and provide their audience with valuable information to help them market their software more effectively. In exchange, I’ll get direct access to 50 to 100 senior executives at successful software companies.

To take further advantage of this event, I plan to use a technique I call “stacked sampling”, which means that at the end of the webinar, I’ll offer them a free white paper or report. That way, I’ll capture as many contact names as possible, get them to sample my advice yet again, and convert a number of them to paying clients.

Think about how you can use sampling to sell more of your products or services. Make a list of all the ways you might use this proven technique, then begin applying one or two as soon as you can. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Ready for another Summer School marketing lesson? We’ll do that in just a moment, but first…

A brief commercial…

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Summer school marketing lesson #2 — leveraging centers of influence

The detailer was smart. Actually, he may have just been looking for a good party, but when he got to know my son, he realized how many people my son knows. Most of the trophy truck owners stopped by to say hello, grab a burger, and find out where all the big parties were after the races.

Seeing how many contacts my son had within the target market he wanted to expand into, the detailer realized it made good sense to become part of my son’s grapevine. Popular people influence others. This is a fact of life in any market. And if you can get those “centers of influence” to spread the word about your product or service, you can stimulate a lot of business.

Microsoft knows this well and is very effective at leveraging centers of influence. For example, when Microsoft introduced Excel and wanted to steal the thunder from Lotus 1-2-3, they immediately hired Lotus “power users” to consult with them. They observed how these Lotus users worked with Excel, improved the product based on their findings, and also gained evangelists for their new product among these power users.

Word spread about the advantages of Excel over Lotus, and Microsoft relentlessly improved Excel every chance they got, causing the news to be spread again and again. Before long, Excel had become the industry standard and Lotus 1-2-3 was only a faint memory.

Any business can benefit from centers of influence. There are always “power users” in any industry. Get them to work with you and spread the word about you. Pay them in product or services, or cash if necessary. Tapping into their innate knowledge of the market, and their many connections throughout your industry, is a winning deal for everyone.

I hope these lessons get you started on a very profitable summer!

Copyright © 2005 by Bob Serling All rights reserved