Marketing Your Business is Like Building a Snowball
Many of the first time or early stage entrepreneurs I speak with are struggling to find sales and marketing tactics that work. They know their business or service inside and out, they do good work, but don’t know how to turn that knowledge into revenue.
At least that’s how they tell the story.
They’ve tried advertising, blogging, hiring SEO and SEM experts, retaining the services of publicists, and everything else under the sun but nothing is creating the windfall of sales they’re looking for.
A more accurate truth is that they’re struggling with proper expectations.
Marketing a new business or service is a lot like building a snowball. The results you get are small at first. When you start rolling a snowball, the first revolution doesn’t grab much additional snow. As the snowball grows however, it grabs more and more snow with each rotation in a pattern of exponential growth.
This pattern of exponential growth is only made possible with disciplined execution of the same process over and over across a period of time. In the building of snowballs their isn’t much room for perfecting that process, but when it comes to marketing a business there is always room for improvement.
Where a lot of first time and early stage entrepreneurs get frustrated is with how to star marketing their business, service, or product. There certainly are a lot of options to choose from; advertising, blogging, SEO, SEM, publicity, etc.
For people who have never sold before or those who are taking on the challenge of selling something new for the first time, it’s best to keep things simple.
Just Talk to People
By simply engaging your prospective clients in conversations in-person or over the phone – just like you would with a friend – you gain access to real-time feedback on whether your message is landing.
When trying to sell anything for the first time, simply identifying the messaging that lands with your target audience is the most important place to start. Getting a feel for the terminology and vocabulary that best communicates to your prospects the value you bring to the table can be most easily and inexpensively done through one-to-one communication.
Once you’re able to identify the language that works in selling to your target demographic you’ll be off to the races and well on your way to building a healthy arsenal of marketing assets. It doesn’t take much for you to convert battle tested verbiage into copy for other types of marketing you might want to use later on.
For advertising, blogging, automated email funnels, SEO, SEM, or publicity to work however, your message has to be dialed in correctly. The one-to-many communication tactics that are so common in marketing fall flat without finely tuned messaging. That’s because they are one directional, you don’t have the same ability to adjust fire on-the-fly the way you when you’re speaking directly with someone.
Creating Sales Conversations
How does a freelancer or early stage entrepreneur find people to talk to while their working out the nuances of successful sales messaging?
Theirs a simple answer for this: Prospecting. (i.e. Cold-Calling, Door-Knocking, etc.)
The truth is that by attempting to work out your marketing messages on a close circle of colleagues or friends you won’t be working with a sample size large enough to provide you with reliable feedback. If your friends and colleagues don’t represent your ideal customer their feedback is irrelevant anyway.
To truly battle test word-tracks and find the messages that will successfully sell your offer, you have to go beyond your existing network. The best way to do that is to contact strangers that might have some interest in the value you bring to the market.
A beautiful thing about working out your pitch on strangers is that strangers are less likely to have a interest in your feelings, or hurting your feelings for that matter. They’re even less likely than your friends and family to give you money unless you’ve given them a really compelling reason to do so. When you get a favorable response to your marketing communications from a complete stranger you know you’re on to something.
Cold-Calling Has a Bad Reputation
On the basis of Seth Godin’s definition for Permission Marketing, cold-calling is certainly a form of intrusion marketing. By its nature it can certainly drive prospects to become irritated with the business trying win their patronage if over used.
That was my expectation when I first got into sales. I couldn’t comprehend why my sales manager was so adamant about me maintain good prospecting activity when mass media and the internet seemed like such more efficient way to generate sales opportunities. I figured I’d only upset people by knocking on their doors or making unsolicited phone calls to their offices.
Heck, I grew up annoyed by telemarketers myself and my first sales manager wanted me to become just that – a telemarketer.
As it turns out, I didn’t grow up to being annoyed by telemarketers. I grew up being annoyed by really bad telemarketers.
When prospecting activity is targeted and the messaging is dialed in, it isn’t annoying at all. When prospecting is done well, it’s helpful to the people on the receiving end. It offers customers a solution to a problem without them halving to go out of their way to find it. That’s the highest level of customer service I’ve ever witnessed.
Activity Vs. Fear of Rejection
For people who have never sold or done any prospecting before, rejection can be a debilitating fear. It can keep them in a state of inactivity, and inactivity is dangerous for a business.
Without activity there is no exploration, there is no trial-and-error, there is no testing of hypothesis. Without activity you can’t even get lucky by running into the most easily sold customer you’ll ever meet, because you never left the office.
Success in sales and marketing (and business) stems from a never ending execution of the scientific method. It really is as simple as guess-and-test, guess-and-test, guess-and-test until you find something that works. When you find something that works the objective becomes improving upon that success.
With each experiment you learn something new. With each experiment you give yourself an opportunity to identify weak links in the chain, and to fine tune the marketing machine that is your business.
And still – as true as this is about sales and marketing so many early stage entrepreneurs (i.e. wantrepreneurs) are paralyzed by their fears of rejection and prospecting. This fear stunts the growth of their businesses. For some entrepreneurs this paralysis is what kills their business.
What’s so scary about rejection?
I’ve battled with the fear of rejection myself. The little voice inside my head may get quieter, but I don’t know if it will every really go away. It usually sounds something like:
… I need to know all the answers before I start making sales calls. Otherwise, I could say something stupid…
…It only takes one person in the whole industry to think ill of me and tell a few of his friends before I blow my shot of ever turning any of them into customers…
And, I guess this is a possible scenario, but in my experience I’ve found it to be a highly unlikely one.
It’s not unlikely that I’ll say something stupid. I almost always do. What’s unlikely is that saying one stupid thing or miscommunicating a solitary idea will kill all chances of closing a deal or future deals.
Most sales conversations aren’t that high stakes. You can usually bounce back from missteps and honest mistakes.
So, don’t put that pressure on yourself. Take your sales process one step at a time.
Lower the Bar
Having the expectation that a sale is on the line while you’re prospecting is a sure way to make your anxieties over cold-calling even worse. The goal of prospecting is to identify sales opportunities, not to actually sell.
That’s right, in most circumstances you’re not trying to sell anything when you are knocking on doors or calling people on the phone to make first contact. The goal of prospecting is to simply open channels for possible sales conversation, but not to actually have those conversations just yet.
In a sales process you typically have to identify an opportunity, qualify the prospect, and conduct some degree of discovery before you can really start selling anyone on anything. Prospecting activities will typically only take you through the first one or two of those steps.
So don’t stress yourself out thinking you’re going to lose a sale by not knowing all the answers to your prospect’s questions or because you don’t have your pitch completely dialed in just yet. Having all the answers and a well-polished pitch comes with time, and luckily you have time to get things in order before a sale really is on the line.
“If I had walked through a door, thinking that I had to have the answer when I got to the other side, I would not have done it. You know what I have found, working with people all my life? That people are so much smarter than they think they are and give themselves credit for – but they are only that way under pressure”
– Barbara Corcoran
Realistic Expectations of the Prospecting Process
It’s important to remember that prospecting is a process. Prospecting is not something that starts and ends with most potential clients in a single day.
It may take several attempts to communicate with a single prospect before you have a meaningful exchange. Your potential prospects are busy. They might also have gatekeepers you have to navigate before you can connect with them directly. Your prospects have lives and work beyond the context of your agenda. When you’re starting out it might take 7-10 touches or more by phone and email just to get on your prospect’s radar.
Don’t take it personally when they don’t return your phone calls. Don’t get upset when your emails go unread. Take it upon yourself to make sure they know you exist and that your message is worth their attention.
Calling someone once or dropping your card off with someone’s receptionist is not prospecting. To be successful in prospecting you need to be thorough and persistent.
If you leave a message with someone’s office manager, be sure you ask them for the buyer’s email address to send them more information later that same day. If you email someone more information at their request, don’t assume they’ll call you back after they’ve read it – even if they told you they would. It’s your job as the seller to follow-up ever 2-3 business days to make sure they don’t forget to read that email.
Long story short – closing sales is your job, not theirs. Don’t assume your prospects are going to make it easy for you. With persistence and tact however, you can get in front of the right people, open doors to long profitable relationships, and build a healthy business.
The Snowball at the End of the Tunnel
Yes – prospecting can be a rough activity to endure as an entrepreneur, but things get better with time.
The more practice you have trying to develop business relationships out thin air the better you’ll get. The better you get, the more sales opportunities you’ll find. The more opportunities you find to close new business, the more customers you’ll add to your roster. The more clients you have to serve the less time you’ll have for prospecting activities.
As your business grows you can start to apply your lessons in prospecting and direct sales toward more efficient and scalable marketing tactics. All of which should result in more revenue and resources you can reinvest in your business.
In effect, this is the kind of exponential growth we see when we build a snowball or market our businesses using the scientific method.
Don’t be afraid to keep things simple.
Take your lumps.
Always be testing and learning.
Don’t just grow a business, build a life!
Activity = Momentum = Big Money
Growing slow sucks, but that’s how most of us start. We don’t always share that fact in conversation or on social media, but it’s still a fact.
Only through repetition of your sales process will you learn what works and doesn’t work. With these reputations you can add new tactics, tweak old ones, eliminated what isn’t working, and fine tune your business into the well-oiled marketing and sales machine you’ve always dreamed of.
But it all starts with activity. Even from the failure of bad ideas you learn valuable lessons, how to more effectively communicate, and ways to better serving your customer base.
Start with activity, and never stop testing and perfecting!
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