James E. Laero marketing / communications / business development

ARTICLE: Keep It On The Streets

All customers buy at street level, where they live and where they work.

General consumer customers live in houses connected to streets located in neighborhoods. Most business-to-business customers work in offices located in buildings along streets in cities or neighborhoods. People don’t live or work in the literal clouds. They make purchasing choices based on how the purchase will make their own life better, easier, more productive, more rewarding, more profitable, healthier, happier etc. They don’t like to gamble when they make a purchase. Even the most liberal purchaser will bottom-line their decision to where they live and where they are in life. That is why the worst salespeople in the world are the ones who dribble on about their product, their services, their company and themselves. Conversely the most productive salespeople are the ones who just shut their mouths and listen. If you respect the fact that your customer is a real human being, with their own interests and needs, they will respond by telling you exactly what you can sell them to make their lives better, easier, more productive, more rewarding, more profitable, healthier, happier etc. Your marketing and sales techniques should work at the street level where your customers make everyday decisions.

I have made more sales in my career by just sincerely listening rather than talking about my services and myself.

When I was eighteen years old I ran a small home repair and remodeling business. Over a period of five years I sold every job I was ever invited to bid on. How did I do it? When I arrived at a potential customer’s home I would greet them sincerely as I would my next-door neighbor. Then I would ask to sit down with them a minute or two to review the project. On my way to the couch I would look around the room and find one thing of interest that caught my eye, a family photo, a collection of figurines on the mantle, anything that was given a place of prominence in the home. Once we were seated, rather than launching into how great my company was, I would comment on the item and question the customer about it, with sincerity. Thirty minutes later, when the customer finished telling me all about their family in the photo, I would quickly collect all the project specifications and leave. I would then personally return a completed estimate within two days and usually had a contract for the work on the spot. I never lost a sale and often more than a half-dozen competitors were in the mix. In addition, I was almost never the low bidder.

All customers buy at street level, where they live and where they work. Few buy because of product performance alone. Even fewer buy because of price alone. If you are in the low-price business - God bless you. But you have chosen a hard living...cutthroat at every turn. Good customers are the ones who buy and return to buy again because they sincerely believe that their lives will improve through their purchases. Successful companies present products and services in a fashion that gives them exactly that assurance. At the ripe old age of eighteen I was selling every project I bid on because I let my customers know that I sincerely cared about their lives. I did that by keeping my marketing methods and sales techniques personal, at the street level, where they lived.

Following my brief career as a young home remodeler, I took those same principles into my career of marketing to businesses and corporations with similar results. You may think that these techniques are fine for a kid selling remodeling, but do they work in the real world of business? Indeed they do! Throughout my career I have used them on a much grander scale marketing to tens of thousands of customers with millions of dollars at stake. On one occasion I was hired as the marketing director for a small start-up company marketing technology services. At the time of my hire the company was operating out of a garage-top office with five employees crammed into one room and no air-conditioning. Huge national corporate competitors were moving into our territory. Things did not look good. We didn’t have a fraction of the budget of any of our competitors. I could see only two choices; get out now while we had the chance or use what we had at the street level to beat Goliath. We chose to fight. My first move was to diversify our services to take better care of our consumer and business clients where they lived and worked; free tech support, free on-site consultations, free 24-hour business support. Then I redesigned our entire corporate identity and graphics packages to communicate sincerity, warmth and dedication to service. Next we shifted our advertising revenues into supporting local schools, organizations and community services. We discounted to organizations and launched a dozen smaller satellite partner centers in regional communities so that customers never had to leave their community to get face-to-face service. Basically we pulled everything out of the clouds and back to the streets. Our customer base grew in leaps and bounds. Our services were thirty-percent more costly than our national competitors but we soared. Within three years we had moved into comfy offices and tripled in size. Eventually we landed on the Pittsburgh Business Times top 100 Fastest Growing Companies list. All that came from a tiny garage-top beginning using street level marketing for business development. We communicated to people where they lived and worked.

There is a tendency in business to lose sight of the simplicity of marketing, to start thinking with your head in the clouds, to lose sight of your customers. Take time this week to review your marketing and sales materials and ask yourself this simple question, “Is this message going to make my customers feel like their lives will get better if they respond to it?” If the answer is no, toss it. If you can’t answer yes, then who would?

Take time to consider what it is like being one of your customers. What does your logo say to them? What can they get from reading your slogan? What do the colors used in your marketing and sales materials say? What is your customer communication and service process? Are you easily accessible, or safely guarded by a squadron of underlings and administrative secretaries? When you visit your web site is it all about the achievements and size of your company, or does it feed visitors what they need for themselves? Get back to what made you great. Take it to the streets.

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