The most wasteful thing in marketing

How not to sell

When I talk to the owners of service businesses, I often encounter the same struggle.

Phrases like, “I just need to get the meeting,” or “I can make the sale, I just need some more leads or opportunities,” or, “If I can just get some face-to-face time with the executive, I can close the deal.”

To a certain extent, it’s usually true. They might be particularly persuasive and charming, and their business may be perfectly suited to their prospect’s needs. And once they get the chance to sell, they sell.

That can make the problem seem like a lack of leads or opportunities. It can seem like all that needs to be done is generate more chances to have the conversation or make the pitch.

This can lead to expensive deals with lead generation agencies, expansive advertising campaigns, or vast arrays of software and CRM platforms.

But this struggle is almost always a symptom of a different problem, not a problem in itself to be solved.

The true issue is the need to convince and sell at all. The need to persuade and charm. The need for “the meeting” or presentation or pitch.

Because as Jack Trout and Al Ries put it in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, “the single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing is try to change a mind.”

Our job as marketers of our services is not to convince, to talk someone into something, or to apply enough charm that people relent and buy from us. That’s time-consuming, expensive, and wasteful.

No, our job “is to help our prospects convince themselves that what we’re offering will help them get what they really want,” as Josh Kaufman wrote in The Personal MBA.

Which means we need to understand what our best prospects really want, and we need to be okay with not being the answer to every problem. As Blair Enns wrote in his pioneering book Win Without Pitching, “The narrower our claim of expertise, the more integrity we earn.”

When we have a clear focus and a strong market position, it’s obvious who we’re best for, and we don’t need to convince anyone of anything. Our prospects will convince themselves that we’re the best, because nobody does what we do in our particular way.

We just need to reinforce our market position and demonstrate what it’s like to work with us. 

For instance, in the marketing industry, pitches and presentations are the norm. But by applying the marketing lessons I’ve learned written and about, my strategy business hasn’t put on a pitch or sales presentation in several years.

It’s rare, but it’s replicable.

All we’ve done is Focus Focus Focus, set ourselves apart, and give our prospects a taste of what it’s like to work with us.

We do that through this newsletter, through industry outreach, casual conversations, occasional advertising focused on our ideal clients’ “struggling moments,” and through testimonials and referrals from happy clients.

When potential clients reach out to us after reading the newsletter, seeing a post on social media, or hearing a recommendation from a colleague or friend, we have a simple conversation. We dig into what they’re struggling with, where they feel stuck, and what an ideal future looks like for them.

And then we walk them through the process we’d take to help them get there. If the process is right for them, there’s no one else who does it like us. And if it’s not, we refer them to a better fit.

Because the fact is, anyone can pound the pavement, cold call, and hassle prospects until they give in. Indeed, it sometimes feels like everyone does.

But that drains our energy, our time, and our motivation. It keeps us from earning real profit on our work because we give it all away during the long and drawn out prospecting process, or it gets eaten up by software and subscription fees.

And it distracts us from our efforts for our current clients, because we’re more focused on the next job than we are on doing a great job right now.

When we try to convince and persuade, we make it about ourselves. We make it all about what we sell and about what we need. As Claude C. Hopkins warned, “Argue anything for your own advantage, and people will resist to the limit.”

But when we’ve structured our business around a reinforceable market position that expresses the real “Job to Be Done” our prospects have, the struggle standing in their way, and our unique way of helping them make progress, there’s no need to sell, pitch, or persuade.

Because as Hopkins continued, if you appear to “unselfishly consider your customers’ desires, they will naturally flock to you.”

If we feel like we just need more leads, more meetings, more calls, or more opportunities, we probably need more focus.

We need to know who our best clients are, what they most appreciate about our unique process, and how we best deliver our value to them.

As Blair Enns wrote, “It is not our job to convince the client to hire us via presentation or any other means.”

Our job is to help other people get what they want.

And when we focus on that, our best prospects will come to us.


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