Sometimes the Best Marketing Looks Like Sales

I got an email. It was from a 50-ish owner of a small CPA firm – call him “Jose” – with three competing offers to buy his practice, and a few complicating life factors. He wanted advice, and wondered if we could talk.

I don’t do much coaching or consulting, and he almost surely couldn’t afford my rates. Nor am I an expert in life planning, or in valuations.

But I said sure, call me in the morning, we’ll talk – no charge.

We had a very good chat for about 45 minutes.

I think I helped him. I know it was useful for him to talk to a third party able to comprehend his situation. I believe he’ll make a better decision, and I’m sure he’ll feel better about it. Value was created for him in our talk.

But what about me? I knew going in there was no chance of a sale from him – not now, not in the future, not anytime. And my rate was zero. Was this a foolish, impetuous, soft-hearted, flakey thing to do?

No. I like doing nice things, but I’m not a saint. Nor did I consider Jose a pro bono case.

Yes, it was a nice thing to do. But, I would argue – it was also good business.

Sometimes a sales lead that we would otherwise screen out can be a good marketing investment. Sometimes you can do well by doing good. Sometimes we need to let sales leads bleed into marketing budgets.

“Jose” will never buy from me (though other Jose’s might). But he will remember what I did for him; even more, that I was willing to help.

Jose is someone who cared enough to identify alternatives, choose me, and seek me out. He spent time to find out who I was, what I did, whether and how I might be useful to him. He was probably willing to pay for consulting. He was an educated, willing buyer, a near-client with influence on other potential clients.

For me, he was not a qualified sales lead. But – he was one helluva marketing resource.

He now knows me – the sound of my voice, how well I think on the spot, the way I interact, my sense of humor. He knows me better than one of 200 people in an audience for a speech; much better than 500 people reading this blog, or an article of mine.

Total investment: 45 minutes. Most sales people will tell you that’s an extravagant waste of sales time, an inefficiency that is off-scale. Just think of the waste in extrapolating such activities to scale!

But most salespeople would be wrong. This is not about efficiency in selling: this is about effectiveness in marketing.

The return is that Jose will tell X people about our discussion. That’s X people who will hear first-hand about a 1-to1 interaction. That’s a powerful testimonial.

The choice is not between being “good” or making money; they often go together.

Try, for just a few hours per month, shifting your sales practices to subsidize your marketing by investing in a lead.

Don’t get lost in charge-back accounting. The benefits will eventually accrue to your firm, and to you personally. Both.

 

2 replies
  1. Dave Brock
    Dave Brock says:

    What a wonderful story Charlie! To often, we let the numbers and “science” of what we do in sales and marketing guide our decisions. While they will influence our decisions, there are other factors–doing the right thing is always the dominant factor.

    Sometimes, it’s paying it forward. I’ve had so much support in my career that I couldn’t possibly “pay back” those people (including you) who have been so generous with their time, coaching, advice. But I can pay it forward to others, hoping they will, in turn, do the same.

    Very often, the person who isn’t the “right customer,” will remember and connect you with the right customer. Referrals are always powerful.

    Sometimes, it takes time. A number of years ago, a young manager reached out to me. We spent some time talking, helping her think about a difficult issue.

    About 5 years later, she’s VP of a large organization. She remembered what we did and wanted some help now.

    It’s amazing how we develop business and contribute. The numbers don’t always tell the story.

    Reply
  2. Martin Frey
    Martin Frey says:

    I think my mother said to act that way. Golden Rule. Pay it forward. Show up on time and don’t be a jerk. Funny how that works do well.

    Reply

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