Marketing: Business Is Out There—If You Know Where To Look
Indiana winters can be pretty chilly, and this particular morning was no exception. Had I not agreed to meet a friend for an early breakfast, I would have stayed in and stayed warm; but then I would have missed meeting Ron, an electrician who taught me that you don’t have to stay in your own special lane to be of value to someone else, especially if you are willing to go the extra mile for them.
I had driven just a mile or two toward town when the “check engine” idiot light came on, a perfect metaphor for how inept I felt after discovering it. I drove another mile or so, hoping it was only something minor, but could not ignore that the car was starting to overheat. I headed straight for my local gas station where my mechanic worked, but the sign said they wouldn’t be open for business for another hour and a half. My heart started to race.
Driving down several more streets, I looked for any open business that could help me, even if just to call my dad. This was before cell phones; I needed a landline. Suddenly, I spotted a small electrical supply store. The lights were on! I pulled in, turned off the car, said a prayer and walked up the ramp to the door. It was locked. I peered through the window and caught the attention of Ron, taking inventory on his clipboard, who mimed that he would not be open for a while. It must have been the panicked look on my young face, begging for an exception to the rule, that compelled him to come around the counter and let me in.
I introduced myself and told him my car was overheating. He introduced himself and said he was an electrician, not a mechanic.
There was no doubt Ron preferred not to go out into the cold, but I asked anyway, and he agreed to see what he could do. He grabbed his coat, hat and flashlight. As he followed me out, he reminded me a second time to not get my hopes up; he was an electrician, not a mechanic.
I opened the hood and stood off to the side while he meticulously traced all the wires around the engine compartment. Then he stopped, fixing his flashlight’s beam on a clipped wire that dangled between the radiator and the fan. “Hmmm,” he mumbled. “That might be your problem, right there,” he said, his tone taking on one of practiced authority.
Ron reached in his coat pocket and pulled out a roll of electrical tape (which I would later learn is something all electricians apparently carry with them) and spliced the two ends back together. He tucked the repaired wire back into its rightful place, up and away from the fan. Tracing that particular wire, he explained that when the fan clipped it, it also stopped the fan from running, which in turn caused the engine to overheat. I started the car and everything worked again. Standing there in the freezing cold, I was nevertheless ecstatic.
I asked Ron how much I owed him and he tried to brush aside the offer. When I insisted, he humored me. “Okay, let’s say five bucks,” he laughed.
Although I didn’t have much money, I would have gladly emptied my wallet. Grabbing his flashlight, he put the electrical tape back in his pocket and closed the hood, then motioned for me to follow him back in.
“Are you sure just five bucks?” I challenged. “Yeah,” he replied as he took off his coat. “Call it 50 cents for the electrical tape and $4.50 for knowing where to look.”
This story is a reminder that the skills, expertise and experiences you have earned thus far in your life have value to others, whether they are obvious or not. The same is true of your clients, prospects, associates and co-workers. All of us carry present-day titles for the responsibilities we’ve assumed, but we too often forget that we have worked in other jobs for many people. We have needed to learn new things. We’ve all hit roadblocks, worked for tough bosses or had other things in our lives that made us dig deeper just to survive. When you consider all that you have learned up until now, don’t be surprised if you find yourself able to help and support someone else, regardless of what you do for a living right now. Your experiences can help you help them, because you know where to look.
Wasn’t it just a few months ago that we did our selling in person? We gathered the information from the client, ordered up virtuals and samples, rehearsed what we wanted to say and headed out to meet them—just like hundreds of times before. Now, depending on the social distancing practices of the parties involved, we find the need for creativity in how we communicate. Those who embrace the new normal will do more video conferencing. The paradigm shift has happened. It is time to get on board because your clients and prospects are already there.
From Facebook and LinkedIn to Facebook Live and Pinterest, the list continues to grow on the many ways you can communicate online, over the phone and through email. I am not just talking about presentations here, but the many ways you can stay in contact with the people you need to stay connected with. Sure, up close and personal has its advantages, but you can still brainstorm over live feed via the internet.
There is also something to be said for the efficiencies these methods afford. You can connect with many more customers in a single day than you can driving or flying to see them. If you have spent as much wasted time on the 405 freeway in Southern California as I have, you can certainly appreciate how much easier and less taxing it is to hold meetings from the comfort of your own home office.
If you are a little nervous about the thought of doing video, that’s good, because it means you care about doing a quality job. If you are camera shy, join the club. The best way to get over the jitters anytime you are “performing,” whether speaking before a group, singing on stage or going on camera, is to simply do it so many times that the jitters become a thing of the past.
Try this: Do a Zoom presentation session without an audience and record it. Play it back. Repeat it. Keep doing it until you know it so well that you can’t wait to give your presentation to your audience. Keep an eye on alternative Zoom-like systems from Microsoft and Apple, because this is the way of the future. Don’t worry if your hair isn’t perfect or that you accidentally recorded in front of a messy kitchen counter: you’ll gain staging savvy quickly. It is far more important that you get over your reluctance to be in front of the camera. Do your best each time and provide great value through content and your audience will laugh right along with you at that part in the program when your cat walks by.
We all love community because we are social beings. We gravitate toward physical interaction, hugs, personal stories, conversations and demonstrated caring. We enjoy those side-note conversations that always happen in meetings and presentations, and we love not feeling isolated. When you are preparing to call an old contact or prospect to catch up with them, remember that they might be isolated right now, but they are social by nature. Remember, too, that you have the marvelous opportunity to find new ways to serve them. You can bring joy and solid support into a world of uncertainty. You can explore new fields of possibilities, both for yourself and those with whom you connect.
Speaking of connecting, it is a very good use of your time to revisit your list of clients, prospects and associates to see what information you have in your files about them. If you only have base information that anyone else could get from a business card, you don’t know them. You don’t know their story, their history, their current challenges, their aspirations, obstacles, dreams, fears and what condition their condition is in.
Call them up. See how they are doing. Reintroduce yourself. Get the conversation going again and not just about business. Be honest with them; tell them you are calling to check in and to update your records. They’ll appreciate that. Most people respond well to such a gesture and, frankly, few of your peers will go to this much effort.
Always be looking for clues. Be cognizant and prepared for what you learn. They may still be working at the same company, but their responsibilities have changed. Or, they may no longer be at that company but have moved on to a new opportunity, which is something you will want to know. Some of them, unfortunately, have been furloughed and are looking for their next career move. Maybe you will find you can somehow be instrumental to them in their plight, but you won’t know any of this until you pick up the phone.
Empathetic listening is an art. Becoming really good at it can be critically valuable, especially now that people are more isolated. When you are practicing empathetic listening, you ask a leading question and then wait for the answer, as opposed to waiting for your turn to do the talking. When you hear the answer, ask your next question based on how the person answered the previous one. The more you can keep the focus on them and their situation and not yourself, the more they will tell you. “How is it going for you and your company?” may be a logical question to ask, but if they already told you they have a new job title, instead of asking how they like that job, ask them what their new responsibilities include, what it is like for them, what the company’s plans are and what their future looks like. These are the questions that will tell you what the changes truly are and where the company—and this customer—is headed.
That’s what a consummate professional does: asks, listens to the answer, clarifies further and moves deeper into the conversation. See what you can learn with this process and record good notes for recall later. The more you know about a person, the more likely you can improve their situation in some way while, at the same time, enhancing your reputation as a professional who cares and is here to serve them long term.
Put another way, be the person you would love to hear from if you were in your customer’s situation.
Video Basics Podcast Available On PPAI PromoTalks
In PPAI PromoTalks episode 2, PPB Presents: Why Video, Why Now? The Basics You Need To Get Started, with experts, Brady Peterson, owner of Scout Creative Media, and Josh Eaton, owner of Media Grabbers. Video is memorable. It grabs people's attention, keeps your brand top of mind and increases your visibility. In this podcast, you’ll learn how to create great videos to market your company, products or services—even if you’ve never done it before. Tune in to listen to this insightful and helpful 30-minute discussion available free at pubs.ppai.org and on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Dave Ribble is a coach, speaker, author and facilitator with more than 40 years of experience in promotions, advertising, sales and marketing. He and his wife, Gaye Kruger-Ribble, are owners of distributor StandOut Marketing Strategies in Spokane, Washington. Reach him at Dave@StandOut-Marketing.com.