People don’t like to be sold to. I don’t. Do you? Whether you send an email, a promotional letter or make a cold call, chances are that most people won’t be receptive enough to even pay attention. Research I’ve seen shows that Millennials are especially turned off by sales pitches. In recent years, new technology has made it easy for your target audience to evade sales pitches, whether they come by email, phone, snail mail or TV. However, other new technology has also made it possible to sell without “pitching” people.
People don't open promotional emails
Like many of you, I get hundreds of emails a day. The record was 800. It’s a huge hunk of time to go through them. Making it worse is the growing number of emails with deceptive subject lines that aren’t obviously spam, purposely trying to trick you into opening them. For example, use of “Re:” to make you think someone you emailed is responding. Or a subject line that says “Bill M. referred you” – and when you open the email it says, “Bill is one of our marketing guys, and he wants to reach people like you with a special offer.” Grrrr. Emails with deceptive subject lines simply result in more “unsubscribes” and in annoying the recipients rather than attracting them to whatever is being sold.
Advertising is easy to block
The popularity of ad blockers is frustrating the advertising industry and making online banner ads less successful as a sales tool for marketers.
As for TV ads, for years now, it’s been easy to escape TV ads by simply recording a show and fast forwarding through the ads.
The sales call? Fuhgeddaboutit!
The phone as a sales vehicle is no easier. Most people don’t pick up their phones unless they recognize the caller’s number or name on the phone display. And if they do recognize the name and know the caller is selling something or looking for donations, the answer rate is very low. I recently volunteered to make calls to voters during this presidential campaign. I got voicemail for about 90% of the people I called and was told that was typical.
What does work: inbound marketing
The advent of the search engine changed the world of marketing forever. Google and other search engines have evolved from simply helpful search tools to one of the most useful and sophisticated cogs in the online marketing machine. Search engine optimization (SEO) and good content are the grease that makes the machine work well for you, and when you get that machine going, potential customers will come to you, and you’ll spend a lot less time chasing after them.
The solution to selling today requires stepping back, avoiding the sales pitch and turning from aggressively pursuing potential customers to wooing them online instead with useful information that will bring them to you. The key to making this work is a multi-step process:
- Create high-quality, useful, non-promotional content – articles, e-books, white papers, videos, blog posts, etc. - on topics closely associated with whatever you’re trying to sell.
- Use SEO to bring this content to the top of search rankings so that people searching for specific phrases will find it. That lays the groundwork for getting found by people who really want to know about the product or service you're selling.
- Distribute links to your content via social media and email. Again, the emails and social media posts should not be promotional. Keep them light, and just offer the information.
- Get site visitors’ contact information in exchange for free materials they want to access.
- Build a database with these sales leads.
- Use the database to directly target people with additional offers of free content or a complimentary introductory service consultation.
- They’ll become familiar with your corporate or product name, and start associating it with high quality content. They'll also begin trusting the source – your company. At the point when they are in the market for what you’re offering, they’ll willingly talk to – even ask to be contacted by - a sales person.
- As you go through this cycle, you can test your methods and content to see which are working best, make adjustments, and bring more people to your website.
This cycle is called “inbound marketing,” and is sometimes referred to as “closed loop marketing.” It’s not quick or easy. It takes time and hard work to carry out this process well. But done right, it does work. Inbound marketing is more likely to be offered by an integrated marketing communications agency than a PR firm, but more and more PR agencies are getting up to speed on it.
To learn more about inbound marketing, download our free e-book below.
by Lucy Siegel