Sunday, January 31, 2010

Don't Worry About the Mule Going Blind -- Load the Wagon

Memorable, visual word pictures are stickier than ordinary words and phrases. You wouldn't generally mix mules, marketing and sales, but they have more in common than you think, when explaining the need for action vs. analysis.

Many companies make the mistake of ignoring marketing. Rather than spending some time analyzing the 4 P's (Product, Price, Promotion and Place (distribution)), they focus instead on selling. These are generally organizations led by sales-oriented owners or CEOs.

Just as many companies (or sales people) get paralyzed, obsessed with "getting the marketing right", prior to any meaningful selling effort. They meet, discuss, tune, hone, study, revise collateral, etc., in some cases letting the window of opportunity pass before someone picks up a phone or a briefcase and goes out calling on some customers.

Reminds me of a friend of mine, Joe Trotter, who was listening to a (then) young Sales Engineer recite the litany of things he needed to make sure of before asking a customer for an order. Joe looked at the guy and said, "George, I don't want you worrying about the mule going blind, I want you to load the wagon." A 20th-century rural southern variation, I think, on, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." (David Farragut, Battle of Mobile Bay, 1864).

There's a balance between analysis and action. If anything, according to Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, excellent organizations have "a bias for action." If in doubt, do something and see what happens as a result. Actually, that's a reasonable part of a good marketing strategy. Run some "trial balloon" ideas out in the hands of sales people and see how they work. Listen to what comes back and adjust the P's accordingly.

This is particularly true in today's instant publishing world. The Internet marketing side of your message can, of course, be changed at the speed of light as you discover more about what works and what doesn't. You can build soft-copy web collateral as fast as you can type. And then you can measure its effectiveness with a variety of e-marketing tools.

What about printed collateral? If I were a commercial printer, I'd be shaking in my boots. Gone is the value of an 8- or 12-page 4-color, saddle-stitched brochure. There's usually one page of those that goes obsolete about 2 weeks after several thousand get delivered.

You'll be much better served with a well-designed pocket folder with a place for your business card, and pockets for "dealer's choice" inserts. Those can be single-sided, 2-sided or a 2-sided, 2 panel foldover (4 pages) for something that really requires a lot of real estate to tell the story. Much more durable than 8 or 12 pages of locked-in content.

Easily fully customizable, too. Besides the core product sheets and company overview, you can have a set of customizable "shells" (header, footer, etc.) -- templates where you can print custom content on the fly, in quantities of 2 or 2,000. Take customer references, for example. Print those on a shell that looks just like the rest of the packet, but the references include only customers similar to the prospect's business, or close by in geography. Want to try a new service offering? Design it, write the copy, print it on a shell, and go see a dozen or so customers to see how it plays.

There's a balance between study and action. Generally, though, action is what gets orders. The key to good marketing and good marketing materials is the ability to move the message with the market, and have a good feedback loop on how the message is working.

So, if in doubt, don't worry about perfecting the product or the message, go see some customers. Or if you have a hesitant sales person (who may actually be a marketer in the wrong job), try, as we say in the South, 'splaining it a different way, "I don't want you worrying about the mule going blind, I want you to load the wagon." Even if they don't get it instantly, they'll remember it. They probably already think you're nuts, anyway.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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