What I’m Reading

People often ask me what I’m reading or which books have made the most difference in helping me achieve my business goals. But I find that the categories of information I read are easily as important as the actual material that I read.

So here are my categories:

Business books – new

I try to read at least a couple of new business books each month. There’s a lot to keep up with, so I really on reviews from trade journals I respect to help me determine what’s truly worth reading. It’s very easy to game the system and get any book to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list for a few days. So be aware of that and don’t fall for the hype from “authors” who have bribed others to give them good reviews.

This week, my favorite new book is John Jantsch’s “The Commitment Engine”. I have an early review copy and this book, but it’s now widely available. Amazon has both the print and Kindle editions.

The book digs deep into why some businesses have tremendous commitment from their customers and employees, resulting in continuous growth, while other businesses never seem to get past the “feast or famine” stage.

One of the key points John makes is that it is not enough to just have passion for your business, regardless of how strong that passion is. And it’s not enough for just you to be committed to your business.

Your real goal is to generate commitment for your ideas, your values, your story, your products, your services, and your way of doing and being in all of the various groups of people that make up your businesses ecosystem.

And the book truly delivers on showing you exactly how to do this.

Business books – old

Each month, I try to review part or all of at least one book that I’ve found to be very valuable throughout my career. “Rework” by Jason Fried isn’t all that old. It was released in March, 2010, but I’ve read it at least 3 times. And I return to it regularly.

One of the founders of 37 Signals (maker of Basecamp and other software), Jason continuously hits home on rigorously making simplicity the driving force of your business. So many businesses try to be all things to all people or deliver dozens of different products and services. But “Rework” shows you in quick-paced, entertaining detail while focusing on less will nearly always get you more – and by that, I mean more of the results you want.

Industry trade journals

I find that it’s important to read industry trade journals on a regular basis because they pour through tons of information and distill it down to what’s most important for your industry. Since my industry is marketing and sales, here are some of the trade journals I regularly read (in no particular order).

MarketingProfs Today

BtoB

SmartBrief on Small Business

Marketing Sherpa

Web Digest for Marketers

Inc. Magazine’s Small Business Success

One article you might enjoy (I did, but I’m biased on this one) is “19 Ideas for Growing Your Email List” which appeared in a recent edition of Marketing Profs Today. It was written by Hunter Boyle, who is the Senior Business Development Manager for AWeber. Hunter was kind enough to include me in the article, but aside from my bias, the content in this article is excellent.

You can find it here:

http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2012/9028/nineteen-19-ideas-for-growing-your-email-list

Fun stuff

I’m a big believer in reading purely for enjoyment as well as for business. So I focus on two categories that I find particularly pleasurable: photography and mysteries.

I’m an amateur bird photographer, so I’ll read just about anything on bird photography, nature photography and the broader categories of digital photography and photo processing software.

I’ve been at this for a bit over two years now. Here’s an example of a photograph I recently took at a beach near my house. It’s a Long-billed Curlew landing on the sand.

As for mysteries, I love a great crime thriller. Probably the best mystery I’ve read in the last 5 years is “Stone’s Fall” by Iain Pears. It’s a sweeping epic and physically huge, clocking in at 596 pages of small type. Complex and brilliantly constructed, it boggles my mind that anyone could ever conceive of a plot of this complexity and have it all hold together.

Now, the reason I like to have a few books in this Fun Stuff category going at all times is that if you love to read like I do, you need things to read that are a departure from your daily business. The last thing I want to do is read a business book or industry trade journal right before I go to bed. Because if I do, my mind immediately kicks into work mode and I know I won’t get a good night’s sleep.

Similarly, I can’t remember the last time I read business material on vacation. When I’m on vacation, I want to relax and recharge. So the only thing I’m interested in reading is the Fun Stuff.

Final category – what NOT to read (and what I replace it with)

There’s one more category that I find critical, and that’s what NOT to read (or listen to). Right now, we’re in the middle of an ugly political campaign here in the U.S. The coverage of the campaign, particularly on partisan cable outlets, is toxic.

So one thing I avoid is any reading or listening to the news two hours after I wake up and two hours before going to bed.

I avoid toxic news in the morning because I want to start my day off in a positive, productive mood. I don’t need all the doom, gloom and nastiness tainting my positive outlook. And because this type of news is designed to upset and scare people (in order to attract more viewers), I avoid it before going to bed as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do keep current on the news. But I do this primarily by browsing the major news outlet web sites a couple times a day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. That’s all it really takes to keep current – and I look at both the liberal and conservative news outlets so I get balanced exposure to each “version” of the news.

My morning reading

Here’s what I do instead of reading the news in the morning.

I like to spend about half an hour in the morning reading and having a cup of tea. But instead of reading toxic news, I read the comics, the sports page and the gossip page!

I read the comics for the pure pleasure of it – and it helps put me in a positive mood to start my day with. I read the sports partially because I’m a fan, but also because sports reflect a certain aspect of the culture. And if you’re going to be a successful marketer, it’s critical that you fully understand the culture you’re operating in.

For that same reason, I read the gossip page. It’s an excellent view into what’s currently going on in our culture. And understanding what people find entertaining can only help in making you a better, more effective marketer.

So what are YOU reading?

Feel free to let me know what you’re reading – or share your own experience with this topic – by leaving your comment below.

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Can 100 million online shoppers be wrong?

If you’re thinking about investing much time or money in social media to generate sales, you might want to think again.

According to data tracked from 100 million online shopping experiences, traffic generated by paid search and email marketing absolutely clobbers traffic from social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

“Ecommerce Quarterly” is a study that analyzes a random sample of more than 100 million online shopping experiences from more than 150 ecommerce web sites. The results show that traffic from social media can’t hold a candle to traffic from paid search and email.

For the second quarter of 2012, the study shows that the average order amount from paid search traffic is $26.21 higher than traffic from social networks. And for email traffic, the average order amount is $18.53 higher than traffic from social networks.

I’ve been saying for a long time that social media has not yet proven to be a reliable or particularly valuable source of traffic.  Why do I say this?

It’s all about use

Understanding why traffic from social media underperforms isn’t difficult at all. It all boils down to use – and by that I mean how your prospects use each form of media.

Social media is used to share experiences through pictures, posts, witty sayings, entertaining videos, etc. So people are there for the experience, not to be marketed to. That isn’t to say that you can’t generate some traffic from social media. But the fact is, you have to jump through a series of hoops, many of which can be time consuming and frustrating, to generate any meaningful traffic from any of the social media sites.

Contrast this to how people use paid search and email. A significant percentage of search activity comes from people who specifically want to buy something. So your traffic generation efforts are directly matched to what the prospects wants.

The same goes for email marketing. While the percentage of people directly looking for what you’re offering is lower than search, people have been conditioned to expect to see advertising delivered by email. It can be a stand alone ad or an ad embedded in ezine or blog content.

Here again, you aren’t swimming upstream trying to force people to use these forms of marketing that contradict their primary reason for using them. So the amount of traffic you get will from these forms of traffic will always be far greater. And your conversions are naturally going to be more frequent and for a higher dollar value per order.

So what does this mean for your marketing?

First – as much as most people hate the hassle of using Google paid search, it’s still the grand daddy of paid search. Nothing else performs as well when it comes to paid search. So you should devote more time to making Google paid search work for your business. Bing is also performing well for a lot of my clients and has far fewer restrictions than Google. So it’s another form of paid search you should be testing.

Second – while email marketing can work very well, it’s expensive to test. You either have to rent email lists for stand alone mailings, pay for stand alone mailings in ezines and blogs, or place ads within ezines and blogs. All of which can be expensive.

So you only want to use email marketing once you’ve proven that your ads and conversions are working consistently by testing with less costly forms of marketing. In my experience, the two best forms of marketing for testing inexpensively are paid search and joint ventures.

Only after you’ve proven multiple times that your ads and conversion process work like a well oiled machine, should you start to use email marketing. But when your ads and conversion process do work, email marketing can be a gold mine.

Third – ditch social media marketing for now. It makes no sense to invest time and money into an underperforming marketing method. Sure, you’re going to be bombarded with promotions and editorial content that sing the praises of the social media marketing revolution. But don’t be fooled by all that. Pay attention to the studies based on real, unbiased data. If the data changes and social media does start to perform well for marketing, you can always jump in at that point.

One final observation. Have you noticed where you receive nearly all promotions for marketing with social media? Either in email promotions or articles or ads in ezines and blogs delivered by email! Enough said.

Am I nuts? Am I right on target?

 Feel free to let me know – or share your own experience with this topic – by leaving your comment below.

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Is there a “secret sauce” for increasing your sales?

Too many crazy promises are being pushed these days for the next “magic bullet of the week” that’s supposed to boost your sales. Unfortunately, what you really get is a flash-in-the-pan technique that relies on a questionable loophole, works only for a short time, and then dies off quickly.

But is there truly a “secret sauce” that you can consistently rely on to increase your sales?

There actually is. But it isn’t a mystery, it isn’t some new marketing gimmick, and it isn’t the latest, greatest technology.

What it really is, is a sound, fundamental marketing principle. You see, if you want to consistently increase your sales and build continual growth into your business, the “secret sauce” I’m talking about is the ability to… create better offers.

Decades of independent studies have proven that without changing anything else, one offer can outperform another by anywhere from 15% to 400% – and sometimes even more.

So rather than wasting your time with some new way to game the search engines, let’s take a look at a simple way to create better offers – and start getting the boost in sales you really want.

Improving your offer by discovering the “hidden benefit”

Most businesses sell their products or services based on what they think the best features or benefits are of the product. This isn’t a bad place to start, but if you stop there, you’re leaving a lot of sales on the table.

You see, in every market, there are hidden benefits that you usually can’t see because you’re just too close to your product. But if you take the time to survey your market, both with survey forms and by informally talking with prospects and customers, you can quickly discover these hidden benefits.

For example, one of my clients was selling a workshop for realtors on how to  get more listings and make more sales. The training was top notch and included a period of mentoring to make certain the participants got great results.

The offer focused on all the skills a realtor would learn at the workshop and the additional sales this would bring them. Now, that’s not a bad place to start, but my client quickly hit their limit.

You see, because of the mentoring involved, they could only handle a limited number of participants. Beyond that, it wasn’t possible to provide the quality of attention that was necessary.

So the only way to increase the profits of this workshop was to raise the price. But the client felt that was dicey since their price was already at the top end in their market.

So I suggested that they interview their past students to see if there were hidden benefits that the offer could be built on in order to raise the price of the workshop.

Sure enough, it didn’t take long to discover a common thread among their participants. A huge percentage of the participants told them that while the content of the workshop was excellent, what really helped them the most was the ongoing mentoring which answered any questions they had and provided additional motivation to actually implement what they learned.

Armed with the knowledge of this “hidden benefit”, my client then restructured their offer to focus entirely on the mentoring aspect of the program as the main benefit. The training topics were given far less emphasis and now became the secondary benefit. By flipping the order and the importance of these components in their offer, they were able to increase the price of the workshop by 67%. Here’s the comment I received from my client:

“Your offer advice was a godsend. I used it to increase a workshop price from             $1495 to $2495 by “flipping” the copy to sell the mentoring rather than the workshop. The $1000 price increase has not hampered  sales in the least. That’s a profit increase of at least $75,000 every time we present this workshop.” – J.P. Vaughan

Not too bad for a little bit of research and restructuring of their offer copy!

 Takeaways to apply to your own marketing

There are a number of important lessons here that you can apply right away to your own marketing.

Takeaway #1: Increases like this are pure profit. While my client couldn’t expand the enrollment of this workshop beyond its fixed size, the gains they made were pure profit, since the fixed costs were already covered. Any time you can restructure your offer to generate an increase in sales, if part or all of your fixed costs are already covered, then the majority of your new gains are pure profit.

Takeaway #2: Your customers know more about what’s important to them than you do. Ignore this at your peril. If you rely on your own instincts exclusively, as you’ve just seen, you could easily miss out on a feature or benefit of your product that will cause customers to buy more quickly, buy multiple times, or pay higher prices. It just doesn’t make any sense to overlook this when doing the research is quite easy.

Takeaway #3: Stop chasing every “magic bullet” that comes along. We all want to be able to sell more of our products or services faster and easier. But nearly every new gimmick you see is just that – a gimmick. And gimmicks rarely produce the immediate results they promise or contribute much to your long term success. A solid product, strong marketing fundamentals, and excellent service are the real path to a continually growing business, not the next gimmick, buzz word or technology.

Am I nuts? Am I right on target?

Feel free to let me know – or share your own experience with this topic – by leaving your comment below.

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A brief commercial – let me help you create a superior offer

In this article, I covered one way to create a much stronger offer that will quickly increase your sales. But there are also many more ways to create powerful offers that get exceptional results.

One of the services I offer is 1-to-1 coaching for creating a powerful offer that’s guaranteed to increase your sales substantially – by at least 3 times the cost of this service.

In addition to the guarantee, you’ll love the pricing too, because all it takes to get started is $497. Here’s how this works. The full program fee is $3,488. But with your deposit of just $497, you’ll get the entire 1-to-1 coaching program, conducted by me personally. Nothing is left out.

I’ll coach you through a number of ways to create a powerful offer and work with you to craft a new offer that’s guaranteed to run circles around your current offer. Then, plug this new offer into your marketing materials and watch it increase your sales immediately.

BEFORE the next payment is due, you must produce at least 3 times the total cost of the program in new profits – and you’ll probably do much better than that. If not, you’ll receive a full refund of your deposit.

And when you do get these results, the remainder of the fee is paid out of the additional profits I’ve already generated for you – billed to your credit card in 3 monthly installments of $997 each. Plus, during these 3 months and for years to come you’ll be adding more and more sales you wouldn’t see without this.

So the bottom line is simple – I shoulder all the risk and you’re fully protected.

If you’d like to talk with me further about this unique 1-to-1 coaching opportunity, just send me an email at: offers@ProfitAlchemy.com

In your email, be sure to include:

> Your name and address

> Your web site url

> What product or service you sell

> The price your product sells for

> Your income so far for this year

> Your income for the previous year

> How soon you’d like to get started

Once I receive your email, I’ll personally review this information and get back to you within 48 hours to schedule a short call to talk about improving your offer.

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The problem with ship burning – and my big announcement

According to popular legend, when Hernan Cortes landed in Veracruz on his campaign to conquer the Aztec Empire, he instructed his captains to burn all the ships. With no avenue for retreat, they would either be successful or perish.

And many consultants and business owners refer to this model of “burning your ships” as a powerful leadership tool.

In fact, when I interviewed Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com for my ebook “10-Minute Business Success”, he talked about how this approach motivated him when they “burned” $25 million in business in a single day, by terminating their relationships with all shoe companies that required drop shipping rather than providing Zappos with inventory directly.

At the time, Zappos revenue was about $100 million annually. So they were burning a full 25% of their revenue. At the same time, Tony was convinced that Zappos could never meet their customer service goals as long as shipping was in the hands of a third party.

Turned out he was right, as Zappos grew steadily to the point where there annual revenue now tops $1 billion.

My own experience with ship burning

 About 12 years ago, I was lured away from my consulting and information products business to co-found a software company with two partners. The software was a unique testing and assessment suite for the online training industry.

Since one of my partners had recently sold his business to Bill Gates and my second partner was a senior professor in the Graduate School of Education at UCLA, we all thought this would be a slam dunk.

So I burned all my ships.

I sold off the rights to all my information products and my list, which included a non-compete clause prohibiting me from creating any similar information products for 5 years. And I handed off my consulting clients to other consultants who I trusted.

After all, I was just months away from becoming the next gazillionaire cover story, right?

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Reality soon set in and although we had made great progress, had a couple of Fortune 500 clients and seemed to be well on our way, one of our key investors bailed on us due to family circumstances.

Cut off from our main source of funding, we were forced to either lay off most of our staff and attempt to stay operational with a skeleton crew, or sell the business.

We opted to sell the business. All in all, we came out alright, getting a decent price from a company we believed would handle the technology properly. And they did.

But now I was left empty handed, with 3-1/2 years to go on my non-compete deal.

In short, I had burned all my ships and had no transportation to take me home!

If only I had known the truth about Cortes

Back to our guy conquering the Aztecs.

As it turns out, Cortes did NOT actually burn all his ships. According to Harvard historian, John H. Coatsworth, what Cortes really did was have the captains of nine of his twelve ships run them aground, so they could not be used in a retreat.

But as a safety valve, Cortes kept three ships in working order along with a master shipbuilder among the crew. So he had a “Plan B” just in case.

And even in Zappos’ case, they still had their own Plan B, which was the other $75 million in annual revenue they could build upon.

But in my case, there was no Plan B. So I had to start all over again from scratch.

Big mistake.

So the lesson is, whenever you’re  contemplating making a bold move or a drastic change, ALWAYS have a well-established back-up in place. And limit your burning to just some of your ships.

My big announcement – a modified form of ship building

Each year, I lock myself away for a few days and review what’s worked well for my business in the past year… what hasn’t worked as well… and what new areas I could potentially help my subscribers and clients with.

And by “help” I mean both free content and paid products and services.

One of the ways I advise my clients to explore these new areas is to look at 3 components:

1. What you do well

2. What you have a passion for

3. Where you can help people by putting the previous two points together

This is not always an easy exercise to do. For it to be as productive as possible, you have to be rigorously honest with yourself. And that includes a clear assessment of both your strengths and your weaknesses.

So, in doing this for my own business (and my personal goals), I realized that my greatest strength is in identifying “leverage points” you can use to grow your business with less money, less time and less friction.

And much of what that boils down to is leveraging your own assets as well as other peoples’ assets to multiply your profits rather than grow them in a linear fashion.

Let me give you a couple examples of both that you can use in your own business right away.

Leveraging your own assets to produce more sales

with no added expense and just minimal effort

A great way to get more mileage, and more profit, out of your own assets is to go back and review your best performing marketing pieces for the previous year. Let’s say you have two or three emails that outperformed all other emails you sent to your list.

Take these same emails and do nothing but create new subject lines for them. One example I like to cite (and you may have seen) is how I tested three different subject lines with essentially the same body copy.

The first subject line focused on the benefit the prospect would receive. The second focused on a key problem the prospect would like to solve. And the third was very quirky and created a strong sense of curiosity.

After testing all three, the problem solving subject line and the quirky subject line both performed strongly, with the benefit subject line coming in a distant third.

So I continued to run the emails with the two winning subject lines, while testing new subject lines against them. Each time, I would keep the winners and eliminate the losers.

By doing this, I gained tremendous leverage of my assets by being able to sell the same product over and over again with essentially the same body copy. This saved a tremendous amount of time and added a substantial amount of additional profit to my business that I wouldn’t have seen if I had abandoned those old emails and started from scratch as so many businesses do.

The big takeaway: There is almost always a large reserve of untapped profits in what you’re already doing well. Mining those profits is a faster, more certain way to make more money than to constantly be starting over with each marketing campaign.

 Leveraging other peoples’ assets to ramp up your profits

with no risk and no additional cost

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked when working with clients goes something like this, “What do you think about me creating a new blue gizmo to sell to the buyers of our red thigamajig? We could have it designed, manufactured and take it to market in just 10 months.”

My answer, although obvious once you’ve heard it, always takes my clients by surprise.

“Instead of going to all the time, trouble and expense to develop something that may or may not sell, why not sell another company’s yellow thigamajig first as a test? Sure, the color is a bit different, but in most other respects, it’s very similar. This way, you may not make as much profit starting out, but you could quickly test the market and move forward with your own version if the results are good, but save yourself an enormous headache if the results are not so good.”

Regardless of what industry you may be in, nearly every business can use this fast-to-market approach to product development. Why waste significant resources developing a product BEFORE you know for certain that your customers will actually buy it?

The big takeaway: There’s tremendous leverage in sacrificing a bit of profit now to quickly and safely test another company’s product before making a major commitment of time, effort and money to your own version. It takes what was a gamble and converts it to a sure thing.

And now for that announcement I was telling you about

I hope you’ve enjoyed my quick tour of two ways to leverage assets – your own and other peoples’ – to multiply your profits. More importantly, I strongly recommend that you put them to use.

And, I also recommend that you take some time each year away from your office and do the “business soul searching” I mentioned above.

After doing that this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that the way I can best serve you and everyone else on my list is to focus my products and services on these “leverage points” that I mentioned. So for the foreseeable future, everything I do is going to show you how to get greater returns for less time, effort and money by leveraging your own assets and other peoples’ assets in all areas of your marketing.

This will include copywriting, prospecting and lead generation, traffic generation, converting more prospects to paying customers, joint ventures, licensing, ways to increase the lifetime value of each customer – and much more.

With the daily challenge of so many different things competing for your interests – and not knowing which ones are truly valuable or just an empty promise – I think we can all benefit from making life easier and more productive, not harder and more frustrating.

If you agree with me, stay tuned for more to come.

Am I nuts? Am I right on target?

Feel free to let me know – or share your own experience with this topic – by leaving your comment below.

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 If you need a coach to help grow your business, why not hire one who pays YOU first? Find out how by clicking here

 

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Is this critical component missing from your online marketing?

I hate to be the voice of doom and gloom, but I have to tell you that I’m concerned that online marketing is so easy to do, that most people are leaving out a critical component.

And if you don’t have this component built into all your marketing, you’re losing out on a lot of additional sales you could be making.

So what is this all important component I’m talking about?

It’s accountability.

You see, in the old days of direct marketing before the Internet, you paid through the nose to test most forms of marketing. Space ads, post cards, direct mail, radio and television were (and still are) expensive to use.

So much more effort was put into getting it right. And every marketing campaign was measured and held accountable.

If a postcard mailing didn’t beat your previously best performing postcard, then it was either modified and tested again or sent to the trash.

But these days, because clicks are so cheap, people don’t seem to hold their marketing accountable anymore.

For example, it’s been proven that a customer who has bought something from you is 5 to 10 times more valuable – and easier to sell other things to – than a prospect who hasn’t bought from you.

Yet when I ask most new clients how many people on their list are prospects and how many are customers, they usually have no idea.

They also don’t know who their “multi-buyers” are. By this, I mean people who have bought more than one of your products or services and are by far the “golden” portion of your list. These multi-buyers should be marketed to differently than everyone else, given more care and attention, and treated especially well. In turn, they’ll reward you by buying even more of what you offer!

Building accountability into the key areas of your marketing

If you want to maximize your sales and profits – and do so with just a minimum amount of effort – it’s essential that you build an accountability component into all aspects of your marketing. Here are three areas where you can start.

List accountability. Start segmenting your list today. Organize your list by prospects and paying customers. Then, organize your customers by the products they’ve bought. Running a quick spread sheet against your list will show you who the multi-buyers are. Devoting more of your marketing to your existing customers and multi-buyers is a fast, certain way to increase your profits.

Campaign accountability. Measure the results of every marketing campaign you use. Did it hold up to your best campaign? If not, tweak and test again or get rid of it. Then run your most successful campaigns on a regular basis.

One of the secrets of successful marketers is that they never retire a successful campaign simply because they’re bored with it. They keep running it until it no longer performs.  Plus, they never retire it completely. After taking it out of circulation for 3 to 6 months, they’ll run it again. Often it will perform just as well as it did previously.

Product accountability. Be merciless about eliminating your lowest selling products or services. By measuring the sales of each product you offer, you can quickly tell which products sell best and which don’t.

Divide your products into thirds. Each year, you should aim to cut out your underperforming products, develop more products similar to those that sell best, and replace the lowest third with new products. Just remember to hold your new products accountable – if they sell well, keep them. If not, put them out to pasture as quickly as possible.

Got a comment?

Do you agree or disagree with me? Or do you have an experience with this topic that you’d like to share? Then feel free to leave a comment below.

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If you need a coach to help grow your business, why not hire one who pays YOU first? Find out how by clicking here

Case study shows how a simple email campaign increased sales by 337%. Read it here

 

 

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Which of these 2 list types is best for your business?

There are two very different types of lists that get the best results for any business. Knowing which type is best for your business can make all the difference between lukewarm sales and truly exceptional sales.

So let’s dive in and look at each of these distinct types of lists. And by the end of this short post, you’ll know exactly which type of list will be the most profitable for your business.

Old school becomes new school

The other day I was working with one of my consulting clients on driving more traffic to his web site. He lamented that in the “old days” – meaning before the internet when list building was done with direct mail and space ads – it was a lot easier to build a list of qualified leads.

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, all you had to do was find the right list or trade journals,” he replied. “For example, if I wanted to find more gym and spa owners for our training programs for that industry, all I had to do was rent a list of the gym and spa owners in the state where we would be presenting our next seminar. We’d send out the mailing and fill up the room.”

“And what’s different now?” I asked.

“Well, first of all, the email lists that you can rent pretty much all stink,” he said. “How are you supposed to build a big list when the lists you’re renting are garbage?”

Now, for the most part, what he said is true, so what he was asking looks to be a fair question. But there’s a lot more to this. You see, while it appeared that he was comparing old school results to new school results, he was missing a critical factor.

And that critical factor is…

What type of list are you trying to build?

“OK, let’s put this theory to the test,” I suggested. “When you were presenting your seminars in the ‘old days’, how many people did you need to put in the room for it to be profitable?”

“20 to 30 would do the trick. Our training programs sell for around $60,000, so if we closed just a couple, we were doing great,” he answered.

“And how do you sell the program now? Are you still doing live seminars?” I asked.

“No, now we have a live webinar, but the problem is that only half the people actually show up who register,” he answered.

“OK, that’s pretty typical, but I don’t think that’s your real problem. How many people do you need to have attend your webinar in order to close two sales like you used to at your seminars?” I asked.

“As many as possible. Because only half of them show up and a lot of those are just tire kickers, the more we can get to attend, the better,” he answered.

And that is the real problem. The fact is, my client is trying to build the wrong type of list for his business – and because of this, he’s going about it in the wrong way. So he’s compounding his own problems without even knowing it!

A simple solution – understanding the 2 types of lists and building the type that’s right for your business

Let me start by showing you exactly what my client’s real problem is. His business sells high-ticket training programs to gym and spa owners who want to increase their customer base, expand their sales, lower costs and increase profitability. And the average fee for these programs ranges from $40,000 to $60,000 per client.

His overall sales are in the range of $4 million annually. Because of the nature of his business, he actually has relatively low traffic needs. But he’s renting large email lists and mailing to them in hopes of trying to build the largest list he can. He figures – incorrectly, I might add – that because the quality of the leads on the lists he can rent are so poor, he needs a massive list.

Big mistake.

All he’s really doing is spending more and more money to build a larger and larger list of unqualified prospects!

What he really needs is to build a smaller list, but one that’s made up of far more qualified prospects.

There are any number of ways to do this including paying more for only certain segments of the lists he rents, placing ads in highly targeted ezines and banners on highly targeted web sites.

Now, on the surface, all of these methods appear to be a lot more expensive than the lower rates he’s paying for poor quality lists.

But when you’re in a low traffic business like he is, you’re far better off paying through the nose to build a smaller list of highly qualified prospects than you are wasting nearly as much money on renting and mailing to large, unqualified lists but at a far lower return on investment.

For nearly all the clients I consult with who sell high-ticket products or services, this logic is counter-intuitive. After all, doesn’t nearly every expert and every article you read tell you to build as large a list as possible?

But that simply isn’t accurate with high-ticket sales. Because far fewer customers will be qualified to buy at higher prices, the quality of the list trumps the size of that list every time.

Flipping to the other side of the coin

So when do you want to build as large a list as possible? Primarily if you sell “commodity” type products or low-priced products.

For example, if you sell knitting supplies that are the same as the majority of your competitors, you’re going to need as large a list as possible to maintain a reasonable sales volume. You’ll also need to distinguish your business from your competitors’ with better pricing, better service or some other advantage. But even with a strong distinguishing factor working for you, you’re still going to need to build this second type of list – a list driven by quantity more than quality.

This isn’t to say that quality doesn’t matter. But for products where price isn’t a barrier, the quality of your prospects tends to be much more even than with high-ticket products and services.

Grow your business by building the right type of list

What I’ve just shown you here may seem obvious once you think about it. But in my experience, most businesses don’t intentionally build the type of list that’s best suited to their business.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to collect as many names as possible on your list. But as you’ve just seen, the quality of your prospects should always be your main priority over the quantity of your list when you’re selling a high-ticket product or service.

And with lower-priced products or products that are nearly identical to your competitors, you’ll want to focus on quantity with the understanding that the quality of most of your prospects will be the same.

By choosing which of these two list types is right for your business, you’ll save a substantial amount of time and money and get much better results than you would by shooting in the dark.

Got a comment?

Do you agree or disagree with me? Or do you have an experience with this topic that you’d like to share? Then feel free to leave a comment below.

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The Art of Polarization

In my last post to this blog, I made a number of statements that contradicted the conventional wisdom on how marketing will evolve over the next 12 months.

I did this intentionally.

First, because I believe what I said (that’s critical).

Second, because I wanted to stir things up a bit. To get people thinking. To get people to side with me – or against me.

Why would I do this? Because offering ideas that have a polarizing effect – that get people to side with you or against you – is a great way to command more readership.

People who agree with you will pass your information on to others. “Hey, remember what I was telling you about how I don’t see mobile marketing being a good investment? This guy Serling is saying the same thing!”

But here’s what makes it really interesting. People who disagree with you will also pass your information on. Partially because they disagree, but also because they respect a well thought out argument. “Hey, you won’t believe what this doofus Serling is saying about mobile marketing fizzling out. Check it out though, the guy could be right.”

Either way, your readership increases and people view you as having a fresh and unique take on things. And that can only be good for your business.

So let me dig a bit deeper and give you my four rules on the Art of Polarization. I’ll start by listing them all here, then go into detail on each rule:

Rule #1: Make a controversial statement

Rule #2: Back it up

Rule #3: You only have to be mildly controversial

Rule #4: Don’t take yourself too seriously

Rule #1: Make a controversial statement

One of the statements I made in my last post was, “Social media marketing will work for some and be a total bust for others.”

This completely contradicts all the rosy projections you’re hearing about social media being the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Note too the specific language I’ve used to stir up the controversy, “be a total bust for others”. I didn’t say it won’t work so well. Or it requires more time to tell. Or mince my words in any way. I declared it to be “a total bust”.

Hey, if you’re going to stir up a reaction, you have to make a truly controversial statement.

Rule #2: Back it up

Once you’ve made a controversial statement, you can’t just leave it hanging. You must provide proof that what you’re saying has real substance.

Here’s the proof I provided:

“This isn’t surprising. People use social media to visit, connect with friends, look at  pictures, watch goofy videos, waste time when they’re supposed to be working, and rant about their likes and dislikes. So it isn’t any wonder that nearly all marketing messages fall flat in that environment.

 The trick, of course, is to engage with people in a way that moves them off of social media and onto your contact list. But that’s no easy task. The few that succeed at this will benefit from social media. All others will be spinning their wheels.”

Now, that didn’t take long. I was able to prove my position in just two paragraphs. All I did was tap into what people already are experiencing in their own efforts to make social media pay off as a marketing vehicle. And one of the best ways to provide proof is to bring to the surface what people already suspect but haven’t yet verbalized.

Rule #3: You only have to be mildly controversial

Here’s the best part. Making crazy or irrational statements is not the way to successfully employ this strategy. If you come across as mean, attack others, or make statements that don’t ring true, you’ll spoil the entire effect of this strategy.

Be sincere, be kind, and state an opposing position you truly believe in. Because so much of what people see and hear is the same old cookie-cutter advice, all you have to do is take a small departure from the conventional wisdom to get the desired result.

Rule #4: Don’t take yourself too seriously

Another component that really helps is not taking yourself too seriously. Have a little fun with your contrarian advice. Poke fun at yourself. It makes you come across as more human and people will appreciate you for it.

For example, in my post, one of my sub-heads was, “6 wild-eyed, raving, possibly even usable predictions”.

You’re not looking to seriously tick people off. Your real goal is to get people thinking. To start a discussion where people feel free to give their own feedback whether they agree with you or not. And to get them to pass your information on to others.

Using a light touch goes a long way. Not only does it make your writing more interesting, but when people view you as being truly human, it contributes significantly in getting them to tell others about your “wild-eyed, raving, possibly even usable” ideas.

Ready, set, stir things up

One final point. The somewhat controversial and polarizing post I wrote got more attention than any other post I’ve put up during the last year.

I got tons of comments and emails. A number of people wrote to ask for permission to reprint the post. And I received multiple requests to write articles for other blogs and ezines.

So give this simple polarization strategy a try. Then let me know how it worked for you.

And feel free to leave a comment below, whether you agree with me or not.

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Boldly inaccurate predictions for 2012

Every year at this time, just about every “expert” imaginable issues their list of predictions for the coming year. And if you do even a minor bit of tracking, the majority of those predictions will end up being way off the mark.

So, heck, why should I be any different? In this post, I’ll give you 6 of my own wildly inventive predictions. And I advise you to take them with a grain of salt as they could easily prove to be inaccurate.

But never fear. I’ll then give you 2 important predictions that are utterly reliable and will produce more sales and profits for your business with minimal effort.

Ready? Strap on your seat belt and let’s go!

 6 wild-eyed, raving, possibly even usable predictions

 #1 – Mobile marketing will prove to be far more elusive than many people imagine. Yep, I know that every marketing rag out there is predicting that 2012 is “the year of mobile”. But think about it, how many people really want to pay for a flood of marketing promotions being sent to their mobile devices? I would not be surprised if there’s a huge backlash and many people block these messages – or buy an app that will automatically block mobile marketing for them.

#2 – Social media marketing will work for some and be a total bust for others. For most businesses, the score on social media marketing is still an incomplete. True, it holds great promise. But in an informal survey I did with my clients and many marketing experts, few are making any serious money with social media marketing.

This isn’t surprising. People use social media to visit, connect with friends, look at pictures, watch goofy videos, waste time when they’re supposed to be working, and rant about their likes and dislikes. So it isn’t any wonder that nearly all marketing messages fall flat in that environment.

The trick, of course, is to engage with people in a way that moves them off of social media and onto your contact list. But that’s no easy task. The few that succeed at this will benefit from social media. All others will be spinning their wheels.

#3 – Rewards and couponing programs will continue to work – but primarily for the vendors who sell you rewards and couponing programs. When you give away a coupon with a deep discount, what do you get? A customer who is being trained to expect deep discounts!

These programs work well for the middle-man companies that operate them, but for the business that uses these services, they DO bring in more business, but it’s always the lowest level of customers possible. And those kind of customers tend to jump from deal to deal rather than sticking with you beyond the first sale.

#4 – Information overload is a fact of life. There are too many web pages, too many options, too many new technologies and too little time to sort through them all. Because of this, people will be in a continual overload loop and it will take superior messaging to have any hope of cutting through the fog.

#5 – Community will become more critical to making sales. This one may not be so wild-eyed, but it depends on how you go about building your community. These days, people are looking for authentic, true connections they can rely on. That’s why many forms of couponing, contests, games and poor use of social media fail to build a real community. They lack authenticity.

Building a community can be done through all kinds of methods including, but not limited to: social media, copy tone on your web pages, customer service, your unique and authentic take on a variety of issues, personally contacting customers and prospects, and what your prospects and customers tell others about you. Every one of these areas can be dramatically improved with a strong dose of authenticity. And it doesn’t cost you a penny.

#6 – Unlimited free traffic! There’s no such thing. Flee as quickly as you can from anyone who promises you this. If it sounds like a load of bull, I can promise you it IS a load of bull.

 2 utterly reliable predictions you can take to the bank

 #1 – Customer loyalty is the overlooked “app”. While everyone else is scrambling to find “the next big thing”, if you want a completely reliable way to lock in more sales, put more time and effort into developing unassailable customer loyalty. The best way to do this is to treat your customers exactly the way you’d like to be treated.

Don’t take them for granted – keep in touch with them, even when there’s nothing in it for you. Become the guardian of their trust. Don’t use sleazy or manipulative tactics regardless of how well you’ve heard they work. Once you breach your customer’s trust, it can’t be won back.

When you constantly strive to treat your customers and prospects exactly the way you expect to be treated by companies you buy from, you can’t go wrong. Few businesses use this simple, common sense approach. So you can dominate your market just by doing the right thing.

 #2 – Content is still king. Because there’s so much competition for your prospect’s eyeballs, you can’t get by with skimpy or low quality content. If you really want to set your company distinctly apart from all competitors, you must have high quality content.

High quality content starts working by commanding your prospect’s attention. Then it moves you even further ahead by establishing your credibility. And if you do this enough, that credibility transforms into a powerful bond of trust. And people greatly prefer to buy from someone they trust rather than from someone they don’t know.

 BONUS prediction

 #3 – Giving people more than you promised is always a winning strategy. So here’s one more prediction you can take to the bank.

Marketing tactics and technology change in a nanosecond, but marketing fundamentals never change. What his means is that understanding what truly drives your market to make a positive buying decision will always trump whatever media or technology you’re employing.

And by extension, this can easily be used to reduce the amount of time and money you invest in marketing while dramatically improving your results at the same time. How? By mastering just a couple forms of marketing media or technologies and ignoring all the rest.

When you apply solid marketing principles to any form of marketing media or technology, you’ll always be ahead of the game. And by focusing on just one or two forms of media or technology, you can truly master them, get the full advantage of this mastery, and leave your competitors wondering just what hit them.

So what’s your take? Do you agree, disagree, or simply don’t give a hoot? Leave a comment below and let me know.

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Never pet a dog when it’s sleeping (a marketing lesson)

My wife and I are dog lovers. We currently own two dogs and foster others. And we donate both time and money to our local shelter.

So I’ve been surprised at how bad much of the experts’ advice is on how to properly care for your dogs.

Oh, and don’t worry, this is definitely going to include a marketing lesson.

Anyway, the bad advice can basically be divided into two camps.

Camp #1 is the “too restrictive” camp.

Camp #2 is the “too touchy feely” camp.

Let’s take a look at both and see how this can help you market more effectively.

Bad Advice Camp #1: Too restrictive

Here’s an example of overly restrictive advice I see many experts touting. They’ll tell you to “always make your dog heel and walk at the rear of your left foot”.

OK, so I have just one question…

Why?

Supposedly, making your dog heel and stay tightly close to you establishes you as the “pack leader” and teaches your dog discipline.

But my problem with that is that a dog’s keenest sense is it’s sense of smell. So for a dog, the greatest joy in taking a walk is being able to smell every leave, blade of grass and dead
insect they come across. And I’m not about to make my dogs’ walks a joyless lesson in
useless discipline.

So I let them stop and smell just about anything they want to. And you know what? They’re still happy, come when called and well behaved.

So much for the “experts” advice!

Bad Advice Camp #2: Too touchy feely

On the other end of the spectrum are the experts who are illogically lenient. Their working
philosophy is that you need to respect and treat your dog exactly the way you would a person.

For example, you wouldn’t want your sleep interrupted by someone petting you, so respect
your dog’s right to privacy and never pet it while it’s sleeping.

No kidding – I’ve seen and heard this advice from a number of “animals are human” experts.

But here’s the problem with that foolish load of bull. One of our dogs lives to be petted. And
she actually gets so relaxed from petting, that it frequently causes her to fall asleep. Plus, if
you pet her while she’s sleeping, she rolls over on her back to give you better access.

Our other dog doesn’t give a hoot about being petted any time. He can take it or leave it. So
we don’t pet him as frequently.

Now, here comes that marketing lesson…

So what does all of this have to do with marketing?

Quite simply, there’s a lot of bad and often contradictory advice from the experts.

One expert says Google Adwords is dead, the other says it’s the only way to build your list.

One expert cautions against sending email to your list too frequently, another tells you to
send it out daily.

And on and on.

So who do you believe?

No one – and every one.

What I mean by this is that each expert is working from their own experiences and
their own biases (except for me, of course :-).

And some are even trying to use their advice to steer you toward purchasing their products or services. (Me? Never!)

But even assuming that they all genuinely believe their own advice, my recommendation
is to take anything new with a grain of salt and test it in a very limited way at first.

The fact is, some strategies and tactics work better for some businesses than
others. And some forms of media work better for some businesses than others.

And the only way to know for certain is to conservatively test new ideas for your
own business.

You’ll soon discover that “petting” one sleeping dog of a marketing tactic works wonders. And “petting” another dog of a marketing tactic falls flat for your business.

But at least you’ll know for certain what really works and what doesn’t.

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Small offer, big profits

In a bad economy, it’s always tempting to increase the “thud factor” of your offer. Give away more bonuses… offer better payment terms… special discounts for repeat customers… longer guarantee period… you get the picture.

The problem with this is that you cut your profit margins to the bone and can easily look just like all your competitors’ offers. So why not turn this on its ear and go in the complete opposite direction?

I’m talking about shrinking your offer in order to generate a lot more business – without compromising your profits. Here’s how to do that.

How I discovered the immense value of a tiny offer

About 25 years ago (yes in the dark ages of pre-Internet history), I published a newsletter about direct marketing called “Results” that sold for $97 per year. I had been invited to speak at a business conference about my experience with publishing newsletters and building a loyal subscriber base.

The conference presenter said that instead of paying the normal speakers’ fees, he was going to allow all the speakers to sell from the stage and keep the proceeds. Although this is a common practice now, this form of compensation was new at that time.

Two days before the event, which required that I fly 3,000 miles, I received a call from the conference presenter informing me that the terms had changed. He was now demanding a 50% share of my sales.

I told him that if that was the case, I’d pass and wouldn’t be participating. He became irate and threatened to sue me because my name and picture had been featured in the promotional materials and people were expecting to hear me speak. Being fairly new to the game, I was properly intimidated and reluctantly agreed to show up.

But I was determined to turn the tables on him…and still get paid handsomely at the same time.

Selling a “slice of the pie”

Originally, I was planning to sell my copywriting program which was priced around $500. But I couldn’t help but do a slow burn every time I thought about giving the conference presenter $250 for every copy I sold after he pulled his bait and switch on me.

So here’s how I created my tiny offer and the very interesting results it produced.

Once I got on stage, I did everything in my power to deliver the most valuable, usable content I possibly could. And the audience seemed fully engaged.

After sharing a lot of great information for creating a paid newsletter and selling subscriptions, I closed with my offer for the audience.

Now, remember, a subscription to my newsletter was priced at $97. And in those days, that was considered a fairly high price.

But what I offered the audience members was a 3-month subscription for just $1. All they had to do was meet me at the back of the room and give me one dollar and their business card to get a full 3-month subscription delivered to their mailbox.

Now, financially they were getting a great deal. But at the same time, they were also getting a “slice of the pie” – a mini-subscription rather than a discounted offer on a full year subscription.

I can still recall the exact numbers. There were 360 attendees in the room and I sold 342 mini-subscriptions!

After I collected all the money and business cards, I walked over to the conference presenter and handed him a stack of 171 dollar bills and said with a big smile, “Here’s your 50% share”. He looked dumbfounded as he took the stack of bills.

The real magic of the tiny offer

So maybe you’re wondering what the big deal is. After all, I traveled 3,000 miles and paid my own plane fare and hotel to make a measly $171.

True.

But that’s just the starting point. Once I got back to my office, my assistant entered all the names and addresses into our database and we sent out the first issue. Along with that first issue, these new subscribers also received a flier promoting my copywriting course.

Then, when it came time to mail the third issue, we included a flier offering the one-year subscription at the full price of $97.

Between the copywriting course, the paid subscriptions and a couple of consulting engagements I got from those new subscribers, I ended up taking in about $60,000 in sales.

And the conference promoter? He didn’t receive a penny of that. His total take was the stack of 171 dollar bills I handed him.

And that’s where the real magic comes in. You see, anyone who pays for a product – even if it’s just a small amount – is far more likely to buy from you again than someone who starts by getting something for free.

So why not take advantage of this for your business? Take a popular product or service and create a “slice of the pie” that you can sell at a low price. I’ve done this many times for my own business and for my clients. I’ve used it to successfully sell software, information products, vitamins, health club memberships, consulting services, newsletters, electronics, dental and medical services, and much more.

Two key points to remember. First, because you’re selling a “slice of the pie” rather than discounting the full version of your product or service, all future sales are at full price. But when you start by selling the full version at a discount, it’s extremely difficult to ever get the full price later.

Second, my extensive testing has shown that it’s important to keep your price below $10. I’ve had excellent results with prices of $4 or $7. Once you break the $10 barrier, it no longer seems like such a great deal. So keep your price low, remembering that a customer who pays any amount for a product is far more likely to buy that same product later at full price than someone who took a freebie offer.

Alright, now it’s time to go slice up your pie.

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