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A mistake businesspeople often make is when they try to sell their company directly in every communication they produce. (I'm referring to the idea that they try to sell their company as being merely open for business, also called “institutional advertising,” and not direct marketing, which is different.)

Institutional advertising (or what I call “blind branding”) will draw up immediate clients. When advertising, they spend hoards of cash on repeated, slick and entertaining ads. When marketing to people for the first time, they blab on until the cows come home. When sending out information, they send beautifully designed packages that make shipping crates look like a joke!

They think that by selling themselves right in the ad, with clever punches and ideas, they will get not only an immediate response but also immediate business. This oftentimes backfires and can even take away clients.

Many clients I've dealt with usually get as a result of this type of approach a lot of calls but no business — or at least no long-term business. They end up dealing with a lot of people who are merely curious but never serious. In the end, because of hypercompetition, trying to look for pre-qualified prospects can sometimes be worse than a needle in the haystack.

A new concept (although it's been around for years but has recently become popular) is direct-response marketing. It is a process in which businesses seek an immediate response as a result of their marketing efforts. While it is often used to sell in the immediate sense, many use this technique to offer a free report, item, or service. Little do people know, however, that the direct response strategy is usually not the true goal of the advertiser.

For instance, have you ever seen an infomercial by Charles Givens? His ad explains who he is and what he does, which is to help people make or save money, and then advertises a “free” seminar in cities in which the commercial is being televised. Do you think he's really doing this for free and traveling across the country only to educate people? In a sense, yes.

But when people arrive at his seminar, they get tiny tidbits of information that will help make or save money. They get what they were promised. But it's a certain kind of information that, if participants want to have it continually updated, or if they want more, forces them to join the Givens organization.

Membership fees range in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars, and additional products (mostly books and reports) are sold in the back of the room at his seminars. That's the power of pre-qualified lead generation!

People who came out to see him are not general, curious, and uninterested prospects. They have indirectly screened themselves. Once they show up, they are pre-qualified and highly targeted. And after they've been enticed with free information, they are also pre-sold and ready to do business.

As a consultant to cosmetic surgeons, this process is obviously essential if not vital. No one can call a person on the phone and outright ask if that person is wants more hair — at least without knowing if that person is bald in the first place! However, doctors will televise an infomercial or place a print ad whereby the people who respond will naturally fit into a specific demographic. And it doesn't stop there. A process call “multi-step marketing” takes place.

The prospect who comes forward usually wants information mailed to him. The doctor sends a professional brochure explaining the procedure, the possible risks and the potential results But without any pricing. (For one, it is impossible to determine the cost until the doctor personally sees the patient firsthand in order to measure his degree of baldness.)

The package, therefore, along with its lack of pricing, causes the prospect to come forward once more to arrange a consultation with the doctor. In the majority of cases, those that at least show up for the initial consultation are identifying themselves as interested candidates, ready to have surgery.

You see, people who may need your services may fit your demographics. They fit a profile of people within your target market. But people who actually come forward fit your psychographics, which are the characteristics of those who not only need your services but also want what you have to offer.

As in the previous example, the demographics for a hair transplant surgeon encompass people who obviously suffer from hair loss. But psychographics, on the other hand, are comprised of people who not only are suffering from hair loss but also want to do something about it (since not all of them do).

In your case, if you offer a specific product or service that caters to a specific market, find out ways to make your market come forward with minimal effort on your part. This is called “lead generation marketing.” In my experience, one of the best ways to do this is to offer a free report of some kind.

The report doesn't have to be product-specific, occupation-specific, service-specific or industry-specific. It doesn't even have to directly relate to what you're selling. As long as it targets and appeals to an audience that fits within your demographics somehow, you're way ahead of the game.

A used car salesperson friend of mine placed a small classified ad in the local newspaper and it read something like this: “Is your car a lemon? Do you know that there are ways to turn your lemon into cash? Before you get rid of your clunker, call for my free report '10 Ways to Turn Your Lemon into Lemonade'!” He even used the pseudonym “The Lemon-Aid Institute.”

And guess what? People who answered his ad were not only in the market for a new car (which was what he wanted), but they were also frustrated with their previous dealership for selling them their lemon. They were enticed to seek more information from that specific salesperson and his specific inventory.

In the end, they were far more qualified (or pre-qualified, in this case) and also positively impacted by the valuable service the salesperson provided. Car buyers therefore placed more confidence and trust in that salesperson, and eventually also felt more comfortable in sending him referrals!

Let's say you're a financial planning consultant. Your services may include investments, mutual funds and savings plans. Rather than place an ad that directly markets these services, you could place a classified ad promoting a free course, seminar or report on helping people to save money.

Let's say you're an image consultant helping people to enhance their appearance. You could offer a free kit including a makeover, makeup sample, consultation or report on colors that will match one's unique complexion.

The idea is to have people come to you rather than you to them. Being in the information age, I personally prefer the “free report” style of lead generation. The incentive doesn't have to relate directly to what you do. As long as it logically appeals to the same target market, you're on your way.

If you recall from an earlier example, you can turn your answering machine into a 24-hour salesperson. Your free report offer should therefore be included in the message — they must be somehow invited to ask for the free report.

When it comes to advertising though, you shouldn't go into large circulation newspapers or general publications, for a variety of reasons. I will deal with this issue a little further in the next commandment, but for now just remember that your main goal is to generate leads, not immediate clients.

The portion of the general public that fits into your demographics is merely made up of “suspects” (you suspect that they might need what you have to offer). When some of them come forward to get your free report, sample, or service, you've isolated the “prospects” from your suspects. Then, if they want more once again, they've now become “expects” (you expect them to do business with you). This can be done in virtually all industries.

I used to work as a salesperson for a music store specializing in pianos and keyboards. Older pianos usually require considerable repair since the wood inside holding the strings with which the piano creates its sound may be too old, cracking, and broken beyond repair. They constantly fall out of tune. A salesperson at the store had a small classified ad that said:

“Beware parents in the market for a piano!” [That was the headline.] “Many parents usually buy used pianos for their kids because they don't know if they'll love music and therefore want to minimize the risk of losing their money. However, to the unsuspecting buyer, many used pianos are internally broken beyond repair and temporarily ‘doped' in order to sound good and be sold quickly, only to become broken again when it's too late. Before you buy any piano, call for our free report ‘Don't Let Piano Problems Put Your Bank Account Out of Tune: 6 Ways to Find Hidden Problems with Used Pianos'.”

His report not only explained the possible faults commonly found in older pianos that can easily go unnoticed, but since he was catering to a specialized market (i.e., parents), his report went on to explain how used pianos fall out of tune quickly causing the child to learn the piano the wrong way and eventually to lose interest — let alone the parents money!

Of course, what the salesperson really wanted was to get these parents to buy new or professionally refurbished pianos from his store and especially from him. The resulting effect, however, was that the report not only brought prospects to his door but also instilled in them a greater confidence in the salesperson in addition to the reasons for buying a certified piano rather than a used one. Last time I checked, he made a fortune using this technique!

Look at lead generation advertising or multi-step marketing as a form of job search. People often send bulky résumés to potential employers in an attempt to sell themselves as much as possible, when very often their attempts get filed away — into the “round” file, that is! (Sounds familiar?)

Career consultants stress the importance of summarizing a résumé as much as possible, of including past accomplishments and results (instead of responsibilities and duties from previous jobs), and of putting it all on one page. Why? The résumé is not meant to land a job but to land an interview.

Lead generation should be regarded in the same way. Your ad must be small, contain a concise message, stress an immediate benefit (something for free, for example) and offer a useful tool or additional information if the prospect wants to come forward and know more. And this can be applied in virtually all fields and for many if not all types of products or services.

What can you offer your prospects to arouse their curiosity and interest? What can you give away for free so to entice them to get more, thereby identifying themselves to you as interested, qualified “expects?”

If you're giving something away, realize that what you're really doing is not giving away free stuff but generating better leads. Keep in mind that, in the end, the cost of free stuff can be far less than the cost of mass marketing.

Michel Fortin

Chief Experience Officer at Supportibles, Inc.
A copywriter and consultant for close to 30 years, Michel was instrumental in selling millions worth of products and services. His most notable success is a salesletter that sold over a million dollars online on launch day. Today, Michel is a best-selling author, in-demand public speaker, and highly sought-after marketing consultant. Get his free report, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," at Supportibles.com.

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