A sales manager of mine once told me that you need to know when to fish and when to cut bait. Although I don’t fish, the analogy wasn’t lost on me. In sales, there’s a saying: “If you’re going to lose, lose early.”
You may have heard the acronym AIDA used to describe the buying process. It stands for:
I once read a comment someone heard from a car salesman: “I don’t want the person that is in the beginning or middle of the buying process. It’s too much work to help educate them and they always seem to buy somewhere else if at all. I want the person that is done searching and is ready to buy.”
People who are at the ‘action’ stage are ready to buy. These are the best prospects you could ask for. That’s why Yellow Pages and search marketing are so successful, because the people who use them already know what they want—they’re just searching for someone to buy from.
On the other hand, that uneducated potential buyer might be your next prospect. People who are at the ‘attention’, ‘interest’, or ‘desire’ stage are what the car salesman described as being “in the beginning or middle of the buying process”. The problem is, many of these will never reach the ‘action’ stage. So how do you know who to invest time on and who not?
Finding prospects at the end of their buying cycle is a crucial component in sales. But talking to potential clients early in their buying cycle is relationship-building—and it’s a key component in your marketing. The former is hunting; the latter is farming. The trick is knowing whether you’re selling or whether you’re marketing, and adjusting your behavior to fit.
For example, I met someone at a chamber meeting who told me that he might need my services. So when I phoned him, I was making a sales call. But it soon became apparent that this person was nowhere near ready to buy. So I switched to relationship-building mode—that is, I didn’t try to set an appointment, but spent about 20 minutes with him, offered some advice, then referred him to an article on my website that had more information. I continued to drip-market to him, but I didn’t waste time pursuing him as if he were a lead.
In the web business, if you take the car salesman’s attitude, you’ll never build enough relationships to develop any marketing gravity, so you’ll always be on the hunt for that next person who’s “ready to buy.” Yet, if you constantly take the “relationship-building” approach—freely meeting and talking to anyone and everyone, and giving away all kinds of free advice—you’ll always be a valuable source of free information that nobody ever buys from.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.