Personal Development Industry – Automation Vs Personal Contact in Direct Sales

The path of personal development and self-growth can be a lonely and non-effective journey if we had no one to share it with. Yes, it’s wonderful and empowering to grow spiritually and mentally for the betterment of oneself, but how fulfilling is it really if you’re the only one who experiences it? What is it’s true value if you’re not able to reach out and share with others the new enlightened you, because you’re living it only inside your own head?

Personal growth includes the heightened and increased development of all of our five classical senses. We as humans need and crave the see, touch, feel, smell and taste of the universe and our fellow humans. Our greatest desire is to feel gratified in the belief that our lives have value and that we bring value into this world. Thus, we need to have personal human contact with the world outside of our own four walls.

Those of us who are entrepreneurs and run home based businesses tend to find that our personal human contact outside of our own four walls is greatly diminished due to the nature of the business. Sitting alone at our desks in our home offices, we use two major methods to reach out and contact others. One way is through cyberspace via the Internet. The use of cyberspace can be completely void of human interaction and therefore doesn’t necessitate the activation of many of our senses. It is difficult to transmit expression, emotion, tonality and inflection through the Internet. Although internet technology is working hard to duplicate the human factor by developing video streams, webcams and even the cyber appearance of actual people jumping out and talking to you on your screen, it still and always will lack the human touch and feel of communication in real time. I mean can you really feel like you had a satisfying personal human interaction with someone via your computer screen?

The other way, which is the main way of communicating in this business, is by telecommunication. Picking up the telephone to call and speak personally to another person. This still cannot replace face-to-face contact, whereas you are both breathing the same air and can feel and see each other’s vibration, energy and body language, but it is still better than cyberspace communication. When speaking on the phone we use our hearing sense to pick up cues that help us interpret the other person’s energy level, interest and vibrations. You can get a “sense of feel” as to where the other person “is at”.

So, what happens when you take the telecommunication portion out of your business and rely completely on cyberspace technology thus becoming fully automated? What you have accomplished by doing this, is completely discarding one of the most basic forms of the human factor by becoming automated much like a robot. Have we reached that point in our technological world where we prefer to interact with a robot vs. a live human? I certainly hope not and hope that mankind never reaches that level of social isolation. I don’t think there is anyone out there who has not experienced the frustration of calling a business for assistance only to endure 5 minutes of listening to an automated voice spew out an endless menu of options before you can actually speak to a live human being.

And how many of you actually enjoy talking to an answering machine vs. the real person? There are many entrepreneurs out there who do enjoy total automation, believing that a system can do all of the work for them and make them rich. But, systems are just that, systems and systems don’t sell, people do. A system is only as good as the product it’s pushing. A well made system could potentially work well for a limited time, but even the best made systems require human programming to continuously update and evolve to the ever changing world and to the tastes of the fickle human consumer.

The business of direct sales means exactly what the definition of the word “direct” implies. It’s you personally initiating contact with your potential customer, it’s you making the sale, it’s you who earn the commission and are paid directly.

Now, what does personal growth and development have to do with running a successful home based business? Well, if your business is based on Personal Development products, you must first become the product. And as I said at the beginning of this article, it’s a lonely and ineffective journey to experience personal growth without anyone to share it with. If you don’t have any human contacts to be the recipient of the gifts the new enlightened you can offer and teach, then what is the true value of your personal growth. Is a party of one truly a party worth having? You need to reach out and give of yourself to your potential customer through the personal factor and touch. Personal growth does not involve hiding behind an automated system, being afraid to pick up the phone and make human contact.

Any direct sales representative will tell you that one of the keys to success is the ability to network, mastermind and learn from other successful entrepreneurs. A strong successful network marketing business is based on a high rate of retention due to a solid foundation achieved through leadership and relationship building. Relationship building can only be obtained through human contact. And only by building a relationship with your individual team members will you be able to identify your strongest members thus enabling you to spend extra time to train and mentor them in becoming the future leaders that will help to solidify that foundation.

Building a big team rapidly with an automated system may seem like a gold mine at first, but it’s a team built on an unstable foundation that never will solidify and take shape due to the high drop out rate. It lacks the human personal factor. It lacks the relationship building block, because the whole process was so impersonal and automated from the start, the new member never receives a validated sense of belonging, a sense of value, a sense of being part of a cohesive group with a personal connection to their leader.

A critical component of leading by example starts with the human factor, which was created with your very first conversation. By personally taking the time to initiate contact, the leader has demonstrated to the member that they have value and is respected as part of the team.

A leader just on paper is not the same nor will it ever have the same impact and significance as a leader who truly leads through personal contact and relationship building.

Automation or Personal human contact, should that even be a consideration when seriously building a strong and successful direct sales home based business?

Three Steps to Direct Mail Success

Direct mail is still the number one marketing strategy used by many successful sales companies. With direct mail, you have total control over the presentation of your message. Direct mail is a unique blend of advertising and sales. While good advertising should certainly lead to sales, direct mail allows you to present the product or service, make an offer and try to close the sale-all at once!

Here are just a few of the advantages of direct mail as a marketing strategy:

* Allows you to target your message to a very specific audience.
* Direct mail is a relatively inexpensive medium.
* Direct mail messages can be personalized to add reader appeal.
* You can evaluate its effectiveness. You can keep track of exactly who responded and from where.
* Mail readers are actively involved. People read their mail when they choose. So, for at least a second or two, your message will have their undivided attention while they open and scan it.

There are three elements to an effective direct marketing strategy:

1. The List
2. The Offer
3. The Mailing Piece

The first of these three steps to a successful direct mail campaign is obtaining the right list. Targeting the right market is the key to this marketing strategy. When selecting your list make sure you target people most likely to have an interest in what you have to offer as well as some things in common with your present clients.

This common ground might be age, sex, occupation, income, geographic area, family size, magazines they subscribe to or any number of other demographics. You can obtain lists that are specific to the demographics of your particular target market.

You should also maintain an up-to-date list of all your customers and clients. Direct mail to this list can create additional business, introduce new products and services or promote sales or special offers.

The second step of this marketing strategy is the development of a “matching offer”.

The offer you make in your direct mail needs to be carefully thought out and matched as closely as possible to the interests, needs and motivation of the people on the list. The more specifically you match the offer and the list the higher the response rate.

Let me use an example to demonstrate. When I was a mortgage consultant many of the sales people in the office sent direct mail. The list that was mailed to was targeted to homeowners who had taken out mortgages with specific lenders in a specific time period. The lenders that were targeted were known to be lenders with typically high interest rates.

The response and closing rate of those mailings were higher than a mailing that was sent to all homeowners in the same area because it was targeted to a group of people that would be more likely to want to refinance.

The third element of this marketing strategy is the mailing piece or the presentation of the offer to the list.

The most common and least expensive mailing piece format used by small businesses is the solo format. It’s a single sheet, printed on both sides and folded in half or thirds and mailed without an envelope.

Another solo format that’s even simpler and less expensive is a postcard or oversized postcard. This can be a very cost effective way of communicating with your list of customers and clients.

The next step in the development of your mailing piece is to write the copy or present your offer. Copywriting is a valuable skill. I urge you to develop the ability to write good advertising copy. Here are some tips to get you started.

* Take proven sales letters and ads and rewrite them to fit you and your offer.
* Create a swipe file of successful ads and letters. When you see an ad that catches your eye, save it.
* Save your “junk mail”. A lot of it’s written by the best copywriters in the world.
* Subscribe to the National Inquirer, The Star, The Globe, etc. The ads in these publications pull in millions of dollars worth of orders.
* Make sure your message matches your market. This means your offer has to have perceived value to your prospect.
* Use lots of testimonials in your ad copy.
* The headline is the most important part of any ad or letter.
* Use multiple PS’s in your letter. Restate the offer, deadline, free gift, etc.
* Offer multiple options for your services. Label them ex. Gold, Silver, Bronze.
* Before you write, make a list of all the objections a prospect could have for not buying your product or service and then answer them in your letter.

Direct mail is a profitable marketing strategy if it’s used properly and all three components are well thought out. It can provide you with an endless source of targeted leads for your product or service.

Six (6) Warning Signs That Can Help You Avoid Wasting Time Marketing To The Wrong Prospects

Preamble

When I started out in business, I had some difficulty deciding just how much marketing would be enough or too much. The thing is you can never really be certain up front about who will respond positively to your marketing and who will not. However, you can at least develop ways by which you can avoid wasting too much time, effort or expense on any prospects who are not likely to buy. You will then be able to divert those resources towards nurturing relationships with those who show signs that they will.

In this article I describe specific signs that I personally use to decide just how far I will go, at any point in time, in my marketing efforts with each prospective client or customer. In many cases, even when I do not make a sale, I have found that I am able to save considerable expense by not wasting time following up with people who are not ready at that point in time(they could become ready at a later date) to make a purchase. In the next section, I explain the thinking behind the approach I use.

The Need To Be Effective And Efficient In Order To Be Profitable

Three keywords guide me in thinking about any aspect of my business performance measurement. They are: Effectiveness, Efficiency and Profitability.

a. Effectiveness. To me, being effective means doing what REALLY NEEDS to be done and NOT what you THINK needs to be done, or worse what you just WANT to do. I believe it is important for every business – micro or multinational – to carefully and accurately identify the specific business marketing TASKS that NEED to be executed, and develop reliable steps to be followed in carrying them out, so that the same DESIRED business goals(e.g. increased SALES) are achieved EVERY TIME. That way, there will be consistency and predictability in the business’ processes and operations.

b. Efficiency. In my opinion, being efficient means being able to get MORE of the results I desire(e.g. good quality pre-qualified prospects through my business marketing) while using the same or LESS of time, effort, money etc that I have. A possible measure for how well a business is doing in this regard, has been suggested as “Cost Of Customers Sold(COCS)” i.e. how much it costs to acquire – on the average – each new client or customer. A business can work towards being more profitable by measuring this parameter and modifying her marketing strategies/techniques to reduce its COCS over time.

c. Profitability. Having MORE of the income or turnover from doing business left over after ALL necessary expenses and tax obligations have been taken care of is the ultimate proof of good business performance.

By working hard to be Effective and Efficient in all aspects of its operations – including marketing – a one-man business or a multinational corporation can progressively GROW its profits. Generally, even if sales are not increasing, so long as your spending does not outstrip your sales/income, you still stand a chance – at the least – of breaking even by the end of the year. So what can make YOUR spending outstrip your income? Poorly planned/implemented business marketing is one possible area.

Minimise Chances Of Wasting Your Marketing Time, Effort And Money

The question to ask yourself, in my experience, is whether what you are doing – or about to do – will help you achieve your business marketing goals(and HOW it will do so) in a way that makes you more effective and efficient so that you can be Profitable.

Below I outline six(6) warning signs – off the top of my head – that I look for in deciding whether or not to continue pursuing a sales lead with a prospect. Depending on how I read the situation, I may decide to discontinue marketing to a particular prospect if I see one or more of these signs TOO frequently.

1. S/he Fails To Return Calls/Commit To A Formal Appointment. If I meet a prospect and possibly exchange contact information after discussions, I normally make a habit of calling him/her on phone within a week to see if I can get an appointment to further explore the areas discussed in which s/he was considering my service(s). Sometimes s/he’ll say, “I’ll call you back at xyz date/time”.

If I do not hear from him/her, I let a few days or a week go by, and then call again making reference to the fact that his/her call never came. At this point, I now try to see if I can get the prospect to commit to a formal appointment. Generally, I have found that just by gently pressing for a formal appointment this way usually helps to gauge the level of interest and readiness of the person.

2. S/he Fails To Keep Appointments. Some prospects will give you a date/time to meet with them and even challenge you to be on time. A number even give the impression they want it to happen urgently. Then the d-day comes and you arrive at the venue only to be told s/he is yet to arrive. You make more enquiries and are told some last minute changes occurred that kept him/her from coming in as planned that morning. Every time this happened to me, I always felt like kicking myself for not calling him/her to CONFIRM the appointment at least ONE HOUR before it was due to hold and before I was due to take off for the agreed meeting venue.

My Solution: I ALWAYS make sure I have the direct telephone/mobile phone number of the person I am to meet with, so as to confirm a meeting/appointment before committing my time and resources to keeping it.

3. S/he Does Not See It As A Pressing Need. I have had prospects hold two to three meetings with me in say January(requesting that it all happen within days), going through all the stages needed for them to decide if they wanted to progress with a project, only to then tell me “We should be able to decide whether or not to go ahead with this by June or July”.

My Solution: I tactfully ask “What time frame do you have in mind for this project to start, if you decide you want it?”. I also ask “How much do you anticipate you will be prepared to commit to this project?” That way, they are(usually) forced to give me an estimate. If they give a projected start date/time that’s “far away”, I will at least know how much of a priority to give whatever requests they make – no matter how urgent they make them sound.

4. Lack Right Resources/Appropriately Motivated Personnel. I have had some amusing encounters with representative personnel of some organisations. In one case, I met with an “IT manager” who said he was asked – by his boss, who’d called me in – to have comprehensive discussions with me about my Custom Excel Solutions Development services to see how I could help them. By the time we separated, I had been unable to show him any of the many demos I carried on my flash drive, because the two PCs he provided were terribly slow, ran on obsolete software, aside from other “problems” they had. The irony was that he kept telling me how he had setup up the comperisation for the hotel and all the records were being updated etc!

In my mind I already saw a BIG problem: A prospective client company that had a internal operative, who felt he knew it all, and was intent on defending his ineptitude at setting up basic PC systems for the organisation, would likely pose a potential hindrance to successful execution of the project. The paradox was that he was the one with whom I would likely have to work in order to successfully deploy whatever solutions I developed. I did not fancy my chances of pulling that off, so I walked away. “Better get out now”, I told myself, “than be forced to leave behind an “uncompleted” or sabotaged project that could give others reason to question my competence”.

5. S/he Acts Reluctant/Mischievious. I once followed up(what I thought was) a lead with the owner of a books wholesale outfit over a 4 week period. He had given me his card on the first meeting in his office when I made a cold call, asking me to return a week later. A week later, we met and spent about 45 minutes looking at one of my applications, which he “felt” could be customised for his secretary’s use. Two weeks later, following a rather high number of re-schedulings I was back in his office. After we greeted, he called out for the secretary and asked that I wait in the outer office.

The secretary returned to say he asked her to meet me so I could (to use her exact words) explain “why you are here”! I was flabbergasted. A bit irritated, I asked her if s/he had been told anything by him about my visit. S/he said NO. “Did you know he wanted to have a custom application built for you to use in your work?”. Again s/he said NO. I asked her ONE more question: “Can you take a buying decision and pay me without his checking and approving it?”. Once again, she said NO! At this point I told her to inform him it would not be possible for me to discuss with her without wasting my time by repeating what had already been discussed, because s/he had not been briefed.

S/he was away for about three minutes and returned saying he had given her some background, and said he wanted her to see the program sample I had shown him so she could get an idea of what we had discussed. About 5 minutes later we were done, and waiting for him to join us, so a decision could be reached. Some more time passed and then this UN-gentleman walked up to where I sat, and said “Please give me 2 minutes. I’ll be right back”. I nodded in understanding(STUPIDLY, as I was to later realise), and he went out the door.

Five minutes later, a newspaper vendor came in and before he could say a word, the secretary told him to come back later, as her boss had gone out for lunch. On hearing her say that, I asked if indeed he had gone for lunch. She quickly responded that she had only said that to get rid of the vendor who had come to ask for the money owed him for papers delivered previously!(A voice in my head told me THAT was a bad sign).

Speaking out loud, I said “It would be quite sad if I find out that he kept me waiting here and went off to have lunch!” She assured me that was not the case, but I ignored her, picked up my mobile phone and called him. He answered it after five or more rings and said “I’m on my way back”. Another ten minutes passed before he arrived. And when he did, he had a toothpick hanging from between his lips! I’ll leave you to make what you will of THAT…

BUT It Could Have Been Partly My Fault: Looking back later on, I recalled that the number of times we had to re-schedule our agreed meeting dates – ALWAYS at his instance – was rather high. That should have alerted me earlier to the possibility that he was not interested in going any further. Sometimes, in a bid to make a sale one can become blinded to obvious signs that would normally provide timely warning to avert an eventual unpleasant experience. :-)

6. S/he’s Talking About Setting A Take-Off Date BUT Has Not Asked YOU How Much! No matter how ready a prospect appears to be, if s/he is not ASKING you about your fees and terms of payment etc, then s/he is still NOT ready! I had one not-too-pleasant experience early on in my business career because I did not take this aspect seriously. As a result, I ended up giving talks to employees of an educational organisation in six different branches located VERY far from each other, over a 6 week period, only to be asked to pick up a cheque for an amount that did not even cover the cost of fuel I had put in my car during that time!

How could this happen? My inexcusable naivety as reflected in an unpardonable failure to discuss and agree in advance, fine details of my remuneration with the Executive Director(who as the cheque payment showed, was quite happy to have me work that way!), was the cause. I have learnt a lot since that incident that occurred back in 2002.

TIP: Some Questions You Can Use To Quickly Assess Prospects’ Readiness

Ask Questions That Extract The Truth. Some prospects are people who are never comfortable telling another person a direct NO. They are so concerned about not upsetting you, and try so hard to let you down gently by asking you to come or call back at an ever changing later date. This is why you need to ask questions that help you UNCOVER their real “feelings” as it were.

I now outline a list of questions – in no particular order – that I routinely use, as the need arises, to quickly pre-qualify my prospects or gauge their readiness to buy.

1. “Just so I don’t take any more of your time in future than I need to. From what I’ve told you so far, is this a product or service you believe has potential benefits you would like to have in your organisation?” If s/he says NO, I thank her politely, give her a copy of my card, with an invitation to let me know if in future they find a need for my services and leave.

2. “Would you/your company be ready to put money into acquiring this product or service within the next 2 weeks to a month?” If s/he says NO, I do same as above or ask what timescale they have in mind, with a view to re-scheduling another visit or appointment, If S/he says YES, I go to the next appropriate question.

3. “Would you like to know how much it costs, and the options available, so you can make a choice?”

4. “When is the earliest time you would like to have this project completed ?”

5. “Are you speaking on a personal level about your needs, or referring to the company’s interest in this offer?”

6. “How do you want us to progress on this? Is there a specific date you want me to come in to pick up the payment?”

7. “If for instance you want me to start tomorrow morning, the agreed payment would need to have been prior to that time, to enable me commence preparatory activities. Would that be okay?”

But Don’t Throw The Baby Away With The Bath-Water!(A True Story)

I must point out here that the fact you decide to discontinue pursuing a sales lead with a particular prospect today, does not mean you should not try to reach him/her again in another three months or even earlier. People’s perception of their business/personal needs change over time. As a result, the guy who feels he does not need you to build a website for him today, may start looking for your business card in a bid to reach you two years from now – when he discovers for instance, two foreign clients he landed found him through his company’s address listing on the website of a product manufacturer he represents! If you fail to periodically run through your list of old/new prospects, and call or visit them, you could lose excellent sales opportunities.

Actually, it was by doing what I just mentioned above – i.e. visiting an OLD prospect who I had not seen or spoken to in three years – that I recently landed a totally unplanned web design project(And to show how ready he was, he paid my FULL fee 100% in advance as I requested)! We already knew each other, and he recalled my two visits and the comprehensive outline of benefits I had told him he could look forward to getting from having an online presence. Most importantly, since the time he realised he needed the website, he had had cause to try engaging someone else to do the job, but – according to him – the person had not demonstrated as much interest as I had, in learning about the prospect’s business to show how the website could add value to it etc.

The foregoing statement provides a clue to winning the prospect over: Make absolutely sure – through the things you say/do during your interactions – that s/he sees that you are truly PASSIONATE about adding VALUE to him/her in delivering your product or service. It will make a lasting impression that’s likely to work in your favour when s/he decides to make a choice.

Other Strategies You Can Adopt

1. Use The Telephone To Get Appointments To Meet The Right Person: Get the person’s or company’s phone number(s) and call. You will use the telephone to test initial reception of your prospective client to your proposed offering. Your initial background research (maybe through websites, brochures etc) should yield useful names and possibly direct phone numbers.

2. Make Sure The Person Negotiating Your Fees With You/Giving You The Go-Ahead Is The Final Decision Maker. The right person would be one who is in a position to make legitimate recommendations for purchase or who can actually authorise/approve a purchase. Ask anyone who does not fit this profile to refer you to one who does. I have tried in the past to work with persons who did not fit the profile, just to see, and in EVERY single instance it turned out to be a waste of time.

Final Words

The above is not an exhaustive listing by any means, as I’m sure you know. Also, as with every other thing in life, the ideas offered here do not have universal applicability. Sometimes they will be relevant, other times they won’t. But very often just having to consciously apply them can be a useful process to go through as it helps to clear one’s thinking so as to be able to work smarter.

YOU will naturally have had(and will still have) your own unique encounters. Reflect on those experiences and try to identify useful learning points. Add them to those you found in this article to be relevant to your needs – and hopefully, they will help you go about your business marketing more successfully.