Marketing and selling in the Digital Age.

On two separate occasions, in the past week, I have listened to experts tell us how social networking and the World Wide Web will make us all millionaires, or was it zillionaires? Am I the only one who wonders; if what they are saying is true and they are experts, why are they talking to an apathetic audience of 25 in Leeds on a Tuesday night?

The real truth seems to be similar to the market volume information that is collected and published, numbers in millions but of little relevance or use to the average FSB (Federation of Small Business) member. If social networking is the easy route to influencing millions; why do the habitual users hide behind silly pseudonyms? You can Tweet me @willi1yorkshire.

I tried online retailing 12 years ago, when there were only 30,000,000 websites Worldwide and not that number of new sites every year. I found I devoted as much time to the 10% of orders, gained through the Website, as I did on the remaining 90% gained in the traditional way.

What this brave new theory ignores is the abundance of choice. Another expert has identified, wisely, the change over the past 30 years, once there was plenty of attention time but little choice, now the opposite is the case. Now we have thousands of stores in our computer but no time to window shop any more than the first ten to appear on our browsers. Twelve years ago, the wonderful Google stats advised me I received one order for every 400 visitors to the Website. It didn’t matter how much I reduced my prices and subsequently my margins, that statistic didn’t significantly change. Apparently even today it is much the same.

With this huge, readily available access to prospective customers why can’t the Web produce better contact to order ratios?
If we listen to other marketing experts, those who wouldn’t know a Meta Tag from a ring pull; we need to stay close to our customers, listen to their feedback and review and revise our strategy.

It’s only a guess but if you had a salesperson who brought in one order from every 400 contacts and excused this by telling you they spent their time staying close to customers and listening to their feedback; you would still fire them.

Could it be that everything is different but nothing has changed?

Do people still prefer to buy from people? Do buyers prefer to be valued by sellers they know, can trust and rely on?

Both schools of marketing theory are probably valid but which choice offers the smaller business and entrepreneurs the greatest opportunity to retain some degree of control over their sales, margins and growth?

A small businessman told me, again very recently, he is connected to 1400 people directly and over one million indirectly through Linkedin. I asked him how many of those were regular customers and he gave me a pitying look. He is a marketing consultant. I asked him a few more questions and he has joined ‘The YES Project’, a series of short workshops and Master Classes to help those seduced by the concept of easy online success and wealth, to learn why customers buy and how to sell to them.

In a recent blog I advised that marketing is not selling. I meant that good marketing will identify prospective customers and possibly make them aware of your products. Marketing alone will produce orders in much the same proportions as visitors to a Website

I started my business career walking from office to factory to office persuading owners and managers to talk to me. When a prospective buyer talked to me I would build a compelling business case for my piece of high technology, an automatic tea and coffee maker. That would take about 90 minutes. If I made 10 appointments a week I could rely on two orders and on that average I bought my first house.

I have never lost the belief that ten realistic prospects, birds in the hand, are better than one thousand contacts, birds in the bush.

This is 2011 and millions of people own mobile ‘phones, have access to the Internet and digital TV. We can see many of them talking on their ‘phones, in the middle of the day, wearing track suits and shopping in Netto. Are they all nailing down a deal?

Does social networking and the Internet help you to talk to your prospects? No, unless you can build a business case for an order in 140 characters.

Selling is about capturing interest, listening to the prospect’s needs and matching the benefits of your product to those needs.

Online marketing is a one way conversation, similar to those salespersons who continue to talk at a prospect even after the prospect’s eyes have glazed over. You can’t get close to a customer and listen to feedback unless there is a conversation to listen to. Why would they talk to you in the first place?

The only growth industry in SME Britain in the past three years has been networking groups. Thirty people, carefully groomed, in a small room, before dawn; trying to remember how to articulate their USP in sixty seconds. At least they collect ten business cards.

Did anyone meet a buyer at a networking event? Don’t worry, everyone you met knows a buyer, apparently. Right! So why are they not staying close to that buyer and listening to their feedback?

There is no doubt marketing is a mysterious art, like all art, it helps if you have a wealthy sponsor.

I’m the guy with the 1975 T shirt, I know nothing about digital marketing, or so I’m often told. I do know that younger business people have never learned how to sell, Sugs, (Lord Sugar to you) and I agree on that much.

Smaller business operators need to learn these lost secrets, contacts are not always customers, selling is not talking at someone and you can’t get close to customers until you make them customers.

Start with The YES Project learn why and how prospects say yes to you. www.the-yes-project.org.uk

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