After talking to probably 4,000 companies over the years, my biggest takeaway is that people are generally inclined not to try new things for their Sales Strategy. If ever they do, there’s usually a lack of commitment from the onset. And even if the data shows otherwise, many businesses simply refuse to discard ineffective, expensive, and outdated marketing and sales tactics.
Here are a couple of cases that illustrate my point.
Case #1: The Newsletter Loyalists
Company X spends $3,000 a month printing and sending newsletters. We ask why, and we’re told that newsletters are the main driver of their inbound leads. To verify this, we put a tracked phone number on the newsletter and a different tracked number on a Google Ads campaign. Google Ads was a smashing success and MRR was through the roof! But when we tracked calls off the newsletter for six months... zero.
The Shocker: At the sixth-month review, everyone was all smiling with the results. But when we said that the newsletter wasn’t working (and hadn’t been for 15 years!) and suggested diverting some of its budget toward Google Ads, you would have thought we shot their cat!
To this day, three years later, they still send that newsletter. They took off the call tracking system and still complain about the Google Ads spend.
Key Takeaway: There are now several online platforms that provide stats so you can easily track your ad performance. Just imagine the possibilities if we take advantage of the transparency that these online platforms offer.
Case #2: The Newcomer
You LOVE, LOVE, LOVE dogs, so you decide to start a kennel and find forever homes for adorable puppies. Your strategy? You put up several billboard ads. But it’s expensive. It’s difficult. It’s challenging. There’s lots of competition out there — so many puppy mills spending on ads everywhere all the time, drowning you out.
Now, let’s take a different approach. You put up a series of YouTube videos that show what makes your kennel special:
- About you and why you created your kennel
- How you selected your location
- Your successes and failures with the kennel
- You playing with the mother and the father
- The different dogs and their unique personalities
- Daily life of the puppies (e.g., the time they got out and ate your pillows!)
Before you know it, you have 200–300 followers on your YouTube channel. Then, you push them to join a small Facebook group. People start finding you. They start linking to your YouTube videos and loving how you care for your dogs.
Bottom line: You’ve found homes for all of your puppies! Your next batch of puppies are already reserved as well. There are now great families that are invested in you and your success.
Key Takeaway: We live at a time when people are more willing than ever to buy in, not only to our product, but also our story. Our faults can be endearing and engaging, so are our successes and failures. That’s why social media influencers can turn their goofy lives into careers worth millions of dollars a year, and entrepreneurial millennials can disrupt industries with low-resource startups.
Being transparent works as a great Sales Strategy. Let me give you some examples of companies I have encountered over the years (without mentioning names) and how transparency, or a lack thereof, worked for them.
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Company A: The Innovator
This company has been in business for many years. It was the brainchild of one engineer/inventor who rolled out a product for the outdoor market. It is a fantastic product.
He was a great inventor, but not a great marketer. He was well-liked, though. He sold his product to friends who recommended it to their buddies. Soon, word of mouth (WOM) grew the business and continued to do so as he went to all the trade shows. As the years went by, he had a nice business doing many millions in sales.
But later on, other companies popped up and started copying his design. They were making lower-quality products but for a higher price. Over time, his sales fell off. He felt like everyone had stolen his ideas, but he wanted to keep selling.
When he came to us, we felt he had a great story to tell to a tightly knit community. If his story came out, people would invest in him and his company, and things would really take off. We felt he was in a unique position, and I actually thought that he could dominate an industry. So we recommended making a story out of his return to form. He had the best product; the market was hungry for it. He even had patents that other people were stepping on.
Sadly, he didn’t have the budget for huge Google Ads campaigns, and his competitors kept outbidding him to make the ads impossibly expensive. So after looking at the numbers and analytics, the company decided to just lower their prices and increase dealer margins. It was a failure on my part to get the campaign over the finish line, but it stung more because I thought we were on the cusp of really changing things for them.
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Company B: The Overly Positive Startup
This was a startup company that repurposed rental space and used an app to mix short-term and long-term uses of space. It was a great idea, and engagement was strong at the start. But it eventually stalled.
The service had limitations that clearly showed it wasn’t meant for everyone. But the company wanted so badly to ride the early wave of enthusiasm that is focused on telling only a positive story. It refused to acknowledge its shortcomings. This left the early adopters and brand ambassadors feeling deceived and pessimistic.
It didn’t help too that the sales reps were trained to avoid certain questions or answer in an evasive way. As more negative reviews emerged, people clamored for the company’s leadership to right the ship. It was a great opportunity to re-engage the influencers and get them invested by being transparent. Sadly, the company just doubled down on its “it’s all good” positive messaging and lost credibility. Funding was pulled and it was over.
Company C: The Confidently Open-Source Pioneer
In the cloud space, this company is completely transparent and willing to show their faults by using an open-source model. They have thrown their doors wide open, basically telling their competitors, “Go ahead if you want to copy our code. It’s out there. It’s done. We’re light-years ahead anyway and onto the next thing.” In fact, everything they have is readily available on GitHub.
So how can you stay competitive while using an open-source code that’s easily replicable? You need four factors:
- You must be a leader in quality or idea.
- You must have integrity in both your successes and failures.
- You must be honest about your flaws and let people buy-in.
- You must not be afraid of the competition.
Companies like this are fresh enough and transparent enough that larger competitors don’t even pay attention to them. Or if they do pay attention, it’s to sit back and giggle at the failures. But by the time they realize it's a success, it's way too late. Look at Myspace and Blockbuster; they were laughing when the worm turned for them.
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These days, transparency is a viable and powerful Sales Strategy. Use social media to create brand awareness and connect with your target audience, whether local or regional. Encourage early adopters to provide honest feedback. By doing so, they will be invested in your performance and become your company’s fiercest defenders.
If you don’t put your real story out there, news about your company will come from elsewhere, and it may be worse than the truth that comes from you. So instead of going into stealth mode, open up the curtains and let the world see you. Let people in and invest emotionally in you — they may invest financially as well.
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