The Art of Engagement

What are you trying to sell? Is it something that people might traditionally resist having sold to them…like religion maybe? Is it something difficult to differentiate like standard packaging? Or is it a service offering in a crowded market?

No matter what it is you’ve got to sell, there are probably people out there looking to buy your product. What’s been proven though is that pitching right off the bat is not the way to break through and get people to buy from you. Consumers and business managers who make purchasing decisions are barraged with advertising, marketing, and sales pitches. What’s more, a good portion of your business is likely to come from people who already know you, either directly or by way of their network. To make the most sales then, you need to depend on new and existing relationships. And that’s why when you are looking to generate new business, marketing is not about the product so much as they people who you are trying to reach.

At a small business networking event yesterday, Regional Development Director for Constant Contact Corissa St. Laurent explained that the way you reach out to people to start relationships is by “wowing” them–that is, giving them something that gets their attention. According to Corissa, it doesn’t stop with first contacts, either, because even after you have customers and have sold to them, you’ll want to wow them again–to reach out to them time after time to keep your relationship going.

After the “wow” there is a process for moving people from awareness through to actually purchasing from you. However, in this post I want to focus strictly on the “wow.”

What is it?

In a breakout session at that same small business event, I noticed many people struggling  to come up with ideas about how they could “wow” their customers. These were not neophytes either. They were marketing professionals.

One woman insisted that her product—packaging–was too boring to “wow” anyone. Another was stuck on the fact that he couldn’t publish worthwhile testimonials about his offering because the client company did not want their name associated with promotion of his product.

I saw these people as stuck rather than unable to figure out what “wow” means. It can happen.

This video shows a great example of “wow”. Watch it if you haven’t yet.

The tool they use is a flash mob. Brilliant. They go to where they know the people are during the holiday season: the mall, and they draw in everyone with the spectacle of a single person with a great voice singing out. Others join in, making it apparent that this is not just some weirdo looking for attention, but rather, something organized. This is a gift, a free performance that is at once moving, but also connected to what it is that the organizers are trying to sell. Beyond just being a lovely gesture, the event engages the audience by making it interactive. They allow, and then invite people to sing along by using familiar songs and encouragement by the performers. If they are looking to sell people on a particular religion, you wouldn’t know it by watching this. Still, they are successful in that they get people, who are probably more concerned with their holiday shopping than with the spiritual aspects of the holidays, to stop and a enjoy a moment that points out that religion (the “product” in this case) is available and can actually add something special to the holiday season that might be taken for granted.

Imagine if the marketers behind this event had gotten stuck in the usual proselytizing.

I heard one man at a recent talk about marketing say that it used to be about selling the sizzle and not the steak. Now it’s all about the steak. I don’t agree. I think it is still very much about the sizzle, the sound, the smell, the feel, or even just the essence of what you have to sell.

In the mall, the singers weren’t selling religion. In fact, they weren’t selling anything. Rather, they were creating awareness, giving away knowledge to condition the market, and invite people who might be looking to buy at some point to find out more.

Going back to the packaging marketer, she is not going to get a flash mob to demonstrate the relative qualities of her boxes and bags for meeting the needs of various manufacturers. Still, in brainstorming with her, we came up with lots reasons why her packaging might get people excited. Her audience: manufacturers, are people who need practical, economical ways to deliver their products safely to customers. So, while they are not likely to be turned on by a sing-along that glorifies plastic shrink wrap, they might respond well to a short video that demonstrates the ease of use of a packaging material that fits with existing machinery, or a database or computer tool that is a quick-look-up guide to packaging materials based on weight or chemical makeup of the product, or even just a curated article written by an industry expert that talks about advances in packaging materials, which her product happens to incorporate.

For the service provider, I would recommend taking a step back, away from testimonials. Yes, they are the most effective way to convince customers that your offering is worthwhile. But great, believable testimonials don’t happen overnight, and you can’t always get them in the ways you would like. Right now, the man says he is working on a book. Even if he is far from publishing, this gives him the opportunity to send out a sample chapter to people who have already used his service in the past to ask for their input and feedback on his work. Like the mall performance by the religious group, this “wow” has the potential to engage people who might be interested in returning or might be willing to refer him to a new contact.

In the case of Corissa and Constant Contact, there was also a “wow” being given out—that is, the networking event itself. Besides being extremely useful to the participants, it was a way to connect people who might be considering her product with people who are already using it. Corissa herself barely mentioned Constant Contact or its offerings, but people in the groups certainly talked about their experiences, both good and bad, which opened the door to further discussion.

I’ll address the next step, the follow up on “wow,” in another post. For now though, think about your product or service. What could you do to “wow?”

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