When good screening means bad marketing

By Charles H. Green

Trusted Advisor Associates


In some cases, a monomaniacal focus on sales efficiency will serve you badly. What looks like good sales is bad marketing.

If you’ve had exposure to sales thinking, you’re familiar with the need to be efficient. Don’t drill dry wells; don’t spend time on unproductive activities; above all, qualify and screen your leads carefully so you don’t end up wasting time.

Good advice, generally. Except sometimes, it’s very bad for your marketing. Here’s why, and how to avoid it.

The usual approach

Suppose you get a call. “I’m a friend of your client Jim Johnson,” the caller says, “and I wonder if you could give me some advice?”

Great, right? But suppose it turns out that the caller is asset-poor, income-constrained and doesn’t have significant insurance needs? How do you respond to these calls?

Most of us are taught three basic ways you can answer:
    Answer 1. Ask some qualifying questions right up front during the first call; if the caller doesn’t meet your criteria, tell them you’re sorry but you can’t help them.

    Answer 2. Engage in pleasantries on the call; set up an appointment to get more detailed information; then inform them, based on data, you can’t help them.

    Answer 3. Engage in deep conversation, both on the call, and in a later meeting, after which regretfully inform the prospect that you really can’t help them.
If you’re reading from the Gospel of Sales Efficiency, you would conclude you need to shift your interactions so as to have fewer from category no. 3 and more from category no. 1.

The downside to sales efficiency

But there is a downside. Suppose the caller turns out to be very sociable, with many acquaintances, some of whom could be ideal clients for you. Will he tell his friends, “Don’t waste your time,” if your name comes up? Will he even mention you?

Or suppose your original client calls you the next day and says, “Hey, I recommended you to my friend. I went out on a limb for you. But he tells me you didn’t even take the time to listen to him. How could you do that to me?”
Suppose the caller has relatives who need your services. Suppose the caller is extremely active on FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter and says negative things about you — or doesn’t mention you at all. Or suppose that two years from now the caller’s situation has been transformed?

In all those cases, a monomaniacal focus on sales efficiency will serve you badly. What looks like good sales is bad marketing.

The answer doesn’t lie in finding the happy medium, compromising or making trade-offs. Instead, it lies in acting in a trustworthy manner in all interactions.

Beyond efficiency to marketing effectiveness

True, you can’t subsidize the world; you must make choices about your scarce time. But you can help people in creative ways, even while saying no.

If you can make every caller a little better off than they were before they called you, you will make a positive impression on everyone. That’s good marketing, and it results in more referrals, stronger existing relationships, better word of mouth, and a reputation for being client-centric.

What can you do? Here are a two starter ideas:

Take a minute to hear them out.

Often, people simply haven’t identified their problem well enough. You may not have the solution, but you have the ability to help them with problem definition. That is hugely valuable to them.

It will cost you a few minutes of your time. The benefits to the caller are immediate and very large. And don’t worry, you’ll get mentioned; positively, frequently, and widely. It’s not a cost: it’s an investment.

Have an alternate referral ready at hand.

Do a little work in advance to find people in your area who help with things you don’t do — budgeting help, financial planning, differing lines of insurance, even services like divorce mediators and accountants. Call them and ask, “If I run across someone who needs you, may I send them your way?”

They will be thrilled — and will look for ways to return the favor.

Don’t look for referral fees. Do this purely as a service for people who don’t need your service. Every time you make a referral to someone outside your own specialty, the caller will be genuinely surprised and pleased. How often do we find someone who goes out of their way to be helpful? It is memorable, and you can be the one remembered.

Efficiency is a fine thing — just not in isolation. The good news is, you can be efficient and do good marketing as well. You can have your cake and eat it too.