Internet Marketing Lessons My Sales Manager Taught Me

A long time ago in what seems like a distant galaxy, far before the world of the internet, I had a most amazing sales manager. We were selling the first PC’s – Apple was only a scant 14 months out of the garage. And yet what this guy taught me was probably the best training for successful  internet marketing I ever got.

Ralph was an inveterate people watcher and we used to stand outside the store on the busiest street corner in Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland really did have foot traffic once upon a time and was the home to an astonishing number of Fortune 500 companies.

As people hurried by on their way to their cubicles and glass enclosed office suites, Ralph kept up a running commentary on what job they held, what their likes and dislikes were, even what they enjoyed doing  in their off time. Being fond of fact not fiction, I challenged Ralph to prove that he was right with what I considered to be guesses.

We started a “customer survey” with just five questions – what is your job title, do you use computers in your office, how long have your held your current position, with what you know about computers do you like them, hate them or are you afraid of them, and what do you do most in your off time.

We gave away an Apple logo’d sticky note pad and pen to everyone taking the survey. Ralph was incredibly accurate. The answers he gave for an individual before they took our survey had at least 3 of the 5 questions pegged correctly.

After about a week of running our little impromptu sampling I asked Ralph two questions. How was he able to size people up so quickly and how were those answers applicable to sales?

Ralph’s reply was that to successfully sell anything to anyone you had to know as much about them as possible in as short a time as practical. He would ask  seemingly friendly “warm up” questions to determine their level of computer experience, how they felt about computers in general, what “tribe” they belonged to, and anything else he could to determine exactly how he would respond to the customer and close the sale.

He also turned himself into that customer. He was a huge man – 6′ 4 and well over 200 pounds. But he could become a timid accountant in a heartbeat. His entire demeanor would change from the self confident sales leader into a hesitant, quiet, cubicle dwelling number cruncher. The prospect became comfortable with this mirror image of himself and would express his inner fears and sales objections, allowing Ralph to gently put them aside and close the sale.

If the self made tool and die millionaire wandered in, Ralph’s voice would boom through the store as he shook hands firmly with that kindred spirit. It was a lesson in the art and craft of salesmanship that I will always treasure.

When I began my online marketing career, Ralph’s lessons came to mind. I found that my most successful websites and clients were the ones that spoke the language of the unseen customer. The copy struck the right chords, resonating with the right “tribe” and matching the benefits to their objections,  and closing the sale.

Online marketing and salesmanship is more challenging than in person sales. The prospect is unseen, no visual cues are evident. But if you have truly taken the time to research your niche and it’s denizens, you know who they are, where they hang out, what is important to them and what product features they are interested in. You speak their language and walk their walk. By doing this, you identify yourself as a member of their “tribe” and build trust.

Yes, you understand their need. Yes, you are able to stop the pain and solve their problem because you understand THEM. You need the right keyterms to attract them to your site – the words they use, not necessarily the ones with the highest search volume.

If your market is fragmented – use landing pages to appeal to each segment. Use the language of that market segment to attract and engage. The voice in your copy needs to speak only to that segment, and not try to be all things to all people.

To paraphrase Caddyshack “be one with the customer, become the customer” and you will set sales records just like Ralph did.

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