The Single Most Important Marketing Tactic Ever Devised

The most important marketing tactic ever devised is also the simplest. And it wasn’t invented by marketing people, but by business owners and sales people looking to grow their business the best, fastest, least expensive way possible.

Unfortunately it doesn’t get much traction because it doesn’t have enough complexity, bells and whistles or cost to make people pay attention to it. It’s just too simple to be that effective. The profound things are always simple, but we don’t believe that either. Yet people who have done it are almost always successful.

What is the single most important marketing tactic ever devised?

Make a list of everyone you know.

I mean your dentist, your mother, your sister, your clients, the bar keep – everybody.

Yep, boring, dull, simple, can’t be that helpful. Wrong. It’s the first thing every business owner and every sales person should do to before they open the doors. I could tell you a few dozen success stories of people who believed and did this, even a restaurant owner who did it, gave away four free nights of food to people on their list to open their restaurant and never looked back (or did much traditional advertising either).

Once you have your list made, divide it into two categories – potential clients and potential gate openers (people who can refer to me). Potential clients got a 1, 2 or 3 (most to least likely to become a client, and potential gate openers get an A, B, C (most to least likely to refer someone to me). I did this on Excel so I could then sort the two and all the 1’s and A’s floated to the top. Some people were 1-A (great potential client and also great potential referral partner). Others were 3-C (and some of them became great clients – our guesses are many times pretty bad).

Once you’ve got the list, figure out what to do with it.

  1. Call your best friends and family and beg for work. If you’re reluctant to do it, it’s almost certainly more your problem than theirs. They want to help you a lot more than you think, more than anybody else you know. Beg!
  2. Call others you know well and simply ask if they want to do business or know someone that does.
  3. Have a pizza party for your highest potential gate openers who aren’t likely to become clients and have a brainstorming session. Give them your 10-minute spiel and get 30 minutes of feedback. Then ask them to make a list of everybody they know (or 5-10 people in the meeting) and go around and ask each of them to describe somebody they are referring. That will help everybody to immediately think of someone they forgot.
  4. Create interest groups from your list and get a guest speaker to serve them – just put together the meeting to build relationships. They’ll love you for serving them and later you can ask for referrals.
  5. Go through the list and see whom you should connect with each other – you’ll be surprised at how much power you have to connect people who would love to know each other, and you’ll be the person who made it happen.
  6. Start a weekly or monthly interest or business group for those that have some common needs (get 5-10 other people on your list to do it with you and recruit 10-15 others you’ve never met – your list just grew exponentially). Put some structure and commitment to it – play kids games and that’s whom you’ll get.
  7. Do the usual where appropriate – send an email or a direct marketing piece or similar for those you really don’t know very well.
  8. Assemble your top 100 potential clients and gate openers and commit to call two of them every day and say hello – no agenda. Build the relationships and do business after it’s appropriate.

I put that one last because things like it (frequent, personal, relational contact) are the best way to use that list to build your business. And serve, don’t sell. Find out what they need, meet them where they are at, and watch your business grow.

If you have lots of money and no time, than just do advertising. But if you’re like most small business owners, you’ve got a lot more time than money, and you can reach people you already know a lot easier than going out cold-calling.

I’ve never done a cold call in my life and was the top sales person in every corporation I was in, with annual sales of up to $10 million. Make a list of everyone you know and build relationships with them. It’s the best-kept non-secret in marketing.

Making Money is not an Empowering Vision

To build a business that provides you the lifestyle you want, you need a vision that motivates you. And guess what? Making money is not an empowering vision. I know plenty of people who’ve tried it including me.

My friend Eddie Drescher has a client who told him, “After $150,000, it didn’t make me any happier to be making $500,000.” Some people push the numbers up or down, but you get the point—money never makes life more meaningful.

What we do with it can.

I made healthy six-figure incomes for years before I started The Crankset Group. One day a few years ago, while in one of those jobs, Diane, my much better half, came to me and said, “I don’t know how you keep going, because I can’t take this job any more and I’m not even the one doing it.” She was responding to the listlessness, the lack of power and meaning that comes from just making money.

She helped me identify that I hadn’t made any connection between the money I was making and what I could do with it to build a life of success and significance for myself, let alone for anyone else. It was as if making money was an objective that lived on its own and had no way of influencing what went on in the rest of my life beyond buying shiny objects.

But I knew intuitively that there is a deep connection between my work, the fruit of that labor, and how I could use that work to create a life of success and significance. It was the turning point that led to starting The Crankset Group. I make a great living now, too, but with better reasons than just making dough. I get out of bed easier and with more purpose.

A successful business owner eventually figures this out. Making money is not an empowering vision; neither is being trapped as an employee of yourself something you can call a lifestyle. Either way, if you want to be successful you’re going to need to figure out how to build a business that makes money while you’re on vacation, while you’re also trying to make money.

The successful business owners make sure they make money today, but they make sure they are building their future at the same time. And building your future almost never makes you money today:

  1. deciding what your business looks like 3 years from now
  2. putting together a simple 2pg Strategic Plan to get there
  3. Process Mapping your business so somebody else can do it for you
  4. hiring the right people and training them, etc.

None of these things make you money today. All they do is help you build a business you can enjoy for decades. If you’re focused on making money, you won’t get there. If you’re focused on building a business that makes money while you’re on vacation, you’ve got a much more empowering vision.

Are you working to make money or to build a business you can use to create significance for yourself and the community around you?

Kids and Businesses should both grow up.

Within a few weeks of the birth of our first child, Diane and I were already imagining and anticipating how it would be when he was all grown up, had graduated from college and was out on his own. We had these same conversations after the birth of all three kids.

From very early on we really looked forward to having adult children whom we could enjoy, and with whom we could build adult relationships. We’re now reaping the rewards of those early years of investment and simply couldn’t have better kids to be around.

We haven’t stopped being parents (we were never fans of being “your kid’s best friend”), and will continue to always play a role in giving unwanted advice and meddling where we shouldn’t. But we fully expected and looked forward to that point in our relationship when it would change from one of complete dependency to what we have now, a reciprocal relationship with our young adult children where they now give back to us on a regular basis with their lives.

Maybe Diane and I are weird. From the beginning we thought of our kids not just as kids, but also as adults in the making. We were very aware that at some point the great amount of personal time, emotion, and money invested in guiding our kids would eventually grow into a more of a two-way street. We hoped that as adults, we could all invest in each other, help each other find significance with our lives, and simply enjoy each other for decades.

Maybe that perspective is why I see business differently than other people. I think businesses should grow up, too. I don’t mean “it would be nice if it happened”. I mean we should all, every one of us, expect our businesses to grow up and start giving back to us and to the world around us.

We should assume that at some point our business would move from survival right through success to significance. Everyone would agree that we should intend for our children to grow up, leave home, and become grown-ups we could enjoy for decades, and yet when was the last time we had a similar conversation about our businesses? It’s normal for children to grow up, so why isn’t it normal for businesses to do the same thing? Frankly, we’re in charge of both of them at birth, and if you have had kids, you’ll know that you’ve got more control over the maturity of your business than the maturity of your kids.

And yet most businesses never grow up. We spend decades changing the diapers in our business and reporting to the vice principal on a regular basis to get it out of detention. Twenty years after we hung out our first sign we seem to be spending as much time, emotion, and money on our business as we did the day it was born. Why would we so eagerly anticipate the maturity of our children and never expect the same for our business? Shouldn’t we expect to be able to enjoy our mature business for decades as well?

I would enjoy your thoughs on this.