Outsmarting Goliath by Debra Koontz Traverso Outsmarting Goliath by Debra Koontz Traverso
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Tips to Apply to Your Business--Instantly!

10 Offbeat Ways to Market Your Product or Service

The following is an excerpt from Outsmarting Goliath (Bloomberg Press, 2000). For the full text, as well as many more examples of each of the 10 points made, see the book.

Copyright © 2000 by Debra Koontz Traverso.
All rights reserved in all media.


You've got a dynamite product or service, but sales are off. You've tried every conventional marketing technique there is, but nothing seems to work. What should you do?

It's time to flip the coin and switch tactics. If conventional methods don't work, then try their opposites: the unconventional methods. Here are 10 that I have used repeatedly with success for my clients.

1. Solicit complaints instead of testimonials.
Just because you're not getting any complaints from customers doesn't mean you're meeting their needs and expectations. Wouldn't you like to know how they really feel so that you can make improvements? Customers rarely speak up, even when they have valid complaints, so make it easy for them to do so. Make customer complaint forms—or customer "suggestion" forms—readily available.

I helped a bar owner in Philadelphia establish a complaint system that proved comically popular. Each month, a complaint of the month was selected by patrons and the winner's picture was placed on a Complaint Wall of Fame. This effort not only was talked about all around town, but it ended up in the city newspaper too.

2. Do business for free, instead of a fee.
Fortunately, you don't have to bid for, win, and carry out a huge assignment with an impressive company or client before you are able to use their name in conversation to impress other prospects. There are many other ethical ways you can practice name-dropping.

When I was starting out in a former career, I identified a company I wanted to work for as a consultant. I contacted the person responsible for hiring someone like me. I told him that I would like the chance to work with him but that, because I was new, I knew he'd probably like to see me in action first, so I wanted to volunteer my time for a day or two. Immediately afterward, I was able to legitimately say that I had worked with this man and his company. Six months later, I worked for him again, but this time for a fee.

3. Call key prospects and DON'T talk about business.
Devote three or four hours each month to call people who could be good referrals or prospects for your business. Don't ask for business. This is a call about them, not about your business.

I once had a client who vacationed in Maine every fall. If I hadn't heard from him or had any assignments from him in a while, I would make it a point to contact him in early September to tell him to enjoy his annual trek to Maine. The call not only pleased him, but generally landed more work before the month was through.

4. Don't hint for referrals—PUSH for them!
That's right. Be direct in your request. Clients might need this message clubbed over their heads before it sinks in. They generally assume that because you are so good, you must be very busy already.

The secret to pushing for a referral without looking like you're desperate for work is to start with a compliment: "John, I would like to work with more clients like you. (This could mean that you already have lots of clients, but that you want more like HIM.) Do you have any business contacts who you feel could benefit from my services too and whom you would like to make happy because, John, I will make them happy. (Shows confidence) If so, would you give them a call or arrange for us to meet?"

5. Stop offering sales.
But that's the only time they come in the door, you say? That's the whole point. If you have sales all the time, people will only buy when you have sales.

One owner of a vintage accessories shop told me that she used sales to draw people in. "All it did, however, is attract the same crowd, who only showed up whenever I had a sale," she said. "I was forced to always sell my products at a discounted price. Eventually I realized I had to stop the sales and get across the point that my prices were thoughtfully assigned in the first place."

6. Don't market to a customer's good feelings; market to their stresses and worries.
Position yourself as solving a problem for customers and clients. Even if you're a novelty shop, you solve a problem: the problem that customers have finding unique gift items.

I used to get flyers from a rental store. Just before each holiday and seasonal celebration, a simple and inexpensive—yet always clever—flyer would arrive in the mail letting me know that the store was available for emergencies just in case my TV set died before Super Bowl Sunday or my pool filter didn't work for Memorial Day. Of course, when I later needed to rent some equipment, I turned to them.

7. Market to someone else's customers.
Is another business in your town able to effortlessly get together the same market you're trying to reach? Then partner up with them.

I helped a caterer create a partnership with a hospital once. We decided that reaching people during one of the happiest times of their lives would be smart business, because it would be a time they wanted to celebrate but not have to do any food preparation themselves. Hospital personnel agreed with us that new mothers should return to housework slowly after coming home with a new baby. As a result, they allowed us to distribute flyers to fathers and grandparents offering a discounted "Welcome Home Mommy and Baby" luncheon to be delivered to their homes. And when the smart caterer delivered the luncheon, she left new flyers that talked about the "Happy Baptism" luncheon she could provide.

8. Practice a little "bait and switch"—but of the mental kind!
Baiting and switching customers with products is unethical and sometimes illegal. But giving them the chance to switch their thoughts to other things isn't.

I used to frequent a shop that sold dry roasted nuts of all kinds. The shop did mediocre business until its owner started displaying a rather impressive collection of elephants. Soon, the store became as much museum as it was nut shop. Needless to say, new visitors came to see the elephants and turned into customers before they left. The elephants baited them in, but the nuts' aroma soon switched their minds to their stomachs.

9. Forget winning awards—give them instead.
Bestowing an award, such as a gift certificate, a scholarship, or a shopping spree not only builds goodwill and customer loyalty, it generally lands you free publicity in the paper too.

Get as much mileage out of the publicity as you can. For example, if you offer the right type of award, you can secure publicity during the announcement of the annual nominee search, the announcement of the semifinalists, the search for judges, the presentation ceremony, you get the point.

10. Don't market for business; barter instead.
If you come across someone with whom you can exchange services, favors or business, then begin bartering.

Pat, an artist, bartered her way to a successful exchange with her artwork of the biblical book of Revelation. When several national ministries contacted her for permission to use her artwork in their publications, she quoted the usual fee, but added that if they printed the picture with her address and Web site, she would give them a discount. Worked every time.

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