Dog gone it! What we can learn about marketing from a canine

Peter Bowerman in The Well-Fed Writer, his best seller about how to freelance, retells a story he learned from his sales manager during Bowerman’s early days as a door-to-door salesman.

His mentor claimed that if you take an order book and a pencil, tie them to a dog’s tail and send the dog out to walk around town, eventually it will return to the sales office with an order written in the book and the pencil and book reattached.

Hmmm, what does this teach those of us who would like to sell our services professionally?

It may mean that instead of working, we should put our lazy, freeloading pets to work earning their kibbles.

A second conclusion is that anything can work. Stick with what you are doing—or begin doing what some expert claims is the latest, greatest way—and your success is inevitable.

But here is a third lesson and the one I favor. One success does not prove you have a method that merits the effort and time required to keep it going.

While the dog story sounds a little far fetched, people we know or even we ourselves justify ineffective sales techniques with isolated stories of how they have worked for others.

Here’s some that I have heard, and perhaps you have heard or even experienced similar ones. Take the person who flew to Las Vegas from O’Hare, got into a great conversation with the person sitting next to her and ended up with a terrific contract.

Or someone who met a friend of a friend at a wedding—or even funeral—and ended up with a sale.

Or another person who overheard a great opportunity while in line at a movie theater or on a bus. On a train or at the hairdresser. Eating at McDonald’s or out on the town. Kissing a frog . . . or walking that dog!

People love these stories and use them to prove any cockamamie marketing plan works. See, lightning can strike, they say..

Yes, but the real question is: Will this lightning strike consistently in the same place so that we should add it to our sales arsenal?

Lately many of these beloved sales stories involve the internet or electronic communications. Take blogs. The experts call these devices easy. Well, technically speaking, they are easy to create, but getting them up and going is just the beginning. They require ongoing writing and management and they also demand substantial work to build traffic that may convert to business. Yes, they can be highly effective if carefully thought through.

Or Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites. Here, if you don’t know where you are headed strategically, no amount of irrelevant, silly postings will lead you to steady profitability.

For any marketing technique to be worthy of undertaking, it must be strategically sound.

Sadly, the examples I’ve given so far fail on this criterion.

The flight to Las Vegas and the fortuitous conversations at family ceremonies make for great stories that improve with each retelling, but you are unlikely to enjoy more paying assignments no matter how many trips and special occasions fill your calendar.

And the blogs and social networking? Meaningless chitchat if not linked to a strategic goal.

Let’s plan our marketing by thinking through our efforts and employing marketing techniques that are effective in gathering sufficient leads and ultimately, paying opportunities.

Dog gone it! Let’s not be like the canine with the order book.

Instead, with clear-headed thought, we can develop successful marketing that reliably brings in excellent paying opportunities.

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