Here’s an excerpt from The Gary Halbert Letter, where Gary tells a story that’s become famous within the direct marketing world. Enjoy:
“As you may or may not know, every once in a while I give a class on copywriting and/or selling by mail. During these classes, one of the questions I like to ask my students is: ‘If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?’
“The answers vary. Some of the students say they would like to have the advantage of having superior meat from which to make their burgers. Others say they want sesame seed buns. Others mention location. Someone usually wants to be able to offer the lowest prices. And so on.
“Whatever. In any case, after my students are finished telling me what advantages they would most like to have, I usually say to them something like this: ‘O.K., I’ll give you every single advantage you have asked for. I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will (when it comes to selling burgers) whip the pants off all of you!’
“‘What advantage do you want?’ they ask.
“‘The only advantage I want,’ I reply …
“‘Is … A Starving Crowd!’
“Think about it. When it comes to direct marketing, the most profitable habit you can cultivate is the habit of constantly being on the lookout for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or, at least hungry) for some particular product or service.”
(Excerpted from “The One Advantage,” archived at www.thegaryhalbertletter.com.)
While I’ve always enjoyed this story, I’ve also found it frustrating. What if finding a starving crowd isn’t an option? Sometimes you are stuck selling to a particular customer.
For instance, what if you were concerned about breast cancer? Research shows that mammograms save the lives of women every year who don’t otherwise notice symptoms of cancer. Yet, in any given year, only about half of women of the appropriate age get a mammogram.
The statistics for men are worse. Less than half of men who are at the recommended age for a colonoscopy ever have one.
If your mission is to save people from dying of cancer, should you change your mission because people aren’t “starving” for mammograms or colonoscopies? Changing your “crowd” isn’t an option.
I had the opportunity to travel to Vail, Colorado a few weeks ago to lead a discussion for Jack McDonough’s mastermind coaching group for his licensees and franchisees. The room was full of attorneys and CPAs who sell to IRS tax-problem clients.
When you study the business, you quickly discover that every building contractor or home builder is a prime candidate for IRS enforcement action. No matter how well the contractor runs their business, because of the way the IRS enforces tax law, every contractor is either currently enduring IRS enforcement or will be.
However, try explaining this to a contractor who doesn’t want to believe it. The contractor’s response will vary between “I’m too small for the IRS to worry about me,” or “I’m doing everything correct, I have nothing to worry about,” and totally ignoring everything you say. After all, if they haven’t yet received a notice from the IRS, why should someone ever believe it could happen to them?
If you were to adhere to Gary Halbert’s advice, you would focus your marketing efforts only on people with a current IRS problem. When their bank accounts are closed, their cash is seized, and their customers are all receiving letters from the IRS instructing them to send any money owed to the contractor to the IRS instead, they become very interested in treating their problem. But, your tax resolution business will grow a lot faster if you are able to serve contractors who haven’t yet been contacted by the IRS.
What do you do to get the attention of people who equate your services to getting a colonoscopy? You do the same thing that people who are saving lives by promoting cancer treatments do — you tell emotional stories.
Cancer prevention advocates tell stories of lives saved by preventative procedures, but real impact comes from the stories of lives lost. The man who dies at 57 years old, who worked his whole life and never had the opportunity to enjoy retirement because his colon cancer wasn’t discovered in time. They show the widowers and children left behind by women who died from breast cancer not discovered in time.
If you are squeamish, you will be ignored. If your services are life and death, you must tell stories that illustrate what ignoring brewing problems can lead to. Among the group of attorneys, one man jokingly suggested bringing along an orange jumpsuit to meetings to demonstrate that federal prison can be the result of ignoring IRS tax problems for too long. While it was said as a joke, my client Bo Mitchell actually does bring an orange jumpsuit to his meetings with corporate CEOs who face criminal penalties from the Federal government for failing to implement disaster planning at their company. With that orange jump suit, Bo is able to give the CEO a mental picture of going to jail. This picture helps the CEO make the necessary changes they need to avoid wearing that orange jumpsuit.
What’s the equivalent of the orange jumpsuit your prospective customers can expect if they ignore what you have to offer? Changing the world by changing minds takes extreme measures. Your customer has to be able to see and feel the impact of doing nothing, before he or she will take action.