The Recession-Proof Business : Chapter 9

Marketing is All About Timing

One of my marketing mentors, Dan Kennedy, says that marketing is all about timing. The difference between yesterday’s dinner salad and today’s trash is timing. I couldn’t agree more.

When I critique marketing pieces from clients, I often notice a huge timing mistake that wastes a lot of money. I call this the “Don’t Propose Marriage Before Asking for the First Date” timing problem.

Don’t Skip the First Date!

One of the most common mistakes I see in advertising and marketing is that of companies routinely selling the wrong “thing” in their ads. Rather than selling the next step in the sales process, such as “call my office” or “visit our store,” they try to sell their product or service right in the advertisement itself. That’s a big timing mistake.

It’s the equivalent of asking someone to marry you before asking for the first date – a serious timing error. Why is proposing marriage before the first date a major timing mistake? First, just because you want to jump to the end of the dating process doesn’t mean the other person also wants to do so. Second, it doesn’t match the other person’s decision-making process. When you violate the other person’s decision-making process, you actually end up repelling (not attracting) him or her. In short, it’s too big a leap in commitment too quickly.

The same is true with most advertising. Most advertising is created assuming the buyer is going to make an immediate purchase decision on the spot – before requesting more information, before calling to make an appointment, before visiting your place of business. Yet for most businesses, the business owner doesn’t actually expect a person to buy the advertised product or service without requesting additional information, but that’s the way the ads are written.

Here’s an example. A client of mine, a mortgage broker, wrote a letter (an advertisement) to his past clients to promote a new loan product. The letter included a lot of technical language that he is legally required to disclose before originating a new loan.

This was a timing mistake. So I asked him, “How many times have you sent a letter like this and the person writes you back and says, ‘Okay, sign me up’?” His reply was, “That never happens. I always end up with a phone appointment or an in-person appointment to exchange a lot of information before the prospects can make a decision and before I’m legally allowed to let them make a decision.”

In response to this information, here’s what I said: “Your letter is asking them to accept the loan before they’ve had a chance to talk with you. You’re proposing marriage before asking for the first date. In a nutshell, in your letter, stop selling the loan; sell the meeting instead.”

My advice to him was that instead of promoting the loan in the advertisement, he should instead “sell the meeting.” Rather than provide a unique, compelling, and credible promise that his product can offer to the prospect, he should provide a unique, compelling, and credible promise on why the prospect should meet with him.

To translate into dating terms, you don’t sell a woman on a first date by telling her how she’ll love having you as a husband. You sell the first date by telling her how she’ll have a great time on the first date. It’s all just timing.

Here’s another way you can see thousands of timing mistakes in advertising. Open your local newspaper or your Yellow Pages and you’ll see a lot of timing mistakes. Most advertisers are proposing marriage without asking for the first date. You’ll often see specific product and service descriptions. Sometimes you’ll see prices listed. For almost all the products and services featured in these ads, the sales process typically requires visiting a store, making a telephone call, or scheduling an appointment. Rather than trying to sell a product that prospects can’t buy on the spot, they are better off selling the prospect on the benefits of visiting the store, calling the advertiser, or scheduling an appointment. Once the prospect shows up at the store, calls the office, or schedules an in-person meeting, you will be able to sell the prospect on the product or service you offer.

Mapping Your Marketing to a Step-by-Step Sales Process

To get the timing aspect of your marketing right, start by mapping out a sales process. This process describes the step-by-step actions you want your prospects to take that result in them spending money with you. I’ll use a simple retail store example. The process could be:

1. Customer visits store

2. Salesperson asks customer questions and recommends product

3. Salesperson rings up sale and offers extended warranty cross-sell

That’s a fairly typical sales process for a retail oriented business. If you’re selling a service to another business, it might be something like this:

1. Client schedules appointment

2. Evaluate client situation and recommend solution

3. Write contract and collect payment

You’ll notice in each of these sales processes, step #1 – visit store or schedule an appointment – is not a financial transaction. The financial transaction occurs in step #3. As result, your marketing should focus on selling the prospect on the value of step #1 and nothing other than the value of step #1.

You have to give some thought to the sales process in your business and match your marketing message to sell prospects on taking the first (not the final) step in your sales promise. Figure out the kind of “first date” you want with your prospect, and sell the first date – and whatever you do, don’t propose marriage before you ask for the first date!