Since starting my side-hustle, Halifax Paper Hearts, about 10 months ago we have been featured on Inc., Forbes.com, The Huffington Post, Yahoo News, and a number of other publications. When I run into people now, they often say “Wow – Forbes, your sales must be insane!” There seems to be this misconception that I am rolling in fat stacks of dough (I wish – not so).
While it’s true that we have sold over 12.500 note cards while working full-time jobs (heart-made with love care & salty air on the East Coast of Canada), the truth is that people read about your story and draw their own conclusions based on the sensationalism of the headlines. One thing I have been repeating over and over again is “That is marketing. Marketing is not sales. Sales is relationships”.
1) Sales is Relationships
Marketing is a system and series of tools and controls designed to bring together buyers and sellers, sales is a process that builds relationships and results in transactions. It is important to understand that a sale doesn’t exist in isolation; sales is a process in which you convert prospective clients to paying ones. Sales requires a daily, routine system in which you identify and directly interact with prospective customers in order to educate, engage and convince them to purchase your product or service.
Yes… that means you have to pick up the phone for some reason other than to snap or scroll Instagram (cue millennial screaming – myself included).
Like any sales professional, I have a prospect pipeline. The tale is as old as time… you create a targeted list of prospects based on your market research, and then – you pound pavement. The key to success in business is persistent, habitual process and more important than that, follow up. No matter what you’re selling, you must have an active pipeline of contacts that you’re constantly adding to, and nurturing relationships with.
I have three lists:
- Prospective Clients
- These are the people that I plan to connect with. I find them in all sorts of ways, but mostly through paying attention. I run into them on Instagram, through client referrals, on the street, in malls, and by doing research online.
- Current Clients
- These are my established relationships. They have purchased from me before, and they require periodic check-ins to encourage re-ordering and to share new products that might be a good fit for them. It is very important for me to show them love, consistently. This means I visit their stores, ask them questions, promote them on our social channels, and support their objectives.
- Clients to follow up with
- These are the people that I have called or emailed, and sent a retail line sheet to. They have received my information, and have not responded to me (this is normal, people are busy, and have no idea who you are). The thing to remember with sales is that when people don’t respond, it’s not a “no”, this process is not about you. Do not take it personally – as that will stop you before you even start. People are busy, and they need a gentle reminder to get back to you! Remember, you’re trying to get them to buy and they can’t just buy from anyone who sends them a spec sheet. You need to follow up. If you follow up 3 times with no response, move them to a list that is 6 months out – and try again. Do not give up – even Howard Schultz, the head of Starbucks was turned down 242 times by banks before he secured funding to build his empire. As Miley would say, “We cannnn’t stoppppp & we wonnnn’t stoppppp”
2) Marketing & PR is about Story-Telling, not Dollar Bills.
It is imperative to tell a compelling story, no matter what business you are in. People do not buy from you because they absolutely must have what you’re selling, they buy things based on the way you make them feel. Employing a marketing strategy is like going fishing. Your webpage is your boat, your fishing poles are your social channels, and your customers are what you’re fishing for. You wouldn’t go into the middle of a lake without a boat, so do not start sharing your story on social media until you have a platform that is complete, you need somewhere to keep the fish you catch. This means that you must have a concise and compelling brand story, a clear and distinct, clear purpose, and a way in which customers can do business with you. Do the work, get set up properly – and do it. You can always adjust as you go!
When we were featured in Forbes, our web traffic spiked, we connected with a few new opportunities, and yes, we even made a few sales. But conversion in sales (digital or not) is tried and true. Big box retailers have some of the highest closing ratios in retail and yet they only average about 30%. What that means, is that only 30% of people that walk through the door will actually purchase something during their visit.
Online closing ratios are much, much lower. Online conversion rates average about 2-4%, depending on a number of factors including the quality of the brand and website, and competitive pricing.
Let’s Do That Math (ew…)
If we have 20,000 people read an article about us, of those readers about 500 will take the time to visit our site, we *might* make 20 sales. Maybe. So of that 20,000 people only 2.5% of them visit our web page, then out of that 2.5% we may convert 4% of them into real-life paying customers. Of the original 20,000 who read about us, 0.1% buy.
It’s only a small part of the puzzle.
3) Marketing Puts Tools in Your Tool Box
So while marketing is not a direct translation for sales or conversions, there are many benefits to marketing. Marketing and Public Relations have added credibility to the reputation and viability of our side-hustle. When I reach out to prospective retailers about carrying our products in their stores, they can see right away that trusted news sources have shared our story. The publicity has also raised awareness for our own brand and messaging, by sharing our platform with a much larger audience.
Marketing adds tools to your toolbox as a sales person, it ups the ante – it legitimizes your business in some ways, and adds serious credibility to your “side-hustle” as a real business in peoples’ minds. People buy what they like and people like what they know. And, it’s 2016, people know what they read on the internet.
4) You Cannot Market Your Way to Success. You Must Sell. To a Paying Customer.
It can be really easy to become lost in activities that make you feel busy, but are not productive. So often, I see start up founders, business owners and – let’s be honest – even seasoned sales professionals spend their time in shallow “marketing” based activities because they don’t want to pick up the phone.
The reality is, that talking to your customers is the only way to validate the requirement and viability of the products or services you’re offering. Customers will tell you what is wrong with your idea, because that will be their objection to purchasing it.
Listen. To. Them.
Do not be so in love with your own idea that you waste endless amounts of time pushing something that cannot and will not generate revenue. You must be so obsessed with sharing your solution to a problem that you’re not even thinking about your harvest strategy for the first 3-5 years. If you’re planning your product development & overall growth strategy around how and when you’re going to get bought out, you’re not obsessed enough with your idea – and you’re going to fail.
When your conversions are sometimes 0.1% then yes, you must love what you do. Don’t give up.