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March 31, 2009
How to Get Customers in this El Crappo Economy
You probably won’t find “el crappo” in Webster’s, but it does describe the current state of economic affairs. It’s also the exact verbiage used when I was emailed the suggested topic and invited to offer my insight. So, here goes, but first some background.
I run a creatively-driven, advertising and marketing consultancy geared toward small businesses. I’m also immersed in Web 2.0 marketing which I speak on and write about on a national level. (I’ve had an active blog and podcast for 3 years.) I also do something called “Marketing Therapy.” MT is the way I often begin with prospects who realize they have marketing issues, but aren’t sure how to deal with them. I’ve been doing this for the past few years and running a business, in various forms, for the past 24. During these 24 years I’ve been responsible for getting my own clients for all but 4 of them. So, I’ve survived some tough economic times, independently, for a while. Oh yeah, I should also add that I’ve had no formal business or sales training. Have I had anxious moments? Sure. But, like the guy walking the high-wire I’ve somehow managed to train myself to keep looking forward rather than down. It helps.
The way to attract customers in a bad economy is not a lot different than the way you’d do it a good economy. A bad economy just forces you to do it better. That means doing it smarter and, I think, more creatively. Because I’ve discovered in business, as in battle, the spoils don’t always go to the biggest. Often they go to the most innovative and clever.
Another thing I’ve learned about getting business is the power of patience and persistence. Even if you’re doing the right thing it takes repetition and time to produce results.
To offer a more detailed perspective on attracting customers is difficult without knowing and fully understanding the specifics of the situation. Are we talking about a law firm, or a car dealership? Is this about a branding effort, or a personal job search? But I can say this…whatever the scenario you must be clear about who your prospect is and then devise a way to get their attention in a an exciting, positive way. Then comes the fun part -- convincing them.
I was recently interviewed on BlogTalk Radio and asked about an article I wrote entitled, “No One Give a Damn About Your Product -- unless you Give’em a Reason to.” If the title isn’t obvious, it means that unless you’re selling cold drinks in a desert your product benefits may not be as obvious to your prospect as you’d like to think. And, this is where people and companies really need help. Entrepreneurs and business owners, as a rule, are passionate, ego-driven people. As a result, they tend to have a major blind spot when it comes to seeing their business or product as nakedly as their prospects do. So, besides lacking marketing expertise, they lack something equally critical to success in getting customers -- objectivity. So, if you’re looking to improve your odds at getting more customers, you might start by getting some trusted outside perspective. 
I could easily write another 40 pages on attracting business, but I’ll wrap up with a story of how I landed one of my biggest clients that demonstrate some of my points.
If “who you know” is the way to get more business then Networking is one good way to know more people, right? Well, that depends. There’s no shortage of networking events that, I think, are a big waste of time. After a year’s worth of my active membership in one particular networking group I was sure that my experience was falling into that category. The organization was NYWICI … NY Women in Communication.
Yes, I know. I initially attended as a guest and thought it was a joke when I was asked to join. I was told that, yes, men could join and they’d love to have me. The female membership was close to 900. When I asked how many men were members, they said 7.
I was convinced that I had to do more networking and pondered the idea of membership for several weeks. I even talked with another male member who encouraged me to join. Did he get any business out of it? No. But he did get a girlfriend. Hmm. So, with reluctance, I joined figuring that at least I’d stand out hoping that my mere existence would act as an automatic conversation starter. At the very least, I figured, I’d get a couple of dates out of it.
Not the case. Month after month, for 12 months, I’d throw on my best suit and make the trek to the events only to be ignored by a professional sisterhood that I felt no part of. I felt like I was a wedding crasher and it was unnerving. As I discouragingly shuffled out of the final networking event of the year, regretting my $350 membership, I found myself sharing an elevator with the incoming president. Just moments earlier I’d enjoyed her impassioned speech about the importance of business integrity and camaraderie. So, as I stood watching the elevator lights count down the seconds of my membership, I suddenly turned and complimented her on her speech. With a who-the-hell-are-you glance back I quickly explained that I actually was a NYWICI member. We exchanged cards.
Now I must tell you that my business card is not your normal business card. So, when she was stopped by it, and impressed by the attention-getting creativity, her demeanor quickly warmed up. And for the next 18 floors down I found myself in the most engaged dialogue that I’d been in all year. By the time we hit the ground floor we’d talked about lunch. It took the next three months to actually have that lunch, but a month after we did I signed a contract for a very cool 2-month project that netted me $86,000.
Was it luck? That was certainly part of it. But I believe that luck was created by a synchronistic combination of smart strategic thinking, creativity and action. I also believe, that applied effectively to any business situation, similar results can be achieved.

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John Follis is president of Follis Advertising LLC, author of How to Attract and Excite Your Prospects, and host of The Marketing Show, a syndicated podcast on iTunes.  His full profile can be found on Wikipedia

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