The Making of a Marketing Maven

Or, why should I listen to this madman?

I made it to grade eleven in Montreal, and then before long hit the road with my guitar. I was one of those relatively few Anglos in Quebec who voted “oui” in the 1980 Quebec referendum on separation.

I went to the Mardi Gras and met an old master, and learned how to separate a tourist from a few of their dollars with some inspired street performing and advanced “folding money extraction procedures”.

Pretty sophisticated stuff, actually.

When the gigs thinned out I would load or unload trucks or trains. I worked in an Italian catering company making huge vats of delicious pasta sauce 4-8 times a day. To this day it provides astonishment at regular dinner parties.

I was one of those people who never studied until I left school. I studied H.G. Wells’ Concise History of the World for several months. It did not seem that concise to me.

I took a job selling theatre subscriptions by phone. That too was hard work but the hours were comparatively easy. I went on to become the “World’s Greatest Telemarketer”. All this started when an “appointment setting wizardess” died of a sudden illness. The insurance broker who had employed her insisted she was the greatest when I met him. He was looking for a replacement but, a) didn’t believe anybody could come close, and b) was quite adamant that a man could not talk to newlyweds and persuade them to meet him as well as a woman and former bride could.

Within a couple of weeks I smashed all her records. On my best night, I set over twenty appointments for him….in about two hours. I don’t think I encountered a single “no” that night? Why? How? Rapport skills. Connecting skills. Listening intently in the space between breaths.

I thought I had it made. My friends were amazed that this guy sent me a check by courier every Friday for $1000. I was making a lot more than I would down by the docks.

One weekend I was visiting my music publisher in Montreal. His wife had a small home based business. This would be the spring of 1983. She asked me to “Help with her business”. I said, “Sure, I can move some boxes around if you need me to”. Or maybe she needed help with techniques for setting appointments by phone?

She said: “Talk to me and tell me what you think I should be doing”.

She went on to tell me about her print brokering business. I had never heard of print brokering but she told me that she intermediates between the trade printers and companies who do not have the in house skill or sales volume to justify working with them.

Long story short, out of curiosity and the basic desire to do what I could to fulfill her request, I asked questions which led (as it does) to other questions.

I asked how she got the clients, what happened when she did NOT get the clients. What exactly does she say? What do they say?

What happens next?

What are the factors affecting size of orders and reorders; do your clients realize all you can do for them? What is the means and method by which you educate or inform them of all the potential benefits you can bring?

I don’t know exactly how I knew to ask this stuff. I was just following where her answers took me. I ended up saying something like, “It’s a lot to absorb or change, but I suggest trying these three things”, and wrote out three suggestions for her sales process.

And I forgot all about it.

Six months later or so, I was visiting Montreal and she excitedly blurted out that she had doubled her business. So I said, “Way to go!”

And she said, “No you don’t get it. I doubled my business using your three suggestions”.

I said: “Get out of town.”

That was the moment when I finally realized I must have an aptitude for this stuff. I went out into the market and figured out how to get a client. I was a bit rough around the edges, so I was looking for opportunities to prove myself with results.

It astounded me that a business owner would pay me a lot more than he was paying his receptionist if I could bring new clients in the door even though I only dropped by from time to time.

Early on I made a deal with a mortgage broker.

He said he would pay me 20% of his fees for any prospects I brought to him that he was able to close. So I brought him eight to twelve appointments a day for about week. He closed a lot of mortgages that week!

Boy was I counting my chickens.

Then he refused to pay me. He said “There’s no goddamned way I’m going to pay a 23 year old kid $5000 a week.”

And I said, but you’re killing the golden goose. 

You would make $25,000 a week!

And he said, “So sue me! Get in line. I’ve got at least 15 law suits going on”.

He was proud of it!

I didn’t like it at the the time but that was a great and super condensed lesson in client selection.

Naturally, I stopped getting him appointments.

I went on to work with hundreds of business owners in the next several years. I offered one off guaranteed turbo consultations with audacious guarantees, daring them to ask for a refund if their worlds were not well and truly rocked.

I was never asked for a refund.

The crazy thing was, every time I did a consultation, I found out what that business was doing to get a customer and keep a customer. I found out what had worked and what had not worked. What their breakthroughs were as well as their blocks and areas of confusion.

They handed over everything.

How could I help them if I did not know everything they had tried?

I started being referred to as a “marketing genius”. Most of the time, the genius lay in getting them to do more of what worked, and in a lot of cases what worked was something they had previously figured out all by themselves but for some crazy reason stopped doing.

What you need to know is that very smart people do some very unsmart things and sometimes a consultant can help them to re engage the best things they ever did.

And then be deemed “a genius”.

I created a course called ‘Double Your Business in 180 Days—Guaranteed”. 

Mostly it was for small businesses, including “one man armies”. It took a lot of coaxing and handholding, but I had businesses double, triple, quadruple and quintuple during the course, and here again, nobody asked for their money back.

A staple of my repertoire was getting a client to reinvigorate lapsed clients and communicate strategically to a newly segmented data base or clients, prospects and potential referral sources.

I kept studying and learning and trying different models for consulting. From one off “Marketing Audits” to long term engagements. Fee and contingency deals based on a percentage of the lift my strategies brought them.

In the late 80s I developed a specialty in print advertising and copywriting. I would clip out ads from newspapers and magazines and make audacious promises to the business owner about how much untapped potential they were missing due to the fact that their ad was created by a person not steeped in tested and proven direct response principles.

I discovered from Jay Abraham, my marketing mentor, that changing the headline in an ad can double or triple or even quintuple (up to 21 times increase in fact according to thousands of tests) the results of their ad.

I studied with many of the great marketers and greedily compiled and acquired hundreds of case studies in dozens of industries.

My First Lawyer Client

And then I watched the Yellow Pages slowly die. I urged my clients to get out, though many continued to cling.

It was a crazy mismatch, and, seemingly, an opportunity. Every time I looked I just sat there in mild shock at the dissipation of so much money invested so carelessly.

So many people trundling in lockstep, doing what everybody else is doing, assuming the other guy knows better and that the only possibility is to follow the crowd.

Right at the precise moment a person was ready to buy, they were shown bland and generic “me too” ads based on what everybody else was doing in their heading. How could that possible be?

Isn’t differentiation and uniqueness a basic basic advertising priority for anybody who is half awake?

My first direct mail wave got me several appointments.

What I was saying was just too far out for most business owners. I could take them logically through the case, and I could show them what a proven print ad looked  like. And I could show them the difference that changing elements could make on the response to an ad.

But at the brink, they would hesitate.

And then I met a divorce lawyer in Toronto.

At the brink of being discouraged by all the rejection my perfectly reasonable premise was receiving, I challenged him.

I said if you choose to go with the ad I create for you, everybody will try to dissuade you. Nobody in your firm will understand. Your directory rep will try to talk you out of it and recommend you keep your ad looking like a compendium of everyone else’s ad.

“To do this you have to have brass balls. Do you?” (Not your usual “close” but I was a bit desperate).

He decided to go ahead. And as I had predicted, everyone told him the ad would not work. A lawyer from the directory called and told him he could not run that ad.

This got my new client’s attention, and I think it got his back up.

We ran the ad. The response was so robust that he reduced his allocation from twelve directories down to two the next year and still filled his appointment book.

I started to notice that lawyers are very committed to proven new ideas and to new intakes. That too got my attention.

They were very conspicuous consumers of expensive media. I noticed that too.

And so, I contacted law firms all over the US and licensed my proprietary methods on an annual basis.

And then I watched the Yellow Pages die I urged my clients to get out, though many continued to cling. Since then, I have developed other offerings for the legal professional, most notably in the area of referrals.

In my onsite consultations, I have interviewed clients from all over the States, and have heard so many shocking and touching stories.

In so many cases, a personal injury lawyer has to go to the wall, well beyond the call of duty to help a client get justice. One by one they earned my respect and admiration.

Law firms make an incredible and deep commitment to their clients and their community. They invest in infrastructure and staffing and advertising and sometimes their clients refer their friends and loved ones.

Mostly they don’t. (which I explain elsewhere).

I still like lawyers. As long as injured people keep getting the runaround, lawyers will be necessary and as far as I’m concerned the consumer who suddenly finds himself in need of a lawyer is deserving of good information to help them make the right selection.

I help that person to find a good lawyer by helping the lawyer connect with that person.

In my spare time I am writing a musical about Julius Caesar and the end of the Roman Republic in Gospel and Roots music set in New Orleans in 1934. 

The End…