Six ways to win the attention of prospects and customers … if done carefully

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Six ways to win the attention of prospects and customers … if done carefully

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Vice President

Since I began selling and marketing over thirty years ago, novel ways of getting the attention of a potential buyer has been high on my list. Remember when email was a novelty? Can you recall the last time you opened something out of the mouth of an automated direct mail response engine?

Automated, demographic-segmented, behavior-driven, algorithm-brewed electronic and direct mail marketing has reached such a point of saturation that recipients either filter them out electronically, or ignore them.

Here are some ways to stand out from the crowd … if sincerely and prudently used.

Send personal well wishes through social media. Social media like LinkedIn and Facebook notify you of important events such as a birthday, promotion, work anniversary, publication of a blog, and so forth. While they often contain prescribed click-and-send notes (“Happy birthday, Roberta”, and “Congratulations, Alan!”) you’ll stand out from the rest of the click-and-send crowed by deleting them and writing your own short message. Prerequisite: you have to know the person well enough to be sending the note; otherwise it will appear as blatantly self-serving and do you more harm than good. Effort: low. Cost: zero.

Send a personal letter in the mail – not a form letter, but a letter personally tailored to the receiver, and signed by you. You can, for example, include a copy of – or web address leading to – an article that your recipient may find of interest. Write it in ink, not pencil (you can’t go wrong with black or blue). Prerequisite: have something sensible and of merit to communicate, staying clear of sales pitches. Effort: modest (you can always use a text editor). Cost: under a dollar.

Go one better, and send a handwritten letter which is signed by you. When was the last time you received a handwritten letter? Handwritten letters need to be carefully crafted, for both thought and penmanship (you can’t cross out mistakes and start over again). Prerequisite: your letter must be born of sincerity and good taste, staying well clear of sales overtures or self-serving asides, e.g. “Perhaps we can have lunch and discuss the merits of our product line.” Resist the urge to add in a data sheet or brochure. Effort: high. Cost: under a dollar.

Go for the gusto, and send a handwritten letter on personal stationery – not company letterhead, but personal stationery with your name on it. Tastefully selected stationery sends as much a message about you as does what you say. In all likelihood your recipient has never received a handwritten letter on personalized stationery. Prerequisite: No matter how appropriate the stationery, or how much effort goes in to your handwriting, commercial entreaties will most certainly backfire. Effort: high. Cost: $3 to $8 depending on choice of stationery (higher if you find yourself discarding sheets and starting from scratch again).

Send a personal greeting card – birthday, holiday, or promotion. Don’t send an e-card – not if you want to stand out from the crowd. You’ll either need to go to the store and purchase one, write a personal note, sign it and mail it. Or, if you have already splurged on personal stationery, you can also purchase pre-packaged occasion cards in bulk so that they are always handy. Prerequisite: common sense and good taste prevail. Do not send the increasingly popular, quantity-produced holiday greeting cards with a picture of your family with their heads poking through the cutouts of a winter snow scene or, worse, you wearing a pumpkin costume at Halloween. Effort: high. Cost: $2 – $5.

Send a suitable gift as a thank you, or to commemorate an important occasion. This could either foster or kill the relationship with a customer or prospect, depending on what you choose to send. A “small token of appreciation” should be just that: something tasteful and thoughtful that is likely to be appreciated, and not perceived as an inducement (certainly not to a U.S. government employee where gift values cannot exceed $25). Prerequisite: The recipient should have some knowledge of who you are, and the nature and value of the gift should be appropriate and suitable to the occasion. Effort: high: Cost: $10 – $25. You need not test the waters by going over the top.

Bottom line: it takes a combination of more time, effort and money to stand out from others. Yet, well-selected and tastefully crafted outreach can set you apart from the e-brigade.

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Written by Michael

Michael Douglas has held senior positions in sales, marketing and general management since 1980, and spent 20 years at Sun Microsystems, most recently as VP, Global Marketing. His experience includes start-ups, mid-market and enterprises. He's currently VP Enterprise Go-to-Market for NVIDIA.

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