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Nov 28, 2001

Marketing Diary: What an Online Marketer Learned by Taking a Job in Offline Sales

SUMMARY: When much-respected Internet marketer Don Skarzenski found himself abruptly unemployed recently, his experiences matched those of many other former marketers these days. He was told he was "too experienced" to be employed by one company. Another company said they'd love to interview him for a position, but only if he'd pay for his own plane fare to go halfway across America to meet with them. Finally Skarzenski decided that he'd rather be out and about than surfing the Net looking for openings all day. He's always loved cars, so he took a temporary job as a sales rep at a local...
Editor's Note: When much-respected Internet marketer Don Skarzenski found himself abruptly unemployed recently, he discovered the down-economy meant that finding a new emarketing job right away would be tough.

Instead of sitting around waiting for his next online job, Skarzenski decided that he'd rather be out and about. He's always loved cars, so he took a temporary job as a sales rep at a local Saturn dealership.

We asked him to report back on what's it's really like meeting face-to-face customers after you've been marketing to them virtually on the Web for so long. And what he's learned that can improve everyone's online marketing efforts. Here's the first installment of his insightful report from the offline world:

The big wheel keeps on turning. The wild days of dot-com glory are now just a memory, as are so many sites that seemed to be destined for greatness. In the aftermath, the brick-and-mortar not-coms of the past appear to be the probable online winners of the future. And many of us dot-com marketing knights are looking for new fields to joust on.

Having received one too many responses that read “We are looking for someone with less experience.” (honest – I received that reply from a struggling startup) I decided to take my skills back to the offline world. I ended up in a new car dealership, selling new Saturns.

I think that what I am learning will make me a better online marketer – and my experiences might broaden your understanding of marketing, too. Just imagine: I actually see, touch, and SPEAK with prospects every day! When’s the last time YOU did?

In this and following installments I’ll share what I’ve learned, with a view to helping online marketers gain a different perspective on their online prospects – and a realistic view of their offline competitors.

The view from the trenches

Of course, I am now a car salesman, and that skews all my observations, since Americans view cars salespersons with about as much esteem as they hold for lawyers and postal workers gone bad. On the other hand, I do work at a Saturn dealership – no hassling; no haggling; no high-pressure sales techniques. Really.


Red, White, and Blue are now more important than ever. But green still reigns supreme. Since September 11, more prospects say “I want to buy American.” But their actions say they can’t pass up a lower price. We’ve lost a number of sales to Hyundai, Kia, and Daewoo – not to mention Toyota and Honda.

Lesson for the online world: Low cost is still a big draw. Be cautious about waving the flag. You might get a backlash. “Free Shipping!” is likely to beat “Buy American!”

Saying “No” without moving your lips

Many prospects reject your pitch with a silent scream. No response means “no.” Your calls go unreturned. Or you find you received voice mail at 6:00 am – “I bought something else.” Or, “My Mom said to tell you she’s not home . . .”
Lesson for the online world: Unhappy / unconvinced prospects don’t tell you why they don’t buy. They just go away. Silently.

The truth is very valuable. Let us use it sparingly.

Similar to the preceding point, prospective customers come in many types, but one of the most common is the person who loves you, and your product, and your price, and your warranty, and they’ll be back tomorrow with a check. The “Be Back” book on many a salespersons desk might as well be called The Necronomicon – The Book of the Dead. They don’t say “no." They lie. And they just don’t come back.

Lesson for the online world: You will lose many sales. Get over it. Yes, do try to learn why your conversion rate isn’t as high as you’d like. But don’t expect to ever know with detailed precision. Why? Because many prospects would rather lie to you than tell you the painful truth.

They Like Me. They Really LIKE me! Oh! They really hate me?

Americans have a love-hate relationship with the buying–selling process. They love to buy, but they hate to be sold to. We do not forego TV, sex, drinking, movies, sports or other recreational activities in order to go to a car dealer and look at cars. (“Hey, forget about the beach – let’s go look at Buicks!”) Yet, many, if not most people on the lot or showroom floor claim they are not there to buy – they’re only looking.

Many of them have an aversion to sales people. Yes, they do want to buy – a happy act of voluntarily choosing what best meets their needs. But they do not want to be sold to -- a stressful process of chicanery and sophism by which they have something foisted off on them that they’ll later regret.

Lesson for the online world: your banners, email, etc need to inform, play the role of disinterested provider of information. The hard sell is greeted with revulsion, and even mild persuasion may earn only disapproval.

Branding is forever

Saturn did a good job of establishing a brand positioning – a new company and a new way of selling; quality; safety; a “family.” And they did well at winning awareness for that brand. Finally, they earned the brand by walking the walk. But Saturn has not done enough to maintain the brand. Many prospects know little or nothing about the Saturn “difference.” Some don’t know about -- or don’t believe “no haggling.”

Lesson for the online world: Branding is an ongoing, multi-dimensional process. It’s like an exotic flower – beautiful, valuable, but difficult to grow and demanding constant effort and attention. Otherwise it dies and crumbles to dust.

Next time: more customer types; the effect of the economy on buyers; working in the offline world...

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