This Is Why Most Companies Can’t Sell
Joshua Davidson wrote this article
Back in late 2011, my company was still focused primarily on selling website design to small businesses in my hometown area. We were successful up until that point. Most local businesses were familiar with our brand, I had a small team of amazing individuals working under me, and a bit of traction with the local press. Of course, like most entrepreneurs, I wasn’t remotely satisfied. We weren’t making enough revenue consider ourselves even remotely content. We were growing but not at a rate that I felt was suitable.
One of the things that I truly believed in, and still do to this day, is that you need to scale the unscalable when growing a company. Case in point, I still personally write these posts for our blog and haven’t hired someone to write them for me. Though many would argue that my time in this particular case could be put to better use, I’m playing a long-term game, and believe this is the best move that I can make with the assets that I currently have available.
This was my logic in late 2011, when we decided we needed to scale a lot quicker, be a lot bigger, and cause a lot more hype. We realized that the majority of our clientele was older individuals who had run small businesses for years – and the opportunity lived with those who either had a truly lackluster website, or worse, no online presence. First, in hindsight, you can already see why this is alarming – if the owner’s business has a nearly invisible online presence, odds are, and it was not their priority. Second, even back in late 2011, somehow unimaginable to me, small businesses still considered the web to be an accessory to their business, not a necessity. Those who kept that mindset, well, they don’t really exist today… do they?
We decided that with this huge overwhelming audience of potential customers, lacking an online presence existing in the world, we wanted to convince them to work with us and let us remedy the situation. After all, we knew what we were doing, had laid a foundation, had validation from our existing customers, and a brand that people were beginning to recognize. So we went to work.
Carefully crafting a pitch, we decided on a mailer, even though we knew it would be outdated, it was the way to go. We realized we were trying to reach an old-school audience, so going old school to communicate with them was appropriate. We thought long and hard about how our mailer would be noticeable and grab their attention, instead of simply being thrown in the trash. We wanted to make sure that every single letter we sent to a prospective customer, would, at least, be opened.
This is where the genius, at least, in our minds, was discovered. We would send old, ratty looking letters to potential clients, not to their businesses, but instead to the home addresses of the owner, addressed directly to them, personally. As an entrepreneur, how could they resist getting a letter made out to them personally, to their own address, which resembled something sent from the year 1881, as if was just dug out of the dirt and sent through the mail?
The letters, the envelopes, the branding, it was simply beautiful. Even looking back, it was one of the gorgeous marketing materials that we have ever put together. The letters felt as if they would fall apart in your hand, looked absolutely ancient, but held up like a champ. Every letter was handwritten, personally addressed, with an old stamp added for that extra ounce of quality. The back had a wax seal with our logo pressed into it. Once you opened the envelope, a postcard, letter, and stickers awaited you with the same message communicated on each one, saying, “Why does your online presence look as old and outdated as this letter?” It was bloody brilliant.
Of course, going back to scaling the un-scalable, putting this together was labor intensive, hard, and expensive. We spent almost an entire summer putting this into production. Since you cannot purchase old envelopes, we would buy white envelopes, pour boxes of green tea onto a garbage can lid turned upside down, and dip the envelopes into the green tea until they were dyed brown. Afterward, we would have to carefully hold up the envelope so that it wouldn’t tear, blow drying it until it felt strong enough to dry the remainder of the time (which would be weeks) on a table. Of course, we didn’t realize that when the dyed envelopes started drying on top of one another, they started sticking to each other, and were torn easily if you tried to take them apart too quickly.
Furthermore, we needed to locate the addresses and names of every small business owner. You would Google the business, then look up the owner of that business on a business directory website, then look up that individual on Google and the yellow pages to confirm you had the accurate address. You would be doing this process thousands of times. We would spend, on average, ten minutes per business, which means one person could nail down six businesses per hour. We were a small team of 4-5 people at this time, and all of us were focused on this campaign, so only about 30-40 businesses per hour were being recorded. This went on for weeks.
Of course, the hardest part was handwriting the letters. Though it may not seem daunting at first, the tediousness of doing something at this scale sets in rather quickly. Worse, you cannot rush this in the slightest, as you need clear and dark handwriting so that the mail service can accurately read the addresses being supplied. If you did it poorly, the dyed envelopes would make the writing unreadable.
Don’t even get me started on how long we went back and forth on the graphics, finding the right vendors to print our materials, having the wrong prints being sent over, and the back-and-forth communications plus costs for nailing down everything. Oh yeah, and of course, individually packing each envelope with the right materials. You see how this all plays out, right?
The end result, though, again, was brilliant. The letters were finally ready to be sent. We loaded up four grocery bags full of envelopes and drove to the postal office. Boom. They were sent, and we were ready for the emails and phone calls to begin pouring in.
You’re probably expecting this next part now… nobody called.
We didn’t exist.
Weeks went by, nothing. Months of hard work, thousands of dollars, gone, just like that.
We were emotionally exhausted, physically tired, and everyone was frustrated. It was one of the lowest, if not lowest, points as an entrepreneur that I have ever faced.
And then, we received a phone call, one month later from someone who said he received the mailer. He remarked how impressed he was with the mailer, that it was the most unique, entertaining letter he has ever received. How much he appreciated our hard work, the research needed to find his personal address, the personal touches we included. He then quickly said he had no interest in working with us because a website wasn’t needed for his business, but he just wanted to let us know that he loved our campaign.
He hung up quickly after that.
That would be the only phone call or message we would receive from our mailer campaign.
That is when it hit me. That moment of epiphany. One that has defined my career as an entrepreneur to this point, and what has allowed us at Chop Dawg to be so successful at what we do. It is what I talk about often to our clients, when I speak publically, on this very blog, and even on social media. It is that you cannot sell something to someone that they do not want to buy.
This is the biggest hurdle that entrepreneurs, startups, and most importantly, companies face. They are trying to sell to consumers who have no interest in their product, have not made emotional decisions to consider buying their product, and, especially in the B2B world, which my company Chop Dawg exists in, you cannot expect a spur of the moment decision. This isn’t how humans work. It isn’t how our consumer-find DNA works, especially now in 2016.
I realized at this moment that the only way you can ever sell your product is by selling to those who know they need the services you provide. I can convince any potential client of ours that knows they need the best mobile app, web app or software development company on the planet to work with us – because to be frank, I know just how damn good we are; the results prove that day in and day out. What I know I can’t do is convince you to build a mobile app, web app, or software application – because that isn’t something I have the power to do. That is something only our clients, the consumers, will consider and decide on for themselves.
We made the mistake back in 2011, thinking that we could convince small businesses that didn’t have a website, or had the worst websites on the planet that they needed something state-of-the-art, an actual online presence. We thought the best mailer campaign could change their emotional well-being. This is the same mistake we see so many startups making today. Look on a website, such as ProductHunt.com, right now. How many problems exist that people don’t really care about? How many have the incorrect pitch about why they need the solution, not why they need to choose this business. their competitors, or their industry?
This was one of the most pivotal moments that defined who I am today, and I am eternally grateful. One of my closest friends has consistently said it best to me whenever my company or I have failed at something – we are simply paying tuition. This was one of those moments that we paid tuition, and due to paying it, learned from the experience, and are better off because of it. This was my college, my university, and my final exam.