I watched the new Steve Jobs movie last week.
Spoiler: he invents the iMac.
The point of the flick: paint a portrait of the guy that created the iPod, the round, partially-translucent, magenta colored desktop computer, and giant smartphones called iPads.
It seems the writer-director combo decided the best way to do this would be to time-travel the viewer to three (maybe four, I lost count) separate moments right before Jobs was about to go on stage to share his latest brain-melting gadget.
Without fail, each pre-stage moment is full of last minute technical issues, conversations with the mother of his child whom he denied for years was his own, and employee/coworker-Jobs conflict (the same employees and coworkers each time...before every major launch...launches that are years apart from one another...).
While the story structure was admirable, I couldn’t help but feel like sometimes I was watching a Birdman-esque comedy, not a memoir-drama (I mean, there had to be a better time to discuss paternity tests, or challenge the CEO's leadership style than right before he goes on stage every year, right?).
Anyway, this got me thinking about the concept of "target audience" - the people for whom you make your product, art, or writing.
Two questions came to mind:
The answer to the first question is die-hard Apple fans, as far as I can tell
The answer to the second question? Steve Jobs built the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad for people who:
1. want to be seen with the product in their hands (they want the status symbol)
2. who can afford to buy the product (they have wealth)
3. who do buy the product (they take action)
The third point here is key.
You see, it doesn't matter if Jobs only accomplished 1 and 2 above. That's all well and good, but that just puts it in the same category as every other high-end consumer product that doesn't sell and fails (like Apple's own Newton).
Where Jobs excelled was getting people to do number 3: buy his product.
He was a master salesman for the upper and middle-upper-class (and their kids).
As a result, Apple is now the most profitable company in the world.
And according to the movie, that's not an accident. It was by design.
Steve knew who he wanted to be known by: the people who would put money in his hands for the work he did.
And just as crucially: he never catered to anyone else.
(there's a reason the company is the most profitable...and it has everything to do with why most of the world operates on hardware and operating systems not produced by Apple)
Who do you want to be known by?
This is not a rhetorical question. And if the answer is everyone, you're off to a bad start.
Defining, finding, and getting in front of a specific group of people who are willing to pay for your products and services is the only way to get traction in business; it's the only way to develop systems and processes that can scale; it's the only way to build profitability.
Who do you want to be known by?
This is the question that will help you define your target audience; this is the question that will help you find your first 1,000 true fans in a specific, well-paying niche; this is the question that will help you become the best in the world at what you do.
Who do you want to be known by?
This is the most important question - everything else is secondary.
In 1993, Jeff Miller took over as CEO of Documentum, a document management company that had been stagnant at $2 million in revenue for the past several years. This might seem like a good problem to have, except that companies that aren’t growing are usually dying.
Something had to change.
So Miller started at the beginning - "who is our target customer?"
As it turned out, Documentum served everybody. Or at least anyone who would pay.
After analyzing their sales data, the state of the market, and evaluating their current customers, Miller made the controversial decision to redefine their target customer.
Instead of serving everyone, Documentum would focus on executives within pharmaceutical companies that relied on efficient and effective document management for new drug proposals (which was worth about $1 million a day to these companies).
Documentum went from a target customer group of millions to focusing on less than 1,000 people worldwide.
Documentum put all their energy into these 1,000 potential customers, focusing specifically on the executives of these pharmaceutical companies, the ones who recognized the pain most clearly and who were capable of purchasing and implementing Documentum’s solution. The promise Documentum made: their technology would speed up new drug proposal documentation and submittals, thereby freeing up millions in cashflow for these companies.
Documentum was able to deliver on their promises and within one year 30 of the top 40 pharmaceutical companies bought in.
This alone generated $25 million in revenue and the first profitable year for Documentum (or about 1,250% growth in two years).
Indonesia is a funny place.
On the one hand, you find some incredible artisan craftsmanship – stuff that would cost 10 or 20 times more in the States (minimum).
On the other hand, you have someone trying to sell you something (anything) every ten feet.
*true story: as I was walking down a street in Bali, amongst the offers of lunch, massages, and places to stay, a guy asked me if I wanted a tune up for my car. I was walking… I had no car.
I’m not going to lie: I definitely got sold more than I’d like to admit while I was there.
Most of the purchases I wanted or needed, of course, but still – I was impressed by this culture of people who are so willing to - and so skilled at - closing a sale.
But nothing tops the two 5 year old girls I met in Kuta, Lombok.
We just arrived in Kuta after a full day of travel (no, not your conventional travel– think: 1 hour boat ride in a rickety boat that almost capsized multiple times, negotiating a ride with middlemen who triple the rates to get their cut, and finally getting a ride only to find out he’s not taking you where you want to go, etc.).
Needless to say, we were pretty tired and just wanted to relax for a little while before another day of travel the following day.
After finding a place to stay, we dropped off our luggage and decided to explore the small beach town of Kuta.
It didn’t take long after hitting the main road for these two to find us:
I never did get their names, but I do have their bracelets (yes, plural).
And while the value of the bracelets is probably only a few cents, the lessons on selling I learned from them are priceless.
These two girls didn’t wait to swarm: they were on us the first moment we stepped foot on the main road.
They literally raced ACROSS the road in traffic (albeit light traffic) to get to us first.
Why does this matter?
Simple - because I had never been to Kuta before, I had no idea what the town was like. I would come to realize (just a few minutes later) that the town is full of little girls trying to sell you bracelets. If I had known that, I probably would have ignored them.
But because these two got to me first (before I knew what I was getting into), they got my cash.
Me saying no to dozens of more salesmen (it pays to be first)
There are millions of people searching for things every day online.
The majority of these searches are for things that are brand new to the person searching.
If we already have a trusted website for something, we go there first. If we’re unsure, we search.
If you don’t recognize the power of being first (in rankings, in someone’s inbox, and as the first person people recommend for service X or product Y), you’re missing a great opportunity to increase your sales.
*note: being first is mandatory for selling commodities, but it’s also important when it comes to more premier items because exposure to your name, brand, and ideas matter (see: the exposure effect for reasons why).
These girls didn’t wait for me to come to them.
They ran to me.
If they had waited, I would have walked right by – but because they got in my face (in a polite but demanding way), I felt compelled to stick around and see what they had to offer.
They closed the sale precisely because they instigated the conversation.
But more important than this simple action (getting in front of the customer) is actually understanding WHY and HOW it works.
It works because these girls KNEW their target demographic (white adult males – we’re suckers). At a young (but wise) age, they knew who they should approach, who they should spend their time ‘selling’, and who they should avoid (time wasters – people not in their target demographic).
These little girls understood the 80 / 20 principle of selling to a T: the top 5% of your customers will bring in the most cash. Focus on them. Ignore the rest.
Simple: you need to get in front of your customers.
As in ACTIVELY get in front of them.
A newsletter (like The Resistance Broadcast) is a great place to start - it allows you to get an 'okay' from your reader / customer / client to start a conversation in their email inbox. If they're on your list, they want to hear from you (or they can unsubscribe).
This is Permission Marketing 101.
Taking this a step further: sending direct messages / emails / video messages makes things even more personal (and therefore even more powerful as a sales tool).
I can’t tell you how many ebooks, programs, and other digital media I’ve bought because someone approached me and asked me to buy.
And honestly, the reason they asked wasn’t as important as the fact that they asked me - directly. Not a mass email – a personal email, or a personal message. That closes a sale better than being passively on top of a search engine.
*note: I’m using this technique right now when I promote this blog post to The Resistance and to my social networks – I’m actively getting in front of my target audience – something anyone trying to sell anything (from art, to widgets, to ideas) ought to do.
If you like your facts backed up with scientific studies, here you go.
While some might be discouraged by this, it really should be seen as a positive because ‘looks’ are highly controllable (whether we’re talking about how you dress, to your webdesign).
These little girls obviously didn’t deliberately plan this, but because they were so cute (even the one in the hijab – I mean, come on!), I couldn’t help but pay attention.
Make sure your website looks good (enough).
Make sure your sales page is easy to read, your products look sexy, and spend more time than you think you should on the visual aesthetics of whatever you’re working on.
This isn’t just important for closing a sale, but for charging a premium.
The same beer in a high-end hotel sells for double (or more) what it sells for at a gas station (this is true even if you’re not in the hotel, but simply told the beer CAME FROM the hotel).
Is your website (product, or service) a high-end hotel or a gas station?
The first thing these girls did, once they stopped me in my tracks, was get the bracelet they wanted to sell me on my wrist.
It’s still on there months later.
Me forking over cash...notice the bracelet already on my arm.
Getting the product on the customer’s hand (or back, head…whatever) matters because it increases our perceived ownership of the product.
Once those girls got their bracelets on my wrist, it wasn’t a matter of ‘do I want to buy this?’ but ‘do I like wearing with / could I see myself wearing this?’
And yes, that question changes everything.
Give a piece of whatever you’re creating away for free.
It doesn’t have to be the whole eBook, or the whole collection of digital comics, or the whole program / manual / guide / whatever.
Just a piece of it gives me ownership over the product.
Software companies do this with free trial periods and the ‘freemium’ business model (basic use is free – if you want the good stuff though, it’ll cost you).
Point is, I’m (and human beings in general) more likely to buy when I get to hold the physical product in my hand (and whatever equivalent that looks like in the digital space).
I only agreed to buy one bracelet - from the girl on the right.
She got her money and was very happy.
Then the girl on the left said: “What about my bracelet?”
Me: “I just bought one and it’s great but it’s all I need.”
Girl: “but you bought from her, not from me. Be fair.”
She got me.
I had to be fair.
I wouldn’t recommend this except as a last resort.
If you’re product isn’t selling, it could be because it’s boring, bad, unnecessary, lame, or something else people don’t want to buy.
In this case, you can use sympathy.
The only problem is sympathy-purchases canabalize sales (and customers), which is to say: once you made a sympathy sale (someone bought because they feel bad for you), you’re not making another sale from that person.
Sympathy sales only work once.
Once your Kickstarter campaign is over, don’t try going back to the same customers to back another product launch. I’ve seen this done many times before, and every time the second launch is weaker (or fails).
Again, use just for last ditch attempts and realize you’ll be ignored afterward…so count the cost before you decide.
These are, hands down, the 5 most effective sales techniques for anyone trying to sell anything online (or off).
Nothing beats the hard work and hustle of someone interacting DIRECTLY with her customer.
Is it easy?
Are there other techniques that automate the sales funnel, transactions, etc.?
But realize this: none of the big players you see got to where they are by starting with automization. Even Bezos started in his garage, making calls and closing sales – one at a time.
So if these techniques seem old-school, it’s because they are.
And they work.
* * *
So I’ve been on the road for a while now – for the past 6 months, actually.
The Resistance Headquarters is now in South Africa, based in Cape Town for the next month.
If you’re in South Africa, reach out and let’s connect!
If you’re not, stay tuned for more lessons on selling, marketing, artisanship, and entrepreneurship from the road.