A cartoon man offering up flowers to potential e marketing prospects and clients

The following article was first published in St. Louis Small Business Monthly’s April edition

As I drove to my office this morning, I heard a radio advertisement for a local technology firm (let’s call it Acme Technologies) that sells a service I might need. At the end of the ad, the spokesman recited the firm’s toll-free telephone number and said, “Call today to get started.”

“I’m not ready to get started,” I thought. “I may be interested soon, but not today.”

I didn’t call. In a few weeks, if I’m more ready to buy, I may remember the ad and may call the firm. Meanwhile, Acme has no idea I exist and no way to court me further.

Thousands of people heard that ad. Most are like me. We are the maybes. Marketers frequently ignore us.

If you want to sell more, you must court the maybes. I purposely chose that word court to remind you of courtship, as in dating and romance.

Imagine you’re single, looking for a new long-term relationship. You enter a room full of strangers and see someone whom you find attractive. You walk over, introduce yourself, and strike up a conversation. You masterfully deliver some of your best material—funny anecdotes about yourself, details about your high-powered career, evidence of your passionate, yet sensitive side. The stranger is smiling at you, laughing at your jokes, making eye contact, enjoying your company.

And then you deliver the call to action: “Please marry me!”

Whoa, now, Romeo! Not so fast.

Juliet dashes out the door.

Seems crazy, huh? Then why do so many marketers follow the same playbook when courting new leads?

Let’s give Romeo a do-over:

…The stranger is smiling at you, laughing at your jokes, making eye contact, enjoying your company. And then the call to action: “May I have your email. I’ll send you some pictures of my mountain climbing expedition I told you about…”

Juliet is happy to oblige. Will she marry him? Maybe. What are Romeo’s chances? Hard to say. But he’s in the game. He’ll email those pictures to her, invite her to lunch, and see what develops from there.

Now let’s give Acme Technologies a do-over:

…Listeners are enjoying your ad, thinking that your firm offers good products and services. And then the call to action: “Our experts have prepared a special report called 10 Steps You Can Take Today to Reduce Technology Costs and Increase Sales. Go to acmeSTL.com/10 steps to get this free report. Or if you’d like to get started with Acme right away, please call today.”

Listeners are happy to oblige. They go to your website where they enter their names and emails to get the free report. Will they buy? Maybe. What are Acme’s chances? Hard to say. But Acme can now send emails to those maybes and see what develops from there.

Courting is a process, not an event. Same with marketing and sales.

Why does Juliet give Romeo her email? Because she has little to lose. It’s a low-risk action with potential reward. She gets pictures and friendship immediately. And since she may be interested in something more, she’s happy to connect, gradually, with Romeo.

Rather than watching her dash out the door, Romeo now can connect with Juliet, court her further, and hopefully achieve his ultimate goal.
Why does the radio listener enter his email address on Acme’s web site? Because he has little to lose. He gives only his email address (low-risk) and gets a rewarding report in return. Since he may be interested in Acme’s services, he’s happy to connect in this way.

Now Acme can connect with this listener, court him further, and hopefully achieve its ultimate goal. Acme can court this maybe and convert him to a yes.

So how do you court the maybes. Here are a few tips:

Evaluate your marketing content. Review it all—your print advertisements, your brochures, your web site, your broadcast pieces, and so on. Think of the maybes—people interested in the products and services you sell, but not ready to buy. Do your marketing pieces include an explicit call to action for them—something other than buy now?

Give the maybes a reason to say yes. Imagine you’re a maybe and complete this sentence: I’m not ready to buy, but I would be willing to _______________.  What can you put in the blank? Get a free report? Subscribe to a weekly tips column? Receive a free gift? Prospects will give you their contact information if they receive something in return. Present a compelling, explicit call to action that invites the maybes to engage with you.

Plan the courting process. You have Juliet’s email address. Now what? First a lunch date. Then a dinner date. If that goes well, plan a weekend away. Have dinner with your parents when you return. It’s a process, leading hopefully to a lifelong engagement. Sales is the same. You’ve successfully turned a cold lead into a warm prospect who has given you contact information. Now you need to act. What steps will you take?
Of course, the steps will vary depending on your business and resources, but all businesses can do something to court the maybes.

I’ll use my business as an example. MarketVolt is an interactive marketing firm that specializes in email marketing. We recently created a special report called 10 Secrets to Write Email Subject Lines that Sell.

We offer the report here. Visitors must enter their name and email to get the report.

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