Pretend I’m your client.
I just received your proposal then I call you:
Client: Okay, I have a couple final questions before I give you the green light.
You: Great. Let me show you our new demo reel.
Are you crazy? I’m ready to shake on the deal and instead you are taking me backwards in the process. You are marketing, when instead you should be selling. Taking this step is so out of order, it’s obvious. You would never make such a stupid mistake.
Or would you? Because the truth is, most creative firms get marketing all mixed up with sales. Just recently I have seen several examples which illustrate the problem, such as:
1. An animation company website featuring case studies.
2. A motion design studio tweeting, “Hire us!”
3. A production company with a website page titled, “Why Work With Us.”
What’s wrong with these examples, you ask? These firms are selling when they should be marketing.
Marketing vs. Sales: It’s All About Timing
What’s the difference? Aren’t marketing and sales two words which mean – more or less – the same thing? No. And therein lies the confusion. Most firms don’t have a firm grasp on what marketing is and how it differs from sales.
If your firm’s marketing is not solid, your sales will suffer. Then as you become more desperate for work, you will skip over marketing and rush the sale, only to blow the deal and make the problem worse.
Desperate creative firms skip marketing. Jumping the gun blows the sale.
With your firm’s survival utterly dependent on sales, the last thing your firm needs is confused prospects. Because a confused prospect never buys. In sales and marketing, clarity is king.
A confused prospect never buys.
We know what sales is, but what is marketing? Here is a working definition that may help:
marketing |ˈmärkədiNG| noun
Communications and activities which enable sales.
Marketing is all the things you do that support your sales efforts. Sales is finding prospects with needs and converting them into paying clients. That’s the difference between marketing and sales.
The Creative Firm Sales Cycle
Over a period of 20 years (read: a lot of trial and error), I refined a “first comes marketing, then comes sales” routine which achieved exceptional results. This enabled my firm to reach nearly $5 million in annual sales.
I call this routine the Creative Firm Sales Cycle. Now I recommend all my client studios, agencies and production companies implement this method, because it works.
In short, your firm should always be moving prospects step-by-step through a cycle to convert them into clients. Here are the steps:
Unaware –> Aware –> Interest –> Intent –> Close
Notice the first half of the Sales Cycle is marketing, the second half is sales. Which means the order in which these activities happen matters.
Therefore don’t just ask, “What marketing things should we be doing?” It is equally as important to ask, “When should we be doing these marketing things?”
Don’t focus on WHAT marketing your firm is doing, but also WHEN you’re doing it.
To answer these questions, let’s walk a mile in your prospective client’s shoes. What’s it like to be on the receiving end of a creative firm’s marketing and sales efforts?
The Unaware Step
Let’s continue the role play from above.
I am a prospect. I’ve never heard of your firm, so I am at the Unaware step.
I ignore your self-serving “Check out our new reel!” tweets. I don’t use Facebook for business and I don’t do Tumblr. When you send me an email newsletter (to which I don’t recall subscribing, so I’m wondering if you are spamming me), I don’t open it, much less read it. In fact, it feels presumptuous and annoying.
However, if instead you publish an article that helps me do my job, I read it. When you speak at a conference on a topic relevant to my job, I listen.
The Aware Step
Because I read your article and attend your conference session, I look you up on LinkedIn. Someone from your firm notices me checking you out and invites me to subscribe to your mailing list.
I accept. I have now officially noticed your creative firm.
I just moved to the Aware step.
But if your salesperson spies me at your session and hunts me down to ask, “Hey I saw you at the conference, can we come do a capabilities presentation to your team?” my answer will be, “Ugh. You’re stalking me.” You jumped the gun.
However, because instead you send me a friendly, non-salesy email, I open it. When you send me an email blast showcasing your latest striking spot, I check it out. I don’t mind. After all, I subscribed.
The Interest Step
Because I open your email and see a striking spot (showcasing a well-known brand), I click on it and go to your website. I check out your work.
I just moved to the Interest step.
But if your website shows a bunch of work unlike that striking spot, I will be confused. I thought your firm did striking spots. But instead I’m seeing explainers, character animation and promos. I don’t get you.
However, because instead your website copy and work conveys a clear point of view (i.e., a narrow positioning) consistent with your striking spot, along with your unique personality and expertise, I decide to share your firm’s website with my colleagues.
The Intent Step
Because you are a savvy digital marketer, your firm knows I visited your website and shared it with my colleagues. So you smartly assume my team is reviewing your work because (1) we have a project and (2) we are on the hunt for a new creative firm.
Guess what? I just moved to the Intent step.
But if your website has a page named WHY WORK WITH US or your website features a bunch of case studies, I will be turned off. After all, why are you answering a question which I have yet to ask you? Until I’m ready to buy, I don’t need reassurances.
However, because instead you send me a timely, personal email inviting me into a conversation, I agree to a phone call. You are making a trip to my town, you enthusiastically offer to stop by (by which I’m flattered) so I schedule us a meeting.
The Close Step
Because you were such a pleasure on the phone, or even better, a charming conversationalist in our face to face meeting, I can’t help but love your firm’s point of view, solution and proposal. I’m almost ready to buy.
Almost, but not quite. I just moved to the final Close step.
Because I’ve never worked with your firm, I’m afraid and lacking confidence. If you don’t reassure me, my resolve will fade, I will play it safe and hire your competitor that I’ve worked with before.
However, because instead you reassure me with confidence, guarantees and relevant case studies demonstrating your track record of solving problems just like mine, I award you the job.
Congratulations, you just moved me from Unaware all the way to Close.
Patience Pays Off
Thanks to your mastery of both the what and the when of marketing and sales, your prospect went through the entire Creative Firm Sales Cycle and came out the other end as a new client.
The steps in your Creative Firm Sales Cycle may vary slightly but the takeaway is the same: when your impatience causes you to rush past marketing and go straight to selling, your prospect gets turned off. He feels rushed, maybe even hustled. You forfeit the opportunity to ever convert him to a long-term client.
Be patient. Stop selling when you should be marketing. Master the flow of “first comes marketing, then comes sales” so your firm can capture every opportunity it so rightly deserves.