One of my early roles in direct selling had me selling business form printing. Back then, it was all dot matrix, tractor-fed invoices with holes either side, all with multiple copies that were ‘bash printed’ on loud machines that sat inside noise-proofed rooms. Remember that? Well, selling boxes and boxes of that type of printing was my life for nearly 3 years.

The business I worked for was based in South Auckland. It was a reasonably sized operation, with three equal-share directors, half a dozen production staff, the same number of sales and customer services staff, and a new Japanese printer that had an insatiable appetite for printing that us sales people had to ‘feed’ with new work.

The owners’ ideas of marketing weren’t that complex. Give them a golf course, a new prospect and half a day walking the greens and they usually ended up with a nice, fat, juicy, new order. They schmoozed their way into owning nice new Daimlers and were very comfortably off, thank you very much. However, for us lowly ranked sales people, our marketing process was somewhat different.

We didn’t have the freedom of an expense account. No, we were tossed out of the office each morning at 8.30am sharp and told to “bring in some orders – fast.” Our prior sales training was equally succinct – “Go knock on some doors.”

So, being the young and enthusiastic sales people that we were, that’s what we did. We would park ourselves in the middle of our part of Auckland, grab our binder of samples and walk the streets looking for someone willing to listen to us. Occasionally luck would have it and we would meet with the actual person responsible for purchasing business forms. Then we had a couple of minutes to put forward our case before being turfed back onto the street. Very, very occasionally we found someone who had just run out of forms and needed an urgent quote. And there were the ‘blue moon’ experiences when all the planets aligned and you actually walked away with an order.

Once one of the directors back at base learnt of your success you were usually met with them beaming by our desk telling you “See – I told you it works – just knock on enough doors and the orders will flow in.” Well, Clive was right – sort of.

It was just that there wasn’t enough time in the working week for me to knock on all the doors I needed to make the sales budget they had set to keep that Ninja printing machine fully satiated. But I was not lacking in enthusiasm, so out I would go again. It took me a few years before I sat down, did the numbers and realized the hopelessness of the situation.

Looking back, it was all a lesson in having unrealistic expectations of your market. Our methods of targeting were not that bad. Back then, nearly all the businesses that we approached would have had a printer in the back room somewhere churning through the forms we provided. Nevertheless, expecting to talk to the purchasing person and convince them to place an order at the exact time we turned up unannounced was asking too much.

You would imagine that most businesses would have moved on from such door-to-door, cold-marketing promotion like this. Those ‘No Hawkers’ signs you see pasted on the windows of offices must have put paid to this a long time ago. However, while it may have become a thing of the past for direct selling, it is still a method we frequently see people use when looking at ways of promoting their website.

For instance, their web pages may be full of great content on their product or service. There may even be the occasional case study or two and details of the type of customers they work best with. But the only way prospects can register their interest in learning more is the regular form hiding on the Contact Us page, just sitting there ready for what the website owner hopes will be a multitude of visitors filling it in. But they don’t.

Again, it’s another example of an unrealistic expectation. Yes, there may be the very occasional person who completes the form – just like that purchasing person who needed business forms at exactly the same time I walked into their reception. But, as a proportion of the total number of valid prospects visiting your website, the amount will be very low. That’s why a website set up for optimal lead generation activities will have a multitude of ways prospects can show their interest – reports, newsletters, free reviews – all built to match whichever stage of interest the prospect may be in.

Deciding what to offer can be a challenge. However, reviewing the information requirements a prospect may have as they track through your sales funnel can provide a few prompts. For instance, it is useful to understand the core problems that drive prospects to start their search for your service and then the factors they consider when reviewing any competing alternatives.

Being able to capture their attention and then successfully influence prospects at the early stages of the buying process can prove to be a real competitive advantage for any business. Obviously there are more buyers at this stage and, by enticing them to join your lead nurturing system instead of your competitors and if you can create a close bond with them, then they can effectively be ‘removed’ from the market.

Recently, I have been working with a few clients who want to increase their marketing focus here. And, just by chance, in each case our ability to attract prospects into the top of their lead generation funnel relies on our ability to persuade prospects to change their point of view. This is never an easy task.

Most marketing material will point you towards growing and emphasizing an existing view a prospect has rather than taking the hard road of trying to get them to change their view. However, while it is hard, it is not impossible. And if you are successful and end up being the one who ‘helped’ them realise the advantages that come from this change of view then you can be well positioned to capitalize on the commercial benefits that may flow on.

Just to prove a point that it is not an impossible task, here are a few situations where I see a prospect viewpoint either in the process of altering or having already been altered. Take the purchase of domestic airline travel in New Zealand for example. I would hazard a guess that a year ago the key parameters people used to establish value when purchasing domestic flights were the cost of the ticket and the convenience of the flight time. I for one used to load up both the Air New Zealand and Qantas websites within my web browser and see which met the sweet spot to get me down and back for my next trip to Wellington. Frequently, I would fly down with one airline and back with the other – or, if I was fortunate, one took me on the complete journey. It was a simple method that I used for years. Then Jetstar came along.

I flew with them for the first time this month. Before I flew, I did the usual and brought their site up with Air New Zealand’s and used the same parameters. This time Air New Zealand’s pricing made the difference between the two just too big for me NOT to try the new airline.

So, other than having to drive to the airport in the dark of the early morning to get the flight, all was fine and I made it to my first early meeting in a less than tropical capital. Then I arrived back at Wellington airport an hour before my 6.45pm departure time to see on the screens that my flight was delayed to 8.00pm.

They had sent me four text messages to ensure I made it to the gate on time going down and coming back but nothing to tell me of the delay. I was not a happy camper.

So I walked up to the Pacific Blue counter, whose flight was leaving at 6.40pm, and asked if they could get me back to Auckland before my children went to sleep. Yes, they could, for a price that was probably twice what Jetstar was going to charge – but I went. On the way, I handed in my ticket to the Jetstar counter just to help them out; there were no apologies for the late flight, I might add.

Now, I really want Jetstar to succeed – more competition on the Auckland-Wellington service can only be a good thing. So, being the good consumer I am, I filled in a complaint form on the website to see what they had to say. An email came back a week later telling me they had received my note. Nothing else since.

This has now meant that my (and I imagine a few other domestic travelers) buying parameters have changed. Yes there’s price and there’s also schedule timing, but now it’s about making that schedule too. The problem is that there is no ‘information’ that I can find that will help me gauge whether this will happen. So what do I do? Well, because I don’t like random events I can’t control – see the later article on pancake making – I will pay the premium and fly Air New Zealand.

The advent of Jetstar is obviously recent and the ramifications of them entering the market and possibly altering people’s buying thinking in the process are just early suppositions by me. But what about a multimillion dollar market that was created – and by chance is now in slow decline – just by prospects changing their views on how to buy a service? I think the home mortgage market is a good example of this.

It used to be that you went to your Bank Manager and asked for a home loan – please. I remember doing this exact thing at the Countrywide Bank branch (remember them?) in Remuera when Claire and I were looking to buy our first house. Interest rates were in the mid twenties and we had just managed to get together our 20% deposit to fund our $107,000 unit – and they still turned us down!

Back then nobody talked about the interest cost of the loan – it was something hidden away in those big, scary loan documents you had to sign. So while Countrywide said no, ASB Bank said yes (we’ve been with them ever since) and we took the advice of the Bank Manager on what type of mortgage we needed and how long the loan should go for.

Then Mortgage Brokers came along. They told us that it perhaps wasn’t a good idea to have as your only source of advice the person who would lose the most from any reduction you made to the rather massive interest costs associated with your loan. And that maybe there were more options available to you than the two or fewer mortgage structures that the Bank Manager had told you were available. Hey – and even this very complicated fix – perhaps you could save tens of thousands of dollars simply by PAYING THIS LOAN OFF EVERY OTHER WEEK INSTEAD OF MONTHLY.

All that made people change their thinking on who was best to manage their mortgage purchase and the Mortgage Broker industry was started and made many a person very wealthy. That was while the banks allowed reasonably sizable loan commissions to flow through and the lending market remained quite liquid.

As I mentioned before, we have a few ‘prospect mind-changing’ projects we are working with customers on, too. One of them relates to the commonly held belief that the Best Before dates printed on foodstuffs are an accurate gauge of the quality degradation the food will go through over time. Now, some food product does decline quite quickly after a certain date – but that’s usually shown with a Use By date on the product – something quite different from a Best Before date. In a lot of cases, product that has passed its Best Before date is still good enough for consumption. But people still look at the Best Before date on the foods in their pantry shelves and throw it out, thinking it is not in a fit state for consumption. But that is changing.

The promotion of foodstuffs that have passed their Best Before date is a multi-million dollar industry in the UK and US markets. Our recent new client, Reduced to Clear, is the local leader in this space ( . We started working together last month. Just visit either of their shops in Auckland or Wellington and you will see they are full of dated product as well as people of all demographics enjoying the savings this brings.

Another example is the work we are doing with a long-standing client (they have the claim to fame of being Permission’s first ever client) Assess Systems ( Rob and his team help companies put in place a reliable method of hiring the best people from all those looking during the timeframe the vacancy is open. Part of their work hinges on the need to run personality style assessments to ensure that candidates are the best fit for the job on offer.

Talk to any employer who has hired a ‘horror’ employee and they are usually already pre-sold on any pre-screening methods just so they don’t experience it all again. Unfortunately, the rest believe that they are good enough managers to be able to pick the duds from the stars. Well, it’s a clinically proven fact that this is impossible to do with any level of reliability. So Rob’s task is to gently persuade prospects through the adept use of information that there are a bundle of character traits that they will NEVER pick up with the usual ‘across the desk’ discussion.

How Rob does this is by showing the prospect ‘new information’. It’s a nice way to help people give themselves a reason to change their view without feeling too threatened in the process. That’s why any mortgage broker worth their salt would present a range of colourful graphs that exposed the massive interest savings their clients had made through using them for the better buying of mortgage debt. And for Reduced to Clear, once you have tasted a Best Before dated piece of Cadbury’s chocolate and realized there is no difference – well, your pantry will be forever stocked with all the nice but nutritionally wrong types of food.

Now, while samples of chocolate are quite difficult to distribute from a collection of HTML web pages, new information in the form of reports, interviews and case studies is a breeze. Have them all sitting behind a prospect registration form that allows you to ‘drip nurture’ them with a sequence of email messages and you are set.

So, to wrap this up. Walking the streets of East Tamaki looking for new business form printing work was a great example of having unrealistic expectations of promotional activity. Likewise, owning a website that comes with just a Contact Us page is also a problem. Yes, it will get the occasional person filling it in who wants exactly what you offer when they arrive. But it misses out on those who are interested but not yet ready to buy.

By adding a selection of information pieces for prospects to register for, or even just download, you broaden out your prospect audience. If this is done properly then you are able to ‘remove’ prospects from the buying market. However, in some more complex buying situations the prospect has to change their previous thinking before you can get them to move down your sales funnel. This requires some subtle manoeuvring to keep all egos intact. If this is the case, then being the provider of ‘new information’ is a good way to gently nurture this change in thinking and to get the prospect to move forward all without having you leave your office and go door knocking.