The following article is written by our good friend Wendy Piersall.
Last year, my husband Dave left his 12 year career at Xerox to pursue his dream of starting a boat repair shop up by the Chain O’ Lakes. Since his background is corporate sales, his previous career was built on taking care of his customers’ every need, even if that meant helping a print shop meet it’s deadline on a Saturday afternoon. His customers were so loyal to him that some still call him for advice when they need to buy new machines.
It might have seemed a little insane for him to start a new business, in a new industry, with three kids and looming college tuition bills mere months away. I was… um… “skeptical”. Coming from the marketing & blogging world, I was thinking that once he got a name, a website, and started establishing his brand with some advertising, he could start fixing boats on the side for a few months to ramp things up before we let go of his income. I guess I was thinking small. Because before he had a name, website nor even a shop to rent, he was filling up our yard with boats to fix. I promptly lost the battle to hang onto his income. And he’s been growing consistently ever since, while established marinas all over the area have been closing down.
I had wanted to talk to you about how he pulled this off in this post. He only advertised on Craigslist and one single local online forum for boaters, and got listed on all the local directory sites such as Yelp, Yellow Pages and Yahoo & Google local. That’s it.
But I realized that there was a much more important story to tell – and it’s about how he as a sales person and I as a marketer approached starting a business so very differently. As if I don’t already sound a little foolish, I can unequivocally state that I underestimated him and the power of thinking like a salesperson. While I was designing pretty logos, contemplating my business mission, and choosing WordPress templates, he was literally out pounding the pavement introducing himself to local business owners and calling our boat-owning friends to ask for referrals.
Only now can I see I was allowing myself to get caught up in the formalities of starting a business, instead of focusing on what was most important of all: customers. In my world, sales come after I’ve been able to craft and hone my “marketing message”. In Dave’s world, marketing is something he does in his down time when he isn’t closing deals.
When I asked him his thoughts on what has made him successful, it was a list of things you would expect to hear: following up with leads, acting confident even when he didn’t feel it, asking for referrals, and finding an underserved niche in his field. But the starkest difference between he and I was how he approached communicating with his customers: Dave has no marketing message he relies on. He finds out what is important to his prospects before he ever pitches a thing.
In short, he listens before he speaks.
And before you say to yourself, “Well DUH,” let me remind you that I’ve built 4 successful businesses in my lifetime, and I’m starting again on my fifth. The reason I forgot something so easy and so basic is just that: I dismissed it as easy and basic. And you might hear things at SOBCon that sound easy and basic – but please don’t make the same mistake that I did. The presenters at this event are freaking brilliant. If they bring up something ‘basic’, it might just be the most important thing you hear all weekend.