Business is often an endless quest to streamline and cut costs. But customer service shouldn’t be the first to go. If you’re in a position where your customers won’t buy your product at a higher price. Then you have to find your margin somewhere by slashing your own cost of doing business.
The easy answer to this problem is automation. Websites, robots, self-check out stands in retail stores and self-order kiosks in fast food restaurants. All these things are answers that allow a customer to click their way to a purchase. Without the need to pay an employee to guide them, removing the cost of that employee.
This solution creates a new problem. Automated customer service. As much as customers like convenience, they also hate doing business with robots and prefer human contact. The more you leverage automation to make their buying process more convenient. The more conveniently they can abandon the buying process at any step with a second thought. Millions of items rot away in e-shopping carts all over the internet every day. Waiting for the one click that will purchase them.
Or… How to Fake It If You Can’t Give It
Every opportunity to give your customer a human interaction should be taken. Customer service is huge. As humans, we’re hardwired to prefer interactions with other humans. We crave attention, when we buy something we want to feel special, that we have been given good service. Our brains work in mysterious ways, and in some cases we care more about the buying experience than what we buy.
Wholesalers don’t have a lot of opportunities for advertising campaigns that will allow them to connect with customers and build emotional rapport. For a wholesaler, an advertising campaign can be counter-intuitive, because in business to business, you’re not concerned with reaching the consumer, but instead the retailers and distributors.
With slim bulk margins to drive your business and limited tools to build your brand and put it in front of the consumer, an advertising campaign doesn’t make sense. Advertising campaigns humanize the brand and put it into consumer awareness. But as the wholesaler, that’s generally not your concern. Trying to appeal directly through an expensive advertising campaign to the consumer doesn’t make sense. There’s got to be another way you can create value for your brand using the channels you have available for the clients you need to reach.
When you’re in wholesale, or you do most of your business through online or other non-personal sales channels, you don’t have a lot of opportunities to show human attention to make your sale and grow your brand. Customer service is challenging. And that’s when you need to learn how to fake it to build a brand. Fortunately, Gary Halbert figured out how. Who is Gary Halbert?
The Master of the Personal Sales Pitch
Once upon a time, there was a brilliant salesman named Gary Halbert. People in the marketing community worship the ground he walked on and believed his writings were the gospel, because he was one of the most breakout successful copywriters of his generation, a master of brand building. He created the company that was bought by Ancestry.com for millions of dollars, and then Ancestry.com was bought by 23andMe for an even bigger fortune, and that’s the legacy of Halbert’s success.
Halbert himself took his pile of money, retired, and lived out his golden years on a houseboat in the south of Florida. It wasn’t what he sold that made him successful, but how he sold it. He figured out a way to make his customers think that he was giving them personalized attention, even when he wasn’t. This bait-and-switch trick was his million dollar secret, and your business can use it too.
The Coat of Arms Letter
One day, before he was wildly successful and still had to work a day job, Gary was sitting in his office racking his brain trying to figure out what he could do to feed his family and keep a roof over his head. He knew that people hated salesmen. They loved to buy things, but they hated to be sold. This was before the internet existed, when the only way that salesmen could reach a lot of people was by mail, telephone, or going door-to-door. Gary’s challenge was simple- How could he get his customer’s eyes on his product and get them to buy it, when he knew that everyone would slam doors in his face, throw out his junk mail, or hang up the phone at the first opportunity?
How He Got the Sale
The answer was to make a sales letter that didn’t look like a sales letter. He faked it so that it looked like it was a personal letter from a normal person, not automated junk mail from a salesman. He knew that his customer would throw out a sales letter if he saw one, that it was just junk mail trying to sell him something. A personal letter that looked like it came from a real human would be a more powerful tool to pitch his brand. The customer would see the letter, think it was a real letter from some mysterious stranger, and be motivated to open and read it.
His product was a Coat of Arms. For two dollars, he would send you a parchment illustration of the livery of your family’s noble lineage. All you had to do was send him a check in the mail. Not everyone received this letter, only people that had a name obscure enough to believably have noble ancestors ever received letters. Anyone with the last name of “Smith” would obviously be suspicious of having a noble past and would see through the sales pitch. But Everyone who had a surname that was shared with a noble house of history got the letter. And that was more than enough people.
Here is a copy of the original Coat of Arms letter.
This letter went out to tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and possibly even millions of Americans, across the country, with the name changed every time to match the customer’s name.
But every time it showed up in a mail box, it didn’t look like a sales letter. The customer always believed that they were receiving personal attention.
Gary left no stone unturned in his efforts to make sure the letter looked as authentic as possible.
- The letter always looked like it was written by hand on a typewriter, by using the typewriter font.
- The letter was “written” and signed by Nancy Halbert, his wife, not a salesman.
- The number wasn’t a business “800” number.
- The return address for the letter isn’t a PO Box, it looks like it could be a normal residential address. (Google Earth didn’t exist yet, you couldn’t check.)
With this strategy, selling the prospect something in a way that disguised the sales pitch and made it look like the customer wasn’t receiving a sales pitch, and was getting personal attention from another human being. It snuck under the radar and people believed it, and it made so much money that Halbert’s local hometown bank had to open up a new branch dedicated solely to processing all the hundreds of two dollar checks that he received in the mail every day. For the rest of Gary’s career, for the length of time he ran that business up until he sold it, there was an entire bank branch full of office workers whose only job was to tear open envelopes and process two dollar checks.
Even if you aren’t in direct sales, this is a strategy you can use.
You don’t need to be in direct sales or use a sales department to use this strategy and make it work for you. No advertising campaign is required for your brand to benefit from this special power. All you need to do is what Gary did- Fake it in a way that looks authentic, so that your customer always believes they are getting a personalized response from a fellow human. When your customer thinks they are interacting with another human, they feel like they are getting more value from your service and that you care more about them, building your rapport and making them more likely to convert into a lucrative repeat customer.
Making your customer feel like they are receiving a personal experience as part of their buying process is a powerful tool, even in wholesale. We are humans, and we like to speak with other humans, and we like things that remind us of humans. When we look at pictures of kittens, puppies, baby mammals, and cute cartoons, the qualities we think are cute like big heads and big sad eyes are qualities that we associate with human babies. We are hardwired to prefer human interaction above all other interaction, and we automatically like things that remind us of ourselves.
The Power of Human Interaction
This is the same reason that computers and a reliance on automation can defeat itself. And make the sale seem impersonal. When a computer tries too hard to fake a human interaction and a person detects it. It creates a feeling that in psychology is called “the uncanny valley.” When something that isn’t human tries to look or act too human, it spooks us and makes us uncomfortable. It’s the reason we don’t like chat bots, computer menu screens in fast food restaurants, robot customer service lines, telemarketers, and other automated services that try to talk to us like people. Our brains know they aren’t people, and they don’t like it. We can sense the fake and something in us is turned off by it.
That’s the power of human interaction. Everything we do in life and in business, we prefer to put a human face on. If we cannot put a human face on something, because we can’t use an advertising campaign, we must instead give our brand a human face by getting it as close to human as possible through our services.
Here are some ways you can fake the textbook Gary Halbert personal pitch when your customer needs your service.
Send personal emails from your business email address that look handwritten instead of automated form letters. Don’t use a formatted letterhead or graphics. Or anything that would make your client believe you had sent them a one button response. Make every email look like it was personally typed and you had addressed the customer personally. You can use a form letter, but copy/paste it and change the details. This will be close enough.
Someone might tell you that the handwritten appearance might look like it lacks professionalism. They will tell you that you should take every opportunity to plaster your brand on everything. But watch what happens when you get automated mail or a telemarketer call- You instantly delete it or hang up. Seeing the branding doesn’t matter if you destroy it immediately because it doesn’t look human.
Interactive Customer Service
Make your sales department accountable for human interaction. Your salesmen should have stewardship over the accounts they have converted. It should be easier for the customer to reach the salesman that converted him directly. The more that your team passes around the customer and the more different people he talks to. The less special he will feel, he will sense that he is being handed around.
The first face that communicated with the customer should be the face the customer sees the most. If you can model your salesman as anything other than a salesman, even better. They can be given titles like “account specialist” or “brand growth ambassador”. Or any other name that emphasizes customer interaction over sales.
If you cannot control how your customer interacts with your employees and prevent them from being handed around to different specialists. Then instead, you must create a character that your team can adopt, and conceal their identities from the customer. This sounds deceitful, but this is just another part of brand marketing.
The customer wants to feel like they’re speaking to the face of the company. So give your company a face for them to speak with. Many companies brand their product with a personality or face character to foster humanity. Some companies keep this character front and center in their branding. And treat every customer interaction as if the customer was speaking directly with the character. In these cases, the character will have an entire backstory and fact sheet. They have a signature and quirks too. So that the brand face remains consistent no matter which member of the company accepts the communication.
An incredible example of this in action is Disneyland. Cast members that play as specific characters are trained to write autographs in a certain way. To groom themselves or apply makeup in a way that is chameleonic. So that every time a child sees a certain character in the park, they always believe it’s the same person. No matter which actor portrays them.
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