Old Guy Marketing

“Who was that?,” my 14-year-old son Evan asked. We were standing out on our front lawn, throwing a football, and Evan had just seen me smile and wave to a passing minivan.

“I have no idea,” I said. “I don’t have my glasses on, and I can’t see through the tinted windshield anyway. I wave at everyone who drives by.”

Evan gave this some thought, and then, with the precise blending of disdain and amusement that teenagers reserve exclusively for their parents, said, “So, are you getting to be an old guy now?”

The answer, of course, is yes, but that’s not really the point. I wave at passing neighbors because while I can’t usually tell who they are as they drive by, they always know who I am, as I stand there in front of my house. The way I look at it, I’d rather wave to a stranger than ignore a friend.

When it comes to my business, I apply this very same “old guy waving to the neighbors” approach.

What I mean, is that if you call or e-mail me, and you can successfully string together a couple of friendly sentences, I’m happy to interact. I don’t need to know much about who you are, or whether you might one day become a paying client. Drive by, and I’ll wave to you.

Not everyone agrees with this approach. Some of my professional service colleagues consider this kind of behavior an enormous waste of time; time that could be better spent with paying clients, or at the very least, with qualified prospects.

Many (I won’t name names) even take explicit steps to “discourage the freeloaders.” Things like screening all inbound calls (and only returning the “important ones”), not replying to emails, and posting rules on their web sites about how long they’ll chat before the door slams shut and the meter starts.

Not me. I just wave to everyone.

The funny thing is (and I have to confess that I came upon this insight accidentally, since I just happen to like chatting with people), many of those who initially get in touch with a question or problem end up hiring me months — or even years — later.

What I’ve discovered is that “waving to people” (i.e. answering a few questions and/or pointing people in the right direction, with no attempt to sell them anything), is actually an incredibly effective way to acquire new clients. They get a free sample, and I, simply by picking up the phone or dashing off a quick e-mail, grow my business.

But what about the guy who keeps calling… burning your time, bending your ear, expecting to get something for nothing? You know what, I’ve heard about that guy, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually met him. Most people are unbelievably respectful and courteous.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s true that if you stand at the front door, only letting in those who are ready to write a check, you won’t “waste much time.” What you will do, however, is cut off lots of future revenue generating opportunities in the process. A better approach, I think, is to invite everybody in, answer a few questions, and send them happily on their way, secure in the knowledge that some of them (or their friends) will be back.

With the end of the year upon us, and as you no doubt take time to think about how you’ll improve revenue, cut cost and apply other tactical improvements to your business in 2008, I encourage you to also consider a philosophical enhancement: Spend more time “waving” to people and less time watching the meter.

If your experience is anything like mine, not only will you have more business in 2008, you just might end up with more friends too. Happy new year.

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