Jul
13
2009

MARKETING A LESS-THAN-FRIENDLY SPINOFF

This is the first article I am writing for EGTV from my new place in Sarasota.  Unfortunately, as I type, I am slouched over my Dell mini, lying in the sun, sans-pants (again) next to my pool.    It is unfortunate because the missus and I were supposed to go to the beach (a mere 5 minutes from my place) so I could have been writing this while leering creepily at teenage girls in skimpy bikinis – But alas, Nik is feeling under the weather, so I had to accept my loss and try to make due some way.  Life is hard.

I have resumed work on a project with an old partner with the goal of spinning a new company with the same exact purpose as the company he is working for now.  The reason for doing it is simple. The consulting firm he works for now (from this point forward I will refer to them as SuckCorp) treats him and all other employees like shit, they treat their customers like shit, and since he runs the division, he has a pretty damn good idea how to do it better.

The Atrocity That is Our Competition

 

Here’s an inside story on just how F’d up our soon-to-be competition is.   I met with the very top guy of their “Customer Excellence” department.  I’ll just call him Executive VP of Denial.  When going through their customer records, I happened to notice that almost every file was marked with having a “CUSTOMER INCIDENT.”  Assuming I was just a ‘tard and misread something, I went through them again.  And yes, 28 of the 30 records I was looking at were marked in the same big red letters.

I asked my buddy to set up a meeting with EVP Denial to get an idea of why this was showing up – surely there had to be some error.  I mean NOBODY has a 98% customer dissatisfaction rating.  For christ sakes, Hitler was more popular than that.

When we sat to meet, I started by asking in my usual subtle fashion, “What’s up with these numbers?”

In a pleasing tone (and he really did seem like a nice, if self-deluding  guy) he explained,  ” Oh no, that’s not unhappy customers, we just have a policy of marking a file if there has been an issue with the client.”

To which I replied, “Well what defines an ‘issue’?”

He then replied confidently, “Well it’s only if the client has refused to pay a bill, or requested another consultant, or had a problem with our telemarketing, or collection or something.”

And for one of the few times in my life, I shut up.   I just didn’t know what to say.  So apparently someone thinking a consultant sucks and requesting another, refusing to pay, or being pissed for being constantly hassled isn’t and “issue” for them.  Just wow.

And that was when I made the flip in my head that I am NOT working with this company, as I was debating taking a consulting gig with them to get this new division off the ground.  Not only that, but I decided to pull out my buddy so we could do this the right way.  In hindsight it might have also been that I found out that their employee retention after 6 months is 15% or that consultant’s call it “popping your cherry” the first time a client kicks you out or threatens to call the police if you don’t leave.

Again. Just wow.

So….If we combine their horrendously bad customer service with my modestly breathtaking marketing abilities,  I figure we got a pretty good shot competing with them.

 

My conundrum

 

The challenge I am currently working through is how to introduce ourselves.  We obviously want to target the same client list.  We also want to highlight the experience the team has, and want to try to use as many big name drops as we can (Having the IRS, several state governments, and a handful of well known Fortune 500 firms never hurts the marketing).  Unfortunately, they all come from the time the team worked at SuckCorp.

In the process of my brain scraping, I called on a few friends to help me with my conundrum.  One of the folks I asked was Jay White, copywriter extraordinaire who helps develop copy for a lot of the big name IM (Internet Marketing ) gurus including Schefren, Filisaime, and I think Kern and Walker as well.  In addition to being a retardedly adept wordsmith, he is also just a really cool guy – and that’s 90% of the game in my book.

Anyway, homoerotic adoration aside, Jay wrote back to me and his advice pretty much re-affirmed my original plan. He told me simply – just be honest.  It was just nice to hear it from another trusted source.  And coming from an IM guy where fluff, fibs, and spin reach atmosphere-breaking levels, it was a welcome surprise.

I like to think of myself as a pretty honest, ethical guy.  I’ve walked away from not one, but two ridiculously well-paying gigs because I thought what the company was doing was shady. So to recap:  Sellout, absolutely. Scumbag, I try not to.  Subtle distinction.

However, in business, and in marketing in particular, you are constantly walking a fine line.  Both for the purposes of greed, and believe it or not, the legality of what you are saying, – you sometimes have to censure things out.   Now I believe that a lie of omission is just as much a sin as a big flat out honker, so I have always strictly adhered to what I think I would want/need to know if I were the customer, and market accordingly.

The difficulty in this case is that this plan requires me to do two things that I am not particularly comfortable with.  The first being talking shit (all of which really is verifiably true) about someone else.  The second being that I have to creatively wordsmith some stuff to sound like WE did it (which technically is true, our consultants did do the work) , when in actuality it was done while at SuckCorp.   You see my conundrum – honesty for a less than honorable purpose, and stretching the truth for an arguably  noble one.

 

The Plan

 

I am still early in the process, but I think my pitch is not going to be to badmouth the competition, but to over-emphasize our commitment to customer service.  Hopefully SuckCorp’s rep will speak for itself, and customers will come to their own conclusion  as to why we are doing it.  (which is always a million times more powerful than anything I can say to them).  That does put a lot of pressure on us to excel at service, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, and truthfully, we could screw up pretty bad, and still be better than SuckCorp.

In terms of introduction, I am going to say that we are a brand new company with the same seasoned experts who have (performed this service) for industry leading companies like namedrop, namedrop, and namedrop.

Everything about the marketing will smack of building an ongoing relationship with our clients.  Not only is it true, but it’s a critical part of our business model where lifetime customer value is going to be used to offset upfront losses.  As we simply don’t have the capital or manpower (or inclination) to dump 500 telemarketers in a room to scour the phonebook for contacts, it’s gonna have to be.

I think theirs is a shitty model anyway –  Anyone with business experience will tell you it takes approximately 10x more effort, time, and money to gain a new client than to keep an existing one,  an important fact that seems to be lost on SuckCorp.  Apparently their company motto is “Burn the f’n bridge, they are making new ones all the time…”

As for the offering, we are basically gonna pull a Japanese de-engineer/reengineer on SuckCorps product.  Their service is truthfully pretty good, but its woefully out of date, and could be made a hell of a lot prettier and user friendly.  That part should be a no brainer.

Lastly in terms of marketing, I’m also gonna pull out all the stops on affiliate programs.  Something I learned from my days in IM.  Get affiliates, pay them a sick cut, and let em loose.  In this particular arena that means I’ll be going after divorce and bankruptcy lawyers, insurance agents, retirement planners, and accountants.  Tell me those guys won’t drop a load in their panties when I tell them I am offering them a 50% commission.

Yep, FIFTY percent.  Another trick I learned in the internet marketing world as well.  Let me explain: When you are selling a service that is VERY difficult to quantify, and relatively few people are doing it, you can charge people just about anything for it.  In fact, a higher price often makes if more desirable.  And since we are creating plans that will quite literally save or earn people 10x or more than they paid for it, it’s not too hard to justify the sale in their mind. I’m just gonna take SuckCorps price, bump it up enough to cover the commission split, and let my affiliates bring the contacts to me.  Slick, I know.  Do I know it will work? Not for sure, but I think it will.

So that’s the basic plan at this point.  I’m tending to think it will do pretty well, but there is always the possibility it will flop, or SuckCorp will come after us with some pretty big legal guns.  But then again, that’s why I partnered with a lawyer and why god created limited liability corporations : )

 

The Proof

 

I’ve seen the David vs. Goliath battle play out in real life.  One of the first companies I cut my teeth at was eRoom technology in Cambridge.  They pulled a similar coup against Lotus and won their particular product battle (Lotus at the time was a monstrosity rivaling Microsoft, not the shell it is now)  Granted, eRoom had not only funding, but minds that dwarf mine in comparison including my original mentor and to-this-day one of the greatest marketing minds I have ever met, Francois Gossieaux, in the VP of Marketing role, but I’ll try to do ‘em proud.  I have the added advantage of the  fact that company I am fighting against basically sucks – abysmal service and reputation, antiquated models, and stone-age technology.

All they got is size… and as my wife tells me on occasion, “Size doesn’t matter.”  Let’s hope she wasn’t lying to me.

 

I’ll let you know if how it goes.  Talk to you soon.

 

JJ

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