Permission To Buy.
Having downloaded Permission Marketing back in 1999, I was grabbed by Seth's account of a $140 million example and contacted Chris, the man behind it, in order to nail down some of the details. It was a fascinating series of exchanges.
The original post details the series of steps of the process during which permission was continually re-obtained so I'll focus on what I belive to be the two most critical ones. Namely, the initial pitch and the "closing" with the live prospects.
In Gonzo Marketing, another of my favourite marketing books, Chris Locke suggests that to initiate a permission-based campaign, you have to engage in an interruptive trawl in order to seek permission. I've always thought this to be a potentially valid criticism and one which emphasises the importance of starting out on the right foot.
Not everyone can have so a visible product as a building in Denver - "In essence, we had a 23-storey billboard" - and this stresses the unquestionable need for all businesses to develop some form of social engagement with their constituencies before they even think of pushing their services or products. You can't search for prospects, they have to find you and you have to focus on making it easy for them to do that.
But, at some point, you do have to "sell". Once you've converted curiosity into genune interest, you need to help the people towards the close. In Denver, this was done via cocktail parties held not at their offices, not at the construction site, but at a hip bar that mirrored the brand aspirations of the development.
Let Chris explain "The meetings themselves were fascinating. We didn't bring anything, and I think people loved it.....Instead of just saying this is the pool, this is the health club, this is the __________, we made the conversation as small as possible. Because there were only fifteen or so people at each event and we had four to five sales people attending, they were able to take the time to talk to one or two or three people at a time and answer questions."
"In a traditional real estate setting, there would have been a slideshow presentation followed by an ask. Here, instead, we answered the prospects' questions. We didn't have to guess what things would inform their decision; they told us. For example, the temptation is to talk about appliances or wood floors or something when really what the prospect cares about is whether or not we'll clean the hallways. Do we have financing? There are too many different questions and we, despite a lot of experience, can't guess at what those are."
In other words, the prospects were not sold to, but were able to access the specific information that each of them needed in order to want to buy. It's the simple but crucial difference. Sure, other phases of question-answering and negotiation followed, but to me the cocktail parties were the point of no return. They represent both a metaphor for and a literal example of the sociability at the heart of modern marketing. Help people to give themselves permission to buy and they will do just that.