One of the vulnerabilities built into the heart of every business owner is the tendency to believe fast-talking internet marketing gurus and slick, hyper-polished sales gurus.

It’s not that these gurus are so great at selling; it’s just that what they’re promising is so attractive to you. They know what your need is—to grow your business. They know your need is strong, even all-consuming. It’s easy for them to take advantage of your need as they pitch their method or service—even if it has no chance of increasing your revenue. Here’s what you need to know so you don’t fall prey to their pitches.


When my husband and I ran an ad agency in Silicon Valley years ago, we had a competitor who was the perfect example of the slick marketing guy. He could convince his clients to spend incredible amounts of money—on things that were never going to work. He did quite a lot of work for publishers of trade magazines. Publishers were easy marks for him, because most publishers had started out as advertising salespeople and moved up. They were good at selling. No offense to any salesperson reading this, but salespeople are suckers for a good pitch. It’s a professional admiration situation. When we meet someone who is good at what we do, we want to spend time with them, and learn from them.

This slick agency guy would produce expensive, oversized, glossy, gorgeous brochures aimed at media buyers (agency people who bought ad space for their clients).

He told his client that the oversized brochure was “too big to file” on purpose. He would explain that because the brochure was too big to file, it would stay on the media buyer’s desk, where she would be constantly reminded of the publisher’s publication. The client bought that concept, and the brochures were produced.

In the real world, media buyers received these oversized pieces, looked at them briefly, realized they couldn’t be filed, and then threw them away. I know that because I was a media buyer, and also because I had interviewed scores of media buyers for my trade publishing clients. They all said the same thing: “If it’s too big to file, it goes in the trash.”

The slick guys always know how to do one thing well—make the client feel good about himself. It is the easiest sales job in the world.


In today’s market, it’s quite common for a clever website designer to create a “look” that he thinks the client will like—rather than what the client’s customer likes or needs. The resulting site is a navigation nightmare for the serious buyer. Unnecessary Flash animation. Non-searchable catalogs, where the images are scanned in from the printed catalog (don’t laugh, every industry has these). Hard-to-follow pathways to the individual products and the shopping cart.

Next time one of these design guys makes you drool because of the cool factor, remember that Google is one of the busiest sites in the world, and there’s really nothing cool about it, from a “designer’s” point of view. Cool doesn’t sell. It gets in the way of buying.


The myth perpetuated by most sales gurus is that you are in control of the sale. They’ll give you all sorts of advice about how to manipulate the customer into buying.

Their basic premise is deeply flawed. When a customer comes into a store, who’s in charge? Who’s got the money? Who can walk out at any moment, if he doesn’t see what he wants, or the salesperson frustrates or irritates him?

Obviously, the buyer is in control of the buying process. No amount of clever manipulation—which buyers are wise to, anyway—will change this basic fact. Besides, it’s rude—and it’s the fastest way to lose the trust of the buyer, who will then go out of his way to avoid you in the future.


Every industry has its fads. In the marketing industry, relationship consultants have tried to convince CEOs that the key to successfully marketing and selling is to build a relationship with the customer.

The problem is, it’s the seller who wants the relationship. Buyers don’t start interacting with sellers because they want a “relationship.” Relationships are what you have with your family and friends, not salespeople.

When buyers go to a seller, they want the seller to do what he is supposed to do: provide products or services in a professional, helpful way. In other words, they just want to buy a car from someone who is honest and helpful. They don’t want the car salesman showing up for dinner.

Of course, there are complex business services where the seller and the buyer interact for a long time. Yes, you could call this a relationship. Yes, it is possible to make friends with your vendors. But assuming there’s a desire for a relationship on the part of the buyer is not realistic. It permits the seller to feel as if he has more power than he really does.

Long-term interactions between buyers and sellers are much more about the performance of the seller than any kind of relationship. As long as the seller is performing to the customer’s satisfaction, the customer will want to continue interacting. As soon as the seller starts to slip, the customer will look elsewhere.


Can you “create” a loyal customer? Do you think that a customer will stay loyal to you, no matter what? Think again. You can’t control customer loyalty. But you can control your organization’s behavior towards customers. If your behavior pleases your customers, they will stay loyal. There’s no need to create a special “loyalty program” when you’re successfully meeting customer needs.


There are some bright guys who have learned how to sell content on the Web. They sell other things, too, but educational content is their specialty. They have developed an infomercial-type approach, complete with testimonials, video, and a sense of urgency and scarcity. They make good use of affiliate marketing programs, compelling landing pages, hurts-less pricing techniques (“only 12 monthly payments of $197.99”), and other tried-and-true late-night-TV techniques. They do make money.

All well and good, if you are selling something similar to what they are selling, and if you follow their techniques to the letter. The problem is, their methods may not be right for your product/service and your customers. It could be the exact opposite of what will actually work.


As I am typing this, social media is all the rage. It’s the Latest Greatest. The latest greatest gurus scream that you must be there, wherever “there” is. And, in fact, social media (or the latest hot marketing channel) definitely could have a rightful place in your marketing mix. It might even be the most successful way for you to get the word out and interact with your customers.

Social media may also be a colossal waste of money, no matter how much time and effort you put into it, if your customers simply aren’t there or you aren’t using the media in a way that works for them. You can’t afford to guess about this. You don’t want to risk your marketing budget and opportunity window because you’re guessing. You need to know.

My mantra about social media is, “Ask not what social media can do for you; ask your customers what they want you to do for them, using social media.”

There is no question that social media is changing the way companies interact with customers. I think it is profound; companies used to be the dog wagging the customer tail, and now customer-created content is becoming the customer dog wagging the company tail.

It is likely that you will find a way to monetize social media, given the new tools that are emerging and taking hold. However, if you start with the customer, and find out how they want you to utilize it, you will be supporting their efforts to buy your products and services. They will reward you for doing that. If you jump into it because it is sexy or “everybody’s doing it,” you’ll end up with more regrets than revenue.

I’ve watched dozens of “latest greatest” fads come marching down Main Street, band blaring. Most of them continued marching, right out of town, never to be seen again. Only a few have stayed and become part of the commercial community.

How can you know, ahead of time, what will work for your customers? What will pay, and what won’t?

Your customers will answer these questions for you, if you ask them correctly.

The takeaway:


Your potential buyers may or may not respond to the latest marketing techniques. You can spend your entire budget thrashing around in the dark, trying this, and then that. You can go out of business using the most up-to-date marketing methods. Many companies do just that.

Or, you can make the entire process straightforward, by understanding what your customers need and how they want to buy it, then putting those things in front of them. You will eliminate the uncertainty and guesswork. You will make a series of informed decisions that lead to increased revenue. And, you will sleep better at night, because what you are doing will make sense.

This article originally appeared on the Digital Revolution Show and has been republished with permission.