March 22, 2017

The Six Rules of Story Selling (2 of 6)

This article is part of a series of posts I wrote about telling better stories about your work. Whether you're writing a book, an email series, or a Facebook ad, you'll find these six rules helpful...

Rule 2: Audience selection is more important than stories.

My first real success in business came as a Google AdWords consultant. AdWords help was something I could talk to people about. A hot topic. A bleeding neck.

At the time, I was very clear on what my ideal client looked like. My ideal client had:

  • A pulse
  • Some money
  • At least one AdWords disaster under their belt

A few years ago I received a new AdWords lead. George* had been reading my emails for a few months, and decided one day to get in touch.

George’s company was using AdWords to generate leads for an offline sales process. The company was spending £25,000 a month on AdWords (about $35,000). Which for me was a large account.

George mentioned on the phone they had ‘been through’ quite a few AdWords agencies. But he’d like to ‘see what I could do’.

On the eve of the project George sent me an email in badly-formatted English. ‘I’d like a daily report please Rob’, the email said. ‘The report should show yesterday’s spend by campaign, click through rate, conversions and cost per conversion.’

I had never sent daily reports to clients because daily fluctuations could be misleading. Weekly numbers were more meaningful. And monthly numbers never lied. Still, I ignored the screaming messages from my gut, and agreed.

I would always know if conversions were down for the day, because at 3PM George would email me. ‘URGENT Leads down Rob. Please action ASAP.’

Things like this made me rage. Please action what? I’m not a magician. Most of the time I would ignore it and rely on a natural upturn in leads the following day.

I’ve also since learnt that clients who routinely send emails with URGENT in the subject line, signed off with ‘ASAP’ are not great clients to work with. It’s a small clue that they see you as a vendor to be used, not an expert to be consulted.

Not long after the project had started I made a bunch of changes to the website, and George blew his lid. “We make changes on a month by month basis,” he informed me. “That way we compare apples to apples.”

Apples to apples – yeah right. You can’t have it all ways up. You can’t scream and shout about your AdWords results, but also refuse to make any changes to the website.

The project fizzled out after a few months. I was glad, too. The hassle wasn’t worth the management fee they paid me. Or so I thought.

One year later George got back in touch. His last business had tanked, and now he had a new business in another highly competitive market.

George asked if I would consider managing the account again, since I had ‘done such a good job last time’. I wavered for a moment. The warning signs were all there. I knew George was a well-meaning but troublesome client. But I also needed the revenue.

So we went again. This time George wasn’t my main point of contact; he had a marketing manager, Jane*. Jane was nice enough, but clearly under huge pressure to perform. Once again I failed to set the boundaries on when I could and could not be contacted.

At 9.50 every morning my phone would go (Jane started work at 10). Despite my repeated warnings about daily statistics she would want to discuss yesterday’s numbers, and know ‘what I was doing for them today’.

“Nothing,” was the response I should have given. “You’re paying me for results, not graft, sweat and labour.”

I didn’t have the gall to say that at the time.

A few weeks later we went to Italy for a week. I tried to reassure Jane that her AdWords results were unlikely to tank for a few days without my daily hand-holding. I had no phone signal in Italy, and no computer.

Two days in to our holiday I logged on to Wi-Fi in my hotel, and my phone buzzed to life. WhatsApp. It was Jane. “URGENT: NO conversions yesterday. George won’t stand for it. Please look at this ASAP.”

Really Jane? You’re going to harass me on holiday… by WhatsApp?

After three months of conflict our second project came to an end. George finally discovered that I had been ruining his monthly ‘apples to apples’ comparison by sending traffic to pages other than the homepage.

The big problem however wasn’t with George. The big problem was with me, because I hadn’t been clear enough about exactly who I was trying to work with.

Rule 2 of True Story Selling is this:

Audience selection is more important than stories.

Audience selection is the most important marketing ingredient. A concise, emotionally powerful message comes second. Media and creative comes third. Story selling belongs in the media and creative category.

George had approached me about his Google ads – about media and creative. This wasn’t his fault, the marketing industry trains buyers to think in this way. In reality, George was struggling with his AdWords because his audience was ill-defined, not because his existing ads were especially lousy. He had ‘been through’ a number of agencies because his problem wasn’t with the creative.

On my part, I took on the project because I too wasn’t clear about my audience. At the time, George satisfied all three of my criteria:

  • He had a pulse
  • He had money
  • He’d been through at least one AdWords disaster

These days, my definition of an ideal client is a little different. I look for people selling transformational, life-changing products or services where the trust-building process is potentially long.

Do you see how that is better?

Anything I can tell you about storytelling only matters once your audience selection is right. The stories you tell after that are simply creative.

*Names changed for privacy.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.