History Smiths
Because history matters. Including yours.


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Building Customer Relationships without "Direct Sales"

You’ve probably noticed that the effectiveness of traditional direct sales techniques has been steadily declining with the rise of people’s access to the Internet and a general distrust of “salespeople.” Why should anyone trust what you say in your ad or commercial when they can go online and find out the truth?

My business partner, Thea Grace Morgan, recently told me about an American Marketing Association survey that showed some startling results. In 2001, 40% of consumers polled admitted that advertising played a role in their purchasing decisions. In 2004, the number dropped to 14%. Where is that number today? Maybe 5%?

According to Thea, the message from consumers is loud and clear: “We hate being sold to!” And people today are increasingly sophisticated and even “canny” about when selling is “being done” to them. “They recognize it a mile away,” says Thea.

So…what’s a business to do, because we all need to “sell” in some fashion? Of course, we are all using social media, email marketing, and other methods, but the human connection still works every time – and NOT in a direct sales setting, but somewhere else.

This is where history can play a role.

If your business becomes involved in supporting a historical event, project, or organization, you and your staff will have the opportunity to connect with people on a level other than direct sales -- and that level is a very personal one. Residents of historical communities, especially, feel connected to and protective of their local history. The same applies statewide and even nationally depending on what you are supporting (think Ralph Lauren and the restoration of the Star Spangled Banner).


• During the 375th anniversary of the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, two local banks stepped forward to plan and implement two of the celebratory events. In each case, bank staff had the “excuse” to contact dozens of individuals and organizations to participate in the events. They interacted with hundreds more during the events themselves. Staff members simply acted as one person who cared about local history reaching out to a neighbor.

• An attorney friend of mine is about to lead an effort in his community to install a work of public art that honors women’s history in his town. His efforts to promote the project and raise funds will connect him with hundreds of people through direct solicitations and fundraising events. He may or may not ever mention his law practice, but he will be introduced as “Attorney so-and-so” and every person he meets will think of him when they need his services.

• An architect client, who specializes in preserving very old houses, developed a free educational seminar on how to restore houses the “right way” because he has had to fix too many examples of the “wrong way.” He has offered his seminar to well over 500 people, all of whom feel an emotional connection with him because they love old houses, they know he does too, and they appreciate how generously he gives of his time and knowledge. Many have hired and recommended him.

• Another client, a financial adviser, spearheaded an effort to save a historic building in his community from being demolished. He contacted hundreds of people to join him, raise funds, and get it done. Through his actions, every person he contacted came to know him on a personal level and through a shared concern. His project was successful, and he acquired new clients.

Do you see how this can work? And there are wins all around.

• Your business wins because you reach people on a personal level and not through direct sales.
• Customers win because they have found a service provider they like, trust, and who has a shared interest.
• Your community wins because you are helping to save our precious historical resources, either through
  direct preservation efforts or by celebrating what’s there (which leads to preservation).

How can you plug in?

• Monitor your local news to find out what’s going on in your community. If you get in early on a
  preservation effort, for example, you can be the hero before others sign on.
• Contact your historical society or museum to find out what they’re up to. They always need support,
  and you can probably find a good fit between your business and one of their projects.
• Call friends who serve on the historical society board or who are known to support historical projects.
  They will know what’s going on behind-the-scenes, including projects that aren’t public yet.
• Contact the history department of your local school or college. Is there a high profile project you could support?

The opportunities are out there! You will win customers and loyalty in spades by forging relationships “offline.”


2010 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

History Smiths works with service-oriented businesses to use history — their own and their community's — to achieve customer loyalty, referrals, and high status. Subscribe (above, right) to our free Ezine, Connections, where we share ideas and examples of businesses embracing history to achieve business goals.

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