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Is Selling Still Selling?

I once posted on Twitter that digital marketing revolves around three key goals: to increase awareness, traffic, and conversions. Digital marketing all boils down to those three. And everything you do online should aim for those three things.

One follower riposted, saying: “Awareness and traffic are vanity metrics by themselves. At the end of the day, it's about making the sale. Hence the rise of one-page websites and sales funnels that compress the buyer's journey.”

I've seen the rise of one-page websites, too. But that was back in the late 90s and early 2000s, however. I also saw them slowly go away. They're still around, that's for sure. But they aren't as prevalent as they were back then.

He said something that struck me, however.

There's a rise of compressed buyer journeys. But I don't see that at all. In fact, I see quite the opposite: the rise of relationship-driven sales processes, longer sales funnels, and graduated marketing messages where the sale takes place over multiple steps. Sometimes short, sometimes longer.

Does he mean there's a resurgence of one-page websites? Perhaps. But I don't see them — and I follow thousands of feeds, blogs, trends, and marketers.

Before the dotcom bust in the late 2000s, the web was filled with one-page salesletters. I know because I wrote tons of them.

Long-scrolling pages with endless copy in an attempt at covering all the bases, hitting multiple markets, addressing all the possible pain points, handling every objection, and overloading the reader with floods of social proof.

But the web was new back then. It was also mostly static — no graphics, no images, no multimedia. Just text and some color. It's was relatively easy to digitize a written salesletter meant for direct mail and slap it online.

But the Internet has evolved.

Today, the web is ubiquitous. It communicates using multiple formats and channels. Also, the web is now primarily mobile. Clunky desktops are being replaced by laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Everybody has a smartphone.

So it doesn't make sense to have long-scrolling pages. I'm not saying it doesn't work. I'm saying it doesn't make sense.

In 2005, I wrote a white paper called “The Death of The Salesletter,” and the purpose was to address some observations and issues I had with the one-page, endless scrolling salesletter, as well as some predictions.

What I saw was the decreasing impact of these long-form, carnival-barking, hit-you-over-the-head salesletters. The resulting effect was the rise of longer, louder, more aggressive, more brazen salesletters.

The more desensitized we become, the less effective these approaches will be. Plus, it fueled the rise of the funnel, i.e., the graduated, targeted, awareness-driven process that takes the user from problem-unaware to purchase.

Today, funnels are now comonplace.

So then, are awareness and traffic truly vanity metrics? If used only by themselves, sure. Some people prefer to win popularity contests than to win long-term customers. Having more traffic only feeds their egos.

But awareness and traffic, when connected with conversions, are key. After all, you can't get any sales if you don't get any traffic. And if people don't know you exist, it won't result in sales, either.

I know I'm being overly simplistic, but the point is that you can't make sales without awareness and traffic. Sure, you can try to compress the buyer's journey. But you still need to build relationships.

Online, in today's day and age, selling without people knowing you is nearly impossible. For selling commodities? Maybe. But professional services? Hardly.

Which reminds me of this little exhange.

Several months ago I posted a quote from Chris Brogan on LinkedIn:

“Marketers need to build digital relationships and reputation before closing a sale.”

— Chris Brogan

Chris is a marketing consultant who teaches companies to “tell better stories.” (He's a branding expert, in other words.) His clients include some of the biggest brands in the world, such as Disney, Coke, Google, GM, Microsoft, Coldwell Banker, Cisco, Sony, and many more.

Brogan's advice is to connect with your market in meaningful ways, and to focus on building relationships rather than conversions — particularly in an overwhelmingly distracted, overly stimulated, and highly automated world.

Why am I bringing this up?

In the comments section, one stood out. It was from Drayton Bird, a former associate of Ogilvy and Mather who worked directly under David Ogilvy himself (one of the world's leading advertising and direct marketing agencies).

Drayton is someone I admire. So when he commented, it got my attention.

He said: “I think back to when I started my agency. Our first big clients, Readers Digest and Odhams — a big mail order firm — had no idea who we were. But they liked what we said and then the results we got. Mr. Brogan is talking rubbish. And why ‘digital'?”

While Chris was referring to business in the digital world (and the quote came from Hubspot, an online CRM company), Drayton appears to be referring to the direct mail business. So direct mail is, in effect, a long, multipage salesletter.

I told Drayton that I didn't know the context of how he landed his client, too. To which he responded, “We approached them. Nobody had heard of us.” But that still doesn't tell me if there were follow up calls or conversations.

Regardless, what he said next was bang-on: “I do not believe digital changes human nature, or selling; though obviously, a client who has heard of you favourably is more likely to give you business than one who hasn't.”

I agree.

Selling is selling. And human nature is human nature.

Both of those things haven't changed.

But the concept of selling in the digital world doesn't mean to say you can't sell without building relationships. It's just a heckuva lot harder to do.

In today's digital world where there's so much competition for your attention, particularly when people are more privacy- and permission-sensitive than ever before, you cannot blatantly spam people online where nobody knows you — just as you could offline through a piece of direct mail or phone call.

Sales are definitely the most important metric. Or better, the most useful metric.

But the better metric is relationships.

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