Special attention gets special results

Want to grow your business? Focus your attempts the next time you make a sales pitch and you'll see better results, advises Rory J. Thompson.

Now that the aftershocks of the market shakeout are starting to subside, it's time to take a hard look at where your business has been and where it's going. As senior editor David Hakala pointed out in a recent Mile-High View" column, it's not necessarily the big players who will benefit from the coming upturn. Small and midsize businesses will do well, too, if they take the time to address the needs and wants of their customers.

Here at Sm@rt Partner central, I get a lot of e-mail pitches from PR flacks wanting us to profile their companies or products. They send me a pitch, I give it a quick glance (a really quick glance; I get more than a hundred a week), and then winnow out the possibles from the absolutely no-ways.

But here's the secret: The ones that survive, that get a closer look and a possible return e-mail, are the ones that specifically address Sm@rt Partner. The inquirers know the publication, know what we write about, and tailor their pitches to that. If I sense that they see what I need and can help fulfill that gap, they've got my attention and will more than likely hear back from me. The rest are quickly deleted.

The ones that die the fastest seem to be sent by the newest person at a PR agency. Instead of using the "blind cc:" option in their e-mails so that I don't know who else got the note, the newbies include everyone's address in the "to" box. That's a great way for me to see who's still working where (I'd like to send a shout out to all my old friends at BizWeek, Fortune and Inc.). That also tells me the release is not especially for me, and it gets the click-delete boot.

So how do you pitch new business? Do you send out a standard form letter, extolling your virtues and saying a whole lot of nothing? Or do you gear each presentation toward a particular client? The former idea is certainly easier, but nothing in it will make you stand out. The latter takes some time and research, but the end result may surprise you. Folks appreciate that you've made an effort to get to know their needs and explain how you can be of service.

Years back, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola waged a series of TV ads, dubbed "The Cola Wars." Each company's ads attacked the competition, show ing regular people preferring one brand over the other in a blind taste test. The claims got more and more ridiculous—we're talking cola here, folks—so much so that I wrote a letter to Pepsi. I pointed out that instead of comparing tastes, why not position Pepsi from a nostalgia point of view. I encouraged the company to bring back the old twisted-glass bottles, which are works of art in themselves, and include with each six-pack some of the old wax-covered paper straws we used to drink Pepsi through as kids.


I must have hit a nerve, because I got a lovely letter back from one of Pepsi's higher-ups, thanking me and inviting me to interview with the company's ad agency. I declined, but more importantly, those annoying ads stopped running soon after.

Coincidence? Maybe. But the stories and profiles you read in Sm@rt Partner don't just happen by luck. Someone took the time to make his case and grab our attention. If you'd like to grow your business, you might want to consider doing the same the next time you make a pitch. People are listening and waiting.

Rory J. Thompson is executive managing editor of Sm@rt Partner. He can be reached at rory_thompson@ziffdavis.com.