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How Watching “The Blacklist” Can Improve Sales

How watching The Blacklist can improve your salesHow Watching “The Blacklist” Can Improve Sales

Raymond Reddington of NBC’s “the Blacklist” seems an unlikely hero in an era when spy dramas are full of cgi car chases and supernatural martial arts skills.

However . . .

The scene opens on a darkened roomful of good guys and bad guys in an eerie warehouse in the bad part of town.  The tension is high and you sense that this is the moment just before the bullets start flying.

Raymond “Red” Reddington strides confidently in the room his assistant Denbe at his side.  He flashes a high-beam smile at the assembled crowd, throws his hat down on a chair, and starts telling a story.

“Steve!  I’m delighted to see you.   It’s been ages.  You know, this reminds that time in Namibia.  A woman I was dating was so convinced there was a bomb in a package that she threatened the mailman with a bowling pin.  You know, she made the most amazing pie crusts . . . ”

What’s remarkable about Reddington’s character is that he doesn’t (usually) pull a gun, he doesn’t raise his voice or show anger, and before anyone realizes what has happened, he has taken control of the room, using nothing more than an affable presence and a finely-honed skill for storytelling.

And by the time he finishes his story, most likely the good guys, and bad guys (according to the story line, Reddington is a bad guy, although that’s easy to forget because he is so good at it) are placidly, if bemusedly, doing Red’s bidding. At least for the moment.  People have begun to know, like, and trust him, in spite of his reputation, and in spite of their own agendas.

In real  life as well as on TV, storytelling is a fantastic technique for convincing people to do what you want. Or at least, getting them to stop and listen to you.

The success of the show itself is evidence of the power of great storytelling.  (Even TV watchers love great stories!)

On May 11, 2014, owing to the show’s breakout success, NBC announced the show would air an episode in the coveted post–Super Bowl timeslot in 2015.

The show has received critical acclaim, with many critics praising Spader’s performance in particular.

Wikipedia – The Blacklist – TV Series

Why is storytelling so successful?  (And more importantly, how can you USE this to be more successful with your sales and marketing efforts?)

penn jilletteJames Spader is not the only gifted storyteller we’ve seen lately.   We had the opportunity to see Penn Jilette (of Penn & Teller) at the GKIC Marketing Superconference last week in Minneapolis. There is another man with amazing storytelling skills.

While people think of Penn & Teller as a magic act, the real talent comes in great storytelling.  Penn Jillette started as a street performer. He used stories and humor to draw a crowd, to explain each “trick” as it was being performed, (magicians notably call this “selling the trick”) and, most importantly to the success of a street performer,  to get people to actually want to give him money at the end of his act. He was so successful that his accountant was certain he was selling drugs or doing something illegal.  (Like, street performers make enough money to need an accountant?)

Here’s why they work:

  • Stories get attention.  From the time we were children, we learned to stop what we were doing and listen as soon as someone (particularly a gifted storyteller) started telling a story.
  • Stories are a pattern interrupt in a marketing or selling situation.  People are expecting a barrage of reasons they should buy your product. By slowing down the interaction and telling a story, the prospect (who was gearing himself up to object or resist your sales or marketing efforts) is caught off guard.
  • Stories are disarming. In the case of the TV show, stories can be literally disarming.  But in your case, you don’t need to convince a gang of mobsters to stop what they’re doing mid-attack. As a salesperson or marketing professional, you’re more likely to encounter skepticism and cynicism than outright violence.  (We hope!)
  • Stories build rapport.  Particularly if you use a story that connects with something you know about the prospect. Telling a story that includes an element that you know about your prospect (the town he came from, a school he graduated from, a sport he played, etc.) you can very subtly but powerfully build a very real connection in the process of telling a story.
  • Stories are convincing.  The stories you choose can be case studies or narratives about customers who achieved a particular result form using your product.  Facts and statistics are one thing, but a great story can be far more emotionally compelling.

Of course it helps if you have the supreme confidence,  resonant voice  and comedic timing of James Spader on a sound set (with a staff of fantastic writers working frantically to make him so delightfully villainous) . But even without those advantages, you can benefit from incorporating storytelling. And like most skills, the more of it you do, the better you get at doing it.

  • Watch great storytellers in action. Notice how they get get everyone’s attention at the beginning, introduce the story, build interest, and have a big finish.  The Blacklist is a good place to start.  🙂  Anything done by Penn & Teller is another resource. Jillette told us he spends many, many hours learning where to stand, which words to choose, what order to tell the story in, and what tone of voice to use for maximum effect.
  • Open sales presentations with a short, funny story.  Do this before you even BEGIN to talk about your product or service.
  • Collect a notebook of stories.  (The notes function in your phone is great for this.)   You probably have dozens of great stories if you think about your interactions with clients, interactions with your relatives, even your commute to work.
  • Practice the art of storytelling.  Often the difference between a compelling story and a mundane observation is not the facts behind the story, but the manner of telling it.  Spader has been acting for decades.  Penn & Teller spend weeks rehearsing a routine before it goes before the public.  You can (and should)  “rehearse” a story before using it in a sales presentation. Spend the time it takes to craft two or three great short stories for maximum effect.
  • Use stories in your marketing materials.  Use a narrative style in your blog posts and videos.

Of course, you should provide great information in your sales and marketing materials and presentations.  Some will say that the best salespeople should be teachers. (I’m one of them.)

But if you remember from when you were a kid, the best teachers WERE the great storytellers!

Avoid These Three Expensive Marketing Mistakes

If you’ve been reading any of our materials, you know that ABCI strongly advocates against ANY random acts of marketing,but after an insightful conversation sharing conversations we’ve both had with larger aviation companies, we thought we’d share these three particularly destructive and dangerous situations:

Marketing Mistake  #1 – “I’ve run several expensive, full-page ads in a glossy magazine, and now I’m out of money but I’m afraid to stop!”

Many new companies are particularly susceptible to advertising salespeople who encourage them to “make a big entrance” and “get their name out there” with a big advertising spread in a glossy magazine, which is probably more advertising than the new company has planned to sustain over the long haul.

Aviation magazines


Then the salesman calls back when the contract is almost up, and says “You HAVE to keep running full page ads. If you don’t, people will assume that business is not good, and they won’t buy from you because they think your company is having trouble.”

Our client mentioned to us “the time I pay the most attention to ads in magazines is when they start running, and when they stop running.”

Of course, the ad salesmen wasn’t being actually dishonest in either case, but this destructive half-truth has driven more than one company into the ground.

Magazine ads aren’t inherently bad, every channel has its strengths and weaknesses.  Since aviation has a notoriously long sales cycle, new companies may never get the chance to find out their natural sales cycle is 15 months, when they run out of money after six months.  It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to cut through the clutter, find the appropriate decision-maker, answer all of their questions, build trust, and wait for budget cycles or approvals.

What to do instead:

Evaluate each advertising venue carefully. If you decide that a magazine has an excellent demographic fit and great credibility with your intended decision-makers, by all means, place an ad.

You should consider the following when purchasing a magazine ad.

  • Buy an ad you can afford for the long haul.  Run a smaller ad for a year or eighteen months. You don’t want to stop advertising once you’ve started building credibility!
  • Design an ad with a clear, trackable, low-risk “call to action.”  Tell readers exactly what you want them to do, and be sure it is something you’ll be able to track. “Download a free ebook,” or direct visitors to a special landing page for a video; or ask readers to  “Schedule a demo or consultation. Mention this ad for a free gift.”
  • Understand that an ad is just the beginning of a successful marketing campaign. Have a follow up program in place before the ad runs. Be sure your staff is aware of the ad, and has a clear outline of how to maximize the chances of a sale from each response. Sales incentives for customer service staff are always a good idea!

Marketing Mistake #2 – “We have always spent a ton of money on our trade show booth and parties, and now we’re afraid to cut back.”

A variation on the same theme of the “expensive addiction” is the overly-lavish trade show appearance. The aviation industry is a small town and gossip is one of the favorite pastimes.

trade show

Overheard at an aviation convention about a major aviation company:

“Last year they had a 40 x 40 booth, and their party was the hit of the convention. This year they’re in a 20 x 20 and they’re giving away cheap plastic pens. I wonder what happened?”

Trade shows can be incredibly expensive. There’s booth rent, furniture, displays, giveaway items, entertaining, travel for your team, and on and on. Even electricity and wi-fi can be shockingly expensive. And all of these expenses tend to rise each year.

And customers, fans and onlookers seem to expect companies to have the same presence each year, regardless of return on investment, or they assume that you’re not doing well. And that gossip can hurt sales.   Some companies spend a lot more than they really should just to “keep up appearances.”

What you should do instead:

  • If you decide not to appear at a show that you’ve done in the past, write a statement or social media post explaining why.  “We’ve decided to devote the time and budget from Show X to see more of our clients personally.   We’ll be visiting the West Coast in November, contact us for an appointment.”
  • Plan trade show appearances very carefully. If trade shows are part of your marketing strategy, it’s better to do fewer  shows, but to spend more time and money on advance marketing and a creative and effective follow-up program for the leads you acquire.
  • There’s nothing wrong with not having a booth or display.  Make appointments to visit existing clients and your top 10 prospects – meet them for breakfast, lunch or coffee.
  • If you’re new to a particular trade show, make your first appearance modest. You can always go bigger next year when you’ve observed the demographics and “personality” of a show first-hand. It makes the best impression to improve incrementally each year. Provide slightly nicer giveaways, a slightly more lavish gift for your drawing, each year.

Marketing Mistake #3 – “We gave away samples of our product, and people don’t seem to see the value.”

A public and painful example of this:

ipad stands

Busted! Surface tablets used as iPad stands during CNN election coverage.

A person at CNN familiar with the company’s operations said that anchors are not required to use any particular hardware and usually bring their own devices. The Surface tablets were not part of a product placement deal, and were in place to give anchors access to CNN’s “magic wall” that helps display much of the channel’s coverage. Microsoft owns the company that makes the “magic wall,” which can be controlled through Internet Explorer.

Microsoft has already had a bit of trouble with the branding of its surface tablet. The company signed a deal with the NFL to put Surface tablets on the sidelines of games, but had to coach announcers to stop referring to them as iPads.


While a trial period or even a sample might be a good way to educate customers and build trust, but giving a core product away for free can’t help but devalue the product in the eyes of prospects.

Novice salespeople often use free product improperly. When you offer something for free, your prospect will probably take it. But they probably won’t devote the time or effort to really evaluating it as a viable solution.   They will just as likely be given to a non-decisionmaking colleague, or take it home for their kids.

What to do instead:

  • Give away free coffee or candy. Give away information or accessories. Offer free training with your product.  Don’t be a cheapskate, but don’t give away the most valuable core benefit of your product.
  • If you do provide a trial period or some other risk-reversal, obtain a commitment in return.  “Use it for thirty days.  Try all of the functions, attend a new-member training session, call our support line and file a ticket for assistance. If we’re not able to make it right within thirty days, we will provide a full refund.

Other Marketing Mistakes?

We’ve all made them!

But one of the great things about ABCI clients and members is that we learn from one another – share your favorite mistake (and its solution) in the comments below.

Are You Afraid to Raise Prices?

Aviation professionals who don’t have much experience with marketing and sales assume that if you offer your product at a lower price, you will sell more products.

There are many reasons this assumption could be dangerously incorrect.

This model assumes that your product is a commodity, like a can of beans, that has little to differentiate it from the competition.  It also assumes that your product is sitting on a shelf next to all of the other cans of beans, and all of your consumers easily and conveniently compare features and prices side-by-side, make their selection, and walk out the door with product in hand.

raise your prices

Even with straightforward commodities like a can of beans, I’ll spend up to 30% more on a product that has a trusted brand name.

Is this because I make irrational decisions based on available data?  Possibly. But it’s more likely that I want the best food for my family and I’m willing risk a little money to make that more likely.

And with aviation products and services, I’m even LESS likely to buy the least expensive product. Why?

  • Subconsciously, (and  sometimes consciously!) consumers associate a higher price with higher quality. (Note – This is a phenomenon called “perceived value.”  It’s what makes us think twice about buying a $30 Rolex watch.   Our first impulse is suspicion.  “What’s wrong with it? Why is it so cheap?”)
  • This is exaggerated even more in the aviation industry where safety is associated with quality. Nobody wants to trust their safety to cheapest components.
  • Aviation consumers, as a population, are used to fantastic customer service.  They are willing to pay m ore for it.

Many companies we work with have reduced their prices to adjust to market forces over the past few years, and with good reason – it’s allowed them to keep market share in a volatile economy.  This year, there are some positive signs in the number of business jets being sold, attendance at many of the major aviation conventions, and signs that aviation businesses and consumers are spending more money.

So, is now a good time to raise prices?

Probably.  Unless there are specific competitive reasons not to, (and sometimes even if there are – we advice our clients to avoid the “low price leader” position in the market!) there are great reasons to raise prices:

  • You can’t keep prices low forever – sooner or later you need to repair or replace equipment, hire new people or at least replace people who have left or retired, and/or move to bigger facilities.
  • You need to give your people raises to keep the best product production and service delivery people motivated and performing at their best. You also need to provide attractive incentives for your people to meet objectives.
  • You need to invest in research and development to continue to offer better products and services.
  • You need to invest in marketing to keep and expand your market share. (Our favorite!)
  • Depending on the demographics of your customers, and your marketing strategies, higher prices may actually make marketing and sales easier. (See the note about perceived value above.)  We, and our clients, have been pleasantly surprised on several occasions with less sales resistance and higher customer satisfaction survey results AFTER raising prices!

Couple of caveats:

  • Consider keeping your current pricing for existing clients.  It’s a great way to reward loyalty.  (And it IS much less expensive to keep old customers than to find new ones!)
  • Consider improving your products and announcing the new versions to coincide with the higher prices. (Apple does this masterfully with iPhones, iPads and computers.
  • Consider a marketing campaign explaining your reasons for raising your prices, and providing a time-delimited window to acquire products at the old prices.

With that in mind, here’s a flyer we sent to our current clients:


Warning -raise prices

Sales success – How hard do your prospects and customers have to work?

Some of you know that we have a kid serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco.  You might also know that we went to visit him last week – took him to Spain for a little bit of a vacation along the Costa Del Sol – some castles, boardwalks, Spanish food, beer, and so on. It was a fantastic (if short!) vacation, but it led me to an insight about marketing.

Customs lines - Image by WSJ

Are daunting processes messing up your sales numbers?

We traveled from Morocco to Spain and back by ferry, which looked pretty easy when you’re at home, planning the trip, looking at Google Earth on your computer screen. It’s quite a different thing in reality.

The most frustrating part of the trip was probably the customs lines at the Tanger ferry terminal.  I wish I’d taken pictures, but I thought I’d lose my camera (and/or my spot in line) if I tried it.

The frustrating part was this: Every single person had to go through the same line, whether they were traveling with just a backpack;  or with a carload of boxes, bags and bundles purchased in Spain. Some people had three or four baggage carts with clothing, appliances, furniture, and so on.

We were trudging through a maze of stanchions, as the folks in front of and behind us pushed, dragged, trundled or rolled their stuff toward the x-ray machines.  The good news is that everyone was helpful –  we all helped one another progress through the line. About an hour later, when we arrived at the x-ray machines, we had all made some new friends, and everybody was carrying somebody else’s stuff. The poor guy sitting in front of the monitor (one guy for four machines, as near as I could tell) had no way of knowing whose stuff was whose, and had no way of stopping anyone from just picking up their stuff and walking off with it after it emerged from the conveyer belt.

This could have been massively helped by having two lines, as most customs departments do – one line for travelers with merchandise, another for travelers with “nothing to declare.”

And that wasn’t the only example – we should not have been surprised since our first experience in the country of Morocco was to  wait for about two and a half hours at the airport passport control upon arriving in Casablanca from Paris.

Security theater, at its best.  As someone who has complained about the TSA in the US, I have to say, the TSA upon our return to New York were weirdly refreshing by comparison.

So, the point of all this is that word gets around. 

Coffee in Morocco

Mickey and John enjoying a well-deserved coffee. Of course we were motivated to take the ferry, regardless of inconvenience.  The things one does to spend time with ones’ kids!  Less motivated tourists might get word of a daunting experience and skip it altogether.

Although Morocco is only 2.5 hours away from Spain by ferry, it’s a world apart in terms of tourism revenue. (Spain earned almost seven and a half times the tourism revenue that Morocco earned from 2009 to 2012, according to the World Bank.)

How much of that tourism is lost because of inefficient processes? 
It’s hard to say.  But given the enchanting history, art, literature and heritage of Morocco, and it’s proximity to Spain, I was puzzled before our trip that so few of our well-traveled friends have been there.
How many of your sales are being lost to inefficient processes?
No matter how attractive your product, there are people who will hesitate to purchase, and will hesitate to recommend it to others, if the process of acquiring, installing, using it or getting customer service for it is perceived as daunting. 
People use aviation products and services for one primary reason- convenience. Private aviation is the ultimate “time machine,” allowing them to be where they want to be with a minimum of time and effort.  Customers, particularly affluent customers, are increasingly intolerant of inconvenience.
I’m sure tourism companies, hotels and resorts in Morocco will say – “But that’s outside of our control! We don’t set passport control or customs policy.” 
Many aviation companies react in the same way – there are many regulatory factors outside our control that can make things difficult for our customers. But there is always SOMETHING we can do, and smart aviation companies seek to expand their influence to make things easier for their customers:
  • NBAA actively lobbies for less cumbersome and prohibitive regulation, like user fees and excessive searches.  Every roadblock and expense they remove or prevent helps many aviation companies.
  • AeroStar Training Services provides ab-initio (from the first flight lesson through the airline type rating) options that include room and board and coordinate with colleges and universities to provide an all-inclusive flight training options for airlines and self-funded students. This makes the process less daunting for companies that can find the right candidates and trust AeroStar to take care of the details.
  • Dallas Jet International has relationships with attorneys, accountants, tax experts and other professionals to make the sale or acquisition of a business jet as seamless as possible for their clients. This helps their clients learn from the experience and expertise of a diverse team of specialists so they don’t run into a preventable snag or miss an important advantage.
  • Tanis Aircraft Products acquires STCs for many of their products, and provides Weather Safety Tips above and beyond the use of their products. This helps their customers fly confidently in cold weather.
  • The Taj Hotel in Bangalore (not an aviation example, but travel-related) sent a facilitator to pick us up at the airport, assist with the customs process, translate for us if needed.  He also took us back to the airport and facilitated our departure. This was a huge help on our first (daunting) trip to India.

What you can do:

  • Make a list of the (real or perceived) problems or issues your customers run into before, during or after making a purchase from you. Include weather, regulatory, and other factors “beyond your control.”
  • Brainstorm ideas of how your company might provide information or services to prevent those problems.
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis for the best ideas – how many more sales would you have to make to cover the cost of providing solutions?
  • Implement solutions that make sense.
  • Measure and re-evaluate your efforts annually. If it works and it’s cost-effective, consider doing more!

So, we’re back.
PS – Don’t let this post discourage you from visiting Morocco if you’re so inclined. The people are warm, open and welcoming, and there are a lot of things well worth seeing.  We visited large cities and remote areas, and never once felt unwelcome or unsafe, as somewhat “obvious” Americans.  A little more French on our side would have been helpful. (I once got eggs when I thought I had ordered salad.)  Altogether,  trip is well worth the wait.

Even if you don’t have kids there!

What’s the Best Marketing Tool for Aviation?

“What’s the best marketing tool for aviation?  If I only have time and money to do one thing to sell to people in this market,  what should it be?”

We were asked this question in a coaching session last week. I asked the client:

“If you asked your mechanic which tool he’d like if he’ll be stranded with your plane on a desert island with only one, which one do you think he would pick?”

His response was:

What's the best marketing tool for aviation? “He’d say he wasn’t going to no damn desert island if he can’t take the whole toolbox with him.”

“Good man!” I said.

There are many good reasons to select different tools for different jobs. No true professional would attempt or advise working with just one tool.

“What if I just wanted to stick to digital media to keep costs down?”  He asked.

“We all have to work within a budget, and we can minimize print costs if we need to; but there’s no comparison to a good postcard for prospecting, or a good printed newsletter for building credibility.”

With respect to printed newsletters, a split-test was done at Virginia Tech to assess readership of their alumni magazine. Half of the subscribers received the printed magazine, half received only an email link to the online edition. An equal number of recipients in each camp were then extensively surveyed.

  • 82% recalled getting the print version, 42% recalled getting the online version. Winner- Print.
  • 77% looked at the print version and recalled at least one article versus 47% online. Winner- Print.
  • 63% expressed a preference for receiving the print version, 26% digital, 11% requested both.  Winner – Print.

So, can you get rid of digital and just use print?

We advise against that as well, because you’re giving up some significant advantages:

  • There is a very low incremental cost to copy existing materials to the web. If you’ve paid to have an article or press release written, it is shortsighted not to take the extra step and publish it on the web, and on as many channels as practical.
  • 61% of global Internet users research products online. (Interconnected World: Shopping and Personal Finance, 2012)
  • 44% of online shoppers begin by using a search engine. (Interconnected World: Shopping and Personal Finance, 2012)
  • 84% of B2B marketers use social media in some form. (Source: Aberdeen)

Eliminating any category of tools is unwise.  If you’re on a budget, of course you can make do with a more modest toolbox.  If you’ve tested a channel and find that it doesn’t perform as well as others, by all means, don’t keep doing what doesn’t work.  But no single tool will suffice as a marketing effort or campaign for a product or company.  If, by some stroke of luck or tradition, you have plenty of customers coming in from a single source, it’s best to diversify.

One flight school had been running radio ads for years and was completely satisfied with their results, until the radio personality who performed their ads with a particular enthusiasm and authenticity was hired by a different station.  Their results dropped off disastrously.

Diversity is stability, in marketing as in many other things.

So, what does that big red toolbox look like (that no self-respecting marketing consultant would be stranded on a desert island without?)

To us, it looks different for every client, but it always has three phases and several “tools” in each phase. Here’s an example.

long cycle marketing system example

Example of a Long Cycle Marketing System – Click to enlarge.

#TestimonialTuesday – A Profitable Marketing Habit

Testimonials are fantastic marketing materials because they are exactly what a prospective customer wants to know – “What do your CUSTOMERS say about you?” So, make it a regular part of your marketing routine to give testimonials, ask for testimonials, and use them in your marketing!


It’s easy to forget some of the big but important tasks in sales and marketing. So focus on it one day a week – make it a point, every Tuesday, (it’s easy to remember because of the nice cheesy alliteration!) to do SOMETHING about testimonials for your product or service.

How to Get Testimonials

  • Give a sincere testimonial to a partner or supplier.
  • Ask for a testimonial from a customer.
  • Add a question to your customer satisfaction survey – do they have any comments about your product or service?  Ask them to check a box if you have permission to use their comments in your marketing.


dji testimonialtuesday ABCI testimonialtuesday Jerome Tanis TestimonialTuesday - Nathan Howard


How to Use Testimonials

Once you get a few good customer testimonials, use them to improve your marketing materials. Here are some great places to use them:

  • Add them to your “About Us” page on your website. This is where people look for reassurance that your company is credible and they should do business with you.
  • Near your order form or “buy” buttons on your website, or the order form in a direct mail piece. Customers need to be reassured before they buy from you.
  • On product sheets, brochures, proposals, or recommendations.
  • Set them apart visually from the rest of the text, using a different font, color, lines or boxes, This lets readers know that “someone else is speaking.”
  • Testimonials are best when they come from someone who is likely to be knowledgeable in a relevant field. For that reason, it’s best to use names and titles attributing “who said it” whenever possible.

One more thing about testimonials – sometimes they’re not entirely positive. Customers don’t always say what we want them to say. My advice – use them anyway. It’s okay to clean them up for grammar, length or continuity (ask permission of the person who gave them to you to use the shortened or altered version) but don’t change the meaning.

So, there’s still some Tuesday left. Plenty of time to do something about your Testimonial strategy!

Marketing Strategies – Approaching Your Top Ten Most Desired Customers

This one of the most powerful marketing strategies that we share with all of our clients early in the process of working together.

One of our clients (who is a pilot) remarked that “customers don’t come with approach plates.”

No, they don’t.   You have to make up your own.

Unique Customers Require Unique Approaches.

One thing we recommend to our clients is that they keep a “top ten” list of customers they want to do business with. (Remember that prospects are people, not companies, so you need to identify the specific person, or at least the job title, of the person you think would make the purchase decision.)

marketing strategies

Why Just Ten?

Why ten? Why not hundreds?

Because most people don’t have the time or energy to “approach” more than ten people intelligently.

Of course you can (and should, depending on your marketing objectives) send broadcasts of emails or postcards, and you can advertise in publications and reach thousands or hundreds of thousands of prospective customers; but if advertising is a shotgun, then approaching is a sniper rifle – much more targeted, and much more effective, particularly for situations where the targets are fewer and more difficult.

In addition to advertising, we also recommend spending personal attention on your “top ten” list as a disciplined business development activity.

Here’s why:

  • Ten is a small enough number to make this a two-way street. You’re reaching out with the sincere interest of listening and learning.
  • You can customize, tailor and craft marketing messages that are specifically compelling to this particular customer.
  • You may  find the person you thought was the ideal contact may not be the real decision-maker.  This is something you would only learn by building relationships.
  • Building these relationships over time offers more benefits than simply making this specific sale or closing this specific deal.  You’re making friends for life and learning valuable insights that you can apply to the rest of your marketing.
  • As sales close, or as you discover that one prospective customer on your list is NOT a good prospect for whatever reason, you can replace him or her with another. So your top ten list changes each week, each month, or each quarter, depending on the velocity of your sales cycle.

After some discussion, most of our clients agree that approaching (or “stalking”) their top ten prospects is a good strategy. The next question is this.

Prospect Approach Checklist

“So, what exactly should I be doing to ‘approach’ these prospects?”

Well, here’s what you don’t want to do:

  • You don’t want to bombard them with communication
  • You don’t want them to be uncomfortable about your level of attention. (You don’t want them to feel like you’re “stalking” them!)

Balance the activities listed below, and tailor them to the prospect and to the situation. Use restraint and be willing to spend as long as it takes to build trust. Here are some activities you could perform on a weekly basis:

  • Look them up on Google. Find out what you can and look for things you have in common and ways to connect.
  • Connect with them on social media.
  • Go to an event that you know they will be attending.
  • Look for opportunities to help them. If they ask a question in a forum or user group, offer a solution if you can.
  • Comment on articles they write or updates they post, if you have something relevant to say.
  • Cut out an article you find in a trade publication or magazine that you think might interest them, given their interests (again, the more you know, the better this works.)  Drop it in the mail with a handwritten note, or (less effective) send them an email with a link.
  • Send a card for their birthday, anniversary or congratulations for a special event.
  • Meet and connect with their “influencers.”  Extend your social network (online and in person) to others in their company and in their industry. Connect with their boss, their lawyer, their accountant, and anyone else they respect if you have a legitimate opportunity. The more connections you have within their network, the more “real” and credible you will seem in their experience.

We spend a couple of hours each Friday (we call this “Follow Friday”) to make it easy to remember to follow, connect with, comment on, and otherwise “follow” our Top Ten most desired customers.

One caveat – we don’t directly contact our “top ten” every single week; we may spend several weeks doing research for each actual connection. And we never use these “Follow Friday” activities for direct sales pitches. If a prospect indicates interest, fine; but we let the prospect drive the pace of the sales process.

My flight instructor used to say, “never rush an approach.”

That’s good advice for marketing strategy, as well.

Targeted Marketing – Making the Most of a Short Prospect List

Most marketing companies place a lot of emphasis on advertising and acquiring as many leads as possible.  This is a great objective, as far as it goes, but several changes in the economy, technology and legal landscape make targeted marketing to a smaller, more carefully compiled list a better strategy.

Last week we worked with clients on strategies to pare down their prospect lists to reduce their exposure to anti-spam legislation such as the new Canadian Anti-Spam law., but there are many reasons an aviation sales or marketing professional might have a short list of prospects:

  • You work for a startup or a very new company.
  • You sell a very exclusive product that involves very high personal involvement.
  • You sell a very specific product that serves a niche with unique requirements.
  • You inherited a “dirty” or nonresponsive list and a thorough cleaning reduced its size.

It’s good to be exclusive.

We worked on a marketing strategy for a client  in aviation financial services. After researching the qualifications for this particular service, we determined the total list of qualified prospects in the world was 67.   This was still a viable market since our client only needed about four new clients per year to meet her objectives.

When we first gave her the news, the first reaction was dismay.  But after we’d talked awhile, she realized how liberating it is to be working within such a narrow focus.  It certainly eliminates a lot of potential waste.

Of course, the strategy of marketing to a list of 67 is very different than marketing to a list of thousands (as in most aviation products) or hundreds of thousands (as in most consumer products.)

Mass Marketing in Aviation  Targeted Marketing in Aviation
  • Long list of prospects (thousands)
  • Short list of prospects (less than a thousand)
  • Research demographics
  • Research individual companies and people
  • More “broadcasting”
  • More conversations
  • Shorter sales cycle
  • Longer sales cycle
  • More competition
  • Less competition
  • More price sensitivity
  • More price elasticity


Calculate your customer lifetime value.

One of the key numbers a business owner must carry around in his head is the “customer lifetime value” or “CLV.”

If you’ve been scrupulously using a CRM (customer relationship management) system for several years, you may be able to calculate this very precisely by looking at the revenue per transaction times the number of transactions for that customer, plus assigning a value of any other customers referred by that customer.

You will probably be surprised what a loyal, happy customer is worth.  Some very smart companies are willing to spend a significant amount of money to acquire a good customer.  Some are willing to lose a little money on a customer service incident or a specific transaction.  If they know the numbers, they can make good decisions that may seem like altruism or goodwill, when they’re really shrewdly “playing the odds.”

In any case, this is a key piece of information,  because spending more than the CLV to acquire a new customer is foolish. Spending a percentage of that value to acquire a new customer is a good investment.

Besides the financial investment, be aware of how much time you’re willing to spend to acquire a new customer.  The shorter your prospect list, the more time you’re likely willing to spend.

Three techniques  that are very effective for short-list, targeted marketing

A smaller list allows you to devote more money, and/or more time, to each one and treat each prospect as “special.”

Limited list of prospects? Precision becomes more important in Targeted Marketing

When you have a limited list of prospects, precision is important. Targeted marketing is a good skill to learn!


  • Direct mail.  Create ten or twenty high-value information packages that are sent to qualified prospects who have indicated an interest. This can be much more effective than buying an ad that will be read by large numbers of less-qualified prospects who have an unknown interest level.
  • The telephone. Yes, we know. Nobody likes making sales calls. But a properly-structured marketing campaign should provide multiple opportunities to interact with a prospect that aren’t necessarily defined as “sales calls.”   A call after a prospect has downloaded a piece of information from your website could be very low-key.  “Were you able to retrieve the file? Did it answer your questions?” Or you could make a call to let your prospect know about a specific item in the news that may affect his business.  The harsh reality of the aviation industry is that the phone is very effective as a sales tool.  The shorter your list, the more you should be using the phone.
  • LinkedIn.  Again, if you have a small number of prospects, you can devote more time to. You don’t necessarily have to buy ads on LinkedIn, although that is a possibility; but to do research on individual people, make connections, and have conversations in groups and other non-threatening environments. We’ll be talking more about this in our upcoming webinar – Ten Ways Aviation Professionals Should Be Using LinkedIn.

While lead acquisition (and enlarging your list of prospects) is certainly important, it can be even more effective to devote your marketing resources to serving a smaller and more targeted list of prospects.

How to Network at Aviation Events

Why is it important to know how to network?

Aviation is a trust-based industry, and many deals (especially most of the large-ticket transactions) are still made in person, or as a result of at least one in-person meeting.

Events, like trade shows and conventions are a great opportunity to have a number of decision-makers in the same place at the same time.

Opportunities for networking include:

  • Golf tournaments
  • Charity events/service opportunities
  • Trade show booth conversations
  • Cocktail hours
  • Networking breakfasts / lunches / dinners / coffee breaks
  • Sponsored after hours parties


Events like this social mixer at the FSANA (Flight School Association of North America) Convention are great opportunities to start mutually profitable relationships.

Events like this social mixer at the FSANA (Flight School Association of North America) Convention are great opportunities to start mutually profitable relationships.

Since most of these events are mixing business with social activities, it can be difficult to make connections in a way that’s effective but still appropriate.

We all want to avoid those  “awkward” moments. In fact, many aviation professionals secretly (or not so secretly) dread the unstructured networking opportunities.

Some of the keys to successful networking:

  • Four questions you can use that will be received well by anyone as a conversation-starter
  • Knowing how much (0r how little!) to tell about your product or service on a first meeting
  • Being able to explain your product or service in terms that anyone could understand, even if they’re not technical (or not technical in your own field)
  • How to pick up on signals that someone is interested in learning more or just being polite
  • Learning to extricate yourself from a conversation that is not productive or worthwhile.

We provide guidelines, experiences and share a few “bloopers” and cautionary tales in our upcoming webinar, “Non-Awkward Networking,” coming up Wednesday June 18th at 1:00.

Not a member? See http://www.AviationBusinessConsultants.com/class for more details.

Looking for opportunities to practice your networking skills at an aviation event?
See http://www.AviationServiceDirectory.com/Events for listings of upcoming aviation industry events.

Know of an association or nonprofit event that we’re missing?  Shoot me an email at Paula@AviationBusinessConsultants.com and we’ll add it!

Aviation Marketing Checklists – Don’t Take Off Without One!

Aviation Marketing Checklists – Why do you need them?

Would you take off without a checklist?

In 1935 the first flight checklist was born. Why? Because the pilots on the first flight of the B-17 forgot one thing and it caused the plane to crash. We’ll tell you more about that below. Today all planes have checklists and that has made aviation much safer. Imagine, without a checklist you might take off without realizing your left or right mag isn’t within limits, or an aux fuel pump doesn’t function as required.


B-17 - starting point for checklists

 We got our information on the B-17 from Angle of Attack –

Does your marketing process have a checklist?

Your Marketing Plan, like every airplane, should also have a checklist so that missions are successful.

Just as there is no standard checklist that will work with any aircraft (they are highly customized) a marketing checklist also has to be customized to the mission, the budget, the product, and the prospects, which is why getting assistance from a company like ABCI is a great idea.

Our checklist will identify your missing pieces

The ill-fated B-17 stalled shortly after takeoff. After further investigation, it was found that the Captain had left the elevator lock on, and the aircraft was unresponsive to pitch control.

Pilots need a checklist. This wasn’t reflection on the competence of pilots or the airworthiness of the aircraft, but a way to capture best practices and lessons learned.

Sometimes the smallest overlooked detail in your marketing campaign can also lead to disaster, which is why all of our marketing campaigns and projects are checklist-driven!

We have Checklists and Tip Sheets on several topics –

  • Five Tweaks for you LinkedIn Profile
  • Postcard Marketing Checklist
  • Trade Show Marketing Checklist
  • Sales Call Prep Checklist . . .

And many more – click here to see all of our Checklists and Tip Sheets.


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