From the June 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

What kind of person would call me at seven in the morning, bend my ear nonstop for nearly an hour about his passion for his profession, and then sell me on helping him become even more successful at it . . . all before I had taken even one swig of orange juice or bite of toast?

His name is Ramon Williamson, of McLean, Virginia, and it was not surprising to learn he is a professional sales trainer and coach, one of those caffeinated supermotivators hired to give pep talks to company salespeople to get them to move more merchandise. And I have to say, this guy delivers the goods . . . at least in getting me pumped up to work on an ad makeover for him.

Williamson sent his small-space ad for review, and my reaction was that it had a decent hook--affordability, for a typically pricey service--but still needed more to separate him from other trainers. Also, the prospect might wonder whether, behind all the pulpit-pounding, fist-pumping, rah-rah enthusiasm and self-promotion, this guy is as good as he claims to be.

Williamson probably knows that one of the best corroborators of capability is a third-party endorsement, meaning recognition for competence or excellence by some objective authority, apart from you or your clients. When you get an award, it's a form of third-party endorsement. A review of your product is also a type of third-party endorsement. And magazines often act in that role by bestowing annual "Best Of . . . " awards in various categories of interest to their readership; the honorees can then use that plaudit to promote their businesses.

Williamson got such a "best" designation from a periodical called Selling Power, which named him one of the best sales trainers. I don't know what the criteria were or how the judging was conducted, but he got a blue ribbon slapped on his lapel for it--and I recommend he leverage that recognition in his ad.

Getting Recognition

Before I get down to recommending how Williamson can use this recognition for his ad, let's talk about how you can garner some of that same third-party praise for your business, kudos to drop into your ads, paste in your storefront window or even imprint on your letterhead. Obviously, if your firm has already been singled out for recognition, don't wait a second longer to get that distinction into your advertising. And the more impressive the honor, the more play you'll want to give it. But even if you haven't been given recognition, here's another possibility: You may be using a part, process or ingredient from one of your suppliers that has received such praise. Well, you deserve credit for it, too, because you thought highly enough of your customers or clients to provide it to them.

For example, if you manufacture a home product made with a substance that's been given a high rating of some sort, you might want to trumpet that fact, saying something like "made with the flame retardant rated #1 by the American Fire Safety Council." Or let's say you're a financial advisor and you consult a highly rated stock picking service. That fact should get a mention in your promotional material. If you subscribe to a well-known industry newsletter that recommends a certain product you use, why not say "We use the gear goop that received top marks from Auto Mechanics Monthly," or words to that effect?

Operating a restaurant? Harvard Medical School researchers recently released results of a long study in which they found that eating regular helpings of tomato sauce may dramatically reduce cancer risk (it has to do with a chemical in tomatoes that's a potent antioxidant). If I ran a pizza parlor or Italian eatery, I might enlarge the article that announced the study's conclusion and paste it in my front window, complete with yellow highlighting of the key points. No, it's not a "best" endorsement, but by implication, it says that you, the restaurateur, serve food that may help save lives.

But what if, no matter how hard you think, you can't come up with such a connection for your product or service? In that case, don't forget the weight that the Better Business Bureau plaque carries with new customers when they see it on the office wall or on your letterhead. That's an implied endorsement.

As far as Williamson's ad is concerned, I am recommending he use the following headline: "Named one of the Best in Sales Training." And as you can see, I've sized the type so the words "Named" and "Best" leap out to arrest the passing reader. Then the ad goes on to explain the source of the recognition. Since the periodical Selling Power may not be well-known, I refer to it as a "national sales and marketing magazine." The rest of the ad touts Williamson's work with some high-profile corporations, which helps cement the image of credibility. And I've also developed the fact that he's a seminar trainer as well as a private coach--a distinction, he says, that gives him an edge.

Williamson can get some extra mileage out of this ad by reprinting it in a larger size and mailing it with a sales letter to his hotBODY prospects. The letter would refer to some of the key selling points in the ad, and the ad would work as a low-cost but effective substitute for a brochure.

Adventures in E-Mail

Last month I told you I was going to report back on my experiment with the use of bulk e-mail advertising to promote a manual I wrote. Bulk e-mail is the method of electronically sending out hundreds or thousands of marketing letters each day to online prospects via your computer (or through a bulk e-mail service), eliminating the need for buying envelopes, postage and mailing lists.

I also mentioned that this technique is controversial--even reviled--because many people on the receiving end of this kind of unsolicited marketing do not take kindly to it. And they can be very verbal about it, sending back what is called "flame" mail, angry e-mail telling you what they think of the blankety-blank letter they got from you. Still, e-mail is a powerful direct-marketing medium.

My own solicitation was only moderately successful and might have done better if the mailing had been more highly targeted, meaning if it had gone out specifically to a list of people with a need or affinity for my product. Instead, it went out to a large, more random list of people, which accounts for the relatively low number of responses--as well as the flame mail--I got.

This type of response is very much in keeping with the results of postal direct mail. If it's targeted to the recipient's interest, they'll likely pay close attention to it. If it's about a product or service they care little about, it'll be crumpled and trashed. So if you decide to give bulk e-mail a try and you have a product or service that has a specific audience, insist on mailing to a more targeted list. Even though the size of the mailing is much smaller and costs more than a random mail drop, you'll have better results--and get torched less by the flame mailers.

Contact Sources

Ramon Williamson, c/o Williamson Sales & Leadership, 2010 Corporate Ridge, #700, McLean, VA 22102, (703) 749-1400.

Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter. If you'd like him to consider your materials for a makeover, send them to the address below. For information on his new manual, Creating Successful Small Business Advertising, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or contact Jerry via America Online at Jerry228@aol.com.