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Test Flight

Woo new customers with a pilot project.

One of the least understood secrets of successful marketing is the ease with which new business may be won. As powerful as that knowledge may be, your power increases when you comprehend the importance of gaining that new business in the first place.

Although it costs six times more to sell something to a new customer than to an existing one, there is a constant need to increase your customer base. You must be willing to turn cartwheels to convert a human being into a real, live paying customer. Break even or lose money in the quest for new customers because your investment in securing these precious souls will be returned many times over. Once your prospects become customers, they're a source of profits for life--because guerrillas know the importance of nonstop follow-up, which increases profits while decreasing your marketing costs.

A potent guerrilla tactic to win noncustomers' business and transfer them from the twilight zone to your customer list begins with two small words: "pilot project." It's often difficult to get a company or a person to agree to do business with you. It's much simpler to get them to agree to a mere pilot project. Even if companies or individuals are unhappy with their current suppliers, they may be reluctant to sever those relationships and sign up with you--in case you turn out to be flaky.

You can diffuse that reluctance, however, when you assure them that you don't want to get married and win all their business. You only want to become engaged and earn a simple pilot project. That's not asking for much.

Pilot projects are very tempting to companies and to individuals because they allow you to show you're as good as you say you are without going too far out on a limb. Even if the project is a bust, it was only a pilot project. No big deal. But if the project is a success, that indicates a larger project should be undertaken, then a larger one, and, eventually, you may get all the business.

Pilot projects may be applied as easily to a service business as to a product business. If you provide services, offer to perform them for a test period only, like six weeks or so. You may be able to get away with even less if you feel that less time will be enough for you to prove your worth and value.

If you sell products, ask store owners to give your product prominent display, proper signage and ample shelf space. But because it's only a pilot project, ask for this only for a limited time or with a limited offer. How will they know if your products will produce profits? This simple pilot project will tell.

Guerrillas are wary of wooing new business by offering discounts because they know that customers who purchase by price alone are the worst possible kind: disloyal; expensive to maintain; and in the end, only one-ninth as profitable as loyal customers who stick around because of value, service, quality or selection. But these same guerrillas are very willing to lose money on customers--for the first sale only--if the customers focus on things other than mere cost.

Pilot projects are inexpensive learning and high-potential earning opportunities. That's why savvy companies and individuals say yes to offers of pilot projects. While they are rarely major profit producers by themselves, pilot projects open the door to a world where profits abound and where relationships are lasting.

Jay Conrad Levinson is author of the internationally acclaimed Guerrilla Marketing series of books and co-founder of Guerrilla Marketing International. For information on the Guerrilla Marketing Newsletter and other products and services, write to P.O. Box 1336, Mill Valley, CA 94942; call (800) 748-6444; or visit the Web site at http://www.gmarketing.com .

Jay Conrad Levinson is the father of Guerrilla Marketing, the bestselling marketing series in history, selling more than 14 million copies worldwide. He is chairman of Guerrilla Marketing International. His latest books include Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days, 2nd. Edition with Al Lautenslager, Guerrilla Marketing on the Internet with Mitch Meyerson and Mary Eule Scarborough, and Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing with Jeannie Levinson.

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Test Flight.

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