Your Business Is Not A Slot Machine

I met with a business owner recently who told me his business trends for 2009 are abysmal. He is worried, and wants to do something quickly to improve near-term results.; We discussed a number of options he could take.

His favorite idea is to print a new brochure and distribute it at local stores by forming partnerships with retailers.

My initial comment was that the retail partnerships mightwork, but they won’t work quickly. It will take some time to form the partnerships with retailers, then additional time to get the stores to display his brochures and support the program; this stuff never happens as fast as you think it will.

I then noted that his business only serves 1,000 customers each year, even in good years, with very high customer satisfaction. Although he enjoys good repeat purchase rates, his customers aren’t buying his product as many times as they could. I suggested that the quickest way to develop business is to call past customers, have a good conversation with them, then invite them to do more business with you.

“No, I don’t want to do that,” he said. “They’ll come back anyway. They love us. And, besides, we only have 3,000 or 4,000 customer names. I can distribute 10,000 or 20,000 brochures really quickly. That’ll work better, because I can reach more people.”

My comment: “Your business is not a slot machine.”

Your business is not a slot machineSending out a pile of brochures is like pulling the arm on a slot machine many times– you’re hoping that luck will go your way and that, after enough attempts, you’ll win something. Like placing advertising, you have much control over the input but very little control over the output.

Revenue generation doesn’t need to be a game of chance.

If, like this executive, you are assessing ways to use marketing to improve business results, play the slot machines last. Focus first on things that are more deliberate, known and controllable.

  • Focus on direct interactions with customers first, then use marketing media, such as brochures, ads, news stories and websites, as a supplement to these direct encounters.
  • Focus on past customers first, then seek new customers.
  • When looking for new customers, focus on your customers’ friends and colleagues first, then look for people with whom you don’t even have indirect connections.
  • Don’t be misled by numbers; distributing 10,000 brochures isn’t inherently more effective than having quality conversations with 100 customers.

The more direct the customer interaction, with the least media involved, the less you will be leaving things to chance.

Also, the more you focus on customers who already know you, or the friends of your customers, the less you will leave to chance.

Traditional marketing is often a game of chance, for these reasons:

  • Its reliance on “getting the word out,” as opposed to directly motivating a customer.
  • It’s about sending the same message to many people, reducing the chances that your message will connect with any one customer.
  • Its heavy use of media between a company and its customers.

But, even though you’d like to reduce the element of chance in your marketing efforts, do you need to keep dropping coins in the marketing slot machine? Sure, for a number of reasons:

  • You may need to generate leads from customers who don’t yet know you.
  • It’s impossible to interact, one-on-one, with every customer or prospect.
  • You may want to experiment with new marketing tools.

But the slot machine can’t be the foundation of your marketing plan. First focus on efforts that are more deliberate, known and controllable.

One of my least favorite aphorisms is the old saw, “50% of my advertising works, but the problem is that I don’t know which half that is,” because it gives executives the leeway to say, “Oh well, marketing is just guess work. We better just increase the budget, get the word out, and hope enough business comes our way.”

No. We don’t need to think that way. Our businesses are filled with sensible, deliberate business-generation opportunities. Will they all work? Of course not. But we don’t have to look at marketing and revenue generation as games of chance.

Take Notice

Consider how companies market and sell to you. How many of these communications are nothing but games of chance, where the company is communicating with you at the same time they communicate with hundreds, or thousands, of other people, just hoping some small portion of people will respond positively to their message? Do you feel like a dartboard?

How do you compare?

What about your company? What portion of your sales and marketing efforts are like slot machines, where you have great control over the input but little control over the output? Are these games of chance the foundation of your marketing and sales efforts, or are they supplemental to more deliberate, known and controllable efforts?

Draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper. Write “Game of Chance” above the line at the left side of the paper. Write “Focused Effort” above the line on the right side of the paper. Now, write down your company’s major marketing and sales strategies at the appropriate place under the line.

  • If you have a program where you make personal calls to customers the day after they purchase, that would go on the right side of the paper, under the line.
  • If you sponsor a little league team, with your name on the jerseys, write that down on the left side.
  • Sending out a newsletter like this, where people have opted-in, but are still hearing from me as part of a large group, goes somewhere in the middle; it’s not a complete game of chance, but I’m still not able to have the personal contact I’d like to have with each of you. (Of course, if you’d like to have that personal contact, give me a call at 847 686 0400. I’d love to write your name down on the far right of my piece of paper.)

Try this

Look at the list you made, contemplating the various marketing and sales efforts written on this piece of paper, spread from left to right across the page.

Pick out three efforts that are on the left half of the piece of paper– those that are more “chance” than “focused.” What can you do to remove some of the element of chance from these efforts? Or, can you replace them with other efforts that leave less to chance?

Generating revenue and profits is a key function of your business, isn’t it? Something this important shouldn’t be left to chance.

Steve Yastrow

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Commitment Compass, Motivate Committed Customers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


On Steve's Mind
Get Steve's newsletter featuring his ideas and practical advice delivered to your email inbox.
* = required field
Latest Tweets
Jennifer Whelan
Our work with Yastrow and Company yielded the best long-term value of any consulting engagement we’ve ever had. As we grow and expand internationally, Acuative continues to depend on the branding approach and marketing tools Steve and his team developed. Yastrow and Company genuinely partnered with us, were exceptionally responsive and remain committed to our success.

Jennifer Whelan

Vice President of Marketing, Acuative
Rancho La Puerta has enjoyed continued success because of the work we did with Yastrow and Company. Together, we implemented business strategies that have contributed to our success. Steve and his team truly believe in our brand, and our experience with them was empowering, fun and a great learning opportunity. I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that needs help building the bottom line

Roma Maxwell

Roma Maxwell, Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Marc Allen
We are absolutely better off after engaging Yastrow and Company. They helped us look at our business from our clients’ perspective, resulting in a cultural shift throughout our organization. These changes have made a big impact - we’ve gained new clients and strengthened relationships with existing clients. The investment was well worth it.

Marc Allen

Vice President of Sales, AMD Industries
Alex von Bidder
In these high pressure times of bite-size communications we all hunger to be listened to and cared for individually. Our customers know great hospitality, the kind that is not about selling but treating their needs as our highest priority. Steve Yastrow’s teachings are applicable to any business that values long-standing success based on personal relationships.

Alex von Bidder

Managing Partner, The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York
Chris Miller
I rarely book speakers more than once. But I’ve used Steve four times! Steve has our association’s interest at heart and works tirelessly to deliver customized programs. He always ranks highly with our affiliates because he is outcome-focused, fast-paced and highly engaging. Anyone looking for insight and understanding into marketing, branding and sales should book Steve!

Chris Miller

Executive Director, Professional Systems Network International
Rancho La Puerta has enjoyed continued success because of the work we did with Yastrow and Company. Together, we implemented business strategies that have contributed to our success. Steve and his team truly believe in our brand. I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that needs help building the bottom line.

Roma Maxwell

Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Chris Tucker
Steve is a creative and collaborative speaker who communicates his ideas clearly and concisely. He immediately understood our business needs and provided a better perspective on how our customers see us as a company. I have referred Steve to our customers in the past and I will continue to do so. He’s intuitive and has a unique way of looking at business. Steve has the experience to turn a project into something extremely valuable for any organization. I strongly recommend working with Yastrow and Company.

Chris Tucker

Director of Business Development, MBX Systems
Yastrow and Company introduced Brand Harmony and their Be the Brand concept to our team at Jenny Craig.  I believe these new ideas contributed in helping us triple the company's revenue during my years as CEO.

Jim Evans

former President and CEO, Jenny Craig
Ward Alles
Steve Yastrow knows his stuff. That's why our management team has read all of his books. And that's why we've had him as a keynote speaker at both client and employee events. From creating brand alignment, to selling more effectively, to providing top-notch customer service, Steve offers words of wisdom based on real-life experiences. He always engages his audiences with questions, interactive exercises and great storytelling that keep you coming back for more. Read Steve's books. Then book Steve. You'll be glad you did.

Ward Alles

CEO, Core Creative
I give Steve two thumbs up—five thumbs up, if I had that many!

Roma Maxwell

Roma Maxwell, Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Mike Depatie
Steve Yastrow is at the forefront of the next evolution in marketing. We have implemented many of his innovative ideas... and have seen very positive results.

Mike Depatie

CEO, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
Tom Peters
When Steve Yastrow writes, I pay close attention.

Tom Peters

Founder, Tom Peters Company
Jennifer Whelan
“Steve’s workshops helped bring out what is best at Acuative. His insights were fresh and long-lasting—we continue to use his tools and approach years later.”

Jennifer Whelan

Vice President of Marketing, Acuative
Rhoda Olsen
Steve Yastrow has clearly described the emotional reality of customer relationships and their impact on profitable business growth.

Rhoda Olsen

President, Great Clips for Hair
Kathleen Phillips
Not only is Steve's content sound, but the energy he displays in delivering it will knock your socks off.

Kathleen Phillips

Ernst & Young, Chicago, IL
Steve put together a program that produced spectacular results, and the quality of our communication and customer satisfaction is vastly improved. I’ve been in business for 40 years, and Steve’s the first consultant that I’ve gotten my money’s worth from. We’re going to continue to work with Steve and the bright, energetic people that are on his team.

Jim Winter

COO, Dimension Design
We have seen huge benefits from Steve's input. Steve is unlike any other consultant I've ever worked with. He takes a genuine, deep-seated interest in our business. He is intuitive and able to identify problem issues quickly. We wouldn't be as far along in acheiving of our long-term growth strategy if we hadn't actively and aggressively pursued Steve's Brand Harmony.

Michael MacDonald

Executive VP Sales and Marketing, American Licorice Co.
David Sank
I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that is intent on enhancing their customer experience. Prior to working with Steve, we were communicating various messages to customers. Steve and his team helped us achieve a cohesive brand message that we as a company live daily. Steve is an incredible listener and learned the nuances of our business rapidly. I can’t imagine anyone Yastrow and Company couldn’t help.

David Sank

President and CEO, Calico Cottage
Craig Dwight
Steve’s approach to integrating all customer contacts into a comprehensive marketing message is a must in today’s information age. We have partnered with Steve to develop our integrated and comprehensive marketing message, and as a result of his excellent work, his new book is required reading for all of our employees.

Craig Dwight

Chairman & CEO, Horizon Bancorp
Ditch the Pitch is a great read-- interesting, fun, and easy to follow. And I’ve already seen the concepts work. Just yesterday, I called a client and had a conversation that was 95% about the client, as the book suggests. At the end of the call, he sent a new matter my way. I ditched the pitch and it resulted in new business.


Chicago, IL
Doug Ducey
In one morning, Steve re-energized the way we look at marketing. The only question we had at the end of the session was, ‘When can we get him back?'

Doug Ducey

CEO & Chairman, Cold Stone Creamery, Governor of Arizona
Alex von Bidder
Steve Yastrow's teachings are applicable to any business that values long-standing success based on personal relationships.

Alex von Bidder

Managing Partner, The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York