I want to make a very important marketing distinction today, one that could change how you approach leads, using a metaphor common in the animal world.

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To a hungry animal everything around them is viewed as either food or foe – something that will sustain them and help them survive and grow or something that is a threat to their health and survival.

Our prospects and clients are a lot like that hungry animal out in the wild. They need the products and services that we offer in order to grow and meet their goals, but they’ve been trained through experience to view anything and anyone trying to sell them something as the foe.

If you’ve ever wondered why your pure sales messages meet with resistance and deflection it’s because to most prospects you look like someone that is out to steal their money, time and attention – something akin to a predator.

In order to take advantage of these instincts you must find a way to make what you have to offer look like food. Mind you, I don’t mean this in a deceptive or untruthful way. If you know your products and services provide value, then they are food, but you’ve got to position your message in a way to reveal that or you’ll simply remain a threat.

Here’s an example of how I’ve shown people to use this in the real world. (You’ll find it in my book The Referral Engine as well.)

Lots of people understand the value in building relationships with other businesses that might be in a position to refer their clients. For example, a financial planner might seek out an accountant that could refer her clients to him. The problem is most approach the accountant to discuss how that accountant might refer her clients in a way that makes her weary of the advances. (Accountants are great potential referral sources but are particularly weary creatures.)

Calling up an accountant and suggesting that you would like to come over and talk about how you could help her clients makes you look like a foe!

What if instead you identified an accountant that you knew might be able to help your best clients and that by developing a relationship with that accountant you could make yourself a more valuable resource or “go to” person for all of your client’s needs?

Now, what if you reached out to that accountant with the following message – “We believe that we have several clients that could benefit from your services and we would like to learn the best way to introduce you to our clients.” Hmm, do you think they might view that message a little more like food?

If said accountant were a mouse, then all the other people trying to grab a piece of their time to get some referrals look a lot like cats and you, on the other hand, look a lot like some tasty cheese.

A word of caution is in order here: You can’t use this approach unless a) you really believe that partner is best of class and you would refer them to your best clients and b) you have something to offer that partner that is truly referral worthy. If you short either one of these conditions you’ll soon turn into the worst kind of foe.

Using this approach authentically allows you to both end up with the same result by working together, your clients will get more of what they want, you’ll eventually get referrals from your new partner and your new partner will realize the full value of your offerings both to their business and to the benefit of their clients – all because you changed the dynamic in the initial trust building phase.

The key is to let a prospect see and experience how they could get what they want first and foremost by engaging in a conversation with you and your products. If you can do that, getting them to buy what you want will simply make perfect sense.

This is a powerful mindset change that is highly effective in any targeted lead generating situation you can imagine.

So how can you present your offerings as food vs. foe?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Kathryn Aragon

    What a great perspective! It’s so much easier to connect with prospects if you understand where they’re coming from. We probably need to remember that we’re foe until we prove otherwise, and our job is to help them see us as food. Thanks, John!

    • You know I think you can do it with little subtle things too – simply asking a question or two in an email is a great way to start a dialogue that changes their view.

  • hi John, what a brilliant analogy. Too many people look at marketing as sales instead of a chance to build real, long term relationships. Again, awesome analogy!

  • Really like the 2 conditions you set for doing it right, really believing in the person’s ability and delivering value in return. I get so many pitches from folks trying to do this, yet to them it’s a pitch, and you are always the foe in reality to be overcome by hot air.

    One of the things I learned doing this long ago is to listen, and talk less, and let them talk more, not just for obvious reasons, but to really help you believe in the person’s ability to communicate, both to you and your clients. I’ve been in introductions where the person couldn’t refer people because they lacked the skills to define what I do, and found some were better for referrals, to let me do the proving, again with the caveat that I would treat their referrals like I treat them, with respect, and listening, not just waiting to close like a shark, and it shows to people.

    Thanks for the intriguing post and once again, showing that being genuine is being cutting edge in today’s business world. 😉

    • Hey Declan – always good to hear from you here. I suspect you do hear your share of JV and partner pitches and anyone that has certainly has seen it done poorly, but the same is true of a customer – we have to put ourselves out there in a way that helps them trust us enough to put down their guard.

      Your point about listening is a great one.

  • Thanks for this insightful post, John. I couldn’t agree with you more that you have to be authentic with your words and not just BS, just so you could have a leg up in the business. No one could be the worst enemy than yourself, so being truthful with your offer is the best and should only be the way to go about any transactions. Even if you can’t land the deal, you will still be remembered as someone with credibility and hopefully be referred to in the future. Keep it up!

  • I would consider myself food because I am both delicious and tasty at the same time while feeding the souls bellys with knowledge

    • Great outlook, but do your customers and prospects have he same perception?

  • It is quite a tricky thing. Admittedly I’m always suspicious of sales calls, and people that are behind it. I think it all boils down to the tone of conversation and if there would be a genuine connection between both parties.

  • Blunt sales pitches that scream “buy me” are like
    pushy sales people that dog you inside a shop. They make you run for the hills.
    Some marketers have yet to realize that overly aggressive sales tactics are
    actually scaring away potential clients.