How to Use Email to Sell More to More People

In October 1984 I started my first firm. The mission: Eat IBM!

Only one of the 220 IBM mainframe users in SA knew how I could help them. The rest could not care less.

When starting a new business this first problem we each face looks insurmountable.

At least I knew who was most likely to buy datacommunications kit linking IBM mainframes to PCs.

One big problem: Not one single data processing manager (DP Manager) knew that it could be done. And every single one HATED PCs.

They were fast losing control of their computer infrastructure as every accountant in the firm started spreadsheeting on PCs. And every secretary started wordprocessing on PCs. And every manager tried to manage staff on PCs.

But how to inspire these DP Managers to call us…?

I read many books on marketing back then. All focused on helping corporates (like IBM) compete with each other, employing the same expensive techniques. My small business comprised just me, in a bedroom, with no advertising budget. No budget at all, including dinner.

And then I stumbled upon a book on direct mail marketing. Back then this meant sending letters to people who might be interested. (Direct mail was also called junk mail. )

One paragraph caught my attention. “If you’re competing with IBM, then for every $100,000 they spend on marketing you can afford 50 cents.” I could not even afford the 50 cents, but…

I competed for a tiny slice of a segment of IBM’s market: Just 220 IBM mainframe users. If just a few bought just a little kit, that fed my kids and paid the bills.

This Advert & Placement cost more than one full year of direct mailing.

The process? Simply send a letter to each… Regularly… Telling a short story about how some IBM user applied my kind of kit to solve a problem they faced…

220 letters cost a whole lot less than a tiny advert anywhere, and so I started writing and posting:

  • Every month for a couple of years.
  • Then every second week for a couple of years.
  • And when these IBM users installed fax machines, I sent faxes every fortnight.

Direct Email Marketing Delivers Incredible Results

Fast forward 7 years: Me in a tuxedo, wearing my first ever bow tie, at a formal bash in Johannesburg accepting an award as South Africa’s Fourth Most Admired IT Supplier, standing on stage with ISM (What IBM called itself in SA in 1991).

That direct mail approach rocked.

Nowadays direct emails are easier and cheaper. After 32 years of me feeding my kids with the sales those emails generate the f-word marketing industry still poohs on them, calling them spam.

I love that because while they waste money going big and complex you and I can still sneak in by going personal.

After direct mailing for 32 years I know it works better than anything else for:

  • Selling to the same people, but sell more stuff to each.
  • Selling the same amount of stuff to more people.
  • Selling more stuff to more people.

Finally, if you know a small business owner who wants to sell a whole lot more without a whole lot of effort, please forward this email and ask them to join this course.

Going places in 2017…

Something new, or last year repeated?

Welcome to 2017. I’m glad you could make it. So, how have your New Year Resolutions worked out?  (My annual scorecard for successful New Year’s resolutions is 51 losses to zero wins.)

I ask because I’ve been setting them since, well, 1976. Big Hairy Audacious Goals. SMART, as well, you know:

  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Achievable,
  • Realistic, and
  • Time-related.

That last piece of the acronym, “time-related”, actually means deadline, but SMART reads so much better than SMARD.

I’d like to share some thoughts  because these past six weeks has been quite revolutionary for me. As you read this you’re seeing your first glimpse of the new Peter Carruthers. I’ve been boring for 17 years. This seemed a good time to change.

So I spent most of the holiday watching videos and reading instead of dealing with the 12 months of backlog. I also spent too much money learning how to actually reach my goals and fulfill those resolutions.

The end of a year is a shocking time to set goals. That’s because the beginning of the next year is usually unbearably uncomfortable after far too much alcohol. We set ourselves up to fail on the first day, and the second, and I have – I’m embarrassed to say – often managed to only surface on the third day.

That represents a 100% failure rate in my annual “I will go to gym” promise to myself. And with that kind of failure rate, why go on?

It was this kind of issue I was pondering, trying to get answers to, watching videos from almost everybody on earth who feels qualified to talk about setting resolutions, on the basis that they can breathe coherently. I’m not knocking the genre, just the repetitive format.

But, I bumped into two outstanding courses on the subject. One cheap, one terrifyingly expensive. And as I considered the expense of the course, from an internationally acclaimed New York Times bestselling author, I realised that the cost was one quarter of the money I’m hoping to earn each day next year. (2017, that is) And that put my anxiety into some perspective. Penny wise, pound foolish. The story of our lives.

So I bought them both. And in combination, wow.

So, before I continue, let’s get one thing straight. I am 99% confident that I will reach my 2017 goals as a result of this book and this course. It’s because, for the first time, I really know why they’re important, why I have to reach them, and what difference they will make to my life if I do. (This “why”, it turns out, is the secret sauce.)

How do I know this? Well,  I realised that I hate gym. It’s full of great looking people all of whom  smile at me when I enter. It’s the kind of smile a mother gives her errant child as he arrives home from the playground with a dark spot on his pants, and mud on his face. They smile even more at my efforts with machinery which puts me into a position where I’m confident I will lose some gas before the weights move out of the starting block.  No thank you.

After 41 years of trying to succeed, I feel it’s time to acknowledge that I need a different approach.

In my case, striding across the  Scandinavian peaks. In solitude. Where the occasional  stomach discomfort goes unnoticed, especially when you have three layers of clothing sealing your nether regions from the ambient minus 25°.

Since there are no peaks nearby, I started light, three weeks ago,  with a gentle stroll down to the nearest supermarket, just in case I got hungry.

But that’s not the point. I’ve always thought I wanted to be good looking, slim, the envy of every man shielding his eyes from my perfect physique. That’s a bad reason. Especially in Norway, where every human being is physically perfect.

No, I realise that the only thing I am interested in was having as much quality left in the years that remain as I can arrange. That needs keeping the mechanical bits functional. This turns out to be jolly good fun.

Once I understood that having a “why”, a valid reason for achieving something, a deeper reason than just vanity all of my other goals – actually, both of them – became obvious, simple, and terrifying. Suddenly I had no more excuses.

More about this later…

I hope your 2017 rocks.


Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it (HarperBusiness, May 17, 2016)

 Easy to read, full of insight, and very relevant to small business owners.

We personal business owners tend not to be nearly as good at negotiating as we should be. A whole bunch of things get in the way, most of which relate  the way we learn to treat each other on the playground. Life isn’t as fair as the playground was.

And yet, we negotiate each day. With suppliers. With staff. With prospects. With people that owe us money. With people we owe money to. Almost every time we interact with another human being we are negotiating.

Many, if not most, of the problems I see small business owners face result from not negotiating well enough to stay out of trouble. My favourite is the negotiation with your bank when they ask for a personal guarantee. That cost me a house, two cars, a motorcycle, my bicycle, and a wife, although she had the grace to tell me about it long afterwards.

The book is so engrossing that I read it, cover to cover, during an 11-hour flight from Johannesburg to Zürich.

I now look at negotiations in a completely different way. So will you.