sales strategy

Brand Yourself as an Expert

The Pro: Erica Feidner The Company: Steinway & Sons in New York City Key Stat: Has been company’s top salesperson for eight years straight.

Inc. Magazine

Erica Feidner insists that she’s not “in sales”–never mind that she expects to move roughly $3.5 million worth of pianos in 2004. Feidner prefers to think of herself as a piano matchmaker. Add to her interesting mindset the fact that she takes clients by referral only. And add the fact that she recently filed for a patent to further establish herself as a music expert. And finally, add to that the amazing press that she’s received as a result of her unusual approach to selling pianos. What you end up with is a salesperson who transcends the label. Having been branded an expert, Feidner finds it’s much easier to close deals.

Stroll through Steinway’s lavish show room with Feidner, and you’re apt to feel like you’re spending time with a psychologist. The former concert pianist, who also has an M.B.A., tries to learn as much as she can about you before picking out a piano to show you. If you think you’re tone-deaf, she teaches you to hear the differences between each instrument. If you can’t decide, she gives you some alone time. If the right piano isn’t available, she encourages you to wait to buy.

This unique approach led, in 2001, to The New Yorker publishing a profile of Feidner, describing her uncanny ability to match people with pianos. The article also delves into her personal life, from her bohemian upbringing in a house full of pianos to her stint as Miss Vermont in 1985 to her struggle with player’s block, which resulted in a falling-out with her father.

After the article came out, Feidner realized that her customers were at least as interested in her as they were in Steinway. Typical of her clientele today is Erica Huang, a landscape painter from Huntington Beach, Calif., who sought out Feidner after reading the article. “There was something about her story and the courage she showed as a person,” Huang says. “In my own life, there are parallels.” Less than an hour after stepping into Steinway this past March, Huang put a deposit on a $43,100 Steinway model M that, according to Feidner, has an “inner fire,” just like Huang.

In addition to drawing new business, the article is a killer calling card. Feidner e-mails it to top prospects like Andrew Mitchell, an accountant from Upper Montclair, N.J., who found it in his in box after he called Steinway to express an interest in trading in his old Boston model for something better suited to his 16-year-old son’s musical talents. A few weeks and many phone calls, tune-ups, and test runs later, Mitchell plunked down $51,900 for a slightly used Steinway model B with a black satin finish. “After going through that process, I have a very good appreciation for Erica’s discrete skill,” he says.

To enhance her already impressive credentials, Feidner, a perky 39-year-old, is now attempting to patent her method of teaching people to read music in one lesson. She figures that protected intellectual property will, like a magazine article, separate her from the pack. Feidner first filed the application back in April 2002, with the help of attorney Charles Miller, whom she met, naturally, when she sold him a Steinway grand. She spent about 20 hours total teaching the lesson to Miller’s assistant, revising the method, and approving drawings. The whole process cost about $5,000. Feidner also has plans to establish herself on the corporate speaker circuit. She will position her one-lesson music instruction as a team-building exercise. When the corporate types she trains decide they want a piano, they’ll naturally come to her.

Besides making sales easier, there are other perks to the woman at the center of the burgeoning Erica Feidner brand. Customers sincerely appreciate her. Recently, for example, Feidner arrived home to find a lovely fruit basket on her doorstep. It was a thank-you from Mitchell. His son’s piano had just arrived.

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“If you’re a startup, the fastest way to get the cash registers ringing is a little-used method that involves forming “host-beneficiary” relationships with established businesses that cater to a target audience similar to yours. Then you promote yourself to their database with a special offer presented as a gift from the older business.

The beauty of this arrangement is that the startup (the beneficiary) can instantly reach large numbers of highly qualified prospects with the tacit endorsement of the established business (the host). The host is willing to participate because it’s a way to reward loyal customers without incurring any costs. The rookie gains new customers, while the veteran gains goodwill.

One startup that successfully used this technique was a high-end women’s clothing boutique. The store arranged to give a free silk kimono to every female customer of a local BMW dealership who brought in a letter sent by the dealership offering the gown as a gift for their past patronage. The kimono had to be picked up at the boutique.

More than 600 women responded, picking up $100 kimonos that cost the store just $16 apiece. Those 600 women spent an average of $400 on other merchandise during their initial visit. Do the math, and you’ll see that the startup spent $9,600 to generate some $240,000 in sales–and, not incidentally, to begin building its own clientele.”

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By Chris Consorte – Posted on November 18, 2007

While all things e-marketing work well, they’re just part of the many ways you can get your phones to ring–and convert prospects to sales.

When it comes to sales, nothing is better–in my humble opinion, that is–than a good old- fashioned inbound phone call. Let me explain.

I’m a big fan of the automation process: e-commerce sales, e-lead generation and even e-customer service. While over 50% of my own business revenue is based on all things “e,” I still can’t resist those prospects that call in over the phone looking to get more information. Why? Because my sales team has a 50% chance of converting them to a client.

Over the years, I’ve tried many advertising tactics to grow my business. In fact, almost all of these tactics I tried on my own business before I went ahead and proposed that tactic to any of my clients. My rationale was, and still is, if it works for my business then it’ll work for my client’s business. Yet it all comes down to objectives–that is, what is it that I want from prospects and clients.

At one point in my business, all I cared about was conversion to an e-commerce sale. (We used to be in the event marketing business.) Shortly after, all I cared about was generating prospect leads online for later follow-up by sales (to give us time to research the prospect as we were more in the consulting phase of our business). Now, I’d pay just about any price for inbound prospect phone calls.

“Paying just about any price” is a strong statement, but I’ve actually paid what I consider just about any price in the past. I’ve tried marketing tactics that have cost me a hefty sum–only to get a small quantity of inbound prospect calls–thereby driving my cost-per-call through the roof. On the flip side, I’ve also tried marketing tactics that have cost me very little–and have driven tons of inbound phone calls. In this case, my cost-per-call went down significantly.

Many of our clients believed in the past that television or radio is out of reach for them, in terms of cost, but yet their products or services are perfect for this audience. We’ve helped them produce digital television spots for as little as $1,000 and have purchased them 30-second spots for as little as $10 each. Basically, they’re on-air in two weeks time at a total budget of $2,000, and they’re testing TV. For radio, we’ve gotten clients on-air for as little as $5 per 30-second spot and they’re on the radio testing for as little as $1,000. The secret–buying remnant and direct-response time only–and they’re getting many inbound phone calls to justify the money spent.

The same holds true for direct mail, where the client occasionally feels it’s going to be too costly based on the minimums of testing 5,000 pieces or much more at a time. These days, with digital printing, clients are able to test drop as few as 500 pieces– perhaps for $300 or so–and see if direct mail is for them…and if it’ll make their phone ring.

I’ve seen offline media (radio, TV, direct mail, print advertising) as well as online media (opt-in e-mail, online ads, search optimization) work very well for driving inbound phone calls. If you’re watching your metrics–or cost-per-call–and measuring to make sure your objectives are being met (ultimately, sales conversion) then the sky is the limit in terms of how many inbound calls you can drive into your telecenter, sales team or customer service department.

Not sure if you’ve got the budget or the skills to embark on testing an all-out campaign? Try services like Ingenio ( or CitySearch ( and they’ll drive the inbound calls to you directly. Just simply set-up a campaign online, including a description of your industry and the prospects you’re looking to attract, how much you’ll be willing to pay per call and how many calls you would like to buy–and it’s that simple. You can even set a geographic territory limit so that you don’t get inbound calls outside of the areas you service!

So there you have it. If you want inbound prospect calls–you CAN buy them. Again, in my own humble opinion, I believe that inbound phone calls is going to be how advertising is quantified going forward. Furthermore, paying for or buying targeted prospect phone calls is likely the future of direct response marketing–because it’s one of the best ways for advertisers to track conversion from prospect to client.


Chris Consorte has spent his entire career working on various marketing and new media projects on both the agency and client-side of business. Chris is also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine.

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