“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” was attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a result, the United States Patent and Trademark Office describes the mousetrap as “…the most frequently invented device in US History.” The irony is that this is an Emerson misquote. Emerson was trying to discuss, with his 19th-century audience, the concept of innovation. He was saying that no matter what you sell, it is innovation and not efficiency that will have customers, “…beating a path to your door.” Mousetrap marketing focuses on marketing innovation, rather than developing marketing efficiencies.
As a business technology consultant, I specialize in efficiency and innovation. Sometimes I need to explain the difference to my teams and my clients. Often, I start with this story of my early sales experience.
One of my first jobs was as a telemarketer. I was given a phone book and told to call everyone listed. The reasoning was that the more people I “cold called,” the more sales I would make.
To be more efficient when I was calling I used a coded color system to indicate the status of everyone I called. Red meant that the person hung up on me. Green meant that the person was interested in buying. While yellow indicated, a “Call-back.”
This reasoning, that “Sales is a numbers game” is very seductive. To make more calls in less time, I used a spreadsheet. With the spreadsheet, I still marked each call status as Red, Yellow or Green. Then I included notes from the conversation and a follow-up date.
At this point, I explain to my team that the spreadsheet made me more efficient, but not more innovative. Because I was doing the same thing, but instead of contacting 5 or 6 people per hour, I could talk to 20 or more people in that same hour. By the way, this idea of putting the phone book into a spreadsheet later evolved into what is now called a Contact Management system.
The next step in the story was the second campaign.
The sales manager started us over again with a copy of the same phone book. My sales manager reminded me that, “Sales is a numbers game.” Insisting that the more people I “cold-called,” the more money I would make. Once again, I called the complete list.
After my second campaign, I pulled out my old phone book (now on a spreadsheet) and my new phone book (also on a spreadsheet). Then I compared the people who had bought on the first campaign and the second campaign. Here’s what I found,
- The same people marked in green on the first campaign were also marked in green on the second campaign. I also noticed that the same thing about the people marked in Yellow and that the same people in red on the first campaign were also red on the second.
- 55% of the people were Red
- 3% of the people were Green
- 42% were Yellow. Of those marked Yellow
- 11% said they had been thinking and wanted to buy on the 2nd call
- 35% bought after the 4th call
- 30% bought between the 5th and 10th callback
- 24% of the yellows never bought at all
After analyzing all this, I felt that I needed to re-evaluate my cold calling strategy.
For the third campaign, I again started with a new phone book. Comparing with my old phone book, I saw that all the names were again the same. After two campaigns I didn’t want to “cold call” everyone in the phone book again. It didn’t make sense to call the 55% of people who hung up on me before. Instead of calling alphabetically, I sorted my spreadsheet with Greens at the top, Yellow in the middle and Reds at the bottom of the list. I also threw out the Sales manager’s “cold call” pitch. I didn’t tell him, but the conversation went like this,
“We talked a couple of months ago, and you bought <insert product name> from me. I wanted to follow-up and see how you liked it?”
Now the purpose of the conversation was to re-build the rapport I had already created in the last two campaigns. Here’s what I found. It was a good product, and almost everyone had been very pleased with their last purchase. Almost everyone asked the same question,
“I liked it so much; I was wondering if I could buy any new products you came across?”
In just a few days, of a four-month campaign, I was done talking with the first 3% (the greens) and had reached 80% of my sales goal. After calling back the yellows, I found that in three weeks, I was at 160% of my goal.
In Webster’s Innovation is defined as “a new method, idea, product, etc.” I had chosen a new idea. Now for me, sales was no longer a “Numbers Game” instead it is a “Relationship Game.”
When it comes to innovation remember,
- Anyone can keep doing things the same way they’ve always done them.
- Efficiency means reducing waste with changes the present system.
- Innovation is about finding new ideas and new supporting processes.
Innovation is the “mousetrap” that Emerson was promoting. Despite the example, I am not encouraging you to embrace relationship marketing. While it’s a good idea, that works best with an effective CRM strategy, it’s no longer a new idea. It’s just more efficient than the old idea.
A True competitive advantage comes by creating new ideas and new ways of doing things. Competitive advantage and Innovation have always walked hand in hand. Building your “Mousetrap” will take time and probably trial and error. What Emerson might have said is that a “Marketing Mousetrap” means new ideas and new ways of doing things that bring true competitive advantage.