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Bob Bly is keeping me up at night


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The 90 / 90 rule revealed

Last week I received a newsletter from famed writer and marketer Bob Bly that was fairly interesting when I read it.

Then I apparently dreamt about it and woke up at 3 am with a big aha!

The specific point that got my attention was his 90 / 90 rule, which he claims is a rule of thumb among internet marketers. (Sorry I can't point you to a link—the article does not seem to be on his website or blog.)

According to Bly, “90% of the people who opt into your e-list who are going to buy something from you do so within 90 days.”

On first reading, I filed this in my gray matter under “nice to know.”

But wait! This suggests a marketing corollary: Only 10% of those who have been on your list for 90 days but have never purchased will EVER buy from you.

Common wisdom of the internet is that you have to “touch” a prospect multiple times to create a buying relationship. The exact number cited varies, but it's usually around seven or eight. (I seem to remember that this observation stems from authentic research, but at this point, tracking down the original source does not tempt me.)

When I read this advice online, I don't see accompanying advice that contacts can grow stale and must be cultivated in such a way as to yield results quickly.

But assuming Bly is right, it means you have to pursue new contacts aggressively to establish enough touches within three months before they grow cold and highly unlikely to convert.

To be perfectly honest, my advice to do prospecting with individual phone calls may run into trouble here because this guideline implies that prospects must be contacted almost weekly.

This may not be advisable or even practical if you are mounting a phone-only campaign. That's a lot of phone calls over a short time period.

We have to remember that Bly's prospects have requested to be on his list. However, for cold-callers, weekly may well be too intense for people who haven't answered your calls or otherwise reached out to you.

It also depends on what you offer. If you perform freelance or consulting services and contact people who have not indicated that they have an upcoming project, it's more about keeping in touch—perhaps even for years—until they have a need rather than writing them off as hopeless after 90 days.

This rule of thumb tends to support the establishment of an ezine or other mass technique that feels right for contacting people frequently. Give a list information of interest in a format that can be repeated inexpensively is an effort that yields the required number of touches. Even better, this marketing technique feels to the recipient like a good form of persistence rather than like strident nagging.

If you are new to freelancing and consulting—and may even be looking for assignments only temporarily until you land a full-time job—an ezine newsletter or similar recurring publicity tool may not be for you. There's no point in launching something that depends on stick-to-it-tiveness to build a relationship if you probably won't stick to it.

Still, Bly’s guideline is a valuable consideration in developing marketing plans and will help shape my thinking.


Originally posted 4-19-10

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