What To Do When Marketing Campaigns That Should Work, Don’t

Robin Robins IT Managed Services, IT Marketing, Managed Services, MSP Marketing, Technology Marketing

Last month on the Q&A call, I was told by a member they had implemented one of my campaigns “to the letter” but still had gotten ZERO results. Obviously not a good way to start a call! This fired off a great discussion with Jeff and the team and revealed a need for me to document a process for what you should do if a “tried and true” campaign does NOT work. This will be a LONG article, but a very necessary one that you should highlight and have handy to reference.

First off, you need to know that none of the campaigns and methods I’m teaching about marketing are open to debate about their effectiveness. They’ve been used and proven to work for small IT firms, big IT firms, small cities and big cities, internationally and with various audiences (lists). IF something I’ve given you is not working, there’s something awry; but the temptation is to quickly blame the campaign and move on—and SO many people jump in and make blanket statements about something “not working” when they’ve done no research, study, testing, etc. It’s utter foolishness. So this is my first big piece of advice about this situation: if a campaign has worked before somewhere and/or is working for others, IT WORKS. Your job is to dig deeper into why it didn’t work for you in this ONE instance… even if doing so is painful and what you discover disheartening. On that note, let’s tackle the first reason I see campaigns failing…

Bad Reputation, No Reputation

One of the most painful realizations may be that you don’t have a good reputation (or ANY reputation). It’s very possible that you lack trust, authority and respect from your clients. A few weeks ago one of my new clients who has gotten aggressive with “Robinized” marketing received seriously disappointing results from some of the campaigns sent out to his house list of clients and prospects. When I questioned him in more detail, I found out he’s pretty much ignored this list for YEARS, never sending anything more than the occasional e-mail newsletter, never actually mailing them anything or consistently reaching out in any other manner. Plus, he only communicated with his prospect list now and then, and usually only when he’s desperate for sales—in fact, the ONLY contact they received regularly were invoices. His prior marketing was nothing more than random attempts that were so boring, so plain vanilla and so uninteresting that many of his prospects have reverted to cold suspect status, needing to be “warmed up” again—he wanted to set them on fire.

To set the situation right, he’s going to have to invest some serious time into sending purposeful, interesting communications on a consistent basis (particularly to his clients), polling and interviewing them, getting actively involved in sales calls and re-engineering the entire prospect and client experience at his company to reestablish the relationship. It will take a real commitment to putting in the time, money and having a bit of patience—something I fear he’s not willing to do.

Another client who was raving-mad at ME for the marketing not working after “doing everything” was later discovered to be delivering horrible service in a small town where the word had spread about his incompetence, garnering a number of bad reviews online. (I was told this in private by another member who happened to be in the same marketplace and had taken dozens of clients from this firm.)

Random Acts

any failures in marketing spring from never getting any kind of consistency in process or communication. One month they’re sending out a direct mail campaign. The next month they’re trying Google AdWords. The next month they’re on LinkedIn blogging like a fool, connecting with anyone with a pulse. One member recently posted he was going to “work” one market per month by focusing on attorneys one month, CPAs the next, etc. BAD IDEA. You can’t hop around like this and expect results. Building real marketing oil wells takes a lot of time and practice, sending, refining and improving. Our most successful campaign is one that we are working on CONSTANTLY and have been working on for close to three years now. We’re constantly testing new things, trying to beat our own best results and expanding it, not giving 12 different things a half-assed attempt at working before dropping it like it’s hot and pursuing the next shiny new penny.

The List

Now to one of the single biggest reasons why the campaigns in the Toolkit fail: a bad list. It’s not just about having a correct address—it’s about making sure the person you’re targeting is actually a high-probability prospect that has a decent chance of being interested, able and willing to buy your services. Most say they “scrub” the list, but I find they aren’t really targeting… they’re simply making sure the address is correct. For example, the aforementioned client had two types of people he sells to: CEOs and IT directors. These are two entirely different people, with different desires, needs, wants, hot buttons, etc. The letter and offer sent to a CEO needs to be vastly different than that sent to an IT director. After following up, this client discovered many of the CEOs they flagged as not having an IT department actually did, and that they sent the wrong version of the letter to them. We also discovered that over 40% of the list was bad, out-of-date, had wrong information, etc., and because of THAT, the telemarketer abandoned the follow-ups. And we wonder why it didn’t work? Look. If you want a campaign to work, you HAVE to build a list of prospects that very tightly match your prospects’ demographics AND (if possible) psychographics. Plus, lists are NOT static assets. They have to be constantly nurtured and engaged if you are going to hope to maintain the responsiveness of it. One more example…

A vendor sought out assistance in holding a webinar for their clients. They had over 40,000 e-mail addresses on the list and assured me these were very qualified, very valid prospects—yet they couldn’t get more than 150 to register for the webinar. This underscores a really critical point about lists, particularly e-mail lists: just HAVING someone’s name on a list means nothing. You still have to extract interest from a list like you would extract water from a cactus. Just having someone’s e-mail address doesn’t do you any good UNLESS you get them to WANT to receive your e-mail messages. That only comes from attracting those prospects—often with off-line marketing—and keeping and holding their interest. This is MUCH harder than you think. So if you’re just starting out with marketing and only have access to a cold list of suspects, you have to realize that all you have is an unplowed, unfertile and unproductive acre of land that will need to be cared for and tended over time if you want it to yield a crop. Not an impossibility by any stretch, but not something you’re going to build with a single letter series or random e-mail promotion.

Cafeteria Implementation

This is where someone says they are implementing the campaign “to the letter” or implementing a strategy we’ve given them, but have cut it up into pieces, selecting only the bits they like, changing the formatting, changing the message, skipping over putting in good testimonials, etc. Guy says, “I did your Bad Date campaign, and it didn’t work.” Question: did you use a good, qualified, scrubbed list of prospects that closely matched your best clients? Nope. Did you hand-address the letters? Nope. Did you send the letters seven to 10 days apart as instructed? Nope. Did you call and follow up with each letter, making at least three follow-up attempts? Nope. But I used your systems, and it didn’t work. Yep.


I wish I had a nickel for every person who tells me, “NOBODY will buy ______,” or “NOBODY will read/respond to ____________,” and is basing it on such a SMALL group or set of experiences. On a Q&A call, a member was seeking advice because “nobody would pay for” her managed services offering. They thought her prices were too high, they didn’t need it, etc. When pressed on exactly how many people they talked to about it? Two. TWO. And now two people is “everybody”? Plus, there’s a HIGH probability you didn’t do a good job selling it and explaining the value since you just started selling it.

You have to work to get at least five to 10 net orders before you can conclude anything. Not five to 10 meetings. Not five to 10 prospects. SALES. Doing this will give you the information you need on how many clients/prospects you need to get in front of to make a sale. Talked to 10 people, and they didn’t buy? Go talk to 10 more USING the information you’ve learned talking to the previous 10. It will give you a broader (and more accurate) read on objections and why people buy and what they want. You can just do a couple of drive-by sales attempts and throw the towel in, making all kinds of assumptions! It’s too small a sample to overcome statistical fluctuations present whenever you have a number of variables impacting the end result.

For example, someone sends out a three-step direct mail campaign to 100 attorneys’ offices. That is a precise number we can count. Yet there can be ranges, anywhere from a 0% response to a 10% response. Both of those are not outside the realm of possibility. Why? Because of variances in the list. The person making the follow-up call and the vast number of variables in that process. The post office could have lost, destroyed or intentionally dumped the campaign in an alley somewhere (and yes, that IS a possibility that happens more than you think). One group of lists may be more inaccurate than the other. One company sending it may have more name recognition and presence in their market than another. There may be a well-established competitor in one market and not in another. Economic conditions of one town over another. ALL of these factor into the response. Of course, 1% to 2% is considered very good and a reasonable goal—but if the person sending out 100 letters fails to answer their phone properly or has a form on their website that is not working (which happens a LOT), then they could get a 2% or 3% response but not even be aware because they fumbled the handling of the inbound lead.

Most of our clients tend to send out the marketing in VERY small batches. That’s fine, but you have to realize the smaller the sample, the more likely you are to be affected by these variables and statistical fluctuations. For example, if we toss a coin over 10,000 times and count the number of times heads comes up over tails and vice versa, you’ll find that the ratio of heads to tails is very close to one-to-one. However, if you toss a coin only 10 times, you’ve got a MUCH greater chance of getting a significantly higher number of tails over heads and vice versa, simply because of the smaller sample size—and there are only two possible outcomes in this equation.

Wholly Unreasonable Expectations

People are all over the map when defining how something “didn’t work.” A while back I had a client tell me their direct mail campaign, which went out to over 900 prospects, “didn’t work.” For starters, they didn’t do all the steps yet—just the first letter in a three-step series. They also didn’t scrub the list. THAT ASIDE, they still got seven leads, of which three were six-figure deals. Let’s see… the entire campaign probably cost them $5,000 to $6,000; if just ONE of the big deals close (not counting the other six) at a 50% margin, that’s $50,000. If you repeated this campaign 20 times and never improved even ONE THING, you’ve made a million dollars. Geez! What’s wrong with that math?

Employee Sabotage

I’ve witnessed COUNTLESS accounts of this happening not only in IT services businesses, but in businesses I frequent. Another client comes to me saying a campaign didn’t work. List was good, they followed the instructions to the letter, but their telemarketer (who was outsourced) just couldn’t get decision-makers on the phone. In fact, she was only able to get 15 decision-makers out of a list of about 300 to talk to her. My question: Why didn’t she book even ONE appointment from the 15? Did he record any of the calls? No. Did he monitor what she was saying? Sometimes. Was she following the script? He wasn’t sure. Another client comes to me with the same complaint. This time I demand to talk to the telemarketer. After a few questions I find out that she doesn’t “like” to be scripted. Makes her feel micromanaged. She wanted to be “free to have conversations.” Bull. I would have fired her on the spot. Her insubordination was killing his results.

Ultimately, Here’s What You Need To Do

Ultimately, if a campaign doesn’t work, you have to go through every detail of the process with a fine-tooth comb to find out where it fell apart. Click every link. Fill in every web form. Double-check that the e-mail and/or mail was actually SENT. Secret-shop your office. If nothing is broken there, then you need to pick up the phone and talk to your prospects about why your offer was unappealing. If you send out a referral campaign that generates no results, you need to beg time from the clients who didn’t respond to find out the REAL reason why.

Success in marketing has a LOT to do with your ability to figure it out. There are no guarantees in response or sales, and you WILL have campaigns and initiatives that just don’t work as well as you hoped, or at all. That’s not a cue for you to crawl back in your cave and complain that “it didn’t work,” but to push forward, testing, refining and improving your offering, your delivery, your frequency and your message. If something didn’t work, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Go over what I’ve discussed here. Ask yourself tough questions. Mystery-shop your staff. Pick up the phone and talk to customers and unresponsive prospects. There is no result, good or bad, without a cause. Go find it.