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Originally published in Business Week.

Don’t just pitch to your prospects—cast a wider net and offer useful information. You’ll outmarket your rivals and boost sales

In a recent conversation with Chet Holmes, one of my sales guru pals, we agonized over why so many small businesses have such a tough time ramping up sales. We decided it’s because they’re pitching, not educating. Seems obvious, right? Wrong. As we compared notes, I knew I simply had to write this column.

Let’s say you sell telephone systems like Company X does. Before discovering education-based marketing, Company X would cold-call prospective companies and ask if they were interested in talking about a new telephone system (yuck—this is a standard product pitch). They had four salespeople making hundreds of calls per day. The result? A whopping three appointments per week. No surprises here.

First of all, every company that has a phone system that is five or more years old can probably benefit from a new system. Heck, more than 15 major providers just 10 years ago are now out of the phone system business. But inertia is a powerful force. If the phone system isn’t broken—why fix it?

To get past these initial barriers, consider taking the following steps.

Step 1. The first thing Company X did after discovering the education-based marketing concept was target bigger companies. The bigger the company, the bigger the phone system. The bigger the phone system, the bigger the sales potential.

Step 2. The salespeople called the 2,000 largest companies in their market with two simple questions: “Hi, we’re doing our annual telephone system survey. I just need to know two things. What is the model of your phone system and how old is it?” In two days the salespeople had a list of 508 companies with old and often obsolete phone systems.

Step 3. Now for the real hook: Education-based marketing. The sales reps called on these larger companies with one offer: “We have a new educational program entitled The Nine Ways You’re Wasting Money on Your Voice and Data Spending.” They’d continue, saying, “We’ve been in the telephone business for 10 years now and we’ve found that every company wastes money on its voice and data spending in at least nine areas. We’ve put together a white paper to teach companies how to stop wasting—and start saving—money. If you ever need any help at all with your voice, data, or telephone system needs, we want you to know about us. So we’re sending you our white paper.”

This approach increased their appointments from three per week to 30 per week. This company’s revenue was $3 million the year before using the education-based marketing approach. After six months, its projected sales were $9 million.

Three Approaches

To drive my point home about the power of education-based marketing, let’s review three ineffective education-based marketing approaches along with much more effective approaches.

Business: Real Estate Agency

Ineffective offer: “Let me teach you why you should list your house with me.”

Effective offer: “Let me teach you the five mistakes everyone makes when selling a house. No matter who you list with, you’ll need to know these things.”

Business: Financial Planner

Ineffective offer: “I want to come and talk to you about how I can help you plan for a better financial future.”

Effective offer: “Even if you never do anything with me, I want to make sure you know that there are five critical mistakes everyone makes in trying to accumulate wealth.”

Business: Technology Services Company

Ineffective offer: “Let me tell you how great we are at helping with your IT services.”

Effective offer: “As part of our effort to build better relationships in the business community, we offer a free white paper entitled ‘Six ways to dramatically increase productivity using your current technology.’?”

Sales is about building rapport, not breaking it. When you sell or pitch, you’re often breaking rapport because the prospect may be skeptical—no one wants to be “sold.” When you educate, you are building rapport. Your credibility is increased significantly when you begin meetings with data that is of value to the prospect. Launch all your meetings by teaching your prospect something or by offering data that establishes that you’ve done your homework.

Outmarket Your Competitors

If your local newspaper called you up and offered to teach you the seven things that make all businesses succeed, you’d probably find that pretty hard to turn down. Sure, they’d still have to talk you into the meeting, but it would be an easier sell than talking you into a meeting to pitch you on advertising in their publication.

If you embrace education-based marketing you will outmarket your competitors at every turn. Education-based marketing attracts buyers before they are thinking about buying. It casts a wider net, attracts more buyers, and closes a higher percentage of prospects if the education you give is of true value. This is the least expensive, most effective marketing concept you will ever use.

What kind of a free education could you offer that would make your prospects want to meet with you, respond to your ad, or take an interest in your direct mail approach?