Episode 73 - Susan Merlo On Generating Leads With Information Products
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Could free information products be a boost for your business?
Many people might think that free products are counterintuitive to growing a business, but this is not necessarily true. When done properly, they can be an excellent incentive for new business and generating new leads. On this week’s episode of CEO Sales Strategies, Doug C. Brown speaks with Susan Merlo, founder of Digital Distributors and author of The Digital Distributor: Six Steps to Accelerate Sales. Doug and Susan discuss creating an information product, building trust and rapport with your customers, and much more.
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Episode’s guest – Susan Merlo
Susan Merlo On Generating Leads With Information Products
I’m bringing another amazing guest. Her name is Susan Merlo. She owns a company called TheDigitalDistributor.com. We are going to talk about why info products make sense in a B2B or B2C context for lead generation. In other words, we’re going to talk about how you can use info products to create more leads and rapport with your clients. She’s going to give you a pretty simple formula to use so that you can start creating info products. Before you go, “That may not be for me,” read this episode. You’re probably going to find out it’s exactly what you need.
Remember, we’re all going from the old way of selling to the new way of selling. A lot of people are consuming digital prior to even speaking with a salesperson, an owner, or the CEO of another company. We’re all checking each other out. We hadn’t in the past because we didn’t have access to that. When you’re using information products to do this, your expertise starts positioning you as a trusted entity and somebody that they can respect and get to know. Develop that rapport. Let’s talk to Susan about it. Here we go.
Susan, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Thanks, Doug. Thanks so much for having me.
We’re going to talk about a cool idea that all companies should embrace. We have embraced it here. You also believe it based on our previous conversation about creating an information product and why a business-to-business company or even a business-to-consumer company should do so. In other words, how do we use training as a lead-generation mechanism? You at TheDigitalDistributor.com do a great job there. There are a lot of companies out there that don’t even think about it. Why should I use an info product or some type of training as a lead generation mechanism?
There are a few reasons. The burning reason is what better platform than to feature what you know? That’s the selfish reason. The selfless reason is if you have the knowledge, why not share it, especially with people that can use it? Depending on how you come at it, either way, it’s a win-win. It’s a win for you and it’s a win for your viewers, buyers, prospects, or whatever you want to call them.
Let’s take any type of company and say I’m a medical company. How can I use information products to sell my medical supplies or whatever I’m selling at that point?
It’s funny because I’m speaking at an event for medical supply distributors. It’s a great tee-up. If you are a medical supplier, everyone knows about your products. Products are products. You have masks, tongue depressors, Q-tips, or whatever it is. The people that buy them know about the products but the people that buy them have specific sets of problems.
Let’s say it’s urgent care. Urgent care buys medical supplies. As a supplier, you want to sell to them. You can do what everyone else does and tell that prospect how great your products are but so what? Everyone’s products are the same. Rather, you would be better off figuring out what that urgent care needs to improve its business, whether it’s a better time management system, appointment-keeping system, financial system, or whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be about the supply. It has to be something that’s going to help them with their business.
As a supplier, you know all of this because you’re dealing with these people every day. You can take what another customer did successfully, write about it, a case study about their success, and then put it on your internet for free on your website. What customer wouldn’t want that? That changes the paradigm of how that customer or prospect thinks about you. You’re not in the selling business. You’re in the helping business because it’s all about helping that person or that business.
We used to use free reports and things like that. People were like, “How are you getting all these clients?” The reality is that we used to use digital reports and send digital reports out. The truth be told is that they only read about 20% of the reports we sent them but the reality was that they connected with us over these reports, and then we brought them into our core business into the process. It works great. We do it the same way.
You have a book called The Digital Distributor. We have a book called Win-Win Selling: Unlocking Your Power for Profitability by Resolving Objections. The majority of people have challenges with handling objections. Sometimes I’ll send that book out ahead of time with a couple of books, 1 for the CEO and 1 for somebody else in the organization with a little, “I thought this might be helpful to your organization.” It’s amazing when we give. Sometimes we do receive back.
If I’m a company, I think, “This makes sense but I’m a solar company. I install solar panels. I’m a painting company,” or whatever you want to take. They’re reading this because we do have solar companies that do read this. What would they send out? Would it be a guide on how to reduce your electricity? Isn’t that what everybody else is sending? Do I have to be a little different?
Everybody wants to make money but when you come at it from the customer’s point of view, there are some exercises that you can do with a buyer persona. You can create your buyer persona or your customer avatar. The most important thing is to know what are they struggling with, what can you help them with, and what obstacles you can help them overcome. I guarantee that 90% of your competition is not doing this.
If you can take that extra effort, make that extra effort. Get into your customer’s shoes and think of something different, not the price of your product because you don’t want to compete on price. When you partner with your customer in other words and if you’re helping them with their business, or if it’s a consumer and you’re helping them with whatever they’re struggling with, you become their partner and trusted advisor. They begin to know you and like you. Most importantly, they begin to trust you. They’re not going to buy from you until they trust you because nobody wants buyer’s remorse.
They might buy from you if they don’t like you.
There’s buyer’s remorse.
They very rarely if ever will buy when they don’t trust you. That’s when buyer’s remorse sets in the most. They go, “Did I do the right thing? Was this right for me?” That’s when it starts to kick in, I have found as well. What people don’t understand is that we’re buying from human beings. We’re not buying from the titles of companies. One day, I was calling upon somebody for a telecommunications sale. That’s what I did at that time. She was distraught. She was the decision-maker.
I asked her, “What’s going on?” She said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” I said, “You don’t want to talk about it or you don’t want to talk about it with me?” She said, “I’m going through a divorce.” I said, “That’s tough. I went through one. Are you feeling this? How soon into it are you?” We got talking about it. I educated her on what it was like to transition from a very bad divorce at that time in my life. She bought it for me.
The reason behind that is that she had a voice to listen to her obstacle or her struggle. It had nothing to do with her company but the reality is that I educated her on something I knew, being genuine. I want to get into this. How do you launch this? People think that the info product or whatever it might be has to be directly related to the mission of what they sell. Have you found it to be different?
It doesn’t at all. It’s a matter of building trust. Your product may or may not be the solution for that customer but you have knowledge that’s valuable to that customer. If you don’t, then that’s not your customer. Let’s say you’re running a special on light switches if you’re an electrical distributor. I gave a presentation and used an example. A salesman was selling light switches. We had a superintendent of a bunch of apartment buildings, a local home electrician, and a commercial contractor that’s building office buildings.
The electrical supplier sent out an email about these light switches. They are about $60 apiece. They’re very high-end. It wasn’t for office buildings or apartment buildings where people are renting. It was only for homes. It only applied to that local electrician. Does that mean that they can’t help or they shouldn’t publish stuff for the superintendent or the electrical contractor? No, because eventually, they’re going to come around. There are going to be products for those people.
We’re talking about building trust and whether or not they like you. Something else that plays a part here is the length of the sales cycle. Like what you said about solar panels if you sell a customer, solar panels, chances are you’re never going to sell to that customer again but you want referrals. You want to make sure that you’re giving them the best service. That’s not knowledge. Maybe I’m going down a rabbit hole but that knowledge piece is mostly the info piece. It’s mostly for longer sales cycles and repeat business.
You were going down a rabbit hole but I don’t think it was the wrong one. Here’s the reason why I believe this. I’m a solar company. I sell. It’s the sales cycle, “When are they going to call me back for solar?” It’s not likely to be in a short period of time. However, if I’m educating them on other things and I make agreements with other providers, then I can use that education to tie in from solar to something else that might make sense.
It might be plumbing, for example. We renovated this building we’re in now. There are only a few people in the whole project that I trust out of the dozens of people that came through here. Those people I still go back to for advice. I’m like, “I’m looking for a new door for this office. Whom do you recommend? Why would you recommend it?” They will educate me on that and say, “Do you want to interior door, a soft corridor, a hardcore door, or a solid door?”
I’m like, “I get the concept but what’s the difference?” They say, “It’s sound deadening. How quiet do you want it to be in that office?” I say, “That’s going in the recording studio office.” They talk through this with the education. They’re like, “You should see XYZ. I’ll hook him up.” I did it with a painter. It was not a huge job but they got $9,000. I didn’t question it. It could be used. I’m okay if that other contractor made a deal with a painter to get paid 20% but it’s the educational purpose that I trust these people.
Where you’re going is pretty sound advice because people don’t think like this. They don’t think, “If I give this referral to someone else, then maybe they’re going to start giving referrals back to me.” When I run across somebody that needs solar, for example, in that same arena, it’s like, “Go to Doug. Doug will take care of you on the solar.” Education, based on what you’re saying, can be used for all kinds of purposes but people don’t think outside the box on education.
Somebody once told me when I was young, “Get involved in groups. Help groups.” I was like, “I’m selling this.” I was selling telecommunications at that time. They said, “Help groups.” What do I know? I help a group. In there, they have a cause for battered women. I’m like, “I can get behind that cause.” I start working with this whole thing. I ended up with a half dozen clients out of it because I wasn’t working on something. People were asking me questions. I got that chance to help them with other matters. They led to say, “What do you do for a living?” This education is probably the most powerful sale in the world without having to sell.
You gave a perfect example of the guy with the doors. You knew to call that guy. Let’s say your neighbor needs the same information. If that door guy had a little eBook about how to choose the right door and put it for free on his website, “Download the eBook if you’re interested,” he can tell a little backstory. Someone is googling how to choose a door. They land on that website. They put in their name and their email address. They download the book. The book is helpful. It’s good. You’re in their good graces. You have a new lead. Why wouldn’t you do that? It doesn’t cost anything.
There’s one thing I want to throw out there because I get this objection a lot, not so much anymore but at the beginning of my career when we were telling people to do this, especially well-educated people. They never wanted to give anything away for free, “People have to pay me for this information. Why would I give it to them?” It’s worth it. If anyone is reading that’s thinking, “I don’t like giving stuff away for free,” quash that, try it, and see how it works for you because not only that but when people get that free stuff and say, “This is what they’re giving me for free. I can’t even imagine how good the paid stuff is,” you can also sell them information down the road.
I love this. Give it for free. Jay Abraham who’s a well-known marketing guru used to say the same thing, “Give it away for free.” People used to be reluctant. Here’s part of the reason. In the beginning, when we gave all these reports away, they only read 1 out of 5 but they kept seeing our name over and over. We were the helpful ones, and just because you give it away for free doesn’t mean they can do it by themselves.
We always say, “Tell people what to do but don’t tell them how to do it.” That’s a little tricky but if they’re paying for it, then you’re telling them how to do it. You tell them, “If you want to be a digital marketer, you have to build a website. You have to learn how to do emails. You have to do this, that, and the other thing.” You tell them all of that but you don’t have to tell them how. If you want to create a course on how to become a digital marketer, and someone is going to pay you $2,000 for that course, you’re going to have to tell them how. If you don’t, then you’re not going to sell many courses.
The reality is that in most things, we don’t want to do them ourselves anyways.
We have to all stay in our lanes if we’re running our businesses.
I’m not interested in rewiring a building. My dad was a master electrician. I can do it. I’m not interested in doing it. Most people are not interested in doing what you specialize in. They’re interested in hiring trustworthy and competent people to take that off their plate so that they can do something else, which they like to do anyway. I wrote something down here. If you give it away for free, and people are thinking, “This is good stuff,” they are going to want to know what the next level of this whole thing is. What I wrote down was, “They can get it for free on YouTube anyways most of the time.”
Tell that to my electrician. He wasn’t happy when I changed all the light switches in the house, and then I had to call him in to fix them. You can learn to do anything. You gave the perfect example about wiring, not only that but even if you want to do it for free or you want to do it yourself, you have to have the time, resources, and patience. You can probably learn anything on YouTube but it’s about, “Do you do someone else’s job? Do you run your business?” You can’t usually do both.
Not in most cases. That’s what keeps companies small in a lot of ways. The owner themselves or the person themselves thinks, “I have to do this by myself.” The reality is strategic and tactical. Anything that’s strategic, they should be doing tactically. They should be outsourcing if they can. What I wanted to make a point on YouTube is if we’re giving the information before they go to YouTube or we’re giving the information proactively, we’re saving them the hassle of having to find this stuff. We’re becoming a trusted resource in that regard because we’re proactively doing it. I would have an argument that if we’re not proactively doing it, we’re allowing people to find it from competitors at that point anyways.
There’s nothing that you can publish that’s not already published. If we want to serve our communities and customer base, we become curators because all the ideas are out there already and published but if we do it well and we do it from the heart and the right head space, it works to our advantage.
A mentor of mine once said to me, “There’s not a lot of wild thinking out there. There’s a lot of good thinking but most of the ideas have already been thought of. They’re innovations on those ideas.” That was years ago. He said that to me. I’ve found that to almost be true in most cases. There’s the occasional one-off. I want to transition from this into how to. You got my interest in this. How do I go about this? What are a few steps that I could take to transition from Point A to Point B?
Do you mean creating an information product?
I want to create a product or some type of product. I could call you, and you can help me out.
If you’re a distributor, I can help you. We learned this from one of my mentors years ago. People say, “I don’t have any knowledge to share. I’m not sure what people want.” What you want to do is get out a piece of paper, get on your computer, write down the top 10 frequently asked questions that you get and the top 10 should-ask questions that you get, and answer those questions. By the time you get through those twenty questions, you have an information product and maybe you have a book.
There’s a book out. It’s over there somewhere. I can’t remember the name of it. It’s the easiest way to create an information product. The should-ask questions are the juice. That’s what’s going to hook people. For instance, you teach sales strategy. Maybe a question you get all the time is, “How many salespeople should I hire? What should we do?”
You’re like, “You should start small,” and whatever your advice is but meanwhile, you’re thinking, “You shouldn’t be asking me about how many salespeople. You should be asking me about what kind of salespeople or what should I look for when I’m hiring a salesperson. That’s the question you should be asking.” Isn’t that information so much more valuable than, “Hire three?” You get into that nitty-gritty. When you get into those should-ask questions, that’s where the gold is. That’s what people want. You frame it in a question or what you think people are searching for. There you have it.
It is so simple to do this. It’s straightforward. We take one of the frequently asked questions, put a couple of should-ask questions into that, a frame that as point number 1, and then keep doing it points 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 through 10. We create that into an information product. Voila, here it is.
If it’s good, people are going to download it. “This guy knows his stuff but how do I do this?” they think. They’re going to either go back to your website and look for more information or they’re going to see that you have a course, another information product. This one is $30. They do that. That was worth it. “I want to do the next step.” They go back. Maybe they’re hiring you as a consultant or taking your top-shelf product if you’re selling something for a few thousand dollars. It builds.
That’s the business of being in the business of information products. Most people that read aren’t in the information-selling business but they have a business. You use it to position yourself as an expert in your field. You’re approachable. You want to make sure that you’re in front of them and that you have their contact information. That’s the best way. That’s the best payoff for information products. Keep them coming back with good and helpful information.
In the old days, we used to call those white papers but the challenge with a white paper is that a white paper is so long most of the time. There’s so much information coming at them. Let’s say that I’m a manufacturer of whatever. The reason I bring this up is that I have some manufacturers reading this. If I’m a manufacturer, I could take that white paper and break it down into the 10 frequently asked questions or the 20 should-ask questions and supporting questions. I can take little bite-sized pieces of this and create mini-reports or mini-recordings.
Folks, you don’t have to be a genius on camera to do this. They don’t care as long as it’s presentable. If you’re feeding them a little bit of information every single day, I liken this to dating. If you come out on the first date with everything you have, you’re going to overwhelm the prospect but if you come out and have a nice first date even if you go for a cup of coffee, spend 25 minutes together, and loved one another’s conversations, then you’re going to want a little bit more. Finally, somebody is going to ask the question, “Can we start dating?” Information, to me, needs to come in bite-sized chunks that people can take and consume, “That was pretty good stuff. I wonder what else they have.”
For a B2B sales company or a B2C sales company, don’t be worried about my messages or how to create this. You gave them the formula for it. Follow the formula and break it down into little bite-sized pieces. You don’t have to be that concerned about the quality. I have people that I know who don’t even go on camera. They use a PowerPoint and go through, and they still pick up business out of that. A lot of people think that perfection is perfect in the info business. When we’re using this as a lead generation mechanism, sometimes the most imperfect stuff is the best stuff.
Your point is right on about people. If it’s something wrong like a white paper, more than likely people aren’t going to read the whole thing. They’re going to skim through it and take out the most important parts. One thing that you reminded me of that I should touch on is that when you think about those frequently asked questions, it doesn’t have to be a full white paper.
I always say, “People love tools.” They love to have these little worksheets and stuff like that. It could be a checklist, 5 things to think about before you go into your next appointment, 5 things to keep in mind, or little things. People will remember you for it and appreciate that you made the effort to make that for them. It’s so easy. We can go to Canva, which is free. There are templates for all of this stuff.
There’s not much of an excuse not to do this except, “I don’t want to do this.” That’s not an excuse. That’s a reality. I had a guest on this show. He started a software company. All he did was the education products. He gave a free 30-day trial. He went from $0 to $2 million within the first fifteen months of his business. He had no advertising budget. He put out free content like this. Does it work? Yes. If you’re a $180 million company, does it work for you? Yes. $1 billion companies? Yes.
They have more resources to spend on these things but the reality is when you look at a commercial on television, a lot of times, they’re educating you on something. That’s because they have the budget to be able to do that but if you don’t have that budget, you can still do this in a cost-effective way. Susan, I appreciate you coming on. You’re a business consultant, a speaker, and a sales and marketing strategist. You’ve got a great book called The Digital Distributor. I appreciate you being here. Are there any questions that you were hoping for, “I hope Doug asked this question and he didn’t,” or did we cover it?
I serve distributors. If you have manufacturers, I would serve them too. What I do is teach distributors and some manufacturers how to get through what they’re going through, which is a digital transition. The last of the face-to-face salespeople are distributors and manufacturers. They’re having to move to the internet now because of COVID.
I had a speaking engagement out in Colorado. My new book is out. We’re selling it. It’s for $50 a copy, which is expensive. I don’t recommend anyone buying it unless you’re a distributor or a manufacturer because that’s what it’s written for. What is interesting was that I gave 200 of them away. That’s a lot of books that I could have sold for $50 apiece but what it cost me to give them away was about $1,000 because we get author copies. They are a little bit cheaper.
If I get one customer for that, my customers pay me a lot of money. It’s worth it. There’s no excuse. This is time well spent. Make this effort. There are tons of information on the internet about information products. There’s a whole roadmap to follow. You probably would be the best person, Doug, to help people through this because it’s about making more sales. That’s all it’s about. Helping people is the byproduct. It feels good but it’s about making more sales.
Susan, thanks for being here. I appreciate you being here on the show. Folks, read this a couple of times. Get out there and get your info product out there in some capacity. Try it out. You’re going to be surprised how well it can work for you. Susan, thanks again for being here.
Thanks for having me. This was so much fun.
What did we learn? We learned it isn’t so hard to create info products, number one. You take the 10 top frequently asked questions that are coming out, take 10 they-should-be-asking types of questions, and then create your info product from that. You don’t have to make this so complex. People add complexity to the process and never get it done.
People are looking for information. They’re either going to find it from you or the general internet, which is going to have your competitors on it. Why not put it in their hands first? Why not be proactive about it? It is an awesome way to stay in contact with one another because you’re offering something of value. Sometimes that value is not something that you even do.
I’ve taken people’s books who have given me permission to take their books, for example, or their books, and offered them out to people as a method of follow-up contact. It has nothing to do specifically with what I’m doing but if I know they’re a parent and it’s a great book on raising children or something, I’ll use that and say, “I don’t know if this is of any interest to you but I thought it might be. I was able to get a copy for you. If you would like it, let me know.” They respond, “I would love to have it.”
What does that have to do with my business of creating leverage in your sales? What does that have to do with that? Not a lot, except it’s pulling them closer to me as a trusted advisor. The reality is that somewhere and somehow, they know somebody, someone knows somebody, or they themselves are looking to be one of those top 1% earners in the world in selling, so they will then come back to me.
Here’s the point about info products. Keep them simple. You can create info products and do what’s called repurposing. You could take this show, for example, and broadcast it on YouTube. We can create reports from it and many videos out of this. There’s a lot of content. We can create infographics out of this. All kinds of things can come out of doing one thing. Keep it simple and put it out there. Don’t worry about it.
“What if I don’t want to be on camera?” You don’t have to be on camera but here’s the reality. People are going to want to know you. If you can be on camera, you don’t have to be a polished personality on camera if you want to do that. Be aware that it’s about contact, frequency of contact, and providing information as an education. The more you educate your potential buyer or your buyer, and you want to regenerate and expand the sale, the more they will come to you before they go somewhere else. It’s better if they’re already with you. You’re sheltering them from allowing other competitions to come in and take your accounts.
Info products are easy to create. Info products do work. If you’re a B2B, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You can be a manufacturing company, a medical company, a flower shop, or a wholesale rose distribution for the whole United States. It doesn’t matter. You can use education and info products to educate your audience. I highly recommend you do that.
As always, if you love this show, please give it a five-star review. Share it with other people. The more people we help, we can help grow this and get this out there. A lot of people have come back and said, “This subject has been amazing. I love this. Have you ever thought about doing a subject on X?” If you have something you want to hear, bring it back, send an email to YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com, and let us know what you want to hear.
If it’s a subject matter that fits the show, if it’s something that’s creating leverage and selling, for example, to CEOs or business owners, and if it’s something that gives people the optimization side of the business, we will find an expert and do an episode on that. You will get your answers. If you think you would be a good guest, reach out and let us know, “I want to possibly be a guest on the show.” It’s the same email address, YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com.
If you want to get yourself or someone you know to the top 1% of selling, you want to prospect more, you want to have a systematic process, you want to leverage in your sales process for your company, or If you want help with that, reach out to me at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com or DougBrown123 at LinkedIn and let me know what you’re looking for.
We will see what we can do to help you out. Until next time, sell something. Sell it profitably. Sell a lot of it. Help people. Play win-win. You will see by doing so that you will propel your sales forward. Keep reading, keep getting skills, keep doing the accountability, and keep the action going. It can’t help but work. It’s that simple.