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Yesterday I came face-to-face with the most Machiavellian marketing program ever created, and I now lay victim to its irresistible seduction.

It had been an unremarkable day until the doorbell rang quite unexpectedly.

Now, I'm a hardened survivor of marketing tactics. I'm not taken in by pandering emails and I don't fall for multilevel marketing schemes. I even can evade guerilla perfume sprayers at the mall with the deftness of a ninja warrior.

But the doorbell? Truly an ancient and unpredictable tactic. Without thought or hesitation I swung wide the door, and with that one  simple action I was hooked. At first I saw nothing. Lowering my gaze, I realized I was about to be suckered by the little boy from across the street.

He's a great kid. In fact, he's trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous … and he's selling popcorn. Ugh! He's selling very expensive popcorn. He isn't entirely sure why he's selling popcorn, but he knows it's for camp and that he can win a $10 gift card if he sells enough. And he's so adorable in his ignorance, that it makes his sales pitch  that much more compelling.

The Boy Scout popcorn program is a true marketing  phenomenon. With a little research I found that the very same box of popcorn, from the same manufacturer is available at retail for 21 cents per bag. The per-bag price from this little cherub is  $1.22. That's a 481% markup.

To be fair, the manufacturer is only taking in 30%, but at 37¢ per bag, that's 76% more than the full retail value when purchased in a store. And, folks, there is no difference in the product; the only distinction lies in the marketing and distribution channels, which I have to believe must be significantly cheaper via the Boy Scouts.

They do incur some marketing overhead. The manufacturer's website features several sales videos in which a magician indoctrinates little boys in high-pressure sales tactics. But other than that, it looks pretty straightforward.

There is another lesson here, though: Never underestimate the value of the human touch, especially in lead nurture. Taking a cue from the Boy Scouts, instead of sending an email to your sales team to check on how they are doing in following up on the leads from your most recent  program, walk over to them. Let them know you are part of the team committed to  closing deals by providing them with valid reasons to call into their nurture  queue. You can also:

  • Create Basho-style emails for the use of sales in ongoing communications
  • Ensure they are armed with new analyst reports, but also craft short copy blocks to focus their communications to the appropriate revenue band, product line, prospect industry and line of business.
  • Read your company press releases. Is a product suddenly available on a remote device or via the cloud? This would be a compelling  message for the prospects in a sales nurture queue.
  • Keep current on events affecting your target industries, and send related articles to your team along with suggestions on how to position  the company.
  • When developing a webcast, create unique URLs and personal invitation copy so sales can track who responded.

I grant you these tactics are less attention-grabbing than exploiting free child labor, but somehow I believe you'll sleep better at night.

First published at AdAge (BtoB)