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April 6, 2022

Sabir x Stu Heinecke

TL; DR

Stu Heinecke’s conversion rates would make any direct marketer envious.

Forget about 1%, 2%, or 3%. If he gets anywhere below 10%, it’s a failed campaign. That’s because Stu uses something known as contact marketing. He didn’t invent it, but he mastered it, and he is one of the most effective contact marketers in the game.

I was honored when Stu accepted my invitation to appear on the latest episode of This Week With Sabir, an episode in which he revealed some of his tactics and strategies, along with case-studies outlining his most effective campaigns.

If you run a B2B business and you’re looking to improve your conversion rates, contact marketing could be the answer. In the following video and guide, you’ll learn all of the following and more:

  • What is Contact Marketing? Not to be confused with content marketing or direct marketing, contact marketing is a more time- and cost-effective solution for attracting new clients to a service-based business. It’s about creating a connection with a CEO, founder, or other executive using a personalized approach. You’re not gathering details and then mass emailing or calling. You’re learning about the person, discovering their likes and dislikes, and then sending them something that captures their attention.
  • How Effective is it? Stu Heinecke has seen campaigns generate more than 100% conversions using contact marketing. It’s a rate that you never see with direct marketing, where conversions are usually just 1-3%. The reason it climbs above 100% is because the people who convert also tell their colleagues and friends. They spread the word and create free organic advertising for the contact marketer.
  • How Much Does it Cost? Although contact marketing is a more expensive option per person than direct marketing, it’s often cheaper on the whole. The conversions are much higher and the people that convert tend to spend a lot more money, although it all comes down to the type of business that you provide.
  • How To Get Past Gatekeepers: Secretaries and executive assistants are often known as “gatekeepers”, as they prevent marketers from reaching CEOs and other high-level executives. Not only are there some easy ways to bypass these individuals, but if you can get them on your side, you will benefit even more. It’s your direct line to the executives within that company.

At the end of my discussion with Stu Heinecke, I asked him the $100,000 question, one that could generate over 6-figures in income for anyone who uses the methods discussed.

You can find this snippet of sound advice at the bottom of the full guide or in the last few minutes of the podcast.

Contact Marketing/B2B Marketing

Stu Heinecke is a talented cartoonist, but he’s also a marketing genius. His book, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone, is a personal favorite of mine and one that I have read from cover to cover several times.

As someone who has played the content marketing, SEM, social media marketing, and email marketing game for many years, his strategies are eye-opening.

They revolve around something known as contact marketing. It’s all about high conversions and direct, personalized contacts. The ultimate goal—as suggested by the name of his book—is to get a meeting.

But contact marketing is not just about attracting investors for your fledgling business or buyers for your brand. It’s not just about collaborations, job interviews, and career mobility.

It’s basically B2B marketing, but it’s personal and effective.

Stu Heinecke is an expert on the subject and it’s something that we discussed at length during the latest episode of This Week With Sabir. You can watch the video below or learn more in this accompanying guide.

What Is Contact Marketing?

The best way to understand contact marketing is to learn what it’s not.

It’s often confused with direct marketing, and while there are some similarities, these two things are vastly different.

Direct marketing is about gathering contact details using newsletter forms and order forms. Once you have those details, you create content and then blast it out to everyone on the list.

It’s effective, and it works for D2C marketing, but for B2B marketing, it’s a little too generalized and rarely generates the results you seek.

It’s like standing in the middle of a street and shouting into a megaphone, hoping that some of the passersby will stop, listen, and heed what you have to say.

It’s mass marketing. You’re casting your net and hoping to catch something worthwhile. If it fails, you just reel it in and then throw it out again.

Contact marketing is more personalized and considered.

To borrow an example that Heinecke used in our discussion, mass marketing is a machinegun scatter. It’s the old A-Team trick of “shoot anywhere and see what happens”. And inevitably, most of those bullets will miss.

Contact marketing, on the other hand, is a laser-guided sniper shot. It’s only one bullet, one trigger pull, but it’s much more likely to hit the target.

I’ve experienced both mass marketing and contact marketing. I have also created campaigns that utilize both of these methods, but for reference, I will use a friend of mine who recently started a small business and was new to both of these methods.

My friend launched a small company that he ran from his house, along with his partner. They were both content creators, and so they had the means to create the product packaging, content, and marketing without any outside input.

Once the business was up and running, they began receiving several emails a day from content agencies offering everything from writing to development and SEO.

If you run a business, you will have almost certainly seen these yourself. If you run a digital content agency, you’ve probably sent a few.

My friend obviously didn’t have any need for them, and so he didn’t respond. In fact, after a few months, he began implementing systems that would put a stop to them.

In the end, for every customer email he received, he would get dozens of spam agency emails.

He never responded to any. He didn’t give any of them the time of day. At one point, he actually needed to supplement his content with SEO, but refused to work with any of the brands that had spammed him.

One day, he received a handwritten postcard sent to his personal address.

The note introduced the writer (including his business information) and addressed my friend (and his partner) but name, while also showing a clear understanding of their business.

It even included a small gift along with the postcard.

The note wasn’t handwritten in the sense that it had been scanned and duplicated, nor was it printed use a handwriting font. Someone had actually taken the time to write that postcard.

In 2 years, that was the first agency contact that my friend replied to. He didn’t need the services that were being offered, but because the agency owner took the time to write that postcard, my friend thanked him, apologized, clarified his situation, and finished by passing the agency’s details onto a few of his friends.

I know that story because I was one of those people and while I didn’t use the agency’s services, I know a couple of colleagues that did.

It’s the perfect example of mass marketing vs personal marketing.

You have someone that was receiving dozens of cold emails a week from people who didn’t know his name and just copy-pasted the same BS introductions. He was angry, frustrated, and desperate for them to stop. And at the same time, someone found a way to break through that anger and inattention and attract his interest.

If you’re thinking that a handwritten postcard and small gift is too much, you’re thinking about it all wrong.

The postcard was probably written by an assistant. Maybe the job had even been given to a son, daughter, niece, or nephew working for $5 an hour.

The postcard itself cost just a few cents, the gift was no more than $5, the shipping probably came to $3, and while there were some personal details included, it’s nothing that couldn’t have been discovered after 10 minutes of basic research.

In other words, for less than $15 and a few minutes of work, that business managed to get a response out of an angry business owner who hated companies in their sector and never responded to anyone. And while he didn’t convert, they did get at least one conversion out of it.

That’s contact marketing.

It’s All B2B Marketing

As hinted in the above example, contact marketing works best when it’s B2B. It’s effective, but only as business marketing and not D2C marketing.

To stick with the same example, my friend wouldn’t have been able to utilize contact marketing as he was selling products directly to consumers and didn’t deal with businesses.

But if you run a service-based business or work as a professional (freelance writer/designer, lawyer, accountant, public relations expert) you can use it as a form of business marketing.

It’s about breaking the barriers that usually stand between one business and another. Whether you’re selling wholesale products, offering services, or trying to contact executives for other reasons, contact marketing can help.

How To Use Contact Marketing

Now that we know what contact marketing is and why it’s so effective, that begs the question: How can you use contact marketing for your business?

It’s not simply a case of sending handwritten letters (or in Stu’s case, personalized cartoons) nor should you send random gifts.

There are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to B2B marketing, AKA contact marketing.

Don’t Use Crowded Channels

Contact marketing is about avoiding overcrowded channels, including email.

Most CEOs and businesses get hundreds of spam emails every day and your messages will get lost in the chaos.

You’re basically trying to shout above the noise. It’s like trying to attract the attention of a football player when you’re up in the stands and have 50,000 people screaming at the same time.

Sure, you might get lucky, but more often than not, your calls will go unheard.

For contact marketing to be effective, you need to be the one waiting in the tunnel at the end of the game, the one who can walk up to the player, tap them on the shoulder, and say what you need to say.

There are several ways to do that.

The easiest is to call them directly and tell them something that helps you to stand out, something that they won’t hear from anyone else. That’s why snail mail gifts, handwritten letters, and cartoons are so effective, because they differ from the usual leaflets, business cards, and other printed paraphernalia that executives and companies receive.

You Need To Spend (But It’s Worth It)

With contact marketing, you need to spend some money, but that’s often why it’s effective.

Let’s imagine that you have the goal of establishing contact with 5 CEOs of businesses in your sector.

You approach a marketing expert with your request and they give you two options.

The first option is to spend $500 and laser-focus on the 10 best CEOs. It’s a marketing campaign that will research into those CEOs, determine what they like, what interests them, and then contact them in the most eye-catching way.

Alternatively, you can spend $100 and send messages and contact requests to over 500 CEOs, big and small.

You know exactly where I’m going with this. You know what’s coming next, and yet even as you read, you’re still thinking, “I’ll probably choose the $100 option”. Most people would. Most people do. And that’s partly why the direct option is so effective.

The vast majority of the messages those CEOs receive are mass-market nonsense. Few people take the time to contact them directly. Few people choose the expensive and personalized option.

The aforementioned friend is a great example. To this day, the “colorful postcard” is the only personalized request he has received. Before writing this article, I asked him to estimate how many mass requests he has received, and he put the number at between 5,000 and 10,000.

And that’s a small business in a rural area after just 2.5 years of operation.

How many requests do you think those successful CEOs will receive?

Spending money for marketing in this manner is something that business owners are generally reluctant to do. If you spend your time chasing huge numbers of contacts with as little money as possible, the idea of spending $50+ for a single person will seem absurd.

But what if that person turns into a dedicated client? What if they sign a contract that generates thousands or even millions for your company? What if they put you in touch with friends and colleagues who are just as valuable?

It’s a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s tiny.

Focus On The Conversion Rate

The conversion rates for contact marketing are very high, and as you’re contacting fewer people, it’s easy to keep track. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to neglect the metrics.

You still need to calculate how much a certain contact is costing you, how much time you are investing, and whether or not it was successful. And if it wasn’t successful, think about whether or not they referred you to someone else.

Track everything, as that will tell you whether your campaigns are working. If they’re not working, it doesn’t mean that contact marketing is ineffective for your business, it just means that you need to reevaluate.

Go back to the basics, rethink your approach, and try again.

The average conversion rate for B2B marketing is much higher than the conversion rate for direct marketing.

Most e-commerce sites convert at between 1% and 3%, with 3% being the ideal number that marketers chase. Some sites convert at less than 1%, but that’s not bad, and depending on the marketing spend, it should still be enough to generate a profit.

If 1 to 3 out of every 100 emails that you send results in meetings, it wouldn’t be so bad. In the previous example of contacting 500 CEOs, it would mean between 5 and 15 meetings, which is more than enough to alter the course of your career and business.

But it’s not quite that easy.

Those 1-3% rates come from e-commerce sites that have a product to sell and are often targeting people in that niche. When they use email marketing, they’re targeting people who have already purchased or expressed an interest in the site. With social media marketing, it’s much the same story.

When you send cold emails, you’re targeting people who don’t know you, don’t care about you, and are not actively looking to buy what you’re selling.

In other words, the conversion rate is typically much lower.

So, what about contact marketing?

Well, Stu’s results are much closer to 100% and often go above 100%.

When conversion metrics are higher than 100%, it means that recipients are so excited by what they have received that they share it with their friends, families, and colleagues.

It’s word-of-mouth organic marketing, something that you just don’t see very often with direct marketing.

In fact, as Stu noted during our discussion, most direct marketers will be looking at those figures and rolling their eyes, as they’re always told that 100% response rates are impossible.

But we’re talking about a completely different approach here. Sure, you won’t hit 100% all of the time, but the response rates from contact marketing are always better than mass marketing and typically deliver a much cheaper cost-per-conversion.

That sounds a little hard to believe, but when you understand his methods, it makes perfect sense.

Think of all the junk that you receive every day—the emails from Nigerian princes, the sweepstakes, the dating sites, the promotions from sites you don’t even remember using. You probably ignore all of these.

Imagine if one of them sent you a snail mail letter in a fancy envelope, and when you open it, you discover a humorous cartoon depicting you and your dog, along with a URL.

It doesn’t matter how grumpy you are and how much you hate cold marketing, you’re 100% going to visit that URL.

It’s not necessarily about wanting to buy something or making a commitment. It’s curiosity, and that curiosity will lead you down a path that has been laid by the sender.

That’s what contact marketing does. It’s effective because it’s a break from the norm. It’s something that doesn’t look like run-of-the-mill spam or promotional nonsense, something that catches your attention and piques your curiosity.

Get Past The Gatekeeper

Most of the time, you’re speaking with a secretary and not an executive.

The goal is to get past the secretary as quickly as possible. Their job is to say no, and they’ll look for the fastest route to that “no”.

To need to get past the secretary and start speaking with the executive assistant, often referred to as the “gatekeeper” of that business or CEO.

Stu recommends writing a VIP statement. It’s something short and punchy that will get their attention. He uses cartoons, but you don’t need to do the same.

He will call them and say something like, “My name is Stu Heinecke. I am a Wall Street Journal cartoonist and I would like to send a cartoon to your boss”. It’s short, it’s unusual, and by adding the Wall Street Journal name, he builds credibility.

They are intrigued, and so they provide him with the necessary information. He follows this by sending an email to thank the assistant and then ships the cartoon.

By the time the cartoon arrives, he has established contact with the executive assistant and has touched base with them several times.

As a result, he can now book a meeting with the CEO and he also has an “in” with the company via the executive assistant. A single phone call, a snappy proposal, and a cartoon was all it took, and from that, Stu has a new client and new opportunities.

Get Creative

I believe that a lot of things in business and in life are common sense. There is no “secret” to succeeding as a retail business, it’s just a case of making a good product, providing value to your customers, and producing good content.

There is no “trick” for succeeding with a personal brand, it’s just about entertaining your followers and working hard.

Oftentimes, people don’t want to believe that. They think that there has to be a secret because if it was that simple, everyone would be doing it.

The truth is, everyone can do it if they follow the right structure (such as my guide to launching an online business) but few people do.

To succeed with a personal brand, you need to work hard every day, even when it seems like nothing is working. You may need to persist for years, and yet most people give up after just a few weeks, complaining that “nothing’s working” and they are somehow the exception to the rule.

In business, they often chase terrible ideas, throw money at lost causes, or make stupid mistakes in the name of vanity and then complain when it doesn’t work.

Common sense, persistence, and hard work can get you where you need to go.

The same is true for getting meetings with powerful people. People make a half-hearted attempt at establishing contact and when it doesn’t work, they give up and claim that it’s nonsense.

You need to put the effort in. You need to think of something that will actually appeal to the person you are contacting.

If you’re thinking, “I can just send them all a generic cartoon” then you’re on the right track, but you’re still thinking like a mass marketer.

There are no shortcuts here. Stu’s cartoons work not because they were well presented (although they are incredibly beautifully presented) but because they are personalized and direct. They speak to the recipient and it’s clear that they were designed just for that person.

If he drew a single-panel cartoon of someone saying, “I want a meeting with you, call me here” it wouldn’t be as effective. Sure, it would lead to a higher response rate than a mass-market email, but it’s not personalized, and it still reeks of mass-market nonsense.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to contact marketing. No one is going to tell you to “do this” or “send that”. You have to figure it out for yourself, but the following steps will help:

  1. Determine Your Goal: Figure out what you want to achieve before you plan your approach. Are you trying to get a new client, are you setting up a collaboration? Clearly define your goals before you go any further.
  2. Create a List: Find the people that you need to contact and make a list of their names and addresses.
  3. Do Your Research: Look into all of the people on your list. Discover their hobbies, their likes, and their dislikes. Are they into falconry or football? Do they have an obsession with a particular team? Get as much information as you can about that person and take notes.
  4. Find Something Affordable and Personalized: Once you know what they like, find something that is personal and valuable. It should be affordable, as well, but “affordable” is a pretty broad definition and it ultimately depends on the value that they can provide for you. If you’re a small content creator looking for $500 a month accounts, anything over $100 would be unreasonable. If you’re a massive company searching for 7-figure contracts, it makes sense to go a little higher.
  5. Contact Them: Don’t simply send them the gift and then leave it at that. Contact them first and let them know that a gift is on the way. Take a picture if you can. The email should be brief but personal, and it should frame the gift as a polite offering and not a prize. In other words, “I just wanted to let you know that I have sent you a gift” is fine, but “Congratulations, I have chosen you to receive a beautiful gift!” is a bit too much.
  6. Include Your Details: When you send the gift, include your contact details so that they can reply. You should also include details about your services and your business, as well as something that connects to your initial email to remind them that you have been in touch previously.
  7. Be Patient: Give the package time to be sent and received and give the recipient time to reply. They will contact you eventually. If they don’t message you after a couple of days, you could contact the executive assistant and enquire about the package, using that as your way to reestablish contact and speak with the exec, but don’t pester them with text messages, emails, and phones.

More importantly, you need to keep trying. If your current strategy doesn’t work and you’re not seeing many responses and conversations, go back to the drawing board, see what went wrong, and try again.

As with anything else, contact marketing is partly about trial and error. You throw a few things at the wall, see if they stick, and if they don’t, you reassess.

Stu found his niche and cartoons work really well for him. But he’s a cartoonist who works for a major publication that’s recognized all over the world. If you don’t have the same credentials, you won’t see the same results.

Don’t Look For Shortcuts

Let’s be honest, if you’re contemplating contact marketing for the first time, you’re probably thinking about ways that you can make it quicker, cheaper, and easier.

Maybe you can just pay a freelance designer to create a generic business cartoon that you can email to a bunch of executives. It will probably cost you less than $100, someone else will do all of the work for you, and it’ll take you less than a few minutes to find the freelancer and then spam those emails.

But you’re thinking like a direct marketer and that’s not how this works.

As someone who owns a business, would you be impressed by a generic cartoon that could have been sent to hundreds of other people?

Probably not.

For much the same reason, you’re probably not impressed by a long and well-worded email that doesn’t have any personal information.

You’re not the only one who knows how to hire graphic designers, cartoonists, and writers. You’re not the only one to think that a well-worded email would be more effective or that an emailed attachment would capture more attention.

These methods don’t work because there is no personalization. They are contrived, desperate.

If you want contact marketing to work for you, it needs to be done properly. You must commit to the project and follow the rules discussed in this guide.

That means no shortcuts. No cheaper and easier alternatives.

The less you put into contact marketing, the less you will get out of it.

Why B2B Marketing Is So Effective

Contact marketing is effective because the CEO/company feels inclined to help you.

Even if they are not the right person for you, if you provide them with enough value, they will feel like they need to give you something in reply.

If it’s a handwritten postcard, then as noted above, they will feel like you deserve a personalized reply. If it’s something that has more value, they’ll recommend you to other people in similar positions. Stu even recalled several instances in which recipients made direct contact with other C-suite executives and this led to multiple sales.

If someone stops you on the street and gives you something out of the blue, your reaction is not to accept it, thank them, and then walk away. You stop, listen to what they have to say, and are more inclined to buy what they’re selling or help them in some other way.

The exception is when they just give you a leaflet or a coupon for a product you’ve never heard about. In such cases, you’ll just keep walking and probably throw the leaflet in the nearest bin.

That’s another major difference between contact marketing and mass marketing.

It’s part of the weed strategy that forms the bulk of Stu’s ideas and book. It’s something we touched upon briefly during the show (and will cover in another episode at a later date) and it revolves around the idea that you need to spread seeds to sprout everywhere.

If you contact 10 people and they all read your letters or receive your gifts, that’s 10 seeds you have planted. Even if only 5 of them turn into clients, there are still 5 others who know about you, will recommend you, and may even show your gift to their friends, families, and colleagues.

Those seeds may not sprout straight away, but eventually, one of those colleagues could need the services that you provide, and they’ll get in touch with you.

The more of these seeds that you plant, the more weeds will grow.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just be reaching into the bag, grabbing a handful of seeds, and tossing them wherever you go. That brings us back to mass marketing—it’s propagation without care or consideration, and it doesn’t work.

The $100,000 Question

Be audacious.

That’s Stu’s $100,000 advice.

The examples that Stu used during our discussion were audacious. They broke from the norm and, as a result, they attracted the recipient’s attention.

At the end of the show, he asked if he could present one more example, right before he whipped out a sword.

The sword, packaging, and shipping cost approximately $1,000 and are sent by one of his clients to attract the attention of CEOs. It’s expensive, but it works, and it works because it’s shocking, unusual, and audacious.

Even on the podcast, it made for an unusual and attention-grabbing moment. If you were skimming through the video not really paying attention (how dare you!) then you probably stopped on that moment and wondered what the hell was happening.

Now imagine receiving one of those swords in a beautifully presented wooden box.

You’d want to know more, and you’d almost certainly contact the sender to thank them.

You don’t have to send swords. You don’t have to send anything. But whatever you do, remember to be audacious!

More Information

One of the reasons that I invited Stu onto the show was to talk about his weed strategy, which forms the bulk of his book and was mentioned briefly in the above guide. We didn’t get a chance to discuss the strategy in the end, but I invited Stu back onto the show so we could explore it a length next year.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about Stu’s work and strategies, I recommend picking up a copy of his book, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone, which is available from Amazon as a hardcopy, Kindle, and audiobook. You should also check out Get the Meeting!, an illustrative guide that serves as an accompaniment to the book and includes many of Stu’s successful campaigns.

For similar guides and videos, check out Top Hacks for Building an Executive Brand with John Mediana and Becoming Iconic with Jamie Mustard.

As always, make sure you check out This Week With Sabir on YouTube. I welcome a new guest onto the show every week. In addition to an hour-long podcast in which we discuss marketing, branding, operations, and other key aspects of running an online business, you’ll find a 5,000-word guide that expands on the topics discussed and provides a wealth of strategies and tips.

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