First Call Advantage: Be Your Customers' First Choice

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Jeremy Builder is a Brand Builder, Keynote Speaker, and president of Sticky Branding—a brand building agency. Jeremy helps companies stand out, drive sales, and grow Sticky Brands. He is the author of Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers and Grow an Incredible Brand.



Did you know that the best time to initiate a client relationship is upwards of three years before your services are needed?

Companies with sticky brands build relationships early and often. They don’t wait for a customer to accidentally come across them in a Google search—they are proactive. They are purposeful. They build and scale relationships with their target market long before their expertise is needed.

Why? Because when your customers know you, like you, and trust you, they will seek out your brand and choose it first.

This is an ideal sales position, because it creates a First Choice Advantage.


Most of your market isn’t buying … yet

We are all well versed in how to handle a customer with a specific need. Even if you’re not a professional salesperson, you can sell to someone who needs your expertise.

The challenge is that only a small percentage of companies in your marketplace are proactively shopping and looking for your expertise. Approximately 3% of your market is buying at any given time, the rest is not.


I call this the 3% Rule—it’s a model to segment your market into buying groups, and it looks like this:



  • 3% are active buyers. At the very top of the triangle is the active buyer group. These are the people and companies that have a need and are actively shopping for vendors. They want to make a purchase in the next thirty to ninety days—these are sales leads.
  • 7% intend to change. The next segment is made up of passive buyers. They have a need, but aren’t proactively searching for options. A well-timed cold call or marketing campaign can be very effective for this segment, because you are delivering a solution before they start shopping.
  • 30% have a need, but not enough to act. This group are not buyers. They may look like buyers and act like buyers, but they won’t make a commitment. They have other priorities. Until the need becomes more pressing, they won’t make a purchase.
  • 30% do not have a need. This segment of the market does not have a need for your products and services, and they are not receptive to marketing messages. They may have just made a purchase, they may be too small, or they may not be ready for your services.
  • 30% are not interested in your company. The bottom of the triangle represents a group of companies that do not fit your brand. Basically, these companies are never going to choose you. They may be loyal to the competition. They may have had a bad experience with your firm. They may use alternative options. Don’t sweat it. Just recognize that this dynamic occurs, and your brand can’t be all things to all people.

Identify your optimal mode of marketing

There are two modes of marketing:

  1. Marketing to people and companies who have a need for your services right now
  2. Marketing to people who don’t have a need for your services, but will some day


The first mode is often where companies feel the most confident, and it receives the lion’s share of the marketing budget. The challenge in this mode is that much of your marketing investment is ineffective, because it falls on deaf ears.


Paul Emond, CEO of Versature, sums up the situation nicely, “When people aren’t in the buying mode, they don’t want to be sold to.”


The second mode of marketing is the opportunity. Rather than trying to engage people when they have a need, engage them earlier, when they are in the Lower 90%. Establish the relationship and develop rapport before they’re ready to buy.

Create an opportunity where your customers know, like, and trust your company long before they have a need. That way they’ll skip right over the inbound marketing messages, and call your company first when they have a need.


All it takes are small acts of generosity

Sticky brands engage their market early and often. They focus a significant portion of their marketing resources on the Lower 90 Percent, building relationships, and securing their place as their customers’ first call when they’re ready to buy.


Jim Gilbert’s Wheels and Deals, for example, builds relationships with small acts of generosity. Every year the company ships thousands of personalized birthday gifts to their current customers, past customers, and prospects. In 2013 they sent over 12,000 birthday gifts!


The gifts are custom designed. Each year the company comes up with something new, and the response is incredible.Wheels and Deals receives letters, emails, and calls all the time from people saying, “Thank you". It turns out that for many people, birthdays get overlooked, but Wheels and Deals never forgets. These gifts are sent with no expectation—there is no call to action, no marketing message—it’s simply a gift. And they arrive each year like clockwork. But the impact is powerful. When people enter the market looking for a new car, they call Wheels and Deals first. As a result, the company has grown over the past fourteen years into one of the largest independent used car dealerships in Canada.


Sticky Brands are built in the Lower 90 Percent

Any company can develop lead generation programs for the Top 10 Percent of the 3% Rule. They can also implement Google AdWords programs and search engine optimization. But very few companies focus on the lower 90%.


Sticky brands are built in the lower 90%, because they understand the importance of building relationships. Their brand is not based on aggressive marketing and pitching—it’s based on a personal connection, where their customers know them, like them, and trust them. That relationship separates sticky brands from average brands. When your customers know you, like you, and trust you, they will call you first. And that’s the best place to be in the buying cycle. How do you make your brand sticky? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments below.

If you're interested in learning how to make your brand sticky by nurturing your customers, check out the Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing.