4 Marketing and Sales Lessons from a Guy that Adjusts Spines for a Living

… and over the pounding dance music, the chiropractor says: “Drink all you want! Corporate is paying for this round!”

Although that sentence would be completely natural to overhear at XS, Amnesia, or any other venue that looks like the image above on a Friday night, that scenario actually occurred for me last Friday … morning. In suburban Minneapolis.

Wait, what? 

OK, let me back up. Last Friday after my morning workout, I was firing tactical marketing questions at the chiropractor in our health club. You know, like you do.

Here’s why: every Friday morning for the last four years, he has given away free coffee to anyone walking by. And not the cheap stuff; it’s the same Peet’s Major Dickason’s Dark Roast Blend that cost me $3.50 a cup in the café about one hundred feet away.

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Note: Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that my Friday workouts generally finish up about 9:00am. Mama didn’t raise no dummy.

I wanted to understand why the good doctor … let’s call him Warner … had seemingly changed his level of enthusiasm for this effort. Specifically, when he started doing this four years ago, there were little placards saying “Coffee on the Clinic” and “Chat with the Doctor” on the table next to the coffee carafe, and Warner and his assistant – hereinafter know as Vivienne – would be out mingling with the people. 

All that slowly started changing about 6 months ago. 

First, Warner and Vivienne had retreated from standing out in the hallway next to the table to back behind their counter – still interacting with people, but not quite as … overtly. A few weeks later, they were still present, but clearly engaged in other work and not looking to start conversations. Then 3 months ago, Warner had disappeared completely and Vivienne was left heads-down, typing on her computer, as chance wayfarers had a free cup of joe on the ol’ doctor without interacting with anyone. 

What I thought had been a good tactic to attract new clients clearly was no longer a priority – and yet the expense was still being incurred. This puzzled me.

So at 9:02 am last Friday – as I was pouring 16 ounces of the steamy brown nectar into my cup from the carafe – I noticed that Warner was making a rare appearance. I decided to understand why he had changed his “prospect engagement strategy” (e.g. for those of you who aren’t fluent in marketing/sales technobabble, I wanted to understand why he had stopped talking to people). 

The following is a summary of our conversation. I will first give Warner’s actual answers (Actual A), followed by his response translated into marketing/sales technobabble (M/ST A). Why? Honestly, it’s because I’m prone to wander into this dialect when I talk to my mom, and I’m just trying to help her understand what I actually do for a living. But maybe it can help others with marketers in their lives who suffer from a similar affliction. 

Q: I’m curious – how many new customers do you get by giving away coffee every week?

Actual A: I’m not really sure … that’s not why I do it anymore. In the beginning I was using it to book more clients, and I knew how many we were getting, but my schedule got really full, so I don’t really do this to get new customers right now. And since we’re full, I don’t really keep track of where my customers come from. 

M/ST A: No idea. It used to be our primary DR tactic, but we are at functional capacity so we stopped monitoring the analytics.

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Suddenly Haddaway comes pounding through the ceiling tiles … the 9:05 STRONG by Zumba® class must have just started in Studio #1 upstairs.

Q: Um, OK. [a little louder] So why are you still doing it? Isn’t it expensive?

Actual A: It’s really more about staying top-of-mind with people, so if they need any of my services, either chiropractic or PT [physical therapy], I’ll be the first one they think about. And the coffee is not expensive – we pay wholesale, and I bill it back anyway. So, drink all you want! Corporate is paying for this round!

M/ST A: It’s a pure awareness play & I don’t track ROI since the marginal cost is $0.

Q: So … you really don’t have room for any more patients?

Actual A: I guess I could … but here’s the thing: I really like what I do, and 8 hours a day is enough. The guy from corporate [he seems like a “Callahan” to me] is always pushing me to bring in even more patients. But for the amount of money I get for each additional patient – since I have to share [XX% of] my fees with them – it’s just not worth it. Actually, [Callahan] occasionally asks why I don’t keep seeing my existing patients longer – particularly my PT clients. But I refuse to keep making appointments once people really don’t need my services anymore. 

M/ST A: I’m not properly incentivized to increase my marginal output. 

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Q: What? You technically could keep some of your PT clients longer – but choose not to? Why?

Actual A: Here’s the deal – I want to be honest with my patients. Even if an insurance company is paying for it, I don’t feel right about continuing to see a customer once we’ve moved beyond what I can do for them. If they know I’m honest, they’re much more likely to come back to me and/or tell their friends and family about me if any of them need my services. 

M/ST A: The referrals and repeat purchases I’ll generate from increased customer satisfaction outweighs any short-term sales that could harm my brand. 

Q: That is really smart, Warner. And I appreciate your ethics and willingness to talk honestly about this stuff – hopefully I won’t need your services any time soon, but if I do this would be my first stop!

Actual A: Thanks, I appreciate that! By the way, what was your name again? And what do you do?

M/ST A: This engagement created value. Is there additional content available?     

Q. It’s Alex – great to meet you Warner! I’m a fractional Chief Marketing Officer. I help companies of all sizes delight their customers and find new ones. I love talking about marketing stuff, so if you ever want to chat again, let me know. You know I’ll be here every Friday morning as long as you keep pouring the Peet’s! 

Actual A: Great! Honestly, I’ve occasionally thought about whether to expand my practice – add another doctor, etc. – at some point. So … if I ever wanted to talk a little more – maybe more formally – would you be open to it? 

M/ST A: Since you weren’t giving me a hard sales pitch and were just asking questions that have helped me articulate some of my business practices, I’m intrigued – to the point that I’M now asking YOU if you’d consider me as a potential future client.  

So my four lessons from this exchange:           

1) Show a Genuine Interest in People and You Can Build a Relationship That Can Lead to Future Business – Even if That Wasn’t Your Intent:  I’ll be candid – I didn’t expect the conversation to go this way. I was just truly curious why he was still giving out free coffee when he was no longer doing the one engagement activity that I thought would have the most impact – talking directly with people to create new patients.

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2)  Most People Will Plateau at a Certain Level of Performance Based on Their Own Internal Barometer:  Warner doesn’t want or need new patients right now. Put differently, the amount of money he gets for the amount of effort he puts in achieves the right work/life balance for him. Callahan doesn’t seem to fully grasp the underlying concept here, which is that if your incentive structure is static, your team’s performance will naturally level out. From that point forward, incremental performance will require incremental investment/cost on Callahan’s part. It’s the same reason increasing progressive tax rates often fail to yield the expected tax revenue boost.

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Side tip: If you ever want to put a teenager to sleep, spend five minutes discussing the challenges of a macroeconomic progressive tax policy from a behavioral economic perspective. They drop like flies. Heck, I’m getting drowsy just typing it, and I was an Econ major.  

3)  If I Ever Need PT or Chiropractic Work, Warner is My Go-To Guy: At this point I’ve consumed a retail value of over $700 in free gourmet coffee. Even without insurance, I can do several rounds of spinal adjustments with this guy and still come out ahead. And even more importantly, I’m happy to recommend him based on his integrity alone, because he intuitively understands how to use customer service to build loyalty (maybe he’s been secretly watching Drew Davis’s awesome Loyalty Loop videos). But DM me if you want his real name (hint – it’s not a character from Legally Blonde). And it seems his top-of-mind awareness strategy is working brilliantly, even if he has stopped measuring it. Nonetheless:

4)   You Should Never, Ever Stop Measuring Your Marketing Efforts: As you move up the funnel from direct response into branding, measurement get murkier, no question. But with every new appointment that gets booked, it would behoove Vivienne to ask how/what brought them in and/or how they found out about his clinic. On that note, if you aren’t sure if your marketing is an expense or an investment, feel free to reach out to me or any of the fractional CMOs who are certified with Unified Funnel Metrics to take an unbiased look at where you are putting your time and money – and if it truly matches up to the things that drive your business forward. 

And as to the future of Warner’s practices? Well, since: a) this tactic is not actually costing Warner anything; and b) no one can prove it isn’t working, there’s clearly no point in derailing this Free Friday Coffee train. 

But tracking your marketing efforts is always, always a good idea.

By the way, if you’d like to learn about examples where marketing efforts have truly gone adrift, check out my article All Marketing Is Sales: 5 Lessons All Brand Marketers Must Remember.

Alex Hultgren is CEO of Customers 1st Marketing and operates as a fractional CMO. He works in businesses of all sizes, from solopreneurs to multi-million-dollar enterprises, with a single objective – to help them delight their customers and find new ones. Under the counsel of his public relations advisor, it should also be stated that for the record, Alex can neither confirm nor deny any knowledge of, or participation in, any events at establishments in Las Vegas or Ibiza that resemble that opening sentence, at any point past or present, even if the words “media sales rep” were substituted for “chiropractor”.

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