Going Direct to Prospect VS Automating


Scaling the Unscalable – Getty Images

When it comes to marketing and sales, it’s often the stuff that’s less easy and more time-consuming that ends up working more effectively in the long run. Every organization will have to figure out what is their correct mix of automation and direct human-to-human communication, but I believe in going directly to the prospect as much as possible, even if it means doing some things that aren’t so neat, scalable, or convenient.

Recently, I outsourced a direct email campaign. Cold emailing.

Some of you may remember that I felt conflicted about it.

While it’s not my preferred method for reaching out to prospects, I decided to test it and see for myself while I simultaneously implemented other tactics as well — direct messaging, sharing content on social media, attending networking events etc.

The results of trying this walk on the dark side (I felt so dirty) only reinforced my belief that going direct is truly the best way. This is not to say that cold emailing never works. I’m sure it does occasionally.

How we did it:

We used an app to target our prospects based on industry and need. The app analyzes companies’ online presences and gives them a score, determining whether or not they are lacking in social media marketing and SEO. Sounded pretty cool so I thought I’d try it. Why not, right?

Being the copywriter that I am, I insisted on writing most of the copy for the email templates myself, although I did allow their team to make some adjustments as they saw fit.

The results after one month?

Only one reply and it was a negative one.

Let’s contrast that with the other new approach I was trying out:

Direct messaging or “DMing” as the kids call it these days.

For two weeks, I spent about 1-2 hours a day DMing people on LinkedIn. I’d send connection requests to people based on job titles that match my target audience and then send them a DM after they accepted my connection request.

I developed about 5 message templates. I select which one to use depending on the person to whom I’m sending. Each template was a genuine message to one person at one time, which I saved so all I have to do is pick a template, copy and paste it, and insert the person’s name after “Hi,”. Not very time-consuming, but it can seem a bit tiresome and redundant to do it again and again hundreds of times in a row.

Currently, LinkedIn does not allow you to set up auto-responders. However, even if they did, and I’m sure there are apps that can at least help you schedule them and remind you to send, I’d still do it the “old-fashioned” way. Why? Because, while I’m not against automation when it helps you get the same job done faster, I don’t believe in automating faking a one-to-one human interaction. When people find out it’s not you, it will only backfire. I also want to be there to reply and remember who I’m talking to.


While I don’t have the exact numbers (sorry data nerds), within a span of two weeks, I received a flurry of phone-calls, about a dozen inquiries, and one lead, which led to a proposal and a potential deal, which I’m currently in the midst of negotiating. Achieving these KPIS demonstrates to me that this tactic works. The proof is in the pudding, folks. The more I DM on LinkedIn, the more positive results I’m going to have. I’m going to keep DM-ing til LinkedIn temporarily blocks my account.

The reason I think it works better than automated cold emailing? That can be a subject for another post, but I think it works because a message on social media still has more of a personal feel than an email. DMing hasn’t been destroyed by marketers yet the way emailing has, although DM-ing has to be done right for it to work. Also, unlike a faceless email, people can click to see your profile, your work, and your past accomplishments. Additionally, people on LinkedIn are there to network and do business development, so it’s not considered rude or out of place. Of course, don’t open with a canned pitch. Start a conversation.


DM DM DM! All the way.

Grab your phone and get out there! It’s not something our parents and grandparents had available to them. Now, you could be at a networking event sitting at the bar before the rest of the attendees arrive and already networking. You can connect with potential clients, customers, investors, employees, and people with whom you can collaborate while you’re at home in your bathrobe and slippers or laying in bed. So, if you’re in a B2B business like I am (marketing agency), take advantage of LinkedIn DM today!

Should You Put Yourself Out There and Create a Personal Brand?

How much should you put yourself out there when you’re starting a business?

Should you develop a personal brand?

I think creating a personal brand and deciding whether or not to putting oneself out there is very much a personal decision that is up to the individual.

The first thing you’ll have to consider is whether or not you even want to have a personal brand. Many successful CEOs, founders, and businesspeople do not have personal brands and you’ve likely never heard of them. That’s a totally respectable and fair way to go about it.

Many people balk at the term “personal brand.” Some (usually older or more conservative folks in the business world) object to the term or the entire concept of a personal brand because they think it sounds narcissistic and phony. In their minds, a personal brand is something reserved for wanna-be gurus and charlatans or those “crazy millennials” walking around with their selfie sticks making silly Snapchat videos on their phones. There is a modern-day phenomenon of people who monetize an entire business off their personal brand. Unfortunately, some of these people create personal brands that are based on a false image they are trying to project through social media filters.

However, a personal brand is not a bad thing at all. If you don’t like the term personal brand, Vayner Media CEO, and branding expert, Gary Vaynerchuk suggests referring to it as managing your personal reputation. We can all agree that maintaining one’s reputation is important. All the more so in the age of the Internet. Even if you’re not saying anything about yourself or your business, it doesn’t mean others aren’t.

What is a personal brand? Contrary to what many people believe, a personal brand isn’t an excuse to shamelessly self-promote. Doing that is a quick way to turn people off. Successful personal brands are built on providing value and sharing quality content that engages the audience. Depending on your topic and audience, your content should educate, entertain, or inspire. Sometimes you can do all three!

It’s also very important to respond to comments and reach out to people who have greater influence or audience attention than you about collaborations. The one with greater influence has the leverage, so make sure to offer them something of value in exchange for whatever it is you want them to do for you.

A personal brand is your story. We all have a story to tell and even if you don’t think so, you can find a way to tell it in a way that is interesting to others. First, pick your area of expertise or your topic. It might be about your business or your field or it may be centered around a hobby or area of interest. Next, figure out the way you communicate best. It may be audio (e.g. podcast, audiobooks), written (e.g. blog posts, ebooks), or video. Then, find which distribution channels are the best way to reach your intended audience (e.g. Instagram, YouTube, Medium, LinkedIn, Soundcloud etc.).

I’m not saying that having a personal brand is for everybody. Not everybody wants to put themselves out there, be in front of a camera, have their writing published, or create content that is about who they are or what they do.

However, if it’s something you think you can get comfortable doing, then I strongly recommend trying it. Having a personal brand will be an increasingly more valuable asset in a 21-century world where content creation is democratized and the competition is fierce.

Alongside your company brand, you should consider developing your own personal brand as well. People have an easier time relating to other people than to entities or organizations (surprise, surprise). Sometimes the content from your personal brand can be the hook that reels people in and gets them interested in your business.

Zev Autumn selfie

If you’re a freelancer or a solopreneur, having a personal brand is essential. It’s what sets you apart from the rest and prevents you from becoming commoditized in the marketplace. A strong personal brand will get you picked for lucrative gigs. Not only that, but developing a personal brand can ensure that leads will come to you rather than you having to chase after them. If you’re an introvert or on the shy side, having a personal brand online that attracts people to come to you rather than the other way around is a G-dsend and this is probably the greatest time to be an introverted entrepreneur.

Let’s say you’re NOT an entrepreneur or a business owner. Is it still a good idea to have a personal brand?


In a competitive job market, it’s those with a strong online presence and establish thought leadership, competence, and credibility through their online content and published work that will get the job over equally qualified candidates who choose to rely solely on their resumes. When you apply for a job, one of the first things your prospective employer will do is look you up on LinkedIn. Are you going to have a blank, gray, faceless avatar staring back at them or a profile that hasn’t been updated in years with none of your recent work?

If you’re interested in developing your personal brand, but aren’t sure how to go about it, then I recommend this fantastic book by blogger and business consultant, Mark Schaefer: KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age.

In this handy guide, Schaefer takes you by the hand and walks you through the process of figuring out what to talk about, where to talk about it, and how to become known in your space or area of interest. There is also a supplemental workbook available with helpful exercises to get you started. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing him and that interview will soon be published in the Huffington Post and on my upcoming podcast.

If you decide to create a personal brand, be forewarned that it does involve some risk and vulnerability. You have to have the stomach to handle occasional negative comments. You also have to decide how much of yourself to expose. To a certain extent, being raw, real, and authentic will help you win attention and a following like never before and much of the business world is becoming less stuffy and buttoned up thanks to the Internet and startup culture. However, you have to figure out where to draw the line between what you feel comfortable sharing and what is too personal or NSFW.

Also, keep in mind that colleagues who think having a personal brand is unprofessional or self-indulgent might poke fun or criticize you for doing it. Some companies have strict guidelines about what you can or cannot say publicly, which you should be familiar with if you’re concerned about losing your job. Consider that now may not be the right time in your life yet to do it and that’s ok. Have an honest conversation with yourself about whether or not you are ready to start building your personal brand.

Have you developed a personal brand or are you interested in doing so? Do you communicate best on audio, video, or in writing and what channels do you prefer to use? Do you have any questions or tips you’d like to share?

Please let me know in the comments!

How to Get on My Bad Side: My Personal List of Traits and Behaviors that Annoy Me

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In business and in life, we have to deal with all types of people like it or not.

I think one of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur is that I am forced on a daily basis to grow, improve my EQ, suck it up, eat s***, and break past my personal limitations.

I am constantly trying to expand my threshold of what I can tolerate while simultaneously learning to drop or avoid people or situations that can negatively impact me or my business.

Learning to walk that tightrope of figuring out what you need to learn to deal with and what you need to stop putting up with is, perhaps, the greatest challenge of all.

I thought it would be a fun little exercise to draw up a list of traits and behaviors I can’t stand.

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I’m not sure yet what constructive purpose this exercise serves, but it does help me identify the things that trigger me negatively and it felt good to get it all out on paper.

This list might also help me learn to watch out for these traits or become more patient and accepting when people display them. Maybe it will help me become more tolerant of people who exhibit these traits and learn who or what to avoid as well (in a business partner, romantic partner, client, friend etc.)

There is a belief that if something annoys you, you might have a little bit of that trait within yourself. Sometimes, that’s precisely the reason why it bothers you so much. If anything, this list can work as a mirror on myself help keep me in check so I can steer clear of being guilty of these behaviors.

It can also help me get a bird’s eye view on what annoys me so that I can grow as a person and learn to work with people who exhibit these traits. Some of these things are negotiable in some situations, but not in others.

In life and in business you have no choice but to deal with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the boring. While one thing might be intolerable in a friendship, you just might have to eat it in a business situation. And sometimes you need to know where to draw the line — even with clients and customers.

Without further adieu, if you really want to get under my skin in a bad way, here’s how to do it:

  • Know-it-alls
  • Pushiness
  • Unsolicited advice
  • Dismissiveness
  • Double standards
  • Not owning up or taking responsibility for one’s actions
  • Holier-than-thou attitudes
  • Whining and excessive complaining (kvetching)
  • Hypocrisy
  • Self-righteousness
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Boasting
  • Life-coaches with no real life experience or who are horrible at managing their own lives or business coaches who haven’t built a real business
  • Judging unfavorably
  • Manipulation
  • Attempts to control or silence me
  • Sticklers about petty or insignificant rules or other matters
  • Putting ideology or religion before fellow human beings
  • Social media complaining
  • People who talk over others
  • Being judged as bad because you curse or pepper your everyday speech with a little profanity here and there
  • Empty talk (e.g. talks of plans or things you’re going to do or things we are going to do together with no real effort to carry them out)
  • Asking for something without establishing a rapport or relationship first e.g. “Hi, nice to meet you. Are you interested in buying x?”
  • Interruptive advertising or solicitation
  • People who get angry at you when you’re under 3 minutes late (3-minute rule?)
  • People who get upset with you when you can’t talk to them the at moment they want to talk to you
  • Long, boring talks and speeches
  • Unscheduled phone calls from anyone who isn’t family or a close friend
  • Not allowing me to make my point or counterargument after you just went off on me
  • Unjustified self aggrandizement
  • Ad hominem attacks which attack character rather than ideas
  • Arguments where the speaker/writer mistakes their own subjective opinion for fact when they are factually incorrect
  • Being judged by an unfair standard or one that the other person doesn’t hold for themselves
  • Defensiveness
  • Hot-headedness
  • Bullying
  • Gaslighting
  • Grandstanding
  • Taking advantage of others
  • People who will inevitably judge me in an unfavorable light for posting this list or call me out even though we all have a “list” and we are all guilty of judging others negatively at times, sometimes for behaviors we ourselves are guilty of, but most of us aren’t bold enough to talk about it or share it with the world

There are probably more and they may range from the comical slight annoyance to the intolerable, non-negotiable.

Do any of the things above annoy you too? Are you working on changing that and becoming more flexible on any of them? Do you exhibit any of these tendencies yourself?

What traits and behaviors are on your personal list of things that annoy you? Is your list too long? If your list is short, are you truly being honest with yourself? Are you guilty of some of the very things that you don’t like and how are you going to work on that?

Are any of the things on your list negotiable or would you put up with them if the situation calls for it?

Feel free to let me know in the comments!

Overcoming Fear of the Ask: Approaching Prospects for the Sale

Like some of you who read this blog, I’m a marketer.

More specifically, I’m an inbound marketer. This means I don’t interrupt people from what they’re doing to hoch my products and services. Rather, I throw out some tasty treats that I know my audience will love and then I lie in wait like a tiger for them to arrive.

It’s “pull” marketing (pulling the audience in) as opposed to outbound “push” marketing (pushing messages out in front of people’s faces).

And within inbound marketing, I am involved in the softest, most subtle yet effective type of marketing of them all — branded content creation and social media marketing.

And yet, I faced a dilemma. Do I persist solely with content marketing or do I try other approaches to grow my business as well?

Zev pondering

For all of you marketing nerds out there, most of what I do corresponds to the “top-of-funnel” brand awareness, which can be nurtured into leads and sales. It also engenders loyalty among current customers. Building brand takes time and effort, but brand equity is the magic that gets people to buy your product or service without you having to deliver a sales pitch or lower the price tag. You buy a brand almost without thinking. You don’t need to be sold because you’ve already bought.

I don’t sell anything I don’t believe in. I would never expect someone else to buy if the provider doesn’t believe in or use their own product.

That’s why I’m careful to make sure that my own content marketing efforts are strong. I blog regularly, contribute to the Huffington Post, and post every day on various social media platforms. Creating content, sharing it on platforms that have consumer attention, and engaging with people on social media is a fantastic way to attract people to your business. This is the service I provide to clients and because I am such a big believer in my own “product” so to speak, I put my money where my mouth is and test it on my own business.

Thankfully, my content marketing efforts have paid off and my online presence has helped me attract many leads and clients. In fact, the vast majority of my clients come from inbound.

Eschewing interruptive and outdated forms of outbound marketing that annoy customers rather than provide them with value, such as cold-calling, the only outbound marketing I was doing to grow my business was attending networking events, mainly in New York City. Although I am digital marketer, I still believe in the power of face-to-face interactions. Nonetheless, as an introvert, I much preferred to share content online and pull people in rather than to go out and pitch myself.

The great thing about content marketing and branding is that when you do it right, you tend to attract more qualified, targeted leads than you do by reaching out to people at random or pushing a sales pitch on somebody who might not want it as per direct marketing tactics. Most of the inquiries I received were on target, which helped me have a high close rate of over 50 percent. It also helps that I’m quick to write up and send proposals and contracts. This netted me approximately one new client a month.

However, there was one major problem preventing me from growth: My lead pipeline was not even close to big enough! I still had too much time on my hands after doing my client work and creating my own content and sharing it to my own networks.

I began to ask myself the same question my clients ask me:

How do I get more leads and clients?

I was in a predicament. I wondered if by resorting to any outbound tactics I would be betraying my “religion” and tacitly admitting that content marketing doesn’t work or that I’m no good at it. Perhaps, even by seeking any outside help for marketing whatsoever, I would be undermining my own abilities. Would I be a hypocrite? A phony? I was suffering from a major case of “impostor syndrome.”

I’m adamantly against cold-calling and spam. I wanted to reach out to people in a way that would still provide value and be empathetic to the time and needs of others. But how would I get more leads in the pipeline? Do I focus more on branding and content or sales?

I learned that the answer is both.

Building a brand and sharing content on social media is a highly effective form of marketing (so long as your content is good). However, building a brand either for a company or a personal brand takes a lot of time and work. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time to gain an online presence with an engaged following large enough to matter and sustain your business. Your efforts to build lasting relationships will pay off in the long-term by getting you more leads and sales than other types of marketing or advertising ever could, but in the meantime, you need to generate consistent cash flow.  The sales you make act as fuel to keep your business afloat and some of the cash you earn should be allocated toward branding and improving your content marketing so that you can attract more business.

I realized that it is not at all hypocritical to do both long-term branding and relationship-building as well as direct, outbound lead generation and sales. Nor is it a sign of weakness for a marketer to delegate some of that responsibility to others or use certain tools to help.

Two Outbound Tactics I’ve Adopted:

1. LinkedIn DM (direct message)

LinkedIn DM

Over the past two weeks, I’ve grown my LinkedIn connections from 1200 + to 1808 and counting. My profile views are up 20% from last week at 493 profile views.

I’ve been sending connection requests to all kinds of people on the platform. While some may object to this practice, I don’t think many people on LinkedIn mind accepting requests from people they haven’t met. After all, it builds their own network as well. It’s become common practice at professional networking events, such as the ones I attend in Manhattan, to simply add people on LinkedIn who you only spoke to for a few minutes — sometimes in place of exchanging a business card!

At times, I add people at random who are suggested to me from my LinkedIn network, but I also search for people by job title e.g. CMO, marketing director, marketing coordinator, CEO etc. and send requests to people with those positions. Some of the people I message are decision makers and others are people who are close to decision makers and tasked with hiring outside marketing firms.

After linking in with someone, I send them a personal message. Yes, it’s often taken from a list of about five prewritten responses, but I address each person by name and send a message that matches the person’s job title or area of specialty. Occasionally, I tailor it to be more specific to the individual.

I’m not a fan of automating human interaction, but I try to scale while still remaining human. Every day, I spend time going through all my new connections and send them these messages one-by-one, sometimes to over a hundred people in one sitting. If they reply and express interest, I send a follow-up message that is personal and crafted specifically for them.

Since I started doing this a couple weeks ago, I’ve received a number of inquiries, one solid lead for whom I’m writing up a proposal, and about a dozen meetings with people who I can potentially collaborate with or hire.

LinkedIn direct message is an extremely smart tactic for any B2B business or sales professional (Instagram DM and Facebook messaging is great for B2C). As long as you demonstrate awareness of who the person is and what they do and don’t open the conversation with a sales pitch, LinkedIn messager is a great way to network and gain access to people who can help you grow. It’s a direct form of communication tat doesn’t interrupt someone from what they’re doing.

LinkedIn has introduced a cleaner UI and various features, such as video, to become a “stickier” platform enticing users to increase the amount of time they spend there. LinkedIn is quickly becoming an engaging and interactive content-rich platform that’s very similar to Facebook. If you’re not already using LinkedIn DM and the social network as a whole to build your brand and grow your business, then I highly recommend you start becoming more active there.

If you’re scared to slide up in the DM, I urge you to get over it. Sure, you’ll get a lot of no’s and responses saying something like: “Thank you, we’re not interested at this time,” but every now and then, you will get a yes or a warm lead and potentially a new client, customer, or valuable relationship.

2. Outsourcing a lead generation service

This tactic costs a little money depending on how you go about it. As a marketer, you may feel funny about the idea of outsourcing some of your own marketing, but if you want to grow and remain focused on your own clients, don’t be afraid to receive assistance that complements your current marketing efforts.

While the idea of using a lead gen service or utilizing any form of outbound marketing kind of turned my stomach at first, I’m excited to see where it will go. I commissioned a friend who used to work for Salesforce and now does this sort of work on a freelane basis. He was nice enough to give me a huge discount and introduce me to an app that uses analytics and certain metrics to score the online presence of different businesses and helps me find ones that the app determines are lacking in their social media marketing. Until I see results, I will refrain from recommending it, but if it’s any good, I will let you know!

If you’re starting a new business, don’t be afraid to try a wide variety of marketing strategies and tactics that will help you get in front of your target audience and attract new clients or customers. Obviously, do your research so that you don’t waste money or time on things that have little chance of succeeding, but don’t hold back.

Exhaust every avenue. Try things. Deploy a mix of branding and marketing. Create content and also pursue direct sales. Don’t discount something without first learning about it or testing it. Your business depends on it!