About a month ago my editor at Penguin Books sent over the proof of the flap for my new book, The Pumpkin Plan, and asked if I wanted to make any changes. I looked at the back cover, which featured endorsements I’m still blown away that I got (more on that later), and wondered if they should be in a different order. Or if maybe I should change a few out in their entirety. Besides serving my ego (which notably goes rampant every so often) I wanted to know: Which endorsements are best when it comes to selling the book? Books are judged by their cover (and back cover) after all.
If you know me at all, then you know I’m a total geek about behavioral psychology and how that plays into consumer behavior. Hence, I asked my editor to wait few days while I tested which six of the ten endorsements people (hint: prospective buyers of the book) thought were the most impactful. As an aside, odd numbers (seven in this case) seem to invoke greater curiosity from prospects, so the final book will have seven testimonials, but I am holding one back as a future surprise (more on that in a little bit.)
The answer would support goal number one: Identify what my community wants to see most. But, there were two other reasons behind my poll: 1. Raise awareness about the book and 2. cultivate a sense of ownership among my community of colleagues, friends, followers and fans. When people participate in the creation of a product or development of a service, they are not only more likely to purchase the product or service when it becomes available, they are also more likely to promote it to others. I call this the “Insider Strategy” (and detail why and how it works in The Pumpkin Plan – blatant self promotion – blatant self promotion!)
So I sent my mini-survey to my core list of about 11,000 people, and posted it on my blog as well. (I detail how I did it below.)
After the survey went out, I was literally bouncing in my seat to see the results. Here’s where I interrupt this story to squeal like a fanboy and share my very own full-circle moment.
My Endorsement Fantasy
When I self-published my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I had this vision of getting endorsements from the authors whom I considered to be “the big three”: Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki and Michael Gerber. These authors, experts, thought leaders have such a major influence on me, if I were in a room with all of them at the same time I would be so nervous that I would start hyperventilating and then likely wet myself while I started that embarrassing breathing in and out of a brown paper bag routine. I think Nicole Kidman is one of the most beautiful women in the world (next to my wifey, that is), and I would be less nervous around her – that’s how big a fan I am of these guys.
Any who. . . I still remember exactly how I came to discover each of their books. The day I heard of Gerber’s classic book, The E-Myth, was the day I went to my first meeting of an established entrepreneurial organization, with the shockingly original name, Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO). I already had a million-dollar business, but I was still a newbie, so it was awkward from the moment I walked in the door. Someone in the group of twenty entrepreneurs said, “I e-mythed that,” and, like a jackhole, I muttered, “What does that mean?” It was as if they all had supersonic dog hearing, and soon all twenty heads turned toward me and stared at me like I was an alien. I later learned The E-Myth was like the fraternal handshake of the entrepreneurial community, and not knowing about the book turned the awkward situation into total shutout. (They eventually came around… after I read the book.)
I attended one of Godin’s early conferences, before he hit the mainstream, and I remember thinking, “Holy crap! What he is saying is profoundly simple and smart. This guy is the man! I’ve got to read his book.” That book was Purple Cow, a book that changed my life.
And Kawasaki? Well, I was resistant to reading his books at first, although I can’t recall exactly why. Maybe I was in my “know it all” stage – you know, reading E-Myth and Purple Cow can do that to a fella. But, my friend kept telling me to “read Guy Kawasaki’s books.” Finally I caved and read The Art of the Start, and I was an instant devotee. Kawasaki now was the third all-star in my “fantasy-football-meets-business-authors” world.
So you can see why getting endorsements from Gerber, Godin and Kawasaki meant so much to me. As it turned out, I couldn’t find a way to reach Gerber or Kawasaki, and after I mailed Godin a piece of a bathroom wall with a roll of toilet paper stuck to it, asking him to endorse my book, I received a resounding “no.” I chalk it up to my lack of confidence at the time, and because I didn’t pursue the endorsements aggressively enough since I believed I really hadn’t earned my stripes as an author.
The Power of "Prosistence"
Fast forward to earlier this year, and I am most definitely pursing endorsements from all three entrepreneurial giants "prosistently" (that is a word that I made up that means professional persistence.) I will never forget when I received the endorsement from Godin. I was walking on the streets of New York between meetings when I got the email. I was so excited I nearly dropped my phone, and then fumbled around for the next ten minutes trying to call AJ, my writing partner, with the news. I couldn’t get the muscles in my fingers to work properly – it literally felt like my hands had been dunked in ice water for six hours. Note: It was 72 degrees and sunny at the time, and a group of 90-year-olds were tearing through some power-yoga in Times Square… and they had arthritis. In other words, my sudden manual disfunction was absolutely mind over hand.
When Gerber’s endorsement came in, I was really blown away because not only had he read and endorsed the book, he had become a raving fan. He was literally emailing me at 3:00 a.m. saying, “I just read another chapter of your book and….”
Finding Kawasaki was a bit of a fox hunt. I was running out of time (publishers have deadlines, you know), thinking “two out of three is not bad at all, Michalowicz,” when his endorsement came with an apology for not getting back to me faster. Seriously.
Four years and two books later, my endorsement fantasy came true. It was the trifecta of endorsements, really, and even as I write this, my hands are shaking at the sheer awesomeness of it all.
So, you can see why I was super psyched to get the results of my poll. The survey that went out to 10,242 people had a 23% open rate (in the first 24 hours, 25.37% within a week). . .
and between that data, and the data collected from my blog, I received about 500 responses in total (more are still trickling in). The graph below represents the results after about an hour, but the ratios are not far off from the final results. Also note, that the click rate shows 0.00%. There was a link to the survey form in the email, but I have elected not to track clicks. My "logic" is that since it force a URL redirect that some browsers and anti-virus (or anti-anything) will block some people. To me, it’s not worth tracking clicks, since I can measure the number of people that land on a page and calculate it that way.
As you look at the graph, note that when you send an email survey to your community, most responses will come almost immediately. In my case, approximately half the total responses came within the first hour.
Initially, Godin had the primary spot on the back cover, but after the survey, he was bumped down to third. Shocking (to me!) I had thought Gerber would be on the bottom, but now he’s got the top spot. And I moved a few other things around based on the results of the survey, but I didn’t follow it blindly. I held fast to my own branding.
If I had followed the recommendations of the survey respondents, Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media and former Editorial Director for Entrepreneur magazine would have been nixed. Guy Kawasaki would have not met it either. But I know my community, and I know my Immutable Laws, and that’s why Rieva Lesonsky (female representation is key) and my idol Guy Kawasaki (he is a good guy done great) had to stay.
Other results once again showed the power of the “Insider Strategy.” For example, some people wrote to me and said they would write their own endorsements for the book. (I wrote back and said I’d send them a copy, ‘cause I’d like them to read it first! I’d send more, but as of last week, Penguin is completely out of advance reader copies.)
Of those who did read advance copies of The Pumpkin Plan, some wrote amazing reviews and testimonials about how they’d already reaped the benefits of putting aspects of the Plan into action. Some people, like Becky Blanton, went positively ape-crazy over it. I am so flattered and humbled to get them, that a part of me really wants to pin them all above my bed so I see them every night. I think Krista, my wife, might not be happy, since her 70’s poster of the Rick Springfield "Rabbit-Love Shot" will have to come down. I kid. I kid. (or do I.)
And the end result we all want (and can expect) from using the “Insider Strategy”? More sales. Yup. Pre-order sales went up a bit after I sent out the poll. (I will be sharing all the specific details of my launch – the good, bad and ugly – after the book comes out on July 5th.)
Now You Do It
I have employed the “Insider Strategy” in my own businesses many times, and also have helped others do it with their own product or service introductions. Here are a few tips to help you organize your own:
1. Start with your own community, rather than the whole entire world. You’ll get a faster response rate, and MORE responses. Even if your list is a few hundred people, their involvement is far more significant then random prospects.
2. Only do it if you can reach results of statistical significance. Reach out to your entire group, rather than just your VIPs, or a focus group. I have found that I need at least 200 responses or 50% of my list (whichever comes first) to start getting real meaningful information from the feedback I get. More is better.
3. Use Google Forms to create your survey and then post the survey directly into your blog post. Then, send an email blast using Aweber or GetResponse (or your favorite service) to ask your followers to take the survey.
4. If you have a more detailed, involved survey, use SurveyMonkey. It’s cleaner.
6. Allow and encourage people to leave comments after they take the survey. The comments I received on the endorsement survey were just as important as the results. For example, I learned that quite a few people wanted endorsements from “regular folk,” other entrepreneurs in the trenches. Now that I know this, I can collect those “common man/woman” endorsements and post them on my website.
7. Look for the unexpected. A surprising idea came out of the comments people left. All of the interest in “regular folk” endorsements, led to putting an 800 number on the back of the book, which people can call to listen to reader endorsements and leave one of their own.
8. Hold something back. If people know everything about your product or service, it will deflate their excitement over time. Let them know there will be a surprise. In my case, it’s a surprise endorsement that made it onto the back cover of my book. That’s why the cover has the FBI-redaction-black-tape-thingy over a few things. A surprise or two be a-comin’!
Co-creating with your community is the best way to build a sense of consumer ownership about your products and/or services. Besides – it’s fun. Really fun. I mean, I know I’m a geek and may be biased, but you’ll have a blast hearing from your people. And when it comes time to launch, you’ll have built-in buyers right from the start.
So, how will you apply the “Insider Strategy” in the next few months?
Who’s The 7th Endorsement?
The seventh endorsement is redacted (blacked out, you know, all FBI like) in the above graphic. The reason is, I want to make it a BIG surprise when the book comes out. But, make your best guess below and if you are the first to guess who it is correctly, I will email you (privately) and send you a free advance copy of The Pumpkin Plan.