Thursday, March 22, 2012

Secret Soldiers of Marketing -- Centers of Influence

Did you know that influence primarily flows downhill? How can writers take advantage of this?

I remember the moment when President Ronald Reagan publicly described Tom Clancy’s book, The Hunt for Red October, as “the perfect yarn.” He even held the book up for reporters when exiting Air Force One. After Reagan’s unexpected endorsement, Cancy's book sales exploded. The rest is history.

Internet savvy writers understand that “viral” describes the phenomenon where internet word-of-mouth drives a wave of public interest in a video or post. Imagine if writers could capture that magic for their books. Well, we can.

I spent the past thirty-five years in sales. When I started, my early sales training was—well, to be honest--it was bullshit. My first trainer made me practice “power phrases” used to overcome objections to buying life insurance. That crap could get a salesperson killed! How would you react to a stranger telling you this? “If you really love that sweet little girl (the man’s five-year-old daughter), you’ll buy this life insurance.” Personally, I’d throw that SOB out of my house so fast he’d leave a face print in the door as it blasted open.

My general agent threatened to fire me for refusing to practice that nonsense. I ignored him and did things my way. Within a month or two, I led his agency in sales, so he decided to leave me alone. My “unorthodox” ways made money for him.

Fortunately, there was one marketing concept in training that DID make sense to me. It did not violate my self-righteous notions about manipulative selling tricks. Over the next three and a half decades, millions of dollars in commissions resulted from that simple prospecting rule. Here it is.

Centers of influence. Ever hear that phrase? These special people have influence. Their opinions matter. Here is one of my centers of influence...

Meet Gary Dobyns. This guy is the most successful bass fisherman on the west coast, having won over $1.4 million in tournaments. He owns Dobyns Rods company and has a huge cast of pro staffers all across the country. AND...Gary loves to read. When he tells people about this great book he's reading, people listen. Thank you, Gary. By the way, if you want a quality fishing pole, they don't get any better than Gary's rods!

Didn't take long before I quit my job in the insurance agency. Scared the hell out of my poor wife. I walked away from a salary and benefits with two little kids at home to start my own brokerage company. The first thing I did was identify clients and friends in positions of community leadership; doctors, professors in the local university, business owners, PTA presidents, coaches, accountants . . . anybody whose opinion influenced lots of others. I asked to demonstrate my knowledge and the quality of my products. Only after gaining their trust and respect, did I ask for referrals. Before long, I had more appointments than I could manage. My company grew and the rest is history. I have not paid for advertisement in over twenty years, because I get so many unsolicited referrals that my schedule is usually packed.

How does this center of influence concept apply to books sales?

First—the author’s product must be excellent. People who excel in life expect excellence to be associated with them. You get ONE first impression when earning their respect. Don’t blow it.

Second—trust must be earned. When you ask an important person to endorse your book, that center of influence needs to be confident that the referral will reflect positively on him or her. Professionalism, appearance and behavior reflect back on the center of influence.

Third—successful books result from strong word-of-mouth sales. Centers of influence prime the well of contagious interest in your book. If your minister tells a dozen parishioners about your great book, many will buy it. If one of those parishioners happens to be a local business owner with dozens of employees, you can expect his or her influence to flow downhill. If another parishioner happens to be a local mothers-group leader, again, you can expect her influence to radiate to others.

That, my friends, is the simple secret to viral sales. It’s all about influence. Sure, you can slog along selling one book at a time. Or, you can cultivate centers of influence and trigger a viral surge that propels your story into big time sales. Centers of influence are the secret soldiers of marketing.


  1. Good notions, especially having to have a quality work, and professional attitude and actions. I've read your work and it's top-notch, Dean. You've always come across as professional. So I read this post also as a do as I do, not only as I suggest. Solid insight and advice.

    1. Thank you, Terry. Who would have guessed that all these years in the insurance business would prove beneficial to my book selling? lol

  2. Nice one Dean. learnt alot from this. centre of influence. thanks Dean for sharing such invaluable, piece of your experience and leaning.

    Love you my friend:)
    Vishnu Manjrekar (facebook)

    1. Thank you, Vishnu. It's good to know my thoughts have cross-cultural

  3. Great post. Now I have to put it to work.

    1. Thank you, Christine. Begin by making a list of your most influential friends and acquaintances. They are you starting point. By the way, don't get your feelings hurt if some of them decline to endorse your story. Some refuse to endorse anyone due to the potential reflection back on them, while others may not enjoy your genre or even your writing style. That's okay. The ones who DO lend you their support are your ticket to expanded sales. Then, make it a daily task to find and introduce yourself to new potential Centers of Influence. This can include such people as the president of the PTA, leader of a local reading club, manager at your local bookstore . . . any person whose opinion will influence larger numbers of readers.

      Good luck! Dean


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