One year ago, I wrote a blog post to celebrate my mom’s 97th birthday.
And sadly, a month later, she passed away (in her sleep, peacefully).
Those of you who have been part of my online family for a while know about my mom, an expert in direct response marketing (and the concepts covered in my book, Overdeliver) …without realizing it. 🙂
Since I am out of town this week and next…and recuperating from the best Titans Mastermind ever (I owe you a debrief which is coming soon…and please check out the special offer in the P.S.), I wanted to do a “mashup” to honor the memory of Terry Kurtz (my mom).
She was an unknowing direct marketer extraordinaire…even a better spouse, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother…and a world-class hoarder…with purpose.
That includes hoarding things…and people.
I loved writing about my mom on her birthday, which became a virtual holiday after the release of Star Wars (you know, “May the Fourth Be With You!” …from a galaxy far, far away).
It was a time for me to reflect on her life well lived…and now on her passing.
Three years ago on May 4th, we had a socially distanced birthday party, which included a delivery of 4 sweet potatoes, 3 cans of sardines, 2 bags of prunes (pitted of course) …and a small cake, which unfortunately, we couldn’t enjoy with her (but rumor has it she ate it with gusto).
In 2020, doing her shopping was much more important than a birthday party (we were in the middle of a pandemic in case you forgot) …and thank goodness the store had prunes in stock.
Two years ago, we had something that resembled a proper celebration—we were masked, which was not part of a costume requirement…and still with a delivery of all the essential items from her shopping list.
And that visit included a hug on the way in and on the way out.
Which has always been the tradition at Titans Mastermind.
I wonder where I learned that.
Last year was a full-blown celebration, without masks…and with a little more fanfare (and some awesome Italian food).
Little did we know at the time that it would be her last.
But her direct marketing skills live on.
I find it remarkable that despite only reading the first chapter of my book, admitting that she “needed to get back to it,” her expertise in many of the principles expressed in Overdeliver, including creating irresistible offers, being multi-channel and making exquisite customer service the cornerstone of her marketing education, is uncanny.
While she never became an expert in RFM…and she has no need to understand the “41/39/20 rule” …she is an absolute expert in three areas covered in my book:
- Direct mail
- Lifetime value
Mom on telemarketing
To my mom, if it’s not a phone communication (or an in-person visit), it doesn’t count.
Email? That’s for the “new generation.”
Although if she was on email she’d have heard from me more often, that’s for sure.
Forget about texting…she would have had to give up her flip phone to make that happen…so I never mentioned that texting is a “thing.”
My mom with a smartphone would have started a chain reaction of events (beginning with hundreds of calls to Verizon customer service) that would have changed the world of mobile communications forever…and not for the better. 🙁
And where the Internet is concerned, that is a place where she was able to browse for latex gloves, research contraptions that can reach and grasp items on high shelves…and shop for her favorite skin cream (not available in stores).
Funny story: For Mother’s Day a few years ago, I bought her an Amazon gift card at CVS, put $0 on it, and told her there was a special number on the card that only worked if she called me with the items she desired…which I could then order for her.
She asked me until the day she died:
“How much money is left on the card?”
My answer was always the same:
That kept her ordering, one item at a time, average order $16, without disrupting the natural order of the World Wide Web.
Back to mom on telemarketing—her favorite direct response medium.
She was ahead of the curve since it’s become a forgotten medium to many marketing mavens.
Most of us are attached to our smart phones all day long but we rarely see it or use it as a “phone” (as opposed to it being a powerful computer, a vehicle to post vacation pictures, photos of our latest meal, or to participate in a political rant).
Using the phone as a phone for marketing purposes seems to elude many of the smartest marketers I know.
But it’s still powerful…especially for my mom.
Despite laying on the guilt regarding how infrequently I called her with “inbound” telemarketing, her “outbound” operation was quite extensive.
Sort of like a boiler room from her kitchen.
When she bought a can of tomatoes that were past their expiration date, rather than simply return the can to Shop-Rite, her first move was to call the CEO of Del-Monte.
She had the time and the patience to sit on hold for days so why not?
And every time I saw her, she always had a story about how she got “satisfaction,” calling anyone who will listen, at any company or store who has stepped out of line, responding to her tales of woe.
While going through her “stuff” after she died (much more on that later), I found coupons galore from the companies that felt her wrath…and felt the need to make it up to her.
Freebies galore…none of which I will “cash in”…but marveling at her ability to have strangers listen to her and respond favorably under unfavorable conditions was one of her gifts.
She was relentless and wouldn’t stop until her demands were met.
Does that sound like any of your customers?
Hopefully my mom was one of your customers…because she would have forced you to pay more attention to your best customers, or all of your customers, which is always a good thing.
When she told me her tales of telemarketing success, I pictured her talking the ear off of the person on the other end, for an hour or more, about the new step stool she bought that’s missing a screw…maybe even accusing that person of missing a screw…and how they better satisfy her…or else.
She’s no different from any other customer on your list. Just a bit more proactive.
Note that I affectionately called my mom’s practice as “outbound telemarketing” rather than “complaining.”
In fact, I dedicated an entire chapter to this topic (“customer service and fulfillment as marketing functions, sans complaining”) in my book, Overdeliver.
It’s based on the premise that it may take a lifetime to win (and keep) a customer but you can lose that customer in a heartbeat (with one misstep).
My mother taught this to anyone who would listen.
This is what links new customer acquisition to customer retention and renewals.
Always focus your customer acquisition effort with the second order in mind…
…it is always easier (and less expensive) to keep a customer than to get a new one.
Mom on direct mail
My Mom was the most loyal and trusting (euphemism for gullible) person you would ever mail to…and the perfect person to have on your postal list.
She had to give money to Paralyzed American Veterans because, “…they sent me free return address labels.”
And the free calendar from U.N.I.C.E.F.? That deserved a bonus contribution.
If you practice the art and science of direct mail and want her to buy, donate or do anything with you, it will cost you in freebies and bonuses–but if you do this, you will reap the benefits of her generosity as a result of her need to reciprocate.
My mom took ethical bribes very seriously.
Come to think of it, so do all customers and prospects.
And smart marketers too.
Because they work.
For her outgoing direct mail operation (a different way to say “mailing her bills and birthday cards”), how’s this for a philosophy:
She only used the prettiest postage stamps I could find at the post office, which she used for all her outgoing mail…because she thought the electric company and cable TV provider would look at her more favorably when her payment was late.
And for birthday cards she sent to her grandchildren, she thought it was the stamp that caused all of the giddiness.
My kids were always looking for the check inside…I know the stamp (and card) were somewhat irrelevant…but they were smart enough to compliment Bubbe’s (what they called my mom) accessories that came with the money. 🙂
My favorite stamps—the “T. Rex collection”—were off limits…which I guess is understandable.
They are too scary!
Regardless, I’ve got her back on the power of direct mail…stamped appropriately of course.
Mom on lifetime value
This one was simple for her…and here’s a story to illustrate my mom’s understanding of the most important concept in direct marketing.
Seven years ago, she broke her hip—we rushed her to the hospital for emergency surgery and eventually all was well (and giving you the gory details would be TMI).
When I got home from the hospital, there were four messages on my answering machine—from Shirley, Rita, Thelma and Eleanor.
These ladies were all 91 at the time, all “with it” (despite some aches and pains), and they all wanted to know the status of Terry.
I had lengthy conversations with each of the four other “Sistas” (as I liked to call them).
Those five women had been close friends, for over 75 years.
That’s a brand of “lifetime value” that goes beyond anything I am familiar with…and it’s not covered in my book.
I am doing my best to follow in my mom’s footsteps by having a group of “brothas” from elementary school who I have known for over 55 years…that’s a long time but I’ve got a way to go before I sleep.
When I open Chapter 10 with the quote, “Life is long,” my first thought is about the “Sistas.”
Their friendship was a one-time sale that lasted a lifetime…no funnel or upsells needed.
Here they are in their prime…that’s my mom on the far left:
Four years ago, Shirley passed away (second from the left) and three years ago Eleanor passed away (far right). And shortly after my mom passed, Rita died (in the middle). And Thelma (second from the right) is still going strong at 98.
I guess once one of them went, others might have felt it was time…but the 75+ years of memories (and lifetime value) will never pass away.
“May The Fourth Be With You!” …and may it be with you the other 364 days during the year…as you practice the art of multi-channel direct marketing (including telemarketing and direct mail) …and become even more diversified than my mom.
And may you experience a lifetime of value (which has little to do with the value of an average order).
During the month after her birthday, and before she passed away, an entrepreneur from one of the mastermind groups I am a member of, posted a timely email with this subject line:
What I do to live 100 years in good health…and potentially live much longer
He proceeded to share his regular routine of healthy diet, exercise, meditation, and a host of other things—nothing I would disagree with or not give him props for—and the result is a 41-year-old who has been told he looks 35 or less.
As a new recipient of Medicare, who has been told I don’t look a day over 63, he’s doing better than I am…and his plan seems to be working.
But there is another angle on longevity…and I want to refer to my mom.
The reason she lived to be “almost 100,” with vivaciousness and lots of spunk, was always hidden in plain sight.
With her passing, I had to think more about it because she didn’t really exercise too much and she definitely didn’t meditate…and while she always ate her vegetables, her diet was about the same for 9+ decades.
She did watch her salt intake…but that alone could not account for living into her 98th year.
The fact that she had no acute ailments or disease or failing organs as I sat next to her on her deathbed (in hospice in her home which was her wish), is a testament to something…and her strong beating heart seemed to be a metaphor for her life.
I couldn’t help but think:
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could say goodbye this way?
But I thought longer and harder about why she lived so long and so well.
The word that kept coming up was that she was always “interested.”
And interested in the things that really matter.
Well, her interest in minutia and things that mattered very little (e.g., calling the President of Del-Monte regarding expired tomatoes), opened the door to the things that mattered a lot.
I’ll go with that. 🙂
She was a child of the depression…and like so many others of that generation, she believed that life is more about experiences and people…and less about money and high-priced possessions.
I believe her keen interest in meaningful relationships with people, places and things—regardless of their monetary value or worth– was the key to her long life.
The low salt diet could only be responsible for so much…and as far as I know, she never took a cold plunge or took nutritional supplements either, two other things many incorporate into their regimen for living healthier and longer.
She probably could have eased up a bit on always trying to get a deal on everything…and learned to spend on herself for more creature comforts…but she always had what she needed and wanted.
Her money was never frivolously spent…which was part of her DNA.
The result was that she died with money in the bank…and with tons of possessions (very few of which would be worth much to anyone but her).
She accumulated what most of us would classify as junk…but it was her junk…and all of that junk being around her was why she wanted to die peacefully at home surrounded by all of it.
The cleanup was exhausting…but worth it.
I believe all that seemingly meaningless stuff surrounding her is what kept her alive blissfully for 97 years.
Which brings me to a recommendation I will make to all of you:
Surround yourself with the things that bring you joy no matter how cluttered it might get. And clutter yourself not only with your meaningful junk, but also with the meaningful people and places that bring you joy.
Including living with clutter if that is what floats your boat.
To the naked eye my mom didn’t accomplish anything “significant” in her lifetime…she left me (and everyone she touched) with “significance” by showing us how to live rather than simply telling us how to live.
Being “interested” included a “family first” mindset followed by “everyone else is significant too” …and she covered off on everyone who touched her by touching them back.
By her presence…not always through presents.
Hanging out with her was always a conversation of who she had been in touch with, who she needed to get in touch with, and how she could add special touches with those communications.
Without email or Facebook. How is that possible?
Phone was her first choice…phone was her second choice…and snail mail was a distant third.
If you wanted my mom in your life, you had to pick up the phone…and if you don’t use a phone as a phone, you would need to regularly check your mailbox (the one at the end of your driveway, not the one inside your computer or smartphone).
I hope you have found her interest in you (yes, she asked about you, my online family regularly!)–and the lessons she taught me about how to live 97 years with gusto–useful in some way.
Meaningful clutter indeed. 🙂
P.S. I mentioned the most recent Titans Mastermind meeting already…it was truly epic…and I will share highlights from the event over the next year or more.
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- Perry Marshall talked about “thinking” at an entirely new level
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