Community leaders presenting an economic development pitch to a prospective business

You Can’t Sell from an Empty Wagon

By Bill R. Shelton, CEcD 

“You can’t sell from an empty wagon” is an adage from an earlier era when peddlers went from house to house or farm to farm selling their goods out of wagons or pushcarts. But this is more than just an old adage; it is a proven business principle that a strong inventory stimulates the buyer experience and is necessary in order to make a sale. 

It also conveys the tried-and-true wisdom that if you want to successfully sell, you must have something of value to sell or something that the potential buyer perceives as valuable before they will buy. 

It is this wisdom that also makes the adage applicable to the economic development marketing process. Selling is the most critical component of the economic development process and yet is the least understood. The community (seller) must be prepared with specific data and detail to address the business’ (prospect) specific needs. The prospect usually has a checklist of specific requirements that must be fulfilled. 

While this checklist is not necessarily proprietary and it is not widely circulated, it is up to the community to determine the prospect’s needs. 

The challenge of economic development marketing is to understand the needs, perceptions and resources of the prospect before developing the marketing plan or the persuasive presentation (pitch.) How does the community develop this understanding? 

Knowing and Understanding the Prospect 

Whether you are trying to locate a large public-traded company or a Mom and Pop, you win by getting to know them deeply. Use every interaction to collect information about the company, its culture, its values and operations. 

Start by visiting their website but don’t stop there. An even deeper source of information and insight can be gained from the company’s annual reports, which can often be acquired from stock brokers. Do as much research as possible. There is much at stake when you are trying to persuade the prospect to locate an operation in your community. 

Oh, yes! Don’t pass up the opportunity to visit at least one of the prospect’s operating locations. The insights gained will help make your pitch pay dividends. 

Putting the Intelligence to Work for You 

Here are tips on getting the maximum benefits from your knowledge and insights about the company: 

•    Customize your pitch to show how a location in your community aligns with the company’s mission and goals. 
•    Tailor your pitch to answer the company’s location requirements. 
•    Demonstrate that you have the product knowledge to answer any needs they will encounter and you are here to help. 
•    Use word choices in the company’s everyday language so that you connect with them. 

By engaging and using these points in your pitch, you will not be selling from an empty wagon but enjoying the success of creating a strong narrative to attain your community’s goals.

Journey Awareness Persona Economic Development/Elected Official City Government