Bell and Bucket Marketing

It’s the holiday season and this week I stopped by my local Walmart to pick up a few things, and as I was walking in I noticed a Salvation Army volunteer standing in front of the store ringing a bell, encouraging people to drop money into a red bucket. And it made me wonder… how many promotional products distributors are engaged in the equivalent of marketing with a bell and a bucket?

Most businesses have a charitable side, and most charities have a business side — at least if they want to remain in business. But there’s a big difference between business and charity. And I believe it’s important to keep that distinction.

You see a bell ringer in front of Walmart soliciting contributions. You make a purchase in a store and the cashier asks if you’d like to contribute an extra dollar or two to a particular charity. You’re walking down the street and a homeless person approaches you asking for some cash. Each of these experiences gives us an opportunity to be charitable. But the approach can make even some of the most charitable people feel really uncomfortable.

Most of us like helping people. We like feeling charitable. But we also might like to choose the people and organizations we want to help — without any prompting, expectations or guilt.

We need to feel good about the fact that we’re giving. We need to want to do it, otherwise we might feel resentful.

So charities are in the business of asking people for contributions that might not provide a direct benefit to the person contributing the money. In other words, the contributor gives, the charity gets and presumably passes on the money or the services to a party more in need.

But businesses are different. Businesses are engaged in exchanging value for money. When we give money to a business, we expect to get something in return — and not just something of equal value. We expect to get something that is more valuable to us than the money we’re giving them. Otherwise, we’re not going to make the purchase. In reality, we expect to make out on the deal whenever we’re buying something.

The only reason we buy a new home or car or laptop or mobile phone or anything, is that we’d rather have the item we’re buying than the money it costs to buy it. In business, value must be created for the purchaser — the person who buys. We need to feel like we’re getting more in use value than we’re paying in cash value. If not, we just don’t make the purchase.

Understanding this distinction is critical. Have you ever been approached by a salesperson who seemed desperate to make the sale? They try to close the deal at all costs. They try pushing, prodding, cajoling, using guilt — it can be very uncomfortable.

I remember running into a situation like that more than 30 years ago when I was shopping for my wife’s engagement ring on jeweler’s row in Philadelphia. The experience was so uncomfortable, I still remember it clearly to this day.

“Desperation is not an aphrodisiac, in love or in business.”

So you need to make sure that nothing you’re doing comes across in any way as desperate or clingy or needy.

Ask yourself, is there anything I am currently doing — any behavior I’m involved in — that might make me appear desperate to make a sale?

Is there anything I’m saying — with my words or my facial gestures or my body language — that makes me look like a beggar instead of a professional?

Does any aspect of my approach conjure up images of a guy with a bell and a bucket?

Or is it obvious to the buyer that my primary focus is consistently fixed on creating exceptional value for him or her, and not just making a sale for myself?

Our best results in sales and business always come from creating exceptional value for loyal clients. Focus on that and the rest will take care of itself.

If you’re new to the industry and need to get grounded in the essentials of promotional products sales, visit us online at If you need to get clients now with no distractions and no excuses, visit Or, if you’re a smart, focused, independent distributor doing a reasonable volume of sales, join the AIM SmartEQP community today at that’s

    4 replies to "Marketing With a Bell & Bucket"

    • Steve Leachman

      Desperation begins when you’re not making the proper number sales calls. I’ve found it’s easy to not be desperate if you have plenty of calls in the pipeline.

      • David Blaise

        Agreed, Steve. And those WITHOUT sufficient leads in their pipelines almost always come across as desperate.

    • Jennifer Katus

      Hi David,
      Excellent post! The metaphor is strong. This would be a really helpful topic for the monthly Inner Circle Teleconference. We distributors need to balance so many nuances when approaching customers in live, phone, and written communication. There is a lot of art to being professional and helpful versus bothersome and presumptuous. It would be great to hear ‘Lessons Learned’ on how to communicate with balance from you and other seasoned distributors on the call. And especially helpful at the beginning of the year when many of us reach out to our customers to find out about their needs and events for the new year.
      BTW – I ring the bell with my kids for the Salvation Army every year. I pay attention to bell-ringing techniques when I’m out and about…and have found that a quick, quiet, sincere smile goes a long way. 🙂

      • David Blaise

        Thanks Jennifer. Glad you found it helpful. There really is something to those bell-ringing techniques, isn’t there? Some bell ringers sit in a lawn chair and make no eye contact. Others appear engaged in a positive way. My guess is that the engaged bell ringers bring in a high multiple of what the non-engaged ringers bring in. Add in your kids and that quick, quiet sincere smile and you’ve got a recipe for success! Also, we’ll definitely look into adding some more content into the Inner Circle area related to professional and helpful vs. bothersome and presumptuous.

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