Selling Lessons from the Trenches: Interview with ClearSales

Selling Lessons ClearSales

Selling is a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.

This is one of the common definitions of selling — and it’s a good one. It’s the job of the salesperson to connect the inherent benefits of a product or services with the needs and desires of the potential customer. For the buyer, getting what they want is something they can get excited about. The person doing the selling oftentimes has to find the enthusiasm-inducing elements and bring them to the top. And the more impassioned he is about those benefits, the more persuasive his presentation will be.

We’re all selling something. We might as well get good at it.

Last month, Ash Patel over at ClearSales interviewed me about big lessons I’ve learned selling products and services face-to-face and through the written word. I answer sales-related questions for people who find themselves in selling situations but don’t always think of themselves as salespeople.

The interview lasts 40 minutes:

You can take a look at the raw transcripts in the ClearSales blog.

Ash delineated 11 separate takeaway lessons:

  1. Personalize sales message (generic is BAD; any sales conversation should feel one-to-one)
  2. Focus on the customer, not on yourself, your company, or even primarily on the product itself
  3. Keep following up
  4. Sell the outcome, not the tool itself. This sounds obvious, but I’m constantly surprised by how many entrepreneurs, marketers and salespeople revert to selling their “thing” rather than the transformational results it produces for the buyer
  5. Avoid jargon and corporate talk, unless that’s the language your customers speak. A conversational tone usually works best
  6. Educate your prospects. It’s a great way to share value and position yourself as an expert at the same time
  7. Be strategic
  8. Spend at least as much energy converting and retaining clients as you spend on chasing new ones. The best new customer is a satisfied old customer
  9. Sales don’t happen by themselves.
  10. Recognize your own value. Confidence is a huge factor in successfully transferring enthusiasm
  11. Communicate that value. It’s not bragging if it’s true, right? Plus, you’re not bragging — you’re helping potential customers see all the ways you can make their lives better. Don’t be shy about making the world a better place in your own unique way.

Enjoy the interview!


What A Wet Floor Sign Can Teach You About Your Business

What’s the purpose of wet floor signs from the perspective of a business owner?

Believe it or not, your answer to that question can tell you a lot about how you run your business. It doesn’t matter if you have a brick-and-mortar retail location or you sell strictly from your website. This exercise is purely hypothetical.

So what do you think? What’s the purpose behind wet floor signs?

If your answer is “to protect the business from legal liability if anyone should happen to slip on on the premises,” you may have uncovered a dangerous mindset that could threaten the vitality and growth of your own business.

What might this sort of response tell you about yourself? To put it plainly, you’re focused on the wrong thing.

What’s at the Center of Your Business?

If you’ve got a “protecting what’s mine” mentality (as indicated by the aforementioned response the the wet floor sign question), you’re exhibiting symptoms of an defensive-minded, self-centered entrepreneur. You place your own interests at the center of everything you do.

On the other hand, if you said that the purpose of the wet floor sign is to protect people in your store from getting hurt, you’re showing that you’re a customer-centered entrepreneur.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with protecting your business or yourself. It would be foolish not to. But when you focus on your business instead of your customers, you’re putting the cart before proverbial horse.

You’ve heard it a hundred times: “The purpose of business is to create a customer.” Not to build a store, invent a product or make a name for itself. If you want to get good at creating customers, you need to make them the most important thing.

Playing It Too Safe

It’s hard to grow your business proactively when you’re playing defense. If you’re too invested in protecting your reputation, image, your perceived upper-hand in relationships, etc., you’re probably playing too safe.

Risk-taking empowers you to make bold promises in your marketing. Playing it safe makes for boring advertisements.

Customer-centric courage frees you to offer strong guarantees, which can often increase sales by 300% even while inviting buyers to ask for their money back if they’re not fully satisfied. When you put your customers first, you’re willing to reverse the risk back on yourself.

Self-centered businesses hesitate before giving value in advance.  They’re worried about getting ripped off by cheapskates or copied by sneaky competitors. Customer-centric businesses know that offering value in advance brings more leads in, develops more trust and establishes more authority in the marketplace. Sure, there’s a little more risk involved, but the upside potential is worth it.

Business isn’t about you. The companies and solo professionals that really make a difference are usually those that make it their priority to take care of their customers. They want to make the world a better place, not just put money in their bank accounts.

Which description sounds more like your business?

This illustration probably seems overly simplistic, but I think it’s also rather instructive. I’d love to hear what you think about it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section.

P.S. If you’d like to hear about some of the most courageous marketing and guarantees you can imagine, you might like to listen to my interview with Space Shuttle engineer-turned-consultant Mark Fox.


Edging Out the Competition

Thousands of new businesses will open in the coming months. There will be really good ones, really bad ones and everything in between.

What can you do to outmaneuver your ever-expanding number of competitors?

How will you establish your uniqueness in the market?

What makes you more attractive to your chosen audience? How can you build on that foundation?

A.) Do you have a specialty? A very sharply-defined expertise or niche? You may or may know this, but specialists tend to be able to charge higher fees than generalists in any given field. Think brain surgeons versus general practitioners.

It’s also easier to get noticed and establish yourself as an authority in a small corner of any industry, rather than compete with everyone else.

B.) Do you possess a rare certification? Have you worked with a famous client who got outstanding results? Do you have a pile of testimonials from clients who will sing your praises?

If any of those distinctions apply to you, put that information in the foreground.

C.) What activities are you doing that others are not doing? Where are you available that your peers can’t reach? What can you add to your repertoire to take the strategic advantage?

D.) What are you willing to do that none of your colleagues has the guts to try? What ways can you think of to differentiate yourself from the pack?

E.) What special ways are you touching and helping people? Society? The world?

F.) Is there an unusual guarantee that you offer to your clients? Specific results you basically promise that they will experience?

Don’t take for granted that would-be clients know these things. Tell them!

If others make the same claims about themselves truthfully, you have some more work to do to find your unique value proposition (UVP).

If your peers could make the same statements, but don’t, you can preempt them and take ownership of those claims. Be the first, and everyone else becomes a copy-cat.

What is the biggest, boldest claim about your services that you can honestly make? Say it!

The idea that you should “under-promise and over-deliver” is another myth that can cause considerable damage if you believe it. There is no question about over-delivering – you should always do that. The problem lies in under-promising.

Under-promising can be suicidal for your business. Imagine a dentist who advertises “Your teeth will probably be fairly clean when I’m finished,” because he wants to under-promise. Who would ever set up an appointment with that dentist? No one will find out how amazing the final delivery is; they will visit the dentist who guarantees that his patients’ teeth will be sparkling white and healthy.

That only makes sense. Under-promising sets a low expectation, which makes the over-delivery all the more pronounced. The hope is to surprise and delight the customer. But, weak promises will keep a customer from ever considering the purchase.

Make the strongest claims you can make. Otherwise you end up blending in with the competition. A reliable way to secure a steady flow of the type of clients you want to work with is to be great at something (the very best if at all possible) and make sure as many people in your target audience know about it.



Is a Recession a Bad Thing? That Depends on You

You don’t need me to tell you that times are hard. The words of Charles Dickens ring true today: “It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.” How you position yourself and your business will determine whether you experience the best or the worst.

I recently spoke to a well-known certified resume writer/business owner. He described this paradox to me very clearly. “Job seekers need my services more than ever,” he noted. “But this is also the toughest time to spend the extra money to put together a really strong resume.

The distinction needs to be made between an expense and an investment. Hiring a resume writer who can help your job hunt end satisfactorily is an investment, not an expense. It pays off.

The same is true for marketing, training and business development.

Many people and businesses are scaling back, pinching their pennies and cutting “non-essentials.” The problem is, they need to be good at attracting customers and clients more than ever before. Employees need to be equipped to deliver better service than their competitors, who are too busy saving money to properly train their people.

During “good times,” when money comes easily, the budget has plenty of room for these initiatives. But when revenue starts drying up, most people react in fear. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “What begins in fear usually ends in folly.” You can’t grow a business that way.

When the going gets tough, people and businesses need more information, better direction, more counsel, more inspiration. They need more help. Those who provide the help people need so badly are in position to make these “the best of times” for their businesses.

That is why it is absolutely critical that you:

1.) provide real, tangible value,

2.) present yourself as a trusted advisor, not another money-drain. An investment that will yield a profitable return.

Fear is natural. Implementing defensive strategies is instinctive. But both are counterproductive. You can’t advance and retreat simultaneously.

Retreating is what your competitors are doing.

Statistics show that businesses that maintain or increase aggressiveness in their investments such as marketing and coaching during recessionary phases grow more than 200% more than those that pull back. (See “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Don’t Skimp on Their Ad Budgets.” )

The challenges are daunting; the opportunities are awesome.

How are you responding to the economic climate we’re facing now? How does this affect your interactions with clients and prospects?

Counteract This Trend

You’ll do well to consider different strategies to make your services accessible to your target audience. Low-cost entry items, pared-down basic coaching, and group sessions are possible choices.

Whatever you do, do not devalue yourself or your services. The attitude that says “I know it’s hard out there, so I’ll discount my prices,” is a position of weakness. You are not a commodity. You are not less valuable just because the economy is in bad shape currently (If anything, you could charge more because of inflation!)

A better move would be to present alternative options, multiple ways you can help different people in different financial situations.

The quality of what you deliver is of paramount importance here. If you sell a book that makes marked improvements for the reader, not only will he be more likely to purchase your higher-level offers, but he’ll be more able to do so because of those improvements.

Business is not a zero-sum proposition. Your clients are not $2,000/month poorer because they retain your services. They pay you (you win), you help them achieve their goals (they win), and everyone is richer and happier.

Companies who approach their practice from the perspective that someone wins and someone loses are forfeiting some of the benefits they should be getting. They may be doing more harm than good.

You’ve probably heard it said that more millionaires were created in the Great Depression than any other time in American history.  It seems that “bad times” aren’t bad for everyone. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to use this downturn as an excuse for mediocrity and failure, or if you’ll look for the opportunities to gain the ground everyone else is forfeiting.


Six Business Lessons from the Book of Ecclesiastes

The holiday season is upon us!

Many of your business will make a large chunk of your annual revenue between now and the end of the year. And quite a few of us spend a large chunk of our annual income on gifts, decorations, food, and the like.

Paradoxically, we’re told that November and December are also months in which discontentment and depression skyrocket. Add in the rotten state of the economy (what a terrible time to be unemployed or broke), and there are plenty of people feeling gloomy these days.

I had a moment not a couple of weeks ago where I felt as if I knew exactly how King Solomon felt when he wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. The invisible part of me exclaimed “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!

But rather than submitting to despair, I found encouragement and inspiration reflecting on this book of wisdom. Now I’d like to distill some of that inspiration to you, if you don’t mind. I’ve pulled out six lessons which I believe will really benefit you as you strive to finish 2011 strong.

This is not a meant to be an exposition of the Biblical text, nor is it intended to be religious instruction. You can drop in on my weekly Bible study class if you’re interested in that. This newsletter is designed to help you build your business, and that’s what we’re going to do today.

Lesson 1: Enjoy What You Do

“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” Ecclesiastes 2:24 New International Version

Who told you that work shouldn’t be enjoyable? The truth of the matter is that many Americans do not enjoy their jobs. Results released at the beginning of the year from a poll taken by the Conference Board indicate that only 45% of us are satisfied with our jobs. That’s the lowest level since they started taking the poll 22 years ago.

There are many factors that go into being satisfied with the work you do. There should be some level of enjoyment. Ideally, each of us would work in areas we’re gifted in, doing things we love to do.  Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.

Satisfaction also implies that your work means something to you. Your inner drives and passions should match with your work. If you’ve been hanging around me for long, you know that I’m a quote nut, so here’s another for you: Malcolm Forbes said that “the biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy.” You don’t have to go to work just to get a paycheck or earn a living. In fact, you’re really robbing yourself if you think about business that way. You have something special to offer the world. Something great. You just have to figure out what that is.

If you’re in a position you’re not crazy about, I bet you can still find something about it to enjoy or to be satisfied about. There’s nothing better than to enjoy your work while you work toward your dream, whether it be a job or an entrepreneurial opportunity.

One more note here. The New American Standard phrases Ecclesiastes 2:24 a little differently. It says that “there is nothing better than for a man to…tell himself that his labor is good.” You should only be doing work you can feel good about. What good is money if you have to sell your soul and beat down your conscience to earn it?

Lesson 2: Give It All You’ve Got

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 New International Version

This is related to the first lesson. It’s worth saying, though.

To keep it simple, never give less than 100% in your work. Whether you run a Fortune 500 company or a neighborhood shop that’s been in the family for generations, work as smart and as hard as you can every day.

There are times when “coasting” seems like a good idea, You know the feeling. “I worked my butt off yesterday, so I think I’ll take it easy today.” This is especially easy to do when you aren’t finding satisfaction in what you’re doing.

You don’t need me to tell you that this mentality is appealing to all of us every once in a while. But giving into it is dangerous. Giving your best effort will bring success faster. You’ll experience breakthroughs that you’d have never come across just drifting along. And you’ll have a chance to gain mastery that comes with going all out. Anyone who wants to get to the top of their game and be recognized as an expert or superstar will have to put all their might behind their work.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t take vacations or enjoy your leisure time. You absolutely have to do that. But when you’re working, give it all you’ve got.

I’ve often noted that “success is never accidental.” If you insist on coasting or working half-heartedly, don’t hold your breath waiting on it. On the other hand, success can be coincidental. It tends to happen while you’re working hard.

Lesson 3: Live Up to Your Claims

“It is better to say nothing than to promise something that you don’t follow through on.” Ecclesiastes 5:5 New Living Translation

This lesson is simple enough, but so many businesses screw up at this point.

In a recent post on my blog, I put up a video of an old television commercial for Cash4Gold. I don’t have any issue with the concept of sending in jewelry in exchange for money. It’s a good idea: people need money, Cash4Gold and its counterparts are getting ultra-high rates for precious metals, so no one is really getting robbed, as far as I know.

The problem is how the commercial is set up. The claim is that you can end your “personal recession” by dealing with this company. Crazy, huh? A bit insulting, too. Do I look like an idiot? (Don’t answer that)

Jerry Della Famina says that “there is a great deal of advertising that is much better than the product. When that happens, all the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster.”

And Bill Bernbach: “Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it.”

Many businesspeople and marketers feel the need to use hype and exaggerated claims to get attention for their product or service. Salespeople often overpromise to close the deal. This is no good. Your customers will find you out. And then, all your credibility is gone. The negative publicity you’ll receive often more than undoes the positive contributions gained by the dishonesty.

Don’t say you can do anything you can’t. Don’t promise to do anything that you won’t do.

If you say it, you better do it!

Having said that, never shy away from making big claims if you can back them up. Sometimes we are scared to make the bold statements about how great our product or service is. But if it’s true, tell the world. Otherwise you’re selling yourself short and robbing your potential customers of an opportunity to have a great experience.

Lesson 4: Pay Attention to the Seasons

“There is a time for everything.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 New Living Translation

In this passage, Solomon describes one of life’s great truths. There is a time for everything. Then he lists several of them: there’s a time to be born, to die, to plant and harvest, to cry and laugh.

So where am I going with this? Two things.

First, don’t let economic cycles destroy your confidence or courage. These cycles occur on a macro (nation- or even worldwide) level, as well as on a micro level (pertaining to you and your business personally). You will have to be smart to figure out how to thrive in both good times and bad, but don’t throw in the towel just because we’re in a recession. Don’t mentally give up, like so many of your colleagues and competitors already have. This is a season. It will pass sooner or later.

Second, I want to focus on Ecclesiastes 3:6, which says there is a “time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”

Specifically, I’m thinking about clients and customers here. There is a time when your business needs to be on the look out for new and more customers. For some businesses and industries, that may be all the time. For others, clients stick around longer and the need to get new or more is much less urgent.

Every business has to balance their customer acquisition efforts with their retention efforts. Some customers you want to keep. But there are times that you’ll want to cast some of them away and get new ones to replace them. If you have “bad” customers or clients, ones that take up too much of your time, pay you too little, or who just don’t work well with you, it may be time to lose those individuals.

Lesson 5: Protect Your Good Name

“A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume.” Ecclesiastes 7:1 New Living Translation

Lesson 4 is an important part of Lesson 5.

You build your reputation by doing good work, providing value, treating people well, etc. You can ruin your reputation by doing crappy jobs, disrespecting people or making them feel ripped off. I don’t know that there’s any more effective way to demolish your chances at business success than to allow your good name to be ill spoken of.

There are a million ways to build a solid reputation. Here’s a start:

  • Always provide all the value you possibly can
  • Never leave a job done in a way that you wouldn’t want God to inspect
  • Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated. You know what? Do better than that. Treat them the way THEY want to be treated
  • Meet your deadlines
  • Be consistent
  • Don’t overpromise
  • Overdeliver as much as you can
  • Be the expert

Warren Buffett teaches that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” I don’t think it takes 20 years to build a good name (at least not any more), but what he’s saying is true. You have to work hard to obtain good standing in your industry or locality. It is incredibly easy to undo all of that hard work. Be diligent in protecting what you’ve built.

Lesson 6: Three Is Better Than One

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 New International Version

I know this has been a long newsletter, so I’ll make this point brief.

Develop intelligent strategic alliances. Partner with other businesses and business people who you can work with in a mutually beneficial manner.

A good example of this is the home inspector I used when I purchased my house. He had an alliance with a sales representative for a home security company. Whenever he would inspect a home for a customer, he’d present an offer from his buddy with the security system. Both knew that new home buyers are ripe for these kinds of offers. They worked together to compliment each other’s business.

Look for ways you can do the same thing.

I also advise people to get a strong personal network in place. Family, loved ones and friends are an important part of life. Who wants to be lonely? When we go through hard times, it’s nice to have people to comfort us. When things are going better than we could have imagined, we want people to celebrate with.

There’s an African proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Think about it.

In Conclusion

The road we’re traveling on can get rough. You may feel like crying, like quitting. You may lament with Solomon that “all is vanity;” it feels that way sometimes. I beg you, take heart, refocus on the goals you’ve set before you, and keep pushing. Mediocrity is not what you want. So don’t let it happen to you.