What An Alley Mechanic Taught Me About Selling ANYTHING

In the middle of last  summer, I took my Chevy Astro to Chuck, a mechanic my father-in-law recommended for some long-overdue tuning up. He had done some work for Pops in the past. He was one of those backyard mechanics who worked more for the love of cars than for the money. So he was a lot cheaper than the big name shops, but he did good work and he was fast.

I know very little about fixing cars. But Pops does. If he trusted Chuck, I wouldn’t give the recommendation a second thought.

So we took him the van. He did his thing. He was fast and friendly. When I returned to pick it up, Chuck mentioned that the car wasn’t in perfect condition, but he had gotten the “Check Engine” light to turn off. As long as that light didn’t come back on, he said, I should be in good shape.

The drive home was smooth. I felt good about myself. I saved some money and supported a small business in my community at the same time.

But the next drive was not nearly as pleasant. By the third trip, the van was acting exactly like it had before Chuck worked on it.

I was baffled. What did that mechanic do to the van? Had he really done anything? I didn’t actually see him do anything, and he seemed to be finished faster than he should have…

And what about this Check Engine light? It hadn’t turned back on.

Maybe the only work he did was to remove the fuse for that warning light!

Can You Make Up Someone Else’s Mind?

To be honest, I never confronted Chuck about the work he did. He may or may not have actually done what I paid him to do.

Although it seems as if there’s quite a bit to learn from this story, I wonder if you detected a lesson that can literally transform your ability to sell whatever it is that you have to offer.

Do you see what happened with the Check Engine light? Chuck gave me a very specific and unmistakeable indicator that he had done a good job. The Check Engine light was off, so  he must have fixed the problem I asked him to take care of.

Those of you who have been around for a couple months or longer know about my penchant for education as a selling too. When done properly, I don’t know of a more effective way to get people to take action.

Looking back on the situation, I don’t think Chuck was aware of what he was doing, but he taught me how to appreciate his work. Here’s what happened:

1) I had a problem that I needed to solve,
2) I perceived Chuck to be an expert in his field (mostly based on the recommendation of my trusted father-in-law)
3) Chuck defined the criteria on which I would judge the quality of work done for me.

When you think about it, how much do your customers know about what you do? They should understand the benefits of buying from you, but do they know how you achieve the results you deliver? Do they even want to know?

In other words, most of your prospects and customers are a lot like I am when it comes to fixing cars: I know I need help, but I don’t have a clue how mechanics do their job. I just know that when it’s done, I’m looking for the thing that was wrong to be repaired.

That means, I don’t really know the difference between a good mechanic and a great one. When I’m having car troubles, I can either rely on referrals from people I trust, or I pick whoever’s the cheapest or closest.

From the car shops’ perspective, they’re relying on factors outside of their control (random word of mouth or having the lowest prices) to determine the fate of their business. That’s not a recipe for success. It’s hoping and praying that the dice rolls your way time after time. No wonder over 90% of businesses fail in their early years!

Take Control of Your Sales Process and Marketing

One of the biggest advantages of selling though education is that as an authority figure, you can tell your prospects what they should look for when choosing a product or service.

For example, if you were a mechanic, and your website featured an article or special report about “6 Misconceptions About Car Repairs that Can Cost You Thousands of Dollars,”  how easy would it be to define the process of fixing in a way that highlights your distinctive benefits and subtly disqualifies your competitors who operate differently?

What about a dog groomer who gives presentations on how proper care extends the health and life of pets? Not only can you define the buying criteria for anyone looking for a groomer, but you also position yourself as someone dog lovers can trust to take the best care of Rover.

There is nothing manipulative about this method, as long as you’re telling the truth. So, of course, there is the danger of con men and swindlers using education to misinform people and rip them off, but you’re not that kind of person.

During a presentation I gave last month, I joked that the way you hire the best copywriter is to look for the ones whose first and last names start with “D” and “B” respectively. That’s a joke you can use, as well as an example of what not to do as you educate your market.

Leveraging the power of education is one of the most important ways businesses can maximize their growth in any economy. It takes extra effort, but if you do it correctly, I can’t think of a better way to boost the results your sales people and marketing materials are producing.

Strategies are less fun than tactics, but without a strategy, you’re just hoping and praying. Is that where you want your business to be?


Strategic Truth-Telling

The world is full of phonies, deceivers and cheats. In the arenas of advertisers and salespeople, this seems to be especially true.

Empty promises, bogus guarantees and plain ol’ swindles pervade the marketplace. Most people automatically tune out a large percentage of overt advertisements. No one trusts salespeople; they are often dismissed before they even speak. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) We all know it’s true. That’s just how things are.

In spite of that fact, a profound longing exists inside of each of us: a longing to believe. Gary Bencivenga, one of the few living legends of copywriting, teaches that “Almost everyone in the world… is desperately searching for someone to believe in. Be that person, and you can write your own ticket.” The dishonest climate of the day makes the search for that kind of person difficult. Those found to be trustworthy stand to benefit immensely.

Telling the truth can be used as a powerful business and marketing strategy.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating a Machiavellian view of dealing with truth. 100% honesty is the only way to business. Customers and prospects deeply desire to believe, but they have been forced into skepticism. Only one arrow can pierce the armor of doubt: TRUTH.

How Can Truth-Telling Be Used As a Marketing Strategy?

When we think of establishing our credibility and building trust, we usually picture a long-term process. And it is. Allowing events to progress naturally, it can take months or years to get where you want to be.You should never tell lies or deceive. Customers need to know you’re not going to mislead them or take advantage of them. Don’t settle for marketing that is simply credible. Actually be the company that your customers can trust.

Let’s consider another perspective. Most of my readers market their products and services using direct response methods. What is one defining characteristic of direct response marketers? We do not wait for “events to progress naturally.” We don’t wait for prospects to eventually stumble across our offers and maybe buy something. We take action to cause individuals in our target audience to respond in a particular way.

Strategic truth-telling relies on the same principle.

Rather than relying on chance and (passively) watching trust grow over time, it is possible to inject “moments of truth” into otherwise normal interactions. Build your believability factor actively, purposefully. The “que sera, sera” approach is not a viable strategy.

Let me state emphatically that integrity is not a strategy. It is a way of life.

Now for the good stuff. Let’s discuss 4 specific truth-telling techniques. You will no longer have to hope that you are gaining your audience’s trust. Take action! Implement these steps and gain control of building your believability.

1. The Preemptive Strike

Have you heard the famous story about Claude Hopkins and Schlitz Beer? How one advertising campaign that took Schlitz from 5th place to being in a dead heat with the number one brand in a few months?

Hopkins tells the tale in his book, My Life in Advertising. I won’t repeat it here, but do yourself a favor and look it up. There’s a great lesson to be taken from the narrative. The major take-away from that campaign: be the first company to “tell the facts,” and you gain supremacy in the minds of your customers and prospects.

Instead of just talking about how totally rad your product is, tell the story of why it’s so great. What do you do that makes what you do so impressive?

Is there a way you can use this concept in your own marketing? Think of some aspect of your process, one ingredient you use, or anything that you can tell your audience about that they don’t know. You don’t have to be the only company doing it. You don’t have to be the first company to do it. You just have to be the first to say it. Once you’ve said it, you own it. Anyone else to make similar claims will be seen as a copy cat.

There are so many voices screaming for the attention of the masses. And as much as businesses may think they’re being unique, nearly all advertising sounds the same on the surface. You can stand out by coming at the issue from a different angle. Give meaning to the claims you make about your product, service or brand by using this classic technique of preemption.

2. Full Disclosure

Voluntary vulnerability is startlingly effective at creating credibility. I think there are 3 reasons for that.

Firstly, no one does it. Everyone is too scared to take the risk. Plus, they’ve spent so much time trying to appear to be perfect. They can’t afford to let that illusion disappear. By being one of the rare few that will be open and honest, you position yourself as one of the rare few companies or individuals worth listening to.

Secondly, you show that you care more about the truth than about your image. Your image is how you want to appear. But reality is what really matters.

Thirdly, an emotional element comes into play. Putting yourself or your company in a position of openness is not logical (or at least it doesn’t appear to be so). The result is that the listener is almost forced to react emotionally, not just intellectually.

Everyone loves the inside scoop. Confessions are always a hot ticket. When people feel like you’ve told them something “intimate” you become more of a person than a salesperson. More of a friend. Trust flows easily in that environment.

Show that you have nothing to hide. Prove that you care more about the customer experience than about your image.

This should be an aggressive technique. Remember, we’re thinking of injecting truth deliberately for the purpose of building trust. Maybe it’s as simple as endearing yourself to your email list by telling an embarrassing personal story. You didn’t have to let anyone know about the time you were tricked into climbing into a high school locker, only to find yourself locked in and abandoned (yes, that happened to me).

Make the information interesting, but also find a way to make it relevant.

Also, admit when you’re wrong, when you don’t know the answer, or when you can’t help someone. It always pays off in the long run.

3. Flattery Will Get You Nowhere – Unless It’s Genuine

No one likes a “yes man” or a butt-kisser.

If you want to be believed, have the guts to challenge conventional wisdom or popular opinions. Speak your mind. Be confident and speak authoritatively. You do not have to agree with anyone all the time, even if they’re paying you. In fact, that’ll do more harm than good for all parties involved.

That doesn’t mean be arrogant, or purposely combative. But don’t fall for the line of thinking that says “the more I tell this client how much of a genius he is, the more business I’ll get.” Think more in terms of “the truth will make you free.”

Is it just me, or do people who always have flattering words on their lips seem to be up to no good? Either they don’t have minds of their own, or they’re sycophants. It’s hard to respect either. Don’t be that person or business.

This is less a technique to be used than it is a position to be adhered to. We’re talking about strategy. You want to set yourself up as the person who will tell the truth no matter what it costs. That’s who people will trust. People will believe in you, and that’s how you get to write your own ticket, as Bencivenga says.

I’ve had a client ask tell me that I didn’t have to agree with everything he said. His ideas were great; I wasn’t trying to be obsequious. The point is that my posture was weakened slightly by the appearance that I was just going along with whatever he said. That’s not the place you want to be in.

4. Be A Giver

You should always seek to give more than you take. Provide more value than you charge for.

You should be educating your customers, not just selling to them. Education is one of the most compelling selling tools in existence. But you should give valuable content and actionable information to your audience at least as often as you ask them to buy something from you.

Being a giver is one of the surest ways to become a trusted person or organization. Of course you need to generate revenue. Your customers understand that. But if the only time they hear from you is when you have a sales pitch, you become a nuisance. They feel as if you look at them like dollar signs instead of human beings.

If you want to build credibility, to be the person or company that others believe in, help them get what they want out of life. When you look out for the needs and desires of other people, you begin to operate on a higher level.

Blogs, newsletters and content-rich emails are popular for a reason. We live in the information age. Perhaps telling the truth has never been such an important element of business success.

Be strategic in your execution. Blogs should be focused. Create content so that visitors know what to expect and how to get what they need. Self-promotion is not an effective way to gain trust. Providing info that improves people’s lives is a great way to become a trusted expert.

You can either promote yourself, or do high-quality work that does the promoting for you. Which do you think works better?

Final Thoughts

Most business people you know let their businesses “drift downstream” and hope for the best. My hope is that you are not one of those individuals. There are some things that you can’t control (the weather, for example), but there are nearly always ways to move forward with purpose and vision. Strategic truth-telling is another way to take more control over your life and business.


Tactics Vs. Strategy

What do you think is the biggest difference between successful people and businesses, and unsuccessful ones?

  • Wealthy parents/investors?
  • The right connections?
  • Positive thinking?
  • “Luck?”

While any of these could have a significant impact on one’s future success, none of them fit the bill.

The more experience I gain and the more I learn from high achievers, the clearer it becomes that strategic thinking paired with sustained action is the gamechanger in business and life.

Continue reading “The Noise Before Defeat”  on the Evolution Magazine website.


Strategic Selling for Startups

Among the most important books I can recommend to entrepreneurs, executives or anyone in a leadership role at a startup company is Chet Holmes’ best-selling book, The Ultimate Sales Machine.

If you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing out big time.

One of the biggest concepts all businesses have to get a good grasp on is strategic thinking. The problem is, most businesses, marketers and sales people are tactical thinkers; they can only see what’s right in front of them. They rarely move toward any long-term strategic goals, if they’ve even established any.

Without belaboring the point, I’m going to share a short excerpt from The UItimate Sales Machine that highlights the inability of the tactical thinker to see the “big picture.”

When your salespeople get in front of a client or customer, what would you like them to accomplish? What are your strategic objectives?

“When I ask executives that question, most of them reply tactically: “I want to make a sale.” Then I ask them to think strategically: “What else do you want to achieve?” And they say, “What else is there?” The conversation goes like this:

ME: Would you like to be respected?

THEM: Well, of course, I’d like to be respected.

ME: Would you like to be trusted?

THEM: Well, of course, I’d like to be trusted.

ME: Would you like referrals?

THEM: Well, of course, I’d like referrals.

ME: Would you like a preemptive strategy for when your competitors try to undercut your pricing?

THEM: Well, yeah, that’s a great objective.

ME: Would you like to be perceived as an expert?

THEM: That could be valuable, yes.

ME: How about influence? Would you like to have influence in that meeting?

THEM (the tacticians): What does that mean?

ME: Hang with me here a second. How about brand loyalty? Is that important?

THEM: Heck, yes.

ME: What about some urgency to buy now? Would that be a good thing?

THEM: Yes. That would be good.

If you even think about these objectives, doesn’t it automatically change how that meeting might go?”

Think about those objectives, and come up with real answers to them. Get past the short-sighted “get this sale today” mentality and think strategically.

It may take more time, more thought, and more effort, but believe me, it will pay off. And if you don’t want to trust me, check Chet’s record. The results he’s produced speak for themselves.

By the way, you can download chapter 4 of The Ulltimate Sales Machine for free at http://www.chetholmes.com/media/documents/Chapter4_MYS_NEW.pdf


Improve Your Marketing by Playing Board Games

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like you can find marketing lessons everywhere. I’m not talking about learning from the hundreds of sales messages that harass our eyes and ears daily.

You can gain marketing insight in what seems like most unlikely places…

Last night, my lovely wife and I had a great time playing Scrabble. After having the crap beaten out of me for most of the game, I had an epiphany.  Scrabble can help you be a better marketer!

I won’t take up all your time going trough all the details, but observe some of the benefits that you get from playing this classic game:

  • You’re constantly being exposed to new words. And advanced vocabulary (one that you actually put to use) is a key to the game. It will also help you with writing copy and content for your sales letters, website, articles, etc.
  • Scrabble is all about finding connections. Your brain can do a lot of exercise during competitive matches. Marketing is all about connections, too. Gotta find a way to bring your customers and your product or service together.
  • You’ll improve your ability to analyze details. A critical eye can do wonders for your advertising efforts.

The key lesson that I took away from my epiphany is that what’s on the board is more important than the letters on your rack. If you spend all your time looking at your own letters, you’ll get trounced (a word I am now quite familiar with). No matter what you have in your possession, if you can’t get it on the board, it’s worthless. Contrariwise, even if your assortment of letters is really sorry, you might still be able to create a huge word based on what’s already been played.

This is crucial with marketing as well. It is essential to understand your market. Understanding your audience is the most important part of marketing. Probably the most important aspect of running a successful business.

Short version: don’t spend all your time and effort looking at you. Look at your target, find out what they want, and figure out how to use that intimate knowledge to elevate your marketing to a higher plane.

Oh, and I’m selling my Scrabble Marketing Training Manual for $49. Give me a ring if you’re interested.

(Yes, that’s a joke!)