Category Archives: Promotion

You’re great at sales

It is an oft-repeated tenet of Sales Gurus that “everyone is in sales”.

Oft-repeated, but seldom explained, reinforced, or justified. I can, after all, make a pretty strong argument that I’m not in sales: my business card quite specifically says Marketing/Operations/Technician/Accountant.

So defend your claim that I’m in sales.

What Is Sales?

Well, let’s take a step back. When we say “sales”, what do we actually mean?

Well, one perfectly legitimate definition is “people in the sales department”. This is a very useful definition for many purposes, like HR reports, business cards, planning your day, and figuring out whether you want to talk to that guy across the room.

But it’s not a useful definition when you’re trying to decide if someone is good at sales. (Is he in the sales department? Yup, he’s good!). For that purpose, we need some idea of what sales involves, and what its end goal is. So in that case, you want a definition that looks more like “the process of persuading prospective parties to engage in a specified, desired transaction” (a definition that includes nonprofit sales teams, who are actually looking for donations, and startup sales teams, who are actually looking for venture capital). That’s the definition being used by books teaching sales techniques: they’re trying to help you improve your ability to persuade others to engage in whatever transaction you’re supposed to persuade them to.

But looked at that way, there’s really nothing to distinguish it — really — from any kind of persuasion (as I noted in an earlier post on using counterarguments to strengthen a sale.) There’s not necessarily any point in distinguishing between a person who makes their living by selling stuff, and a person who makes their living by persuading people. And since there’s a word for the former, you may as well lump everyone in the latter category into “salespeople”. This means that people who persuade voters to elect their candidate are salespeople (as, I’m sure, many would tell you themselves), lobbyists are salespeople (ditto), and diplomats engaged in peace negotiations are, at least sometimes, salespeople, and none of those really offend our sensibilities about what constitutes a “salesperson”.

You are, at least sometimes, a salesperson

So with that definition in hand, let us point out that everyone persuades people to engage in specific, desired transactions. You persuade your parents or your date to buy you a meal. You persuade your date to go out with you in the first place. You persuade your partner to attend the opera or ballet, and they persuade you to attend monster truck rallies. You persuaded your employer to hire you. You persuaded a teacher to extend a deadline, or grade more leniently.

The primary difference is that salespeople know, have names for, and study all the techniques that you kind of use instinctively.

The “Just look through the list of shows this season, and we’ll talk about it tomorrow” method? There’s a name for that.

The “Go on one date with me, and if you don’t enjoy it, I’ll never ask again” technique? There’s a name for that.

The “I can turn in something now, but I really feel that I would learn a lot more from the assignment if I can have another three days” line? There’s a name for that.

You are, usually, a great salesperson

If you look over those transactions, you see that, actually, you’re pretty good at convincing people to see things your way. It helps, of course, if you and your partner both like opera AND monster trucks, at least a little bit (there’s a name for that, too, it’s called “qualifying the prospect”), or if the teacher already likes you (that’s called “building the relationship”). But sales isn’t as hard as you think: you’ve been doing it for years, through thousands of transactions, and you’ve gotten pretty good at it; you just called it “convincing” instead of “sales”.

You are, sometimes, a lousy salesperson

But we all have our favorite techniques, and we often overuse them. It’s easy for me to get carried away with the blast-them-with-data approach, and people’s eyes glaze over. My ex-husband used the if-you-don’t-I’ll-be-sad technique so often that I divorced him.

Different techniques work better in different situations, and the more ideas you have, the better off you’ll be.

You may or may not “be in sales”

Is everyone in sales? Not necessarily. Many people don’t spend a lot of time doing any negotiation and persuasion, and a lot of people don’t make a living from it.

But it’s clear, from the examples above, that everyone can benefit from learning more about sales. It can help you get better grades. It can help you get more raises. It can help you get better jobs. It can help you get more attention, reputation, and credit.

So when the sales gurus say “you’re in sales”, they may be wrong. But what they mean is “You can benefit from reading my book, because it can help you be a better persuader”. And in that, they are absolutely correct.

Resources for Further Reading
My favorite sales book:
Sales Dogs: You do not have to be an attack dog to be successful in sales
Jeffry Gitomer’s Sales Bible
Can I Have 5 Minutes of Your Time?

OK, I have to confess that these are actually the only sales books I’ve read. And after writing all of that, I’m thoroughly convinced that I should read more. So please leave a comment with your recommendations.

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This article was cross-posted on my business blog, NeoAgora Marketing. You browse there for more information small business marketing if you’re interested.

Use the bad points to sell the product

In my high school English class, I learned how to write (as we call it here) bullshit. I can now, reliably and without much effort, spout off minutes or pages of words with almost no meaning at all. It’s a very useful skill, and I’ve used it often, especially in graduate-level classes when I realized that my professor wasn’t reading our papers anyway.

But it was in my high school history class that I learned how to write. That is, how to write analytically, clearly, and persuasively. And one of the lessons I remember best was from Dr. Carter in sophomore or junior year. He insisted that, when we write a persuasive essay, that we include all of the counterarguments that would seem to defeat our main thesis.

Confusion. Outrage. (How dare this doctoral professor tell us 15-year-olds that our way of writing was wrong?)

Doing so, he said, provides two benefits:

    Credibility No one believes that your argument is clear-cut and that there’s only one side. (If it was, why would you have to write an essay to persuade people of it?) So if you try to claim that there are no counterarguments, all you do is convince people that you’re lying, or ignorant, or both. By including the counterarguments, you establish that you are an intelligent and thoughtful person who is aware of the larger picture.

    Rebuttal If you’ve selected your thesis wisely (and assuming that you are an intelligent and thoughtful person who is aware of the larger picture), then you must be aware of the potential counterarguments, and there must be some reason that you believe your thesis in spite of them. By including the counterarguments in your essay, you have the opportunity to explain those reasons.

Using counterarguments to boost sales

Since sales is simply a matter of persuasion, your sales and marketing methods can use the same technique. You know all the reasons someone might hesitate to buy your product; include them and explain why customers should buy anyway. Doing so reassures your customers that you’re being honest (sales copy claiming that a product is perfect is automatically dishonest), and helps them work through any objections they may have.

    Example: Board Games When I worked at a board game store, I would mention the downsides of any given game to a customer that was considering buying it; and if they didn’t ask, I would look for a way to work it into the conversation.

      Me: Now is it normally just the two of you, or will you usually have others to play with you?
      Customer: No, we have two boys, 13 and 16
      Me: Oh, OK. In that case, it’s great. Bohnanza sucks with just two players, but it’s awesome with three or more.

    Or, to a customer looking at Descent:

      Me: Now the downside to any Fantasy Flight Game is that it’s going to take you a couple of hours the first time to learn how to set it up and play it. But once you’ve gotten through that, you can play it forever and never get tired of it, because it will be new and different every time you play.

Your product isn’t for everyone

Someone in my Twitter feed (and I’m so sorry that I don’t remember who!) recently said “You can’t make a product that anyone will love without making a product that someone will hate.”

Fantasy Flight Games are a good example of this: they have a very devoted following, and I know several people who buy everything they put out. They’re the people who don’t mind taking a few hours to read through a rulebook and learn how to play. They’re the people who hate hate HATE to have any element of a game repeat ever. And they are more than enough to keep FFG in business. But they are less than 5% of the population.

Odds are good that your product has downsides. Your target market doesn’t care.

As long as they don’t know what the downsides are, they’ll be too scared to buy. But if you tell them what your product’s weak points are, many of them will say, “Oh, is that all?” and hand over the money.

Summary and Action Steps

Telling your customers about your products’ downsides can make them feel a lot more comfortable about buying from you.

What are the bad points of your product? In what situations do you feel that your product is worth buying anyway? Why?

Are the people in your identified target market in at least one of those situations? If not, how can you change your product or your target market to bring them into alignment?

This article was cross-posted at my business blog, NeoAgora Marketing, where you can find more information on marketing if you’re interested.

Amateurs are Better

Earlier this week, I talked about why being an amateur is better from your perspective: it means you’re getting paid to do what you love.

But it’s also better from your customers’ perspective.

The old way of thinking

It used to be that amateur meant sloppy, inadequate, poor workmanship. If someone wasn’t good enough to get paid for it, the logic went, it couldn’t be very good.

That was true when

    (a) most of the day — anyone’s day — was devoted just to surviving. An amateur simply couldn’t put in as much time as professional.
    (b) Professionals had better resources than amateurs — access to trade secrets, trained mentors, and scarce commodities. Professionals had better output because they had better input.
    (c) Markets were small and local, so there was only room for one professional of any type, and that single professional had to be really good.

What’s changed

(a) Although we are stressed out and have higher standards, we still don’t spend as much time as our ancestors did on survival — 40 hours a week is adequate for most people. This gives us a lot more free time in which to pursue our hobbies; as much as we spend on our jobs, if we choose to do so.

(b) Wiki-how, YouTube tutorials, podcasts and blogs, TED Talks, and universities’ opening their courses to iTunes… you can get an awful lot of good advice for free. Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, national and international conventions … you can contact and learn from some pretty amazing mentors for pretty cheap. Amateurs have resources on par with the professionals’.

(c) The market is global, and there are a lot of people out there who can do an adequate job of whatever you need done. There are “professionals” all over the place.

Good news for amateurs

There are all kinds of people out there getting paid for it, in a global marketplace — that means you could get paid to do it, too.

And you have a huge advantage: passion shows. People can always get a professional — what they want is an amateur professional: someone who loves what they’re doing. Someone who will go the extra mile because they love to make it right. Someone who cares whether their work is excellent or merely good. Let it be known that you love your work, and people will prefer you to your competitors.

How can you let it be known that you’re an amateur?

“New Business” is Old Business

Last time, I told you a happy little story (happy as long as you’re not a Corporate Executive of a Big Corporation) about how the internet in general, and social media in particular, has changed the world of business, and turned nearly every precept about Business upside-down, inside-out, and many other inverted prepositional phrases.

In summary, the old model for business went something like this:

  • Make a boring product as cheaply as possible
  • Run zillions of TV ads claiming the product is neither boring nor cheap
  • Sell it to millions of semi-satisfied customers who don’t have the resources to complain
  • If they do complain, lie.

The new model of business looks more like this:

  • Make an awesome product at the cost required to make it awesome.
  • Sell it at a price that can make you a profit given your costs
  • Sell it to a few, really-really-really satisfied customers who will become raving fans and who have the resources to tell the world how awesome you are
  • If someone finds something wrong with your product, admit it publicly, apologize publicly, and correct it.

Wait… that sounds familiar…

To some of you… those of you who are old enough to remember general stores with 5ยข sodas… or who grew up in tiny little country towns… or who were raised with old-fashioned farm values even though you grew up in the city… that model may ring bells.

The fact is, what I just described as the “old model for business” is actually quite new, historically speaking. For most of human history (and probably prehistory), everyone made money on their own — someone from Ancient China or Colonial England would be baffled by today’s complaints about lack of job security and the difficulty of living on uncertain income, because in their world, everyone — the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker — is in business for themselves, with all the headaches that implies.

For most of human history, people took pride in making high-quality products — they called it craftsmanship.

For most of human history, your customers all knew each other and told each other whether your product was awesome or awful.

For most of human history, your customers lived close enough to tell the difference between an apology and a press release… and a merchant unwilling to apologize soon lost his customers.

I’ve spent the last two years getting a Master’s in Business Administration from a top university, and I enjoyed it a lot. But my classes were mostly aimed towards the “old” TV-oriented model of business, and won’t help entrepreneurs today. What businesspeople need today is the knowledge that you can still get in a few places in the US: in nursing homes, in tiny little towns, and in stores where they still care about craftsmanship.

You don’t need an MBA. You need a grandparent.

Who’s the Best?

There are lots of things in life where you can clearly state what is “best”: in class, whoever scored highest on the test is the best student. In soccer, whoever won the World Cup is the best team. There are enough of them, in fact, that we frequently forget how many things in life cannot be clearly defined to be “best”.

Most pertinently, “best” can almost never be determined in business. When I was in college, “best” to me meant cheapest. When I graduated and got a “real job”, I was able to afford more expense, and “best” included durability and quality and price per unit (Now that my graduate student loans are coming due, “best” may go back to meaning cheapest.) If you’re handling neurotoxins, “best” means “safest”. There are lots of ways to define best, which means there are lots of ways to be the best.

If you can’t be the cheapest, can you be the fastest? If you can’t be the most insightful writer, can you be the funniest? Use what you do best.