Tag Archives: sales

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.

Is Marketing & Sales Unethical?

I’m writing in response to a blog post on SEOMoz by randfish, discussing whether SEO is immoral. (Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of modifying the layout, structure, and content of your website in ways that will make your site more likely to appear high in search engine results.)

The question, as posed:

    We search for relevance via the search engine. By learning and manipulating the system to accomplish its goal, SEO makes it more likely that you will come upon a target that is irrelevant. Thereby, wasting the user’s time and resources. It could be considered advertising in the form of a search result.

    Is this misleading and counter to the public welfare?

Randfish argues that in fact, SEO is almost always used to make you come upon search results that are more relevant, and that it’s no more misleading and counter to the public welfare than any other form of marketing and advertising.

Is Marketing Unethical?

While I agree completely, I’m not sure that his argument helps much, since a good number of people feel (at least vaguely) like all marketing and advertising is “misleading and counter to the public welfare”. So that’s what I’d like to discuss here.

Lying is Unethical

So let’s start with a basis on which we can all agree: advertising that states or implies untrue things is unquestionably misleading and counter to public welfare (and also illegal).

Lying by omission (“Well, you didn’t ask if this car would explode when rear-ended”) is also immoral (although it has more of a gray area based on what you might reasonably expect a customer to ask about; it is also more frequently legal).

So I am assuming, for the purposes of this discussion, that all the ads, all the marketing ideas and sales pitches and SEO techniques that we’re discussing are accurate, true, and disclose all important negatives (indeed, I’ve argued that you’re better off disclosing all negative features when you’re trying to make a sale).

Putting forth good arguments

In that case, marketing or sales both come down to making good arguments in favor of buying. Any type of persuasion can be done on an unethical basis (persuading voters to elect a new politician by spreading lies about the incumbent, for example), but barring those, sales is simply a matter of making your product look as attractive as (honestly) possible, using facts, analogies, lighting, testimonials, placement, and so on. (SEO is, in most cases, simply working to make the customer aware of the product at all).

Our question then: is that unethical?

The Moral Obligation to Look Bad

Turn it around: if making your product look good is immoral, than morality must lie in making your product look bad. For example, Ford Motors must not say

    Our trucks don’t last as long as many cars, since most of our customers use their vehicles so hard that they’ll need to get a new truck every few years anyway. They have a lot of power for hauling heavy loads and moving quickly, although you pay for that with lower gas mileage. And they look great.

But is morally obligated to say

    Sure, our trucks look good and have a lot of power, but the gas mileage is terrible and they’ll only last a couple of years

    (Honda would presumably be reciprocally obliged to say “Our cars get great gas mileage and they last forever, which means you’ll have to spend 20 years in the slowest, weakest, dinkiest car on the road”)

Should politicians be banned from using pictures of themselves in suits & makeup, and be required instead to use pictures with uncombed hair in their bathrobes, taken with a cheap disposable camera?

Should artists assembling a portfolio be required to include only their bad works, and none of their good? Should a band applying for a record contract be required to use uncut tracks made on cheap mono-feed recorders, preferably on a day the lead singer had laryngitis?

Neutrality isn’t usually an option

The simple and obvious answer is to avoid making your product look good or bad: simply put it out there neutrally and let people make their own decisions.

But how do you go about making a neutral presentation? As you can see, simply reversing the order in which data is presented can have a huge effect on whether it looks good or bad, and you have to present it in some order.

And it’s easier to lie with huge reams of data, anyway. Think Enron: all the data about their business was in their SEC reports, which you would think is as neutral a document as you could desire. But ALL their business data was in that report, making it easy to hide the few bits of incriminating data.

Is it immoral to look good?

So in most cases, neutrality is not possible, and we’re back to two choices: Are you morally required to make yourself look bad? Or may you, within the bounds of accuracy, truth, and legality, make yourself look as good as possible?

I cannot answer this question for you, of course. Many people through history have decided that looking good is a sin — some sects of Judaism, many of the Puritans that immigrated to North America, and some parts of Islam — and dictate a hunched posture and shapeless clothing. Every person must make their own ethical judgement.

But I stand on the side of presenting yourself well.

This article was cross-posted on my business blog, NeoAgora Marketing. You can browse there for more information onsmall 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.

Book Review: Never Eat Alone

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I came across Never Eat Alone many years ago, but I ignored it. It had been recommended to me as a good book for salespeople, and I could clearly see how never eating alone would be helpful for salespeople… but I wasn’t a salesperson, and never would be, so why bother? (I’m pretty sure the recommendation came from Sales Dogs, which had just convinced me that everyone’s in sales, but what can I say? Sometimes I just don’t catch on very quickly.)

It’s not just for salespeople

Never Eat Alone will certainly be useful for salespeople (whether your business card says “sales” or not), but it is, as the cover says, “secrets to success, one relationship at a time”.

The fact is, success anywhere requires relationships. Any investor will tell you of the importance of building your team. Social intelligence is one of the three key tenants of being an iconoclast. More people get jobs through personal connections than through all other job-searching methods combined. Suppliers and assistants are more helpful, linchpin-y, and willing to bend the rules if they like you. Henry Ford famously demonstrated the benefits of having team members who are smarter than you. Jeffrey Gitomer sums it up: “All else being equal, people prefer to do business with their friends. All else being not quite so equal, people still prefer to do business with their friends.”

Having a strong, solid network can get you jobs you would never have heard of, get your business contracts, sales, or investors that you would never have a chance to meet, and warn you of investment opportunities before it’s too late to take advantage of them. No matter what your monetization plan, you need a network.

But I don’t want to be a sleaze-ball!

We have many pre-conceived notions of what it means to network, from the pit-bull salesperson who forces his business card into your hand to the boot-licking brown-noser who flatters her way into the corner office. I suspect that’s part of the reason Keith Ferrazzi avoids the verb “network”, preferring instead “connecting” “building relationships”, or similar, because of the negative connotations we associate with “networking”.

Rest assured, this book is not about being aggressive, dishonest, or sycophantic. In fact, there are entire chapters about how not to be the networking jerk.

This book is about honestly making genuine connections with people, and using those connections in a way that is kind, respectful, and helpful to both parties.

What could be improved

The margins are too narrow.

I traditionally start book reviews with the bad parts of the book, but there’s really nothing (apart from the lack of note-taking space) that I feel is sub-par. Oh, he recommends a lot of things that make me want to cry — I’m a shy introvert, and hosting a dinner party or cold-calling someone with a secretary is my idea of torture. But that’s my problem, not his.

What’s Awesome

The book starts with his explanation of why he thinks building a network of personal relationships is important — how it got him out of factory work and into CEO-level work, how it got him job promotions, sales, and opportunities, as well as making him lots of friends.

From there, each chapter focuses on a particular skill, concept, or attitude that he thinks is crucial for building, maintaining, and using a strong network. He tells a (frequently embarrassing) story about how he learned this skill or how he applies it, highlights the important steps or underlying ideas, and — in many cases — ends with a “Connector’s Hall of Fame Profile”, discussing someone who is particularly good at networking.

Recommendation: Buy It

I borrowed Never Eat Alone from my cousin, and it was well worth the time I put in to reading it. But the book is also a how-to manual of some depth, and you’re going to want to refer back to it fairly regularly. In the end, my cousin bought me a copy for my birthday so that I would give her copy back.

Buy Never Eat Alone while simultaneously helping African children get an education. (Learn more).

Are You Using Kamikaze Pricing?

Reed K. Holden and Thomas T. Nagle coined the term Kamikaze pricing to refer to companies’ engaging in dive-bombing price wars that lead to a race to the bottom where nobody wins.

So much advertising focuses on price that we forget that customers buy for other reasons, too. After all, how many people do you know who buy exclusively from Wal-Mart? Or who eat exclusively off fast-food dollar menus? Is price a factor? Certainly. But most people actually prefer high-quality-at-a-fair-price to low-quality-at-the-lowest-price. (Holden, 1998)

Can you compete at the bottom?

Who has the lowest prices in your industry? If you sell clothing or basic products, the answer is probably Wal-Mart; if you sell services, the answer might be a virtual assistant in India, and so on.

How much do they charge?

If you charged that much, could you make a profit?

I mean, really make a profit? Not only make more than you spent on the product, but pay your office rent, buy pins and paperclips, cover the advertising costs, and still have enough left over to pay yourself a living wage?

If the answer is yes, then you have to decide if you want to compete on the basis of price. Read on, then make your decision.
If the answer is no, then you’re not competing on the basis of price.

    I want you to sit down and write that 100 times: I am not competing on the basis of price. Or put it on a sticky note by your sewing machine or drill press or laptop. Or whatever else it takes to get that idea into your head. I am not competing on the basis of price.

Competitive Survey

Since you’re not competing on the basis of price, you want to take price out of the equation. This is called a neutral pricing strategy, if you ever need to impress someone.

How do you do that? You charge (essentially) the same as your competition. Not your lowest-price competition, but the people who actually sell the same stuff you do. How much do most artists charge for a one-of-a-kind shirt? How much do most business consultants charge for an hour of assistance? How much do most ebooks charge for a high-quality document that can really help you solve a problem?

Find a couple of genuine, equal-value competitors. Take the average of their prices. Round that to the nearest dollar. Charge that.

Compete on the basis of something else

Now, when prospective customers look at your prices, they’ll think to themselves, “OK, so basically the same as everyone else.” And having established that the prices are basically the same no matter where they go, they’ll forget about prices and start looking at what they can get for their fixed-amount-of-money.

This is where you have a chance to shine. What can you do better than your competitors?

  • Make a product that’s more durable?
  • Make a product that’s more flexible, more useful in more situations?
  • Make a product that fits better with their values (environmentally-friendly, free-trade, etc)?
  • Be more responsive to customer requests?
  • Stick with it until you’ve given the customer exactly what they want?
  • Randomly upgrade some of your customers to overnight shipping?

Not only will you make more money, but you’ll have a lot more fun.

  1. I am not competing on the basis of price
  2. I am not competing on the basis of price
  3. I am not competing on the basis of price
  4. I am not competing on the basis of price
  5. I am not competing on the basis of price

Resources for Further Reading
You Need a Business Plan — Maybe
Marketing for Entrepreneurs: Should You Sell on Price?

Bibliography
Holden, R., Thomas (1998), “Kamikaze Pricing”. Marketing Management, Summer pp. 33-39