Sales

Nothing Happens Until…

I never had a bad opinion of selling. I grew up with a mother who sold shoes for over 50 years so selling to me was something good and honorable. It allowed you to help others while also earning money. And, when I realized that your income was dependent upon how much you sold and not on how much an hour someone wanted to pay me, I was even more sold on selling. Selling may or may not be the oldest profession but it is certainly one of the oldest that still exists today.

Josiah Wedgewood, of the Wedgewood China family, came up with ideas to sell more of their expensive Wedgewood China in the mid-1700’s. And, while he is credited with being a genius marketer, I believe he looked upon selling as an intellectual pleasure and an art form. He was selling.

“Nothing happens in business until someone sells something.” Supposedly that statement appeared in Parade Magazine in 1930 and was coined by Arthur “Red” Motley. And, until after WWII most corporations lived and died by that motto. But, post WWII, marketing and advertising became part of the business school regimen and sales became something you did if you couldn’t get into business school. People turned up their nose at selling and hundreds of thousands of college graduates became marketers. Well, that’s what they majored in but most of them found employment in other areas that had nothing to do with marketing. A lucky few tried sales and learned that’s where the action and the financial rewards are in marketing.

Many small business owners have either lost sight of or never understood the paramount importance of selling. They fixate on marketing and I find that most often it is because they themselves never learned how to sell. They don’t know how to do it themselves and they find it extremely difficult to manage the best salespeople who most often are independent. Most exceptional salespeople will follow a good leader but bristle at being “managed.”

Selling still creates businesses, wealth, and jobs. Without salespeople and selling you would not have a job. And, if you’re reading this and you don’t have a job, may I suggest you set your sights on a position in sales, read all the books you can by the masters in the field, and start by selling yourself to someone who will give you an opportunity to prove yourself as a salesperson. If you will do that, you be on your way in a career that will always provide you with an income and sense of accomplishment no matter what is going on in the economy.

Technology and the use of social media have made selling easier than ever. You can find out more about your prospects in seconds that would take me a day in the library only 25 years ago. But don’t rely on technology to replace personal, face-to-face, selling. Use technology to augment and enhance selling but always remember you still have to ask your prospects the right questions and listen to the answers.

I went from being a professional photographer to setting sales records for a Fortune 100 company and I did it in one year. And, I continued to do it year-after-year-after-year. There’s an old saying in professional photography. It goes like this.

Question:  Do you know how to make a small fortune in professional photography?
Answer:  Start with a large one.

Photographers are not usually known for their sales skills. If a photographer (me) can do it, you can do it too.

Today is my birthday. Thank you for letting me share it with you. My birthday wish for you is that you are as fortunate as Josiah Wedgewood and myself and that you are able to spend your working hours engaged in something that is both an intellectual pleasure and your you own form of art. Thank you for listening. 

My Next Ten Years

Networked Brains

I decided it is time for me to make a new plan. The Chinese have their 100 year plans. I like the idea but having turned 62 a couple of months ago, I thought 100 years might be bit too optimistic. So, I am working on my ten-year plan.

Now the truth is that while I’ve always been a goal setter, I don’t recall ever setting a life plan for myself. I’m fascinated by people who do it and even more fascinated when they actually follow the plan but I’m just too interested in too many things and I always wanted to keep my options open. Yeah, I’ve always suffered from shiny object syndrome. It’s worked for me. I’ve had a fascinating and rich life and while there are things I might like to do-over, I’ve learned not to dwell on the past and to focus on today.

I’ve been writing a new book for the last couple of months. It was focused on sales for small business. I say was because I’ve decided not to write it. And, the story of why I made that decision is what led to putting together the ten-year plan. Let me tell you the story of what happened.

Part of writing the book involved interviewing small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers. One of the things that kept coming up was the expressed need for a better way to sell despite all the amazing amount of content available in books, DVD’s, video, online, etc. It seems like these things just aren’t enough to give people the combination of skills and confidence necessary to sell when selling isn’t your primary job description.

All of the people I talked with share a couple of characteristics. The first one is they are in business because they love and are passionate about what they are doing. The second one that most of them share is they have almost no direct selling experience and, for the most part, are anxious about selling to someone.

That got me to thinking about how I learned how to sell. The first formal training occurred when I was in my mid-twenties and working my first job for someone other than myself. I got a sales job with 3M Company and they put me through an extensive two-week program followed up by time working in the field with a supervisor, followed up by more classroom training, which was followed up by more follow-up. It was an awesome program.

When I later formed my own sales and marketing consulting company, I put together my own sales training that was three full days of workshops followed by six to eight weeks of continuing on-site follow-up including working with the salespeople on actual sales calls where we not only observed but interacted with the customers and prospects so the person undergoing the training could learn to model us. It too was very successful but it was designed for people who wanted to be sales professionals and were motivated to participate and learn.

Suddenly during my interviews with these small business owners a light bulb went off and I realized that it was always going to be exceptionally hard for them to learn how to sell and value the sales process from reading a book or watching a video. Selling is an experiential process. Books are great but most people need to actually experience the sales process in order to own it – especially people who view selling as something they know they have to do for their business to survive but don’t particularly appreciate having to engage in it.

It was at that moment that I decided the world doesn’t need another book about how to sell.

But, now I’m faced with a really difficult question. “How do you help non-sales type people be successful in selling without the long-term training and follow-up? How do you let them experience selling for themselves without being with them?”

I’ve got some ideas but I can’t do it alone. It’s going to take a tribe of us to make it happen. We’re going to have to network our brains for exponential growth. If there is one thing I do know it is that there are lots of you out there that want and need to be able to sell but you don’t want the process to feel manipulative and you don’t need all the rah-rah and sneaky sales tactics. You want selling to be a win-win relationship that happens naturally and gently.

I’m with you on all this and I’m proof that you don’t need any of the slimy tactics to sell. I broke every sales record possible with 3M and continued to have remarkable success in selling my entire life. Manipulation and creepy tactics just don’t work for me and they don’t work for most people who are in business because they love what they do and not because they love the sales part of it.

So the 10-year plan is focused on delivering a realistic, first-hand, you’re part of the sales process experience while still allowing you to run your business. The first change you’re going to see in this 10-year plan is my blog is going to be very different. I’m going to give you something that I hope will be a way to keep you in tune with gentle selling. I call it The Daily Doughnut and you’ll be hearing more about what a treat it will be right here very soon. I know you don’t have a lot of time to spend on learning and maintaining your selling skills when you’re running your business so The Doughnut will give you some bite size chunks that I hope will be one way to help you.

In order to make the experience more real for you, I’m going to invite readers to share their sales challenges and we will use the power of stories to recreate them along with solutions that you all can use in your own business. You’ll see more videos, hear more podcasts, experience more webinars and be an actual part of all this yourself. I may even show up at your place of business and we’ll do this together.

If you only come away with one thing from this post I want you to remember this. In order to learn how to sell, to become better at sales – you have got to experience it! You just can’t sit on the sidelines watching. I don’t have all the answers and this plan is a journey for all of us. More ideas of how to turn this into an experience are in development now. I’m talking to several companies about doing real interactive long-distance training as one example. I’ll continue to write about leadership and creativity but I hope to even make that experience more real for all of you. Between technology, storytelling and working together as a tribe I hope we can accomplish these things.

I hope you’ll join me on the trip. It should be one heck of a ride!

The Sales Puzzle

We don’t want to feel like we’re being sold.

We do like to buy.

That is the conundrum for the salesperson.

The welcome solution to the puzzle is to –

Listen the Customer into Buying.

Photo compliments of Felix the Cat

A Funny Sales Secret

 

Walt - Funniest Man I Know

My friend Walt is the funniest person I know. He can walk into a room of strangers and within minutes the crowd will come alive, people will be laughing and they will gravitate toward Walt to find out more about him and to just be in his company. In most social settings you can almost always find a crowd of people around someone who is cracking them up with stories and jokes? Walt happens to be a master at making every individual person in the room feel good by using humor. It is no coincidence that he is also one of the best salespeople I’ve ever known.

What’s this story got to do with you? Well, close the door and pull the shades because I’m about  to tell you a very important sales secret and I don’t want too many people to find out about it as it could upset the entire sales dynamic in the world.

Here it is – People buy from people they like.

I don’t know about you but personally I’m not too keen on buying anything from someone I don’t like. In fact, I pretty much have to like, trust, and respect them. And, someone who can make me laugh, who cares about how I feel, who shows they like people and treats them as a friend is a requirement if I’m going to buy from you.

I have too many choices to ever have to buy from someone I don’t like, trust, or respect.

Years ago I was pretty active in National Speakers Association. It was always funny but yet sad to watch people talking to each other in the hallways between presentations. Too many of them would be talking to someone standing a foot in front of their face yet they’d be scanning the crowd to see if they should be talking to someone with more celebrity. So many opportunities to really get to know someone were wasted. But, I guess that’s why the organization wasn’t called the National Listeners Association.

Have you ever thought about how you establish a connection with people? We can’t all be like Walt and engage and entertain and entire room of strangers. But, one-to-one, we can be just as engaging and show that we really care about the person we’re with at that moment in time. We can do that with eye contact, a smile, and being present in the moment. We can do it by asking them non-threatening questions. We can do it listening and giving feedback so they know we heard and understood what they just told us. We can do it by tuning out everyone and everything else and giving them the respect they deserve.

The next opportunity you have to establish that connection with someone think about this other sales secret and act accordingly.

It’s not about you.

Sad Facebook Story

A Philadelphia car dealer builds a fan page on Facebook and launches in January 2010. Over the next 12 months he garners 400 fans who mostly consist of friends, family, previous customers and a few people he calls strangers. At the end of the 12 month period he says he only sold one car to a fan and he’s very disappointed in Facebook and social media.

When I check his fan page I see it consists of nothing but photos of inventory of his cars, pricing, mileage, etc. In other words, it is a digital ad which is no different from the print ones all car dealers cling to as their number one marketing method.

I wonder how many of his 400 fans bought a car someplace else. Since they consist primarily of friends, family and customers they probably didn’t buy a new car in 2010 or, if they bought it someplace else, this particular dealer has a bigger problem than the fact he is clueless about how to engage people and build relationships with social media.

I would have told this dealer to start having some fun and engage his fans by allowing them to participate on the page. Have weekly contests for things like car washes, oil changes, and tire rotation. Make a free oil change contest into one where fans get to name what free option they would most like if they were to purchase a new car from him. When the voting is complete, I would have him offer that option with all cars sold to the contest participants who buy one within the next 30 days. Get your customers participating and telling their stories on your page. Why do they keep coming back to your dealership to buy when they could buy their cars from hundreds of competitors?

Tell the funny story about how a customer stopped for an oil change and the mechanic found a ten-foot long snake skin under the car. Or, tell the story about how one customer’s check engine light kept coming on and how he was told by another dealership that he would need a new $350 oxygen sensor installed. He brought it to you for a second opinion and you noticed there was a lot of black carbon around the gas cap cover. That made you suspect a problem with the gas cap itself so you installed a new one. $20 and a new cap turned out to be the solution and now you have a happy new customer who also saved $300.

Tell these kinds of stories, let your fans participate on the page, and stop with the advertising and I bet this car dealer who is so disappointed in Facebook and social media will be singing a different tune at the end of the next twelve months. And, so will you if you apply some of these ideas to your small business.

Kill the RFP

Do you sell in an industry that uses RFPs (Request for Proposals)? I once made the mistake of creating a company that sold a software system to very large organizations almost all of whom made use of the dreaded RFP even though it was not a requirement for them. After wasting hours of time on responding to RFPs with the hope we might get the sale only to see the sale go to the company that the customer wanted all along, I came to realize that RFPs are the biggest waste of time and money in the world of sales.

My belief was validated one evening when after a number of cocktails the decision maker for one of these large organizations became loquacious at a hospitality party I was hosting during a national convention and confided that the only reason his organization uses RFPs is to “show the big bosses we have done our due diligence.” He went on to tell me that most of the time the specification in the RFPs are written by the software supplier the organization already has chosen. By the time the evening was over I knew I didn’t ever want to sell anything again if it involved having to respond to an RFP.

In his new book, “We Are All Weird,” Seth Godin makes a statement that resonated with me and brought back my memories of selling to these types of companies. He says,

“Either you’ll want to spend your time and effort betting on the mass and the status quo – and trying to earn your spot in this crowded mob – or you’ll abandon that quest and realize that there are better opportunities and more growth if you market to and lead the weird.”

Part of Seth’s definition of weird is “people who have chosen to avoid conforming to the masses, at least in some part of their lives.”

If any of those large organizations had chosen to purchase their software system without the use of an RFP, they would have been considered to be weird and I would have enjoyed selling to them.

But that didn’t happen. Instead I chose to be weird and I concentrated my efforts on entities that used their collective minds and hearts to engage in honest and open discussions of software systems and not waste 80% of my time trying to fit into someone’s idea of a system designed to serve everyone and therefore one that would never satisfy anyone.

So I say “Death to RFPs. Off with their heads.” And, if you’re still working in an industry that uses RFPs exclusively or even extensively, I offer a suggestion. Search for the weird and sell to them instead.

And, pick up a copy (hard or digital) of “We Are All Weird.” I give it 5 stars out of 5.

Stop Talking. Listen. Say Yes

We all tend to talk too much when we are in a conversation with a customer or prospective client. If you think you might be guilty of doing it here are some of the possible reasons why:

  • It is human nature for many of us to talk when we’re nervous and being in a sales situation often brings out some serious nervous tension.
  • You know all the features and benefits of your products and services and you really want to educate the buyer.
  • Somewhere along the line you got the idea that selling is telling.
  • You feel like you’re in control of the sales situation if you’re doing the talking.
  • You aren’t prepared with the questions you need to ask so that you can listen and understand what the customer wants from you and your company.

I’ve witnessed too many salespeople talk themselves right out of the sale they already had made by continuing to talk. All they had to do was shut up and say “Yes.” The customer was ready to buy.

Most people (ALL?) don’t want to be sold. They want to buy – so let them. Your job is ask questions and answer their specific questions. Save the Dog and Pony Show and Show and Tell for when you’re onstage giving a presentation.

As far as what kinds of questions you need to ask while speaking with customers and prospects, why not give this a try.

Write down a list of questions that you’d want to ask you if you were in the buyer’s shoes.  You’re the expert so write down ones that people might not know to ask. What’s unique about your product? Here’s a quick example. Let’s say your tiny video camera has an audio jack so you can add wireless microphones or just a better mic than the on-camera one. Ask a question like, “What type of scenes and videos do you plan on making?” That will allow you to determine if the ability to add a microphone is important.”

If you just blurt out in your stream of logorrhea that your camera has an audio-in jack your prospect may be saying “So what!” to themselves if they either know they don’t want it or don’t know enough to know they do.

Next put together a list of questions that will allow the buyer to talk so they can tell you what is important to them, what they already know about your type of product, and possibly what they even know about your specific product. People can research everything on the web today so if they let you know they already did some research about what you’re selling and now they are talking with you – guess what – they are very interested in buying.

Let them. Stop talking. Listen. Say yes.

Why Should You Listen to Me?

The best piece of advice I ever received was to never take advice from someone who hadn’t done or succeeded at what they were advising you about.

People can’t take you where they haven’t been themselves. So, if you want to be a millionaire, only take advice from a millionaire. If you want to be a top salesman, learn from the top salesmen. If you want to raise a child, have a successful marriage, tell a story, sing a song, or communicate effectively with thousands of people then find someone who has, or is succeeding at just that very thing.

I’m a connector. I have a knack for bringing people together who when they are together accomplish things in exponential fashion. It’s a gift of mine and I share it with you whenever possible. If you’ve ever petted a dog, sung a song, taken a risk or a photograph, loved another person or a child, traveled, told a story or succeeded or failed at any of these things, you and I also have something in common. We’re human.

I’ve made and lost millions. I’ve started out and started over. In my mid-twenties, I started my professional life as both a photographer and journalist. I won some wonderful national awards. Not too long after that I decided to make my first major career change. At an age when most people are starting their first career, I was starting my second. I switched from journalism and photography, to sales and marketing. I won a boatload of awards and earned more money in a few short years than most people do in a lifetime.

I lived the American dream, becoming semi-retired by the age of 45. Over the next 5 years, I slid down the up staircase. I proceeded to give away money, lose money, and even have all my money stolen from me. At the age of 50, I started all over again from scratch and found, to my relief, that once you know the way to the top you don’t forget too many of the turns and twists it takes to get there. And now at the age of 62, I consider my life richer and fuller than it has ever been because I’ve never stopped learning, creating, and, most importantly, listening to the people in my life.

In my 62 years on this blue and green orb, I’ve spent time with the famous, the infamous, and all the rest of us. And, while I don’t name drop for the sake of name-dropping I am willing to share with you the perspectives of all of these, plus my own sometimes objective and sometimes opinionated viewpoints.

I promise I won’t bore you, and I promise I will give it my all in my posts here. I won’t always succeed at either but I know that failure is part of life and if I’m not failing (or if you’re not failing) we’re not really alive.

So if you want advice about marketing, sales, and people connection, I bring success, experience and insight in all those areas to the table. If you want opinions, magic tricks, stories and song, you’re also in luck.

Magic tricks and songs aside, there are a lot of reasons why we should connect if you’re serious about succeeding. So let’s do it. And, if after reading all this you’re still not convinced, there’s a great video on the about page where some of my friends answer the question, “Who is Bob Poole?

Selling With Photography and Video

If you aren’t using photography and video in your small business you are missing out on a fantastic, effective, and entertaining way to sell and market your products and services. And, you are not getting the advantage of being indexed by the number two search engine in the world – YouTube. Video gives you the opportunity to engage more of your customers’ senses while lending credibility to you and your organization. Other than a live presentation nothing can tell your story better than a video.

Learning more about video equipment, software, and other video ideas is one of the reasons I’m going to spend some time next month at PhotoPlus Expo in New York City. I’m also going to blog about it onsite as a way to experiment with a new (for me) concept.

You can go too! The basic admission is free and you’ll never see more photo and video suppliers and get more free education all in one place than PhotoPlus. All the details are on their website. There are over 115 seminars taught by some of the world’s most renowned experts that you can attend too. Those, however, are not free but having attended a number of them over the years, I can recommend them.

PDN PhotoPlus International has a Facebook page where you can learn more. You can also sign-up on their wall under the contests tab for an online sweepstakes and the chance to win prizes twice a week through October 28th.

The investment in equipment can be quite small and you can still get quality videos for your website, blog, etc. And, if you don’t want to do it yourself, I can point you in the direction of someone who can provide you with the best in video services.

What are you waiting for? If you’re anywhere near New York City and are interested in learning more about photography and video creation and utilization then circle a day or two between October 27th and 29th. And, let me know if you’ll be there. Maybe we can put together a meet-up for other readers.

Don’t forget the sweepstakes on Facebook. You can click on Enter Now in the photo below. Good luck!

So What!

Have you ever been shopping for something and have a salesperson begin to tell you all about the features of a particular product only to find yourself thinking, “So what!”

It happened to me recently when I was trying to find the best video camcorder for my purposes. Those last two words of the previous sentence are critical – my purposes.

Too often salespeople are so enamored with what they are selling or they think that telling a prospective customer everything they know about it will get them the sale. It doesn’t work that way. You must find out what the customer is going to use it for and what needs he may have that he doesn’t even know about or understand.

In the example of the camcorder, I know quite a bit about still photography but a lot less about video equipment and the technology today. I have a pretty short list of what I wanted to do with it. Yet the salesperson ignored my questions and statements and proceeded to tell me about his favorite camera. That’s what he called it – his favorite.

I left confused and frustrated and determined to find out more about the current crop of camcorders online and buy the necessary equipment there. He could have had the sale and I would have been a happy customer if only he had asked me some questions and then listened to me. Instead he did most of the talking and I was forced to listen which isn’t what I wanted and isn’t a whole lot of fun.

Don’t make the same mistake. Develop a list of questions you can ask a prospective customer that will allow them to do most of the talking. That’s how you make the sale.

My New Book

I’m working on my next book following up Listen First – Sell Later and I’m already well into it. It has twenty-plus chapters and will be about 50,000 words by the time it is edited. It will be a sales book (no surprise there) and I’ll be focusing on small businesses and their particular sales needs.

Want to be part of the book? I’m looking for a few people who have started their own businesses or have worked in sales for small businesses and have a story to tell about their journey. I’m especially interested in hearing from those of you who started your own company without much of a clue about sales only to learn you had no alternative but to learn how to sell.

What are some of the most difficult things you learned about sales and triumphed over?

If you’re interested, please email me at bob at bobpoole dot com or you can also leave a few sentences about your experiences in the comments section.

Thank you!