Stop Trying to Be Normal

February 12th, 2019

Stop Trying to Be NormalAs kids, nearly all of us want to be “normal.” We want to fit in and be accepted. And that’s understandable when we’re six or seven (or even fifteen), and “different” is perceived as bad or weird or wrong.

Unfortunately, too many people never outgrow that need. As adults, so many of us still cling to the desire to be “normal.” But what does that really mean? What exactly is normal?

Normal is:

• Average
• Ordinary
• Everyday
• Mundane
• Typical
• Mediocre
• Decent
• Acceptable
• Routine
• Sufficient
• Marginal
• Common
• Unremarkable
• Humdrum
• Standard
• Run-of-the-mill
• Inconsequential
• Forgettable

Is that how you want to be perceived? Is that how you want your company, product, or service to be described?

Or would you rather be:

• Exceptional
• Extraordinary
• Amazing
• Incredible
• Breathtaking
• Mind-boggling
• Awesome
• Stunning
• Innovative
• Outrageous
• Fascinating
• Unprecedented
• Pioneering
• Remarkable
• Surprising
• Distinctive
• Unique
• Outstanding
• Singular
• Astonishing
• Memorable

Normal is overrated. Different is underused.

Is there a risk in being different? Of course. Some people won’t like it. But if it turns off some people, so what? Neither you, your company, your product, or your service needs to be palatable to everyone. In fact, nothing can be palatable to everyone. So don’t try to be.

Think of your favorite celebrity—are they normal? Think of your dream car—is it normal?

Was the Apple Macintosh normal? Was Nike’s first shoe normal? Is Dom Perignon normal? Was “Black Panther” normal? (Either the comic book or the movie?)

I could go on and on, citing example after example. Normal is safe, but carries little chance of major success. Different is risky, but that’s where the real potential for greatness is. Not just in sales or business, but life itself.

Let your freak flag fly. Revel in who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Create products and services that are so different that people have to have them.

Normal is boring. Different is exciting, liberating, and energizing. The choice is yours.

What You Like Doesn’t Matter

February 5th, 2019

What You Like Doesn’t MatterSo I’m sitting around with a bunch of friends, and we’re discussing really important stuff, when somehow the subject of potato chips comes up. (Possibly because we were eating them.)

Within a few seconds, our friendly discussion morphed into a heated debate on the merits of regular potato chips versus “Kettle-Cooked” potato chips. Both sides vehemently defended their position regarding taste, texture, and mouth-feel. And neither side could fathom how the other could possibly prefer the obviously inferior option.

I sat watching quietly because I didn’t have a dog in this fight. (I like both kinds. Preferably flavored.) And I marveled at how something so mundane could stir such passion in people.

Because we take our likes and dislikes for granted. If we like something, it must be good. And if we dislike something, it must be bad..

But our tastes are just that: ours. They’re personal. They’re not objective.

Your prospects may have very different tastes than you. Their tastes aren’t wrong—they’re just different. And your prospects probably feel as passionately about their tastes as you do about yours. Which means you need to respect their tastes, even if you don’t understand them. Because in sales, it’s your prospect’s tastes that matter, not yours.

And the same goes for many other things your potential buyer has that may be radically different than yours, including their:

• Values
• Priorities
• Budget
• Dreams
• Fears
• Buying approach
• Beliefs
• Past experiences
• Idiosyncrasies
• Skepticism
• Risk tolerance
• Parenting style
• Self-Confidence
• Biases

All of these items are subjective. There’s no right or wrong. So don’t judge or dismiss people who think and feel differently than you do.

Instead, make an effort to empathize and understand. And even if you can’t fully understand someone’s thoughts or feelings, you can still respect them. And you must, because their thoughts and feelings are what will determine whether or not they buy from you.

So if you want to boost your sales, recognize that your prospect’s likes and dislikes are just as valid as—and even more important than—yours, and treat them accordingly.

Damn. Now I really want potato chips.

Nine Attitudes for Sales Success

January 29th, 2019

Nine Attitudes for Sales SuccessAsk any sales expert, and they’ll tell you that the right attitude is essential for success. But it’s not just one attitude that’s necessary—there are several. I would suggest there are nine different—but related—attitudes you need to nurture in order to be successful in sales.

1. Optimism
I have never met a successful salesperson or business owner who was a pessimist. Successful people—in all fields, in fact—believe they are going to be successful. And that belief plays a huge role in their eventual success. Top salespeople believe they’re going to close the sale and they act accordingly

2. Confidence
In survey after survey, confidence is the #1 factor in people’s buying decisions. And because confidence is contagious, confident salespeople tend to instill confidence in their prospects. Which means you need to be confident in your company, your products and services, and above all, yourself.

3. Humility
Contrary to what some people believe, humility is not the opposite of confidence. It actually goes hand-in-hand with it. Because unchecked confidence leads to arrogance, which often leads to spectacular failure, because few people want to work with an arrogant jerk. Humility keeps the ego in check. A person who possesses humility recognizes that they aren’t the center of the universe. They are happy to share credit when things go right and take responsibility when things go wrong. They know that no matter how good they are, they can always get better; no matter how much they know, there is always more to learn.

4. Tenacity
Success is rarely quick or easy. It often takes years of struggle. In many industries, a single sale can take years. Which means you need to be determined. You need to be in it for the long haul. Repeated studies show that many salespeople give up after a single interaction or a single objection. The successful ones keep at it.

5. Resiliency
You can do everything right and still fail. There are so many factors beyond your control. And sometimes your product or service simply isn’t the best fit for your prospect. The question is how well do you bounce back from a lost sale? Or a big mistake? Or a bad quarter?

6. Service
Sales is service and service is sales. Successful salespeople understand that their job is to serve people: prospects, customers, company owners, and each other. The more they can be of service, the more valuable they are to their buyers and their company.

7. Respect
No one likes to feel disrespected. Top salespeople and business owners know this and are respectful to everyone, including:

• Prospects
• Customers
• People who didn’t buy from them
• Their staff
• Their bosses
• Gatekeepers
• Vendors
• Colleagues
• Competitors

8. Love
I don’t mean to get all mushy on you, but love is an underrated business attitude. You need to love what you do, who you do it with, and who you do it for. When you love where you work, your enthusiasm goes up and your stress level goes down. When your employees feel loved, they work harder and produce better results. When prospects feel loved and cared about, they not only buy, they buy more.

9. Gratitude
Sincere gratitude fuels the other attitudes on this list. Successful salespeople and business owners are continuously grateful for everything in their lives, including:

• Their successes
• The lessons learned from their failures
• Opportunities
• Mentors and coaches
• Family
• Friends
• Their health
• Customers
• Employees
• And much more

If you want to achieve greater success, ask yourself: “Which of these attitudes could I be better at? How could I develop and strengthen them?” Because the more you embrace and exhibit all nine of these attitudes, the more sales you’ll make, the more impact you’ll create, and the more success you’ll attain.

Seven Steps to Creating a Powerful Prospecting Plan

January 22nd, 2019

Seven Steps to Creating a Powerful Prospecting Plan Do you have a prospecting plan? If you want to boost your sales, it can be a huge help.

A prospecting plan is like a business plan for your sales efforts. It’s a planning tool that helps you sketch out your goals, your best prospects, how to reach them, and more.

Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it isn’t. All you have to do to is answer seven simple questions.

1. What are my sales goals?
Do you want more new customers or more repeat sales to existing customers? Are you trying to break into a new industry? Is it more important to push a new product or revive a sagging performer in your line? Do you want to move cheap stuff or big-ticket items? Do you want to increase your sales by a certain dollar amount or by a certain percentage?

You can have more than one goal. You may have two or three of the above goals and some additional ones as well.

Regardless of how many goals you have, be specific, with numbers and dates. When you know precisely what you want to accomplish—and by when—it’s easier to do it, because your goals will help define other aspects of your plan.

2. Who are my ideal prospects?
Here’s a hint: “everyone” is the wrong answer. Too many salespeople waste a lot of their time with prospects who will never do business with them. To maximize your prospecting time, you need to spend it with the people who are most likely to buy from you.

Start your profiling by examining your current customers: What do they have in common? Then decide who else you want to target and list their defining characteristics: size, income, age, industry, health status, gender, job title, etc. This doesn’t mean that you will ignore everyone else, because you’ll happily serve someone who doesn’t happen to fit your profile. But your ideal prospects are the people you want to devote most of your time and energy to.

3. Where are they?
Whoever your ideal prospects are, you’ll find some of them everywhere. But you want to focus your efforts where the greatest concentrations of them are.

For example, if your target market is the elderly, you know that there are large populations of retirees in warm climates like Florida and Arizona. In any given community, you’ll find concentrations living in retirement centers and assisted living facilities. By contrast, if you’re targeting Millennials, you’ll tend to find them in apartment buildings in urban areas and along the coasts.

And I’m not just talking about where people live. You might also want to know where they work, what business or industry events they go to, what social media platforms they spend their time on, where they go for fun, what they read, what they watch, and what they listen to. Because they more you know about where your ideal prospects are and what they do, the easier it is to figure out the answer to the next question.

4. How will I reach them?
You have dozens of prospecting tools at your disposal, including networking, direct mail, cold calls, Facebook ads, trade shows, special events, LinkedIn Groups, referrals, and more. Choose several and use them simultaneously.

Don’t despair if you don’t see results immediately. It takes an average of nine “impressions” (anytime a person is exposed to you, your name, your product, or your company) to move a prospect from apathy to action. So be persistent in your efforts. And be fanatical about following up with each prospect. The more tactics you employ, the better your results will be.

5. What is my hook?
Here’s a secret about sales in general and prospecting in particular: Nobody cares about you, your company, your product, or your service. Which means if you try to open with a sales pitch or by shoving a bunch of sales material into the hands of a prospect, you’re wasting your time.

What people really care about is themselves. So lead with a hook instead of a pitch. A hook is something that is of value to the prospect and requires no effort, obligation, expense, or risk on their part. Its purpose is to grab their attention and create a sense of perceived value and appreciation. Great hooks include:

• Free samples
• Gifts
• Invitations to an event or party
• Articles, reports, white papers, or eBooks
• Contests
• Webinars
• Free consultations, evaluations, or audits

Think about how you could use one of the above ideas (or one of your own) as a hook and how you could get it to your prospects. A hook will radically improve your chances of securing an opportunity to talk further with your prospect.

6. What steps am I going to take and in what time frame?
This is a critical part of your plan. Unless you commit to taking action, you won’t achieve the goals you’ve set. Schedule what you’re going to do and when, with as much detail as possible. Break each project into incremental steps, with a time line for each one. This will help ensure that those things get done.

7. How often will I review this plan?
After you’ve written your plan, review it periodically: weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly. You’ll probably want to review it more frequently at first, then you can reduce the frequency as you see results. But keep reviewing it! Are you on track? How is each prospecting tactic working? Have you forgotten some items? Does the plan need to be revised? Adjust your plan and your actions as needed.

A prospecting plan can be a powerful tool in your kit. It’s a road map to higher sales. And the more effort you put into it, the more sales you’ll make and the faster you’ll make them.

37 Ways to Inspire Confidence in Your Prospects

January 15th, 2019

37 Ways to Inspire Confidence in Your ProspectsIn my last post, I discussed the role risk plays in preventing people from making purchasing decisions. The greater the risk, the less likely a person is to buy. Which means, the more you can reduce the perception of risk in buyers’ minds, the more sales you’ll make.

So how can you increase your prospect’s confidence that buying from you is the safe choice? Here are 37 ways:

1. Testimonials
2. Case studies
3. Photos
4. Video
5. Free shipping
6. Generous return policy
7. 24/7 customer support
8. Guarantee
9. Warranty
10. Extended warranty
11. Demos
12. Free trial
13. Free samples
14. Degrees
15. Certifications
16. Awards
17. Rankings
18. Third-party reviews
19. Ratings from review sites
20. Articles you’ve written
21. Media stories about you
22. Length of time in business
23. Length, depth, or breadth of your expertise
24. Track record
25. Number of customers
26. Percentage of market share
27. Names of well-known customers
28. Celebrity endorsements
29. Give prospects a tour of your facility
30. Introduce them to other members of your team
31. Give them your cell phone number
32. Let them talk with existing clients
33. Cleanliness of facility
34. Grooming and attire
35. Production value of marketing materials
36. Be active on social media
37. Resolve complaints on social media quickly

The more of these strategies you can implement, the more confidence you can inspire and the less risk your prospect will perceive. So employ as many as possible.

Not only can reducing perceived risk boost your overall sales, it can also reduce objections, shorten your sales cycle (thus improving cash flow), and stimulate more referrals. It can even increase your profit margin, because people will happily pay more for the safety of not wasting their money.

People are most likely to buy when the risk is lowest. Which means they buy what and where the risk is lowest. And if your company, product, or service is the lowest-risk option, that’s the choice your prospect is most likely to make. Inspire more confidence in your buyers and you’ll induce more sales.

Is Buying From You Too Risky?

January 8th, 2019

Is Buying From You Too Risky?I have weird feet.

Seriously. My forefeet are wide, I have very long toes, and my right foot is nearly a half size larger than my left.

Which makes shoe shopping a challenge. Roughly 98% of the shoes I try on don’t fit comfortably.

So when I recently purchased several pairs of shoes online, I knew there was a decent chance I might have to send them back. But I didn’t worry about it because both sites I bought from promised free shipping and easy, hassle-free returns.

As I feared, none of the shoes fit quite right. With one retailer (Zappos), the return was as easy as promised. With the other, however (I won’t mention the name—suffice to say it’s a dot.com that sells shoes), I ran into a snag. Hidden in the fine print of their return policy was the fact that they charged a $6.95 restocking fee per item. Which meant I had to pay $14 for the privilege of trying on shoes I would never wear.

Guess who I’m never buying shoes from ever again? (And guess who I’m telling my friends to never buy from as well?)

Because it’s too risky. Shopping for shoes already costs me time and effort. If it’s also going to cost me money every time I try on a pair that doesn’t fit, that’s a gamble I’m not willing to take.

For buyers, purchasing anything is a risk in the first place. It might not work properly, it might turn out to be inferior to another option, it could create unforeseen problems, users (or the boss) may not like it, and more. And the greater the risk, the less likely prospects are to buy. That risk is what stands between you and closing more sales.

Which means you need to do everything possible to reduce the risk for buyers. How can you make the decision-making process easier and safer? What risks stand in the way of prospects buying from you?

Address those issues and you’ll boost your sales. If you don’t, you risk losing your customers forever.

My Most Memorable Gift

December 25th, 2018

My Most Memorable GiftI enjoy giving gifts. And I enjoy receiving gifts. It’s not my primary Love Language (that would be Physical Touch), but I definitely feel cared about when I receive a gift from someone.

Over the course of my life, I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of gifts from a lot of people. One present in particular, however, has long held a special place in my memory.

I was 13. My father had just gone through a nasty divorce. He had lost his business, his house, and his savings. But he had me, because I was old enough to choose who I wanted to live with, and choosing him was a no-brainer. (Which tells you something about my mother.)

Money was extremely tight, so it was The Year Without a Christmas. But my birthday was just two days afterward, and on the evening of the 27th, my dad drove me to a shopping mall. He instructed me to wait in the car while he ran in.

He came back a few minutes later and handed me my birthday present: a Rubik’s Cube. It wasn’t wrapped. It wasn’t accompanied by a cake and candles. And it didn’t need to be.

He knew I wanted a Rubik’s Cube. And he wanted me to have one. The smile on his face was half sheepish and half proud. He would have liked to have given me more, and at the same time he was happy he could give me something that would make my birthday special.

And he didn’t get me a knockoff that would have been half the price. (A budget-based concession I would have been fine with.) He got me a genuine Rubik’s Cube.

That present told me I was important to him. It said that he listened and payed attention to me. It stated that he believed I deserved the best possible version of something, even if it was small. That gift let me know in no uncertain terms that he loved me.

The real value of a gift lies not in its usefulness. Or price. Or attractiveness. It lies in the message it sends to the recipient.

When you give a gift to somebody—whether it be a loved one, an employee, a client, a vendor—what message does it communicate? Are you giving them a tchotchke, which says, “I felt obligated to get you something, so here’s something.” Are you giving them a discount coupon, which says, “The only thing we care about it your money. Buy something from us!” Or are you giving them something personal, something they’ll find valuable, something that touches them emotionally, which tells them how much you appreciate them?

The toy eventually got lost among the many moves over the following years. Or maybe I gave it away after my obsession with it faded. (Yes, I learned how to solve it, and got really good at it. I played with that thing for a loooooong time.) But the memory of receiving it that night has remained with me.

And that’s the true power of a gift: to stir emotions, forge connections, and create memories. So when you’re choosing gifts to give, keep that in mind. And whenever you receive a gift, look beyond the physical item and appreciate the intent, the thought, and the emotion behind it.

Wishing you many more wonderful memories of gifts given and gifts received.

Elf on the Shelf Alleged to Be Government Spying Program

December 18th, 2018

Elf on the Shelf Alleged to Be Government Spying ProgramThe Christmas toy, “Elf on the Shelf” has been accused of being part of a nefarious scheme to illegally gather intelligence on millions of unsuspecting families.

The controversy erupted when Santa Claus let slip recently that the popular elves don’t actually work for him. “I’ve been keeping an eye on kids for centuries, long before Alexa, Google Home, or Elf on the Shelf came on the scene,” Santa revealed in an interview with Harper’s Bizarre magazine when asked if he uses any modern technologies to monitor kids for naughtiness.

Privacy advocates around the world seized on the implications of this bombshell. “If Elves on Shelves aren’t spying for Santa, who are they spying for?” pondered Ty Neetots of the group, Privacy Rights Overseers Battling Encroachment (PROBE).

Intelligence agencies from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, the European Union, Russia, Iran, China, India, Brazil, and Israel all released statements denying any relationship to Elf on the Shelf. “We have never used elves to gather intelligence,” asserted Will D’Seeve of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. “Our charter specifically forbids the use of elves as assets.”

Elf on the Shelf—a self-proclaimed “Christmas tradition”— debuted in 2006 and was eagerly snapped up by parents looking to augment their pre-Christmas child disciplinary options. Indeed, The Beleaguered Parents of America cited a 12% decrease in naughty behavior over the first three years of Elf sales.

But rumors and conspiracy theories about the elves’ true employer started circulating almost immediately. “Placing elves in individual homes is a terribly inefficient use of elf resources, so it makes no sense for Santa to do that,” argues intelligence watchdog, Vera Vatchingyoo. “Everybody knows Santa has the best surveillance system in the world. He doesn’t need an elf in every house. So who is the evil mastermind behind this unsanctioned intrusion into our homes?”

Reached at his North Pole compound, Santa Claus declined to comment on the controversy, but did note, “Numerous agencies from a variety of countries have asked for access to my intelligence gathering system. I have consistently refused access to all of them. It strikes me as a very naughty thing to ask for.”

What Does Your Price Say About You?

December 4th, 2018

What Does Your Price Say About YouPayless—the discount shoe retailer—recently pulled off a brilliant stunt: they sold fake designer shoes at a fake designer store. And the ruse carries lessons for anyone in sales and marketing.

Payless took over a former Armani store in a mall in Santa Monica, California, and named it “Palessi.” (I love that.) Then they stocked the location with the same shoes they sell at all their other stores. But the merchandise had two modifications: their regular labels were replaced with a fake designer label (Bruno Palessi), and their price tags were bumped up from their usual $20 to $40 range to $200 to $600.

And people bought them.

Within hours, “Palessi” sold more than $3,000 worth of (normally) discount footwear. And in taped interviews, happy customers gushed about the style, quality, and craftsmanship of the shoes.

There are several reasons the hoax worked so well—an Italian-sounding designer name, the luxuriously-appointed store interior—but arguably the most important was this: price—in and of itself—communicates a lot about your brand.

Most consumers—myself included—typically avoid Payless because we believe that their value proposition—CHEAP SHOES!—means that their merchandise is constructed poorly, with low-quality materials, and is not particularly stylish.

In fact, this perception led to such poor sales that Payless had to close 673 stores and seek bankruptcy protection in 2017. Unless people are really squeezed financially, they prefer to spend more for better quality, service, and results.

And because we know from experience that better means more expensive, we also believe the reverse: that more expensive means better. “Palessi” shoppers made the (very common) leap that if these shoes are really expensive, they must be really good.

We all make this assumption every day. It’s why in experiments where the same wine is poured into two different bottles—one with a cheap label and one with an expensive label—tasters describe the samples completely differently, invariably preferring the wine with the pricier label.

Price communicates information about a product or service’s quality, scarcity, desirability, power, effectiveness, reliability, life-span, exclusiveness, safety, and more. That information might not be accurate—diamonds, while expensive, are actually pretty common—but we assume it is. It’s a mental shortcut we take, and once we’ve taken it, it’s hard to go back.

Payless—which refunded everyone’s money and turned the footage into YouTube videos and TV commercials—may or may not be able to leverage this stunt into a long-term change in consumer perceptions and a corresponding increase in sales, but it’s a great effort. And a needed one. Because in order for Payless to survive, they have to convince shoppers that low price can mean high quality and high style. That’s a tough sell though. It’s so much easier for us to believe the opposite.

So what assumptions are prospects making about your product, service, and company based on your pricing? What does your price say about you?

Eleven Things You Should Never Say In a Presentation

November 28th, 2018

Eleven Things You Should Never Say In a PresentationCrafting a great presentation is like navigating a minefield: In order to achieve your goal, you have to avoid all the potential missteps along the way. And like a minefield, we often don’t know where those missteps are, because typically we’ve never been taught how to create effective presentations. Which is one reason why so many presentations—sales and otherwise—are so terrible.

As a professional keynote speaker and seminar leader, presentations are my livelihood. And over the years I’ve done a lot of studying and received a lot of coaching to be able to craft them well. Which enables me to easily spot the mistakes others make in their presentations. So think of me as your personal mine sweeper, pointing out the dangers so you can safely get through your next presentation without anything blowing up in your face.

Here are eleven common yet dangerous things that you want to avoid in your presentations.

1. “How are you all doing?”
To some presenters, this is their idea of audience engagement. But it reeks of insincerity because if you really wanted to know how they were doing, you would have asked them individually. (And listened empathetically to their answers.) Further, unless the organization just laid off 10% of their workforce, or their stock price just tripled, the answer is irrelevant. (And if something that major has happened, you should already know about it.)

2. “Without further ado”
Saying the words “Without further ado” is actually further ado, because the words are meaningless and contribute nothing. (And what about those of us who like ado? And want more ado???)

3. “To make a long story short”
If you have to say this, the story’s too damn long already. Edit your stories before you tell them.

4. “To be honest” (or “honestly” or “frankly”)
So you haven’t been honest so far? And everything you say after this one item won’t be true either?

5. “It goes without saying”
Then don’t say it. If you had to say it, then obviously it doesn’t go without saying. Stop contradicting yourself.

6. “Literally”
Literally nobody ever uses this word correctly. (See what I did there?) When you use a word incorrectly, it literally makes you appear ignorant.

7. “Outside the box”
When you say “think outside the box” (or “outside the box thinking”), you demonstrate that you’re not capable of that. By using this cliché, you prove that you’re not original, clever, or innovative.

8. “110%”
It’s not physically possible to give more than 100% of your effort, focus, or commitment, so stop saying that you will. And anyway if you’re going to make up an imaginary amount, why limit yourself to 110%? Why not 120%? Or 200%? Or 673%?

9. “At the end of the day”
The most annoying business cliché, according to a recent British study. It means nothing, it says nothing, it’s worth nothing. And too many people use it repeatedly in their presentations, adding to its fingernails-on-chalkboard quality.

10. “No-brainer”
When you use this term, you’re saying to your audience that if they don’t immediately agree with you, they’re stupid. Which is a great way to instantly alienate them.

11. “I know you can’t read this”
There is absolutely no reason to ever use a slide that requires you to say this. It marks you as an amateur. Either simplify the slide or break it down into several slides that they can read.

All of these words and phrases devalue your message. Not just because they’re all clichés (which you should avoid as much as possible), but because they’re particularly incongruous, annoying, and offensive ones. All of them damage your credibility and cause your audience to like you less, trust you less, and tune you out. It doesn’t matter how good your message is if your audience doesn’t hear or believe it.

Crafting a powerful presentation is hard enough as it is. Don’t sabotage yourself by using words and phrases that jeopardize your ability to be effective. Avoid these figurative (not literal) land mines and your presentations—as well as your sales—will be the better for it.

 

Are You Being Too Accommodating to Your Customers?

November 20th, 2018

Are You Being Too Accommodating to Your Customers?You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger advocate of good customer service than yours truly. I have long argued that sales is service and service is sales. As a keynote speaker and seminar leader, I have evangelized the importance of taking care of the customer in every step of the sales process from prospecting through ownership. And of course, I’ve written many, many articles on the subject, like this one, this one, and let’s not forget, this one.

And yet…

Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the United States—a day of feasting, friends, and family. It’s followed by a national day of bargain shopping known as Black Friday. (My friend, the brilliantly funny speaker, Dale Irvin, suggests Saturday’s color should be burnt sienna.) Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season and features heavy discounts on popular gift items.

The problem is that as stores have tried to get the jump on each other over the years, the start time of Black Friday has gotten earlier and earlier: from 6 am to 4 am to 2 am to midnight. To the point where now Black Friday actually starts at 5 pm Thursday evening!

Black Friday on Thursday combines two things I caution my audiences against: 1) massive discounting, and 2) aggravating your employees. One or the other is bad enough, but both??

To wrench your employees—whom you claim to value—away from their loved ones on a national day of gratitude to make a few additional sales at little to no margin, is insensitive, short-sighted, and self-destructive. In short, it’s bad business.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “But Don, people clearly want to shop on Thanksgiving! We’re just catering to their needs!”

First of all, nobody needs to buy TVs, clothing, and jewelry on Thanksgiving (a day we’re supposed to be grateful for what we already have). Are you really afraid that if you wait another twelve hours, nobody will show up?

Second, just because your prospects and customers want something, doesn’t mean you have to cater to that desire. Buyers make all kinds of outrageous, ridiculous demands, and trying to accommodate them all would drive you out of business. People would love for you to give everything away for free. Are you going to do that?

And third, if your only enticement to get people to buy from you is insanely low prices, then your brand sucks.

Instead of abusing your employees by forcing them to work on Thanksgiving, create a corporate culture that employees are grateful to be a part of. And create a brand promise that makes people want to buy from you. Note that Costco closes on all major holidays and their sales, profitability, and employee loyalty are all excellent. Chick-fil-A is closed every Sunday and they’re one of the most successful fast-food chains, with rabidly loyal customers.

Should you do your best to accommodate your customers’ needs and desires, even going out of your way at times? Absolutely. But should you do so at the expense of your employees and your company values? Absolutely not. Because once you start sacrificing those two things, your business is in trouble. You need customers for your business to succeed, but you need clear values to attract them, and good employees to serve them. Better to sacrifice a few low-profit sales than the two elements you need for long-term success.

May you, your employees, your vendors, and your customers all have much to be thankful for.

Nine Holiday Networking Strategies

November 13th, 2018

Nine Holiday Networking StrategiesThe holidays are officially upon us. (Judging by the ads, store displays, and TV listings, Christmas now apparently starts on November 1.) Which means that your calendar will soon be filling up with holiday events organized by friends, relatives, charities, clients, vendors, and possibly even your own company.

The annual abundance of holiday parties presents both opportunities—sales, career, romantic, and otherwise—and risks. How can you maximize the former while minimizing the latter? Here are nine strategies for effectively navigating the season’s social obligations.

1. Don’t feel obligated to attend everything
The holidays are a great excuse to throw a party. And every year, lots of people and organizations take advantage of that excuse. Which can result in your calendar being awfully full. Even too full. And that can add to the stress you’re already feeling due to all the other responsibilities and obligations in your job and personal life. So understand that it’s okay to say no to some invitations. Prioritize the events on your calendar and attend the ones that are most important to you. Let the rest slide with your apologies. The great thing is that everyone is so busy during the holidays, the hosts you decline will absolutely understand.

2. Split up
When attending a function with colleagues or a significant partner, a good strategy is to split up shortly upon arrival. That way you get to meet more people. If you meet someone you think your boss, colleague, or spouse should meet, you can introduce them. And they can do the same for you. As a bonus, it gives you a polite way to extricate yourself from bad conversations: just say you need to check on your partner/colleague, and you can easily make your escape.

3. Stick together
If you’re uncomfortable in social situations—whether you’re a serious introvert, you have a social anxiety disorder, you’re battling depression, or you simply lack social skills (as was the case for me for years)—the prospect of attending holiday events can fill you with dread. Yet avoiding them can hurt your career and cause you to miss out on potential sales opportunities. To help you survive—and reap the benefits of attending—bring a trusted friend or your partner with you and stick with them. And feel free to take breaks to be alone as often as you need during the event.

4. Don’t be too business-y
Social holiday functions are about being social. And even business events are only nominally about business. So while you may encounter business, sales, or career opportunities, don’t focus on those. Be social. Be fun. Be a good listener. Keep in mind that people are more likely to hire you or buy from you if they like you.

5. Get to know people
How can you avoid talking about your business too much? Simple. Ask questions. But while at a trade show or business networking event you’d ask questions about their business, at a holiday function you have the opportunity to ask questions that are more personal. And for your acquaintance, questions that are a lot more fun and interesting for them to talk about. Ask about their spouse, their kids, their pets, their sports teams (college and pro), their favorite holiday traditions, their vacations, their accomplishments, their plans. Get to know them as people, not as prospects.

6. Don’t talk religion
I don’t care what God you pray to. I don’t care whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, or none of the above. I don’t care if you think the holidays have become too secular and we need to remember “the reason for the season.” And nobody else does either. Nothing will turn a new acquaintance off faster than proselytizing. So unless you’re attending an overtly religious function, keep your beliefs to yourself.

7. Be positive
You may have had an off year. You may have had a terrible year. You may have had the worst year of your life. No one needs to know that. Complaining, lamenting, and whining will cause the people you meet to run in the opposite direction. And do their best to avoid talking with you in the future. Find the positives in your life or business. Highlight what you’re grateful for. Think about what you’re excited about or hopeful for in the coming year. And smile.

8. Don’t drink too much
Alcohol often flows freely at holiday parties. Which can be both tempting and dangerous. So err on the side of caution. Keep in mind that at business events, you need to always be “on” because you are always representing your company. And even at purely social functions, your reputation can be sullied in an instant. Remember too, that at either type of event, anything you do or say can end up on social media. And stay there.

9. Follow up
One of the most important elements of networking is the one that most of us—including me—struggle with: following up after the event. Schedule some time in your calendar to write thank-you notes, jot emails, and send LinkedIn invitations. Because the follow up is where the new relationship really starts.

The holidays can be a time of stress, angst, and frustration. But what it should be is a time of connection and reconnection—with friends, family, and community. Take advantage of the opportunities to create and strengthen relationships and other types of opportunities will follow.

How Badly Do You Want Others to Succeed?

November 6th, 2018

How Badly Do You Want Others to Succeed?I’m going to talk about basketball for a moment, so if you’re not a basketball fan—or a sports fan in general—just bear with me. The point I want to make is important, and it will help you boost your organization’s sales and performance.

Last week, history was made in the National Basketball Association. In a game against the Chicago Bulls, Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors made a record fourteen 3-point field goals, breaking the previous record of thirteen held by his teammate, Stephen Curry.

After a tremendous first half by Thompson, Curry reportedly encouraged him during halftime to go for the record. And throughout the second half, Curry—and the rest of the Warriors—worked furiously to get the ball to Thompson and set up blocks to give him open shots.

Let me emphasize this: Curry actively helped Thompson break his own record. It’s that kind of unselfishness that has enabled the Warriors to win three NBA Championships in the last four years.

Warriors players understand that when others on their team succeed, they succeed as well. And the same is true in your organization.

Everyone in your company either succeeds together or fails together. When people are primarily focused on themselves, the organization suffers.

So who needs to succeed in order for you to succeed? Your employees? Your sales team? Your customers? And how focused are you on helping them succeed?

Brainstorm ways you might help those you depend on. Ask people how you can support them. When you make decisions, consider their impact on those around you.

Whether you’re a salesperson, sales manager, or CEO, you only succeed when others do. So make the success of others a priority. You may just set your own records.

Five Words That Will Make You a Better Salesperson and Leader

October 30th, 2018

Five Words That Will Make You a Better Salesperson and LeaderWhatever your job is in your organization’s sales channel, you want to be better at it. Which means you’re always on the lookout for tips, tricks, and hacks to make you more effective and productive.

Well here’s a simple yet powerful one. It’s a five-word question that can significantly increase your influence and performance. It’s:

“How can I support you?”

Whether you’re a salesperson, sales manager, or CEO, your job is to support others: customers, salespeople, or your executive team. (And if you’re a CEO or owner, your job is really to support everyone in your organization.)

Asking how you can support the people you interact with can alert you to problems and opportunities. It enables you to uncover needs and challenges you never knew they had. And it causes people to feel heard, understood, and respected.

Plus, when you provide the support that your prospects, customers, or employees need, you improve your compliance, your results, and your loyalty.

This is not to say that you absolutely must do whatever the person suggests. People can ask for unreasonable, inappropriate, or impractical things from time to time. But even if you can’t deliver on what they would like, you may be able to come up with an alternative that would satisfy them. And merely asking the question will let them know that you value and care about them. That increases gratitude and trust.

So add this question to your repertoire. Make it a regular part of your communications with those you interact with. It’s only five words. But those words will lead to more solutions, more productivity, and more sales.

24 Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp

October 23rd, 2018

24 Ways to Keep Your Brain SharpWhen it comes to your sales—and pretty much everything else in your life—your brain is your most valuable asset. So it makes sense to do as much as you can to protect it.

And it needs protection. The challenges of modern life mean our brains are under assault every day. The enemies of the brain include:

• Stress
• Poor nutrition
• Lack of sleep
• Smoking
• Routine

Many—if not most—of us in sales and business struggle with one or more of these challenges every day. And if unaddressed, they can lead to poor daily performance and long-term mental decline.

The good news is that researchers in the field of neuroscience have learned a lot about the brain in recent years. And their discoveries enable us to be proactive in safeguarding—and even strengthening—our brains. Beyond the physical basics—get more sleep, eat healthy, stop smoking, exercise—there are myriad ways to bolster your brain.

Scientists have found that engaging in new activities and novel experiences stimulates the creation of new neurons and new neural connections—known as “neuroplasticity.” So the more you can do to keep your brain on its toes—so to speak—the better for its health.

With that in mind, here are 24 ways you can stimulate your brain on a regular basis.

1. Read

2. Take a class

3. Learn a language

4. Play a musical instrument

5. Do puzzles
• Crossword
• Sudoku
• Cryptogram
• Rebus
• Brain teasers

6. Engage in some form of art
• Drawing
• Painting
• Sculpting
• Photography

7. Take up a craft
• Sewing
• Knitting
• Crocheting
• Needlepoint
• Quilting

8. Write
• Fiction
• Non-Fiction
• Poetry
• Journaling

9. Play strategy games
• Chess
• Checkers
• Backgammon
• Go
• Bridge
• Mancala
• Othello
• Risk
• Stratego
• Clue
• Jenga
• Qwirkle
• Catan

10. Play word games
• Scrabble
• UpWords
• Boggle
• Scattergories
• Bananagrams

11. Play trivia games

12. Take dance lessons

13. Train in a martial art

14. Try new foods and cuisines

15. Cook or bake

16. Use your non-dominant hand for ordinary tasks

17. Take new routes to familiar destinations

18. Rearrange, reorganize, or redecorate your home or office

19. Travel—preferably to places you’ve never been

20. Strengthen and expand your social networks

21. Try a new hobby

22. Attend conferences, sales training seminars, and workshops

23. Volunteer

24. Meditate

The proven benefits to these kinds of brain challenges are many and varied, including:

• better memory
• increased focus and concentration
• more positive mood
• reduced stress
• higher productivity
• enhanced creativity
• improved problem-solving
• stronger motivation
• faster reaction time
• greater self-confidence

And as an added bonus, many of these activities involve other people, giving you an opportunity to improve your relationships with friends and family.

You only have one brain. Take care of it. Employ as many of the above strategies as possible as frequently as possible. Your sales, your business, your friends, and your family will all thank you for it.

Do You Care About the Wrong Thing?

October 16th, 2018

Do You Care About the Wrong Thing?You have an amazing product or service. It’s awesome. It’s the best on the market. It’s unique. It has the most features and benefits. It has the longest and most comprehensive warranty. And it’s the best value.

Naturally, you love your product or service. You’re proud to sell it. And you’re excited to extol its virtues to anyone and everyone who could use it.

And none of that matters. Because while you care about your product or service, your prospect doesn’t.

At all.

Your prospect cares about themselves. They care about the goal they’re trying to achieve or the problem they’re trying to solve. They care about their possessions, their finances, their health, their security, their ego, their happiness. They care about their company and their family.

And if you want to boost your sales, that’s what you need to care about as well.

As a keynote speaker and seminar leader, I frequently say this to my audiences: “Selling more of what you sell has nothing to do with what you sell. It has everything to do with your prospect.” Your product or service—as fantastic as it may be—is only a means to an end. The end is what your prospect truly cares about.

So whether you’re marketing, prospecting, qualifying, presenting, or closing, focus on your prospect. Key in on their needs, desires, fears, hopes, problems, and opportunities. The more you care about what your prospect cares about, the more of your product or service you’ll sell.

How to Boost Your Credibility at a Trade Show

October 9th, 2018

How to Boost Your Credibility at a TradeshowA trade show is a challenging sales environment. You don’t have the natural advantages you have when talking with a prospect on your own turf. Your competition is everywhere. And all the exhibits look so similar.

How do you stand out and effectively compete? Especially against larger competitors that may be able to buy a bigger booth space than you?

Here are 14 ways to enhance your credibility at the show so you can gain an edge.

1. Awards
You have the awards you’ve won hanging on the walls of your business, but that doesn’t help you at the show. So bring them with you and hang them in your exhibit.

2. Certifications
Do the same with all the certifications of your people. Every one increases your perceived credibility.

3. Photos and Video
Attendees can’t walk through your facility, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show it to them. Post pictures or video of it—perhaps even a virtual tour. You can also use photos and video to highlight products you couldn’t bring to the show or to provide “Before and After” examples.

4. Media Stories
Publicity equals credibility. So post any and all media coverage you’ve received, whether print or video.

5. Reviews and Rankings
Has some credible third party reviewed you or ranked you on a list? Enlarge that and show it off.

6. Testimonials
Customers’ words carry weight with prospects so look for ways to display them throughout your exhibit.

7. Customers
Invite some of your customers to join you at the show. (Pay all their expenses and treat them like royalty.) When attendees can talk directly with your customers at your exhibit, that’s the best sales and marketing there is.

8. White Papers
Create a white paper or special report to demonstrate your expertise and give it to all your visitors.

9. Demos
Showing your product in action can not only draw a crowd, but it can convert prospects into buyers on the spot.

10. Service Techs
Many attendees are hesitant to talk with salespeople, but they’ll happily talk with technicians. And because they typically have both extensive product knowledge and passion for the product, techs can make excellent salespeople.

11. Manufacturer Reps
If you’re a distributor or retailer, ask your manufacturers to send some of their reps to help you at your show. Every rep you have at your exhibit boosts your credibility.

12. Staff Adequately
One mistake that hurts your credibility is not having enough staff at your exhibit. Attendees don’t want to wait, and if there isn’t a person available to engage them immediately, they’re likely to walk.

13. Train Your People
A trade show is unlike any other sales situation, and to be effective, your team needs specific training. A modest investment in a pre-show seminar or workshop can pay huge dividends.

14. Sponsorships
Just because you can’t afford the title sponsorship doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from being a sponsor. Any sponsorship can aid your exposure and credibility if you leverage it well.

Trade shows are valuable marketing and sales opportunities. To maximize them, employ as many of these strategies as possible. The more credibility you generate, the more you’ll stand out, the more attendees will trust you, and the more sales you’ll close.

Five Types of Questions to Ask Prospects

October 2nd, 2018

Five Types of Questions to Ask ProspectsThe single best thing you can do with a prospect—at any point in the sales cycle—is to ask them questions. If you ask enough of the right questions, your prospect will tell you everything you need to know to make the sale.

In my training seminars and workshops, I typically give audiences 20 to 40 specific questions to ask prospects. The exact questions vary based on the industry and type of sale. But they can be broken down into five basic categories.

1. Introductory Questions
These questions build rapport with your prospect and set the tone for the rest of your interactions with them. They also provide you with valuable information. They include questions like:

• How much time do you have right now?
• What is your main goal at the moment?
• Who else needs to be involved in making the decision?

2. Experience Questions
A person’s past experience with the type of product or service you sell influences what they want and don’t want in a new version. So you want to learn as much as you can about their previous experiences. Ask questions such as:

• Do you currently own/use a (product/service)?
• What do you like most about it?
• What do you wish was different?

3. Use Questions
How your prospect intends to use what you sell makes a huge difference in what they should buy. Knowing how they need to use their new product or service will quickly steer you toward the option that’s best for them. Questions that uncover their intended usage include:

• Where do you plan to use it?
• How many people will be using it?
• How often will you be using it?

4. Criteria Questions
Your prospect is going to make their decision based on certain criteria. And those criteria are unique to them. Which means you need to find out those criteria are. Pose questions such as:

• How much maintenance do you want to do?
• Are you working within a budget?
• What are your favorite colors?

5. Finishing Questions
These are the questions that lead you into the presentation or into the close. They’re your last chance to elicit information before moving on to the next step. (Although you can and should ask more questions during the presentation and closing stages.) To make sure you get all the information you possibly can, ask questions like:

• How familiar are you with this (product/service)?
• Is there anything I’ve overlooked?
• What kinds of questions do you have?

So the question for you is, how can you incorporate all five types of questions into your discovery process? What specific questions will provide you with the information you need to close the deal? (Okay, that’s two questions.)

Create your own list of questions based on these five categories. And use them with every prospect. Because the right questions will lead you—and your prospect—right to the sale.

Want some help creating great questions for you and your sales team? Contact me today and we can start putting together a plan!

Sell More by Giving Things Away

September 25th, 2018

Sell More by Giving Things AwayThe most powerful four-letter word in sales and marketing is “free.” Everybody loves getting something for nothing. And giving things away can be an extremely powerful sales tactic. Two stories that were recently shared by participants at a couple of my training seminars illustrate how to capitalize on this principle.

The first example was related by an attendee who drove to the seminar with two of his colleagues. On their way to the seminar that morning, they found themselves, at one point, stuck in traffic next to a Snapple delivery truck. They jokingly called out to the driver, who was unloading the truck to make a delivery, “Hey, how about some free cases of Snapple?”

“Sorry,” the driver responded, “I can’t do that.” “But,” he continued, “I can give you three bottles.” He quickly handed three bottles of Snapple to the stunned occupants of the car, smiled, and walked inside the building to finish his delivery.

The result? As the attendee told the rest of the audience, “I’m going to buy a lot more Snapple from now on!” Three bottles of Snapple cost the distributor about a dollar. For a miniscule investment, that driver created three customers for life, not to mention the positive word-of-mouth they’ve been generating. That’s selling.

The second story was reported by the friend of a pet shop owner. She said that he put up a huge sign reading “Free Puppies.” Naturally, when people pick out their “free” puppy, they have to purchase puppy food, a puppy bed, food and water dishes, treats, toys, leashes, and more.

Customers typically spend more than a hundred dollars to outfit their new pet, not to mention how much they spend on return visits. He may be giving away puppies, but he’s selling the accessories like crazy. It’s akin to companies giving away razors and making their money selling the blades.

However, the story goes further: The pet store owner also has relationships with a veterinarian, a fencing contractor, an obedience school, and a cleaning service. In an example of symbiotic marketing, each refers the other and helps up-sell the customer: the vet recommends premium dog food, the obedience school recommends more frequent house cleanings during shedding season. And it all starts by giving away a puppy.

What can you give away to prospects and customers to stimulate your sales?

Eleven Ways to Boost Your Presentation Skills

September 18th, 2018

Eleven Ways to Boost Your Presentation SkillsWhether you’re a salesperson, executive, or business owner, presentation skills are vital to your success. But presentation skills are rarely taught in school, and too many companies don’t invest in such training for their people. Which means if you want to be a better presenter, you’re often on your own.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you hone your skills. Here are eleven options.

1. Read books
There are thousands of books on the subject of presentation skills, from beginner-level to advanced. Check out Amazon, your local book store, or your local library.

2. Check out articles, blog posts, and podcasts
As many books as there are, there are hundreds of times as many articles and podcasts—on every facet of speaking and presenting. Just search for the specific subtopic you’re most interested in. Oh, and hey, would you look at that? There are some posts right here on this site on the subject:

Six Ways NOT to Open a Presentation

Five Steps to Creating a Powerful Sales Presentation

Seven Sales Presentation Tips from Infomercials

Top Ten PowerPoint Mistakes Salespeople Make

Nine Tips for Crafting Better Sales Presentations

11 Ways to Close Your Next Presentation with Impact

3. Watch videos
There are also thousands of videos about presentation skills, with the bonus that many of them model the principle or tactic they discuss, so you can see it in action.

4. Audio record yourself
What we think we say is not necessarily what we actually say. And how we think we say it is not necessarily accurate either. Listening to a recording of yourself will enable you to hear how you really sound. And while it’s not fun, it will give you tremendous insights into your current strengths and weaknesses.

5. Video record yourself
Video recording will take your personal discomfort to the next level. Not only will you hear everything you’re doing wrong, you’ll see it too! (Don’t worry—even professional speakers have a tough time watching themselves on video. But we do it because it helps us get better.)

6. Practice in front of others
Ask your manager, colleagues, friends, or spouse to watch you and provide you with feedback, both positive and constructive. Ask them to be painfully honest.

7. Join Toastmasters
Toastmasters International is a worldwide non-profit organization that enables people from all walks of life to develop their presentation skills in a supportive environment at their own pace. With nearly 16,000 local clubs in 142 countries, there are almost certainly several clubs near you.

8. Take a public speaking class
Many community colleges and adult education programs offer classes in speaking and presenting. Whether it’s a single evening or several weeks, it’s a good—and cost-effective—use of your time.

9. Attend a presentation skills seminar
Seminars are typically more expensive than an adult ed course, but they usually offer more advanced insights and tactics.

10. Study other presenters
Thanks to this cool thing called “The Internet,” it’s possible to watch lots of other speakers, with a range of skill levels, delivering a wide variety of presentations. And you can learn something from each one of them.

11. Work with a speech coach
While it’s the most expensive option in the list, a speech coach can provide you with one-on-one attention and personally help you craft every element of a presentation. If the presentation is really important, a speech coach is a solid investment.

The power to be a better speaker is in your hands. Presentation skills are among the most valuable skills you can strengthen, and they will serve you in situations beyond sales calls. They will improve your commissions, your career, your image, and your impact.

By the way, if you’re a CEO or sales VP, consider bringing in an expert to train your sales team. The better their presentation skills, the more deals they’ll close for you.