37 Ways to Unleash Your Creativity

August 15th, 2017



“Be creative!”

It’s an admonition you’ve heard over and over again. You’ve come across it in countless books, articles, keynote speeches, training seminars, and mentoring sessions.

And the fact is, creativity is essential—in business in general and sales in particular. You have to determine your goals and come up with a plan to achieve them. You have to figure out solutions to ever-changing problems. You have to write brochures and e-mails. You have to produce sales presentations and videos.

But has anyone ever told you how to be creative?

Creativity isn’t a switch we can just flip on whenever we like. It’s a skill that—like any other—needs to be developed and honed.

And here are two pieces of good news:

First—You are creative! Even if you don’t believe you are. Because everyone is creative! Creativity manifests in all kinds of ways. If you don’t think you’re creative, you just haven’t found how you’re creative yet. Or you don’t appreciate your own creativity. (Which is common—I didn’t recognize my own creative abilities until my thirties.)

Second –There are lots of ways to explore, expand, and enhance your creativity. Here are 33 of them:

1. Draw
2. Paint
3. Sculpt—clay, wood, stone, etc.
4. Photograph whatever interests you
5. Shoot videos
6. Write—short stories, poetry, articles, jokes, etc.
7. Play a musical instrument
8. Make jewelry
9. Knit
10. Crochet
11. Make—or contribute to—a quilt
12. Take a class in any of the above
13. Hold a brainstorming session
14. Daydream
15. Buy a coloring book and colored pencils
16. Play with Legos
17. Reorganize your workspace
18. Practice origami
19. Join Toastmasters
20. Cook or bake
21. Explore woodworking
22. Explore metalworking
23. Make up stories about people in your head
24. Imitate an accent
25. Play with your kids
26. Join creative communities
27. Grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables
28. Doodle
29. Put together a scrapbook
30. Download a creativity app
31. Take an improv or stand-up comedy class
32. Carry a sketchpad with you and sketch
33. Make a collage
34. Buy flowers and arrange them in a vase
35. Imagine how to improve an existing product
36. Read to your kids and make up voices for each character
37. Attend a creativity workshop

It doesn’t matter how good you are at any of these things. The point is to enjoy yourself while stretching and strengthening your creativity muscles. The more you play with your creativity, the more creative you will be. And them more you will improve your business and your sales.

How NOT to Listen to Your Customers

August 8th, 2017

How-NOT-to-Listen-to-Your-CustomersThe legendary rock band U2 played a concert recently at the nearly-brand-new Levi’s Stadium in San Jose, California. And the fans complained.

Not about the band. By all accounts, U2 played a tremendous show.

What made the concert-goers furious was the venue—Levi’s Stadium itself.

On social media, fans complained vociferously about long security lines, interminable waits for food, an unclear—and seemingly inconsistent—policy on large purses, horrible parking lot traffic, and concession stands running out of food and drinks before the show even began. Some people said it was the worst concert experience they had ever had, with many saying they would never return to Levi’s Stadium.

The stadium management team immediately responded. In the worst way possible. By ignoring, downplaying, and arguing with the fans’ comments, telling the media that from their perspective, the event was a success.

“When we look at Twitter, we also understand you see feedback that isn’t necessarily representative of the entire population,” stated Bob Lange, a spokesman for the San Francisco 49ers, which owns Levi’s Stadium. “Fans had a great time overall.”

The tone-deafness of the response only adds to the Bay Area public’s negative perception of Levi’s Stadium, which has been controversial since before it was even built. Complaints have poured in since the first events were held in 2014, virtually none of which have been addressed or corrected. Responses like this one send the message that the stadium ownership couldn’t care less about their paying customers.

And those customers have responded, with attendance down dramatically at 49ers football games and season-ticket holders defaulting on their tickets.

The lesson here is that if you don’t pay heed to your customers’ words, they’ll start speaking with their wallets. Which message would you rather deal with?

The One Thing You Can Control

August 1st, 2017

the-one-thing-you-can-controlI was recently attending an aikido seminar led by world-renowned instructor, Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei. At one point, as most of the class was struggling with a particular technique, Ikeda Sensei uttered some extremely important words.

A quick note of explanation: Aikido is a Japanese martial art that focuses on redirecting an attacker’s energy and using it against them. Aikido takes advantage of momentum, gravity, leverage, and balance, rather than size or strength. For that reason, trying to out-muscle your training partner is typically counter-productive. And yet many of us were still doing it.

What Ikeda Sensei said to us was, “Don’t control your partner. Control yourself.”

And that was the key. Because most of us were trying to do something to our partner. The more we each focused on our own body, the more effective the technique was. Trying to force our partners into complying with our will was our mistake.

That principle applies to sales—and business in general—as well. Whether you’re a salesperson working with a prospect, a sales manager leading a team, or a business owner or CEO running an entire company, you can’t control anyone. And in fact, the harder you try to force your will on people, the faster they’ll run in the opposite direction.

What you can do is influence people. And the way you do that is through your own attitudes, words, and actions. The only person you can actually control is yourself. Which means if you want more compliance from the people you interact with, you need to work on you.

Depending on your role in the company, that might mean you need to:

• Become a better communicator
• Upgrade your leadership skills
• Learn more about your product or service
• Develop your coaching proficiency
• Be a better listener
• Discover how you’re sabotaging yourself
• Strengthen your presentation skills
• Ask more and better questions
• Be more supportive and encouraging
• Improve your responsiveness
• Get better at handling objections
• Be more generous with praise and appreciation
• Hone your negotiating skills
• Learn more about your competitors
• Invest more time in relationship-building
• Heighten your sensitivity and empathy
• Improve your follow-up
• Set better boundaries
• Work on overcoming your fears
• Sharpen your closing skills
• Provide more tools, budget, and training

What’s true in aikido is true in sales: If what you’re doing isn’t working, change what you’re doing. Instead of lamenting that your prospects are cheap, or your salespeople are lazy, or your customer service people are incompetent, focus on what actions you can take to improve things.

Don’t try to control other people. Control yourself.

17 Sales Tips from Influence ‘17

July 18th, 2017

17-sales-tips-from-influence-17As a professional keynote speaker and sales trainer, I am—naturally—a member of the National Speakers Association. So of course I was in Orlando last week for NSA’s annual convention, known as Influence 2017.

More than 1200 of the world’s best professional speakers gathered for four days to learn from each other. The result was an incredible outpouring of business insights and ideas.

Here, in no particular order, are seventeen of the best:

1. “Learn from outside your industry to stand out within your industry.”—Sekou Andrews (@sekouandrews)
If the only examples you’re learning from are within your own industry, you will never be better or different than anyone else. Look outside your industry for ideas and inspiration.

2. “Stories change brain chemistry.”—Kindra Hall (@kindramhall)
New research has discovered that well-told stories trigger the release of oxytocin, which causes people to be more empathetic and more compliant. Find your stories, learn how to tell them effectively, and incorporate them into your marketing and sales efforts.

3. “In every interaction, we increase or decrease trust.”—David Horsager (@DavidHorsager)
Trust is vital to your sales, and everything you do—everything everyone in your organization does—impacts it, either for better or worse. Review your policies and marketing materials, hire mystery shoppers and outside consultants, and train your people continually.

4. “Take I” out of your language.”—Jill Lublin (@JillLublin)
People care about themselves, their families, their jobs, their businesses, their friends, etc. They don’t care about you, your company, or your product. So talk less about those things and more about your prospect.

5. “By the end of 2017, up to 90% of internet traffic will be video.”—Bill Cates (@Bill_Cates)
Video is becoming more important by the day. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures. What are some ways you could incorporate more video into your marketing and sales efforts?

6. “You’ve got to have a call to action.”—Marquesa Pettway (@SpeakerTalk)
In any marketing or sales interaction—whether it’s an advertisement, an email, a phone call, or a sales presentation—you need to let your prospect know what to do next. Otherwise they’re likely to do nothing, because: a) they’re busy, and b) nothing is typically the easiest thing to do.

7. “The things you are good at are the enemies of the things you are best at.”—Sierra Modro (@sierramodro)
There are a lot of things you can do, but the things you should do are the things you’re best at. The more time you spend on things you’re not great at, the less time you have to spend on the thing you’re awesome at. Delegate, outsource, or let it go.

8. “Our beliefs dictate our actions in life.”—Vinh Giang (@AskVinh)
Our positive, empowering beliefs enable us to achieve and succeed. Our negative, limiting beliefs not only keep us from succeeding, they can prevent us from even trying in the first place! What beliefs are holding you back?

9. “People share on social media out of self-interest.”—Erin Gargan (@eringargan)
People don’t share content because you want them to. They share because they want to be perceived as funny, or caring, or in-the-know. So if you want people to share what you post, create content that makes people look good for sharing it.

10. “A confused mind does nothing.”—Colin Sprake (@ColinSprake)
It’s easy to overwhelm a prospect with data, instructions, or options. But overwhelm will cause them to shut down. Simplify things for your prospects. Make interactions and next steps easy. People love easy.

11. “Doing something little can turn into something big.”—LeAnn Thieman (@LeAnnThieman)
A small client can turn into a big client. A small product can become a huge seller. A small gesture toward a customer can lead to massive referrals. A small risk can result in a great reward.

12. “Create good habits and rituals.”—Walter Bond (@walterbond)
Good habits and rituals help us to be more efficient and effective. Bad habits and rituals hinder us, slow our progress, and even sabotage us. Identify your bad habits and rituals and work on replacing them with good ones that will enable your success.

13. “Find a way to say ‘yes.’”—Randy Pennington (@RandyPennington
Prospects and customers hate the word “no.” It makes them frustrated, disappointed, and angry. They love the word “yes” however. It creates excitement, happiness, and gratitude. So look for ways to convert a “no” into a “yes.”

14. “People are willing to help, but you have to ask.”—Michele Payn (@mpaynspeaker)
Too often we avoid asking for help when we need it. We view asking for help as weakness and failure. But the reality is that no one ever succeeds alone. We all need help. And most people are happy to provide it. Just ask.

15. “Stop pushing. Let them come to you.”—Brad Montgomery (@bradmontgomery)
A common sales mistake is trying too hard. The more you press, the more desperate you appear. And the more pressure you apply to a prospect, the more likely they are to retreat. Relax. Chill. Calm down. Invite, encourage, and inspire your prospects instead of pushing harder.

16. “Who have you asked to buy from you?”—Melissa J. Nixon (@melissajnixon)
The above admonition should not be misconstrued as taking a completely hands-off approach. On the contrary, you always have to ask for the sale. If you want prospects to buy, you need to ask them to. You don’t have to be pushy or obnoxious, just ask.

17. “Serve and don’t keep score.”—Brian Walter (@thebrianwalter)
Sales is service. Service is sales. Serve your customers, serve your employees, serve your community. The more you serve, the more you’ll sell. And the more you’ll succeed.


For more ideas and insights from these great speakers, click on their names to visit their web sites or click on their handles to follow them on Twitter.

Need an exceptional speaker for your next event? Check out the NSA website or your favorite speakers bureau. (Or just click here.)

Nine Tips for Crafting Better Sales Presentations

June 27th, 2017

Nine-Tips-for-Crafting-Better-Sales-PresentationsA great sales presentation moves a buyer from interest to action. A mediocre one does little or nothing. And a bad one causes prospects to run in the other direction. How can you create presentations that result in closed deals? Here are nine tips.

1. Focus on benefits rather than features
Too many salespeople stuff their presentations full of features. The problem is buyers don’t actually care about features, they care about benefits. A feature is a characteristic of a product or service. A benefit is what it means to the buyer. So translate features into benefits and focus on those.

2. Use the words “you” and “your” frequently
Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. Instead of droning on and on about your company’s history, awards and “commitment to excellence,” spend more time talking about your prospect’s needs, desires, concerns, goals, outcomes, etc. Frame everything in relation to your prospect using “you” and “your”—the two most powerful words in sales.

3. Tell stories
Facts are boring. Stories are entertaining. Data is dull. Stories are compelling. Numbers are meaningless without context. Stories provide context and meaning. Tell stories to illustrate the points you want to get across.

4. Use testimonials
Anything and everything you say is suspect in a buyer’s eyes. What your customers say has a lot more credibility. Use testimonials liberally.

5. Incorporate photos and video
Due to inflation, a picture is now only worth 762 words, but that’s still a lot. Photos and video can communicate in ways mere words can’t. How could you use photos and videos to enhance your message?

6. Stick to the issues that are important to your buyer
Whenever you discuss a subject that’s not of interest to your prospect, you lose their attention. And once you’ve lost it, you may never regain it. Based on your needs analysis, you should know precisely what your prospect cares about. Focus on those items and ignore everything else.

7. Mention one drawback of your product or service
Your buyer expects you to talk about your product or service like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Your buyer doesn’t expect you to disclose any flaws or downsides to it. Which is what makes this tactic so powerful. When you admit one aspect of your company, product, or service that isn’t as good as a competitor’s, your credibility goes through the roof.

8. Engage as many senses as possible
If all you’re doing is talking, you’re only engaging a single sense, which isn’t very effective for communicating. Adding PowerPoint, photos, or video engages a second sense, which is better. But how could get more senses involved? Could your prospect hold your product? Could you light a candle or use an air freshener in the room? Could you serve them a beverage or a snack?

9. Ask for the sale
The purpose of your presentation is to make a sale. Therefore, it must close with a call to action. If you don’t ask for the sale, there’s no point presenting in the first place. Incorporate one or more closing techniques into the end of your presentation.

An awful lot of salespeople waste their prospect’s—and their own—time with a poorly crafted presentation. Which is great for you! Because when you utilize these nine tactics, your presentations will set you apart from them, give you a huge edge, and enable you to make the sale.

Why You Should Strive to Be a Beginner

June 20th, 2017

why-you-should-strive-to-be-a-beginnerI have a black belt in aikido. But that doesn’t mean I’m an expert in the Japanese martial art. Quite the opposite in fact.

In aikido—as in many other martial arts—a black belt is not considered to signify mastery. Achieving a black belt means you are now a “beginner.” You have put in several years of training and have reached a level of competence that enables you to fully explore the art. You understand the basics and can now learn the advanced concepts and skills that truly define that art. You can now begin your journey on the path to mastery.

It’s a concept referred to as “Beginner’s Mind” and it’s just as important for salespeople, executives, and business owners as it is for martial artists. Because no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn. No matter how good you are, you can always get better. The moment you believe you have mastered what you do, you’re in trouble.

Great martial artists are constantly seeking out new learning opportunities: reading books, watching videos, and attending seminars. And they’re constantly practicing: honing their skills, looking for weaknesses in their technique, getting faster, becoming more graceful.

Great salespeople, executives, and business owners do the same, understanding that they need to get smarter, sharper, better.

When do you stop learning? Um…..never. The top teachers in any martial art will tell you they haven’t mastered it yet and they’re still learning.

That’s Beginner’s Mind. And if you adopt it, it will enable you to achieve incredible success in sales, business, and life. Wherever you are right now, consider that your starting point. Now you can begin.

Who’s to Blame When Sales Are Bad?

June 13th, 2017

whos-to-blame-when-sales-are-badAs a number of prominent companies have experienced declines in sales over the past few years, much effort has gone into uncovering the causes of those declines. Both CEOs and business “experts” have sought to explain the struggles of once-thriving companies. And while various explanations have been floated, a consensus appears to have formed as to who the number one culprit is: Millennials.

There has been a barrage of articles recently, bemoaning how millennials are destroying a wide variety of industries, sectors, and products, including:

• Golf
• Casual dining chains
• Movie theaters
• Cars
• Breakfast cereal
• Napkins
• Cruises
• Diamonds
• Banking
• Canadian tourism
• Retail in general and department stores in particular

What’s interesting is to read the comments sections on those articles. They’re filled with retorts by both millennials and non-millennials, effectively stating, “I don’t buy that/shop there because it’s not worth the money.”

And that’s a crucial takeaway for CEOs, corporate boards, executive teams, and business owners. The fact is, if people aren’t buying your product or service, that’s not their fault. It’s yours. Either your offering sucks or your marketing sucks. Possibly both.

It’s tempting, when sales are down, to blame everything and everyone but yourself: the economy, unfair competition, your sales team, and of course, those idiotic, cheap, fickle customers.

But if people really wanted your product or service, they/d buy it. The fact that they’re not should tell you something about your company.

Millennials are spending tons of money—they’re just not doing so with brands like Macy’s, Sears, Gillette, De Beers, Applebee’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings. The reasons for that have little to do with millennials and everything to do with the companies themselves.

If your sales aren’t as good as you’d like them to be, don’t resort to the Scooby-Doo Excuse: “If it weren’t for you darned kids…” Instead, look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find the problem. And it’s also where you’ll find the solution.

You Don’t Get What You Deserve

June 6th, 2017

you-dont-get-what-you-deserveIn a perfect world, everyone would get what they deserved. Good things would happen to good people and bad things would happen to bad people. The harder you worked, the more money you’d earn. The better your product or service, the more sales you’d make.

Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect. Far from it. But while the world isn’t perfect, it does operate on some principles that you can use to your advantage.

And one of those principles is this: People don’t get what they deserve. They get what they belive they deserve.

Whatever you believe about yourself, you manifest. If you’re a professional, you won’t charge more than you think you’re worth. If you’re a salesperson and you believe your product or service isn’t worth as much as a competitor’s, you won’t sell as much of it or for as much money.

And that goes for everything in your life: the company you work for, your romantic partner, your living conditions, the way others treat you—all of it is based on what you believe deep down that you deserve.

The tragedy is that too many of us don’t value ourselves sufficiently. So we don’t ask for as much as we should. We don’t fight for the sale or the raise or the right partner. We settle.

Whether our feelings of unworthiness stem from our upbringings, religion, or negative media messages, they hold us back from achieving the success and living the life we could.

So what can you do about it? Talk with a therapist, mentor, or coach. Read self-help books and watch self-help videos. Attend seminars. Check out exercises online. Then work at it. Mindsets don’t change overnight. But as you build your belief and confidence in yourself, you’ll start to see better results.

You deserve a lot. Probably much more than you’re getting right now. But what you get is ultimately up to what you believe you should. So the question is: How much are you really worth?

17 Things Not to Do at a Networking Event

May 31st, 2017

17-things-not-to-do-at-a-networking-eventNetworking is a powerful sales and marketing tool. But like any tool, using it improperly or inappropriately can lead to disaster.

Here are seventeen things—all of which I’ve actually observed people doing—that you definitely don’t want to do at your next networking event.

1. Dress inappropriately

2. Show up late

3. Talk about yourself constantly

4. Complain

5. Fail to listen to others

6. Talk to one person the entire time

7. Sell

8. Talk only with your friends

9. Pass your cards out without talking to people

10. Get drunk

11. Use profanity

12. Discuss politics and/or religion

13. Run out of business cards

14. Insult the venue, food, décor, etc.

15. Tell off-color jokes

16. Hit on people

17. Leave early

Some of these mistakes are more egregious than others, but all of them can damage your sales efforts, not to mention your reputation. Remember, any time you’re interacting with others, look your best, act your best, and be your best.

Nine Ways To Improve Your Business Image

May 24th, 2017

nine-ways-to-improve-your-business-imageMay is International Business Image Improvement Month. In honor of that, I thought I’d tweet out an article on the subject. But when I did a search for “how to improve your business image,” all the articles I found contained such hackneyed advice as, “Be active on social media,” “Update your website,” “Launch an ad campaign,” “Use PR,” and ‘Target influencers.”

While those admonitions are not necessarily bad—and in fact, excellent companies do those things regularly—they’re not actually going to help you if your business isn’t already outstanding. If your company has issues—and nearly all companies do—the above advice is akin to putting a fresh coat of paint on house that’s leaning to one side, with broken windows and doors, in the middle of a mosquito-infested swamp.

If you really want to improve your business image—and thus, your sales—you  need to improve your business. And specifically, your customer experience. Because your image is defined by your customers, not by you.

Here are nine things you can do to improve how prospects and customers think of you.

1. Get Your Customers’ Viewpoint
The first thing you need to know is how your customers currently think and feel about you. So ask them. Create focus groups. Conduct surveys. Hire a mystery shopping firm. Discover the good, the bad, and the ugly about your company through your buyers’ eyes.

2. Hire More People
There are very few universal laws, but one of them is: Everybody hates waiting. Every minute a prospect or customer has to wait, the less they like you. (And one of the things consumers share with a vengeance on social media is how long they’ve been waiting in line or on hold.) So hire enough people to staff your call center, your checkout lanes, your office, to get their wait times as close to zero as possible.

3. Train Your People
Perhaps the only thing worse for a customer than not having enough people to serve them, is having to deal with an employee who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing. Provide continual training for your people. And not just on your product or service! Train them on communication skills, customer service skills, teamwork, technology, creativity, leadership, problem solving, and more. The more skilled your employees are, the better they’ll perform, and the happier customers will be.

4. Empower Employees
Training employees doesn’t do much good if they aren’t allowed to use their skills. Too many companies withhold the power to take care of customers from the people who most closely interact with them. When an employee isn’t allowed to solve a customer’s problem, both parties get frustrated at your company. Give your people the power to do whatever it takes to resolve customer issues quickly and easily. Buyers respect and appreciate it.

5. Appreciate Employees
Just as customers don’t like being taken for granted, neither do employees. And when employee morale is low, they don’t serve customers well. Take great care of your employees and they’ll take great care of your customers.

6. Keep It Clean
The cleanliness of your facility speaks volumes to prospects and customers about your attention to detail and your care for people’s health and comfort. That includes everything from your front entrance to your bathrooms.

7. Improve Your Product Quality
There are a number of businesses that I will probably never patronize again, regardless of their social media activity, ad campaigns, websites, or PR. Because their product sucks. How good are your products or services compared with your competition? How can you make them better?

8. Correct Other Issues
What other problems did you uncover in your customer research? What else bugs them or prevents them from buying more from you. Deal with those issues, whether that means streamlining processes or redoing your website or remodeling your facility.

9. Admit Your Failings
Once you’ve improved in the above areas, then you can launch a PR/advertising/social media campaign. But the first thing you need to do in those campaigns is to admit your problems. People value honesty and authenticity. A good mea culpa goes a long way. Then you can communicate what you’ve done to improve and invite people to experience the new you.

Your business image is not like a pair of shoes that you can simply shine up with a can of polish. You’re creating your business image every single day, with every single thing you do, both positive and negative. Create more positive experiences for your customers and they’ll have a more positive image of you.

Are Your Salespeople Too Cheap?

May 17th, 2017

are-your-salespeople-too-cheapWhen sales managers and business owners hire salespeople, they’re typically looking for sales experience. Frequently, industry knowledge. And sometimes—although not often enough—attitude. But there’s another quality you need to be screening for: Are they cheap?

Because if they are, they’re not going to be an effective salesperson for you. In fact, a cheap salesperson costs you money. Because cheap salespeople sell cheap.

Don’t get me wrong—everyone loves a bargain. But a person who is, shall we say, “hyper-frugal” cares about spending as little money as possible in the short term above all else. They don’t value things like quality, durability, speed, accuracy, dependability, consistency, service, customization, taste, freshness, performance, and comfort. (Which you might recognize as the very elements your company is using to position your product or service.) And if they don’t value those factors, they can’t sell those factors.

Because of this, cheap salespeople resort to selling on price, with the result being they either lose the sale to a competitor who can sell on value, or they discount like crazy, eliminating most or all of your profit margin. Neither is a good outcome for your business.

So how do you determine if a current or prospective salesperson is a cheapskate? Find out a few things about them. Like:

• What kind of car do they drive?

• What kinds of clothes do they wear?

• Where do they go on vacation?

• What are their favorite brands?

• Do they buy generics/store brands or do they buy name brands?

• Are they brand loyal or do they buy whatever’s on sale?

• What is their approach to spending?

• What are their attitudes about money?

• What stores do they shop at most?

• Why do they buy what they buy?

• Why do they shop where they shop?

Learning a person’s approach to buying will tell you a lot about their approach to selling. If they value the qualities your company prides itself on, they’re potentially a good fit for your sales team. If they don’t value those items, odds are they’re not a good fit, even if they have loads of experience.

In fact, you many discover you have one or more “ultra-thrifty” people on your sales team. Evaluate their performance and—since you’ve already invested in them—train them in how to sell on value rather than price. If they can alter their sales approach, great! But if they can’t, you’ll need to reassign them or let them go. Because they’ll keep costing you sales and profits.

Cheapskates aren’t bad people—they just don’t appreciate value. And because of that, they’re not your customer. And they shouldn’t be your salespeople.

Tell Better Stories, Make More Sales

May 10th, 2017

tell-better-stories-make-more-salesStories are extremely powerful. Not only can they can be informative and persuasive, they can also be engaging, entertaining, and memorable.

That is, if they’re told well. A poorly told story can lose the audience, and even lose the sale.

So how can you improve your storytelling prowess?

1. Collect Your Stories In Advance
The time to work on your stories is not when you’re sitting in front of the prospect. Gather your company’s sales stories. Make an inventory and categorize them by client size, industry, problem, etc. Then you can work on honing them.

2. Open Strong
Your opening is your opportunity to grab your prospect’s attention. Don’t waste it with unnecessary words like, “Let me tell you a story,” or “Perhaps I can illustrate it for you.” Get right to describing the client and the problems they were facing. A simple, yet engaging way to start is to say, “We have a client who was in exactly the same situation you are…”

3. Go Chronologically
While starting a story in the middle (in medias res) can be a great technique for books and movies, it doesn’t work as well in a sales presentation. Keep the structure simple: beginning, middle, end.

4. Know Your Role
Everyone wants to be a hero. So it’s natural for salespeople to emphasize how they—or their company—saved the day. Except you’re not the hero—the client is. They’re the ones trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal. You’re the sidekick, providing ideas, support, and resources. You’re the trusted aide, enabling them to accomplish their mission. You’re the R2-D2 to their Luke Skywalker, or the Gandalf to their Frodo.

5. Highlight the Results
Don’t just say the business equivalent to, “And they lived happily ever after.” Be specific about the results. For two reasons: 1. The more details you provide about the results, the more credibility your story has. 2. Painting a picture allows your prospect to envision similar results for themselves.

6. Keep It Short
While most people will happily sit through a two-hour movie or devour a 500-page novel, you don’t have that kind of time to work with. The shorter your story is, the better. Edit out any and all extraneous details. Keep the story moving.

7. Practice!
No matter how good—or bad—you are at storytelling right now, you can get better with practice. And practice doesn’t mean merely memorizing your stories—it means practicing your delivery as well. Rehearse in front of your colleagues and managers, and ask for feedback. Record yourself and listen critically. Are you speaking too slow? Too fast? Is there enough emotion in your voice? Too much? Are you varying the rate, tone, and volume of your delivery? To really up your game, consider joining a Toastmasters club or hiring a presentation skills coach.

Stories are an integral item in a salesperson’s toolbox. And like any tool, they’re more effective when you know how to use them. Invest some time crafting your sales stories to make them as short and as persuasive as they can be. Then practice telling them so you can maximize your impact on your prospects. . The better your storytelling skills are, the better your sales will be.

Want to see a couple examples of sales stories? Check out “I got no value out of the program…” and From Order-Taker to Sales Star.

Eight Ways to Build Rapport with Your Prospect

May 2nd, 2017

eight-ways-to-build-rapport-with-your-prospectBefore a prospect buys from you, they need to be comfortable with you. They need to be confident in you. They need to trust you. The faster you build that comfort, confidence, and trust, the sooner they’ll buy. And building those three things starts with rapport—creating connection between you and your prospect.

How can you do that quickly and effectively? Here are eight ways:

1. Smile
A warm, genuine smile is essential for making a good first impression. Even over the phone. (Because a smile causes your voice to be warmer and friendlier.) Be sure to greet every prospect with a smile, even if you’re having a lousy day.

2. Touch
Touching your prospect is a double-edged sword: While multiple studies have proven that touch can create connection, improve people’s moods, and cause buyers to spend more money, touching someone inappropriately (or touching a person who hates to be touched) can destroy your relationship with that prospect irrevocably. So use caution. A handshake is always safe. If appropriate, a high-five or fist bump can be a good way to make physical contact. But avoid anything that has the potential to make the buyer uncomfortable.

3. Refreshments
Offering something to eat and/or drink changes the dynamic of the relationship from “buyer & seller” to “guest & host.” So whenever possible, offer food and beverages to your prospects. It can be as extravagant as a twelve-course gourmet meal or as simple as a glass of water.

4. Self-Deprecating Humor
Humor is another issue that can be tricky. Although sharing a laugh is a great way to bond, it’s ridiculously easy to offend your prospect with the wrong kind of humor. The safest humor to use is the self-deprecating kind. Additionally, jokes at your own expense show your prospect that you don’t take yourself too seriously and that you have self-confidence—two factors that cause people to like you more.

5. Questions
Too many salespeople rush to talk about their company, product, or service. Instead, ask your prospect about themselves: their situation, background, needs, goals, concerns, experiences, plans, priorities, values, preferences, etc. People love talking about themselves, and the more they talk, the more their defenses come down.

6. Listening
Asking great questions doesn’t do you a lot of good, however, if you don’t bother to listen to the answers. Give your prospect your complete attention. Look at them while they talk. Take notes. Give them verbal cues that you’re following them: words like “right,” “gotcha,” “okay,” “definitely,” etc.

7. Empathize
Buyers want to feel that a salesperson is on their side. So agree with them. Validate their opinions and concerns. Tell them about other customers who been in the same situation. Identify with the emotions they’re experiencing. Share what you have in common with them.

8. Gifts
A gift both demonstrates and creates appreciation. And it doesn’t have to be big or expensive. It can be a white paper, a hat, a toy, a ticket to an event, candy, a bookmark, or almost anything else. And you can give the gift at the beginning of a meeting, at the end, or afterward as a follow-up.

Building rapport is the first step to creating trust. And it’s all about making the prospect feel good—both about themselves and about you. Use these eight tactics to help them feel good about both.

Open Your Mind to Close More Sales

April 25th, 2017

Open Your Mind to Close More SalesThe single biggest obstacle to closing the sale isn’t your price, your competition or your prospect.

It’s you.

Specifically, it’s your subconscious beliefs and fears about closing. Most salespeople are hindered by negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, but because they’re subconscious, we’re not even aware of them.

Negative beliefs about sales in general, and closing in particular, are programmed into us on a daily basis, from the time we’re children. This unfortunate programming comes both from the media and from real life.

Popular culture—movies, TV, books, plays, even comic strips—nearly always portrays salespeople as greedy, selfish, pushy, sleazy, underhanded, manipulative, lying, cheating, obnoxious slimeballs. Just think:

• Glengarry Glen Ross
• Boiler Room
• Death of a Salesman
• The Simpsons
• Cadillac Man
• Dilbert
• The Music Man
• Gone Fishin’
• The Outlaw Josey Wales
• Married… with Children
• Fargo
• The Wolf of Wall Street
• Suckers
• True Lies
• WKRP in Cincinnati
• Tin Men
• The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
• Used Cars
• Tommy Boy

Unfortunately, the stereotype portrayed in various media all too often stems from the real world. Anyone who has ever shopped for a major purchase—furniture, appliances, a car, a time-share property—can tell you a horror story about the salesperson from hell. It’s no surprise that salespeople are often referred to as “sharks,” “vultures” and “wolves.” It’s also no surprise that, as a group, “Salespeople” typically ranks near the bottom in surveys of who people trust. (Usually right near politicians.)

Most salespeople, however, don’t fit this stereotype. The vast majority of salespeople sell with honesty and integrity. They’re good people who look out for the best interests of the customer. They’re people like you.

The problem for good salespeople is that we’ve been infected by these negative images of what a salesperson is and it creates a conflict within ourselves. We believe—on a subconscious level—that “salespeople” are greedy, selfish, pushy, underhanded, obnoxious liars. But we don’t want to be perceived as such. So we avoid doing anything we think might possibly be interpreted that way.

And that’s what hamstrings us. Because we fear being perceived as the stereotype, we don’t do a lot of things that are necessary to make the sale. Where this problem looms largest is closing.

We’re afraid (again, subconsciously) that if we try to close the sale, we’re being pushy, rude, arrogant, obnoxious. So all too often we don’t really try. But closing is a critical part of our jobs, arguable the most critical part. You can do everything else right—prospecting, needs analysis, presentation, overcoming objections—but if you don’t close, there’s no sale.

Here’s the secret to closing the sale effectively: understand that prospects need you close them. The prospect is sitting there (or possible standing there) in a state of inertia. Remember the Law of Inertia? “A body at rest tends to stay at rest.” Which means the prospect’s natural inclination is to do nothing, even though they need and/or want whatever it is you’re selling. So it’s up to you to nudge them out of their inertia and into action. That’s all that closing is.

Assuming this purchase really is in the best interest of the prospect, closing is not pushy, rude, arrogant or obnoxious. In fact, not closing is a disservice to the prospect, because it’s preventing them from enjoying the benefits of your product or service.

It’s not the prospect’s job to ask us to sell them our stuff. (Left to their own devices, they rarely will, due to that pesky inertia.) Instead, it’s our job to ask them to buy it. And they need us to do it. When you consider the relationship in this way, it completely changes how you think of the process. And when you’re able to change the way you think—both consciously and subconsciously—closing the sale becomes easier than you ever imagined.

13 Characteristics of Top Salespeople

April 18th, 2017

13 Characteristics of Top SalespeopleThere are average salespeople, and then there are extraordinary salespeople. What’s the difference between the two?

I’ve had the privilege of speaking to, coaching, and training tens of thousands of salespeople over the years. Here are the characteristics that I’ve learned distinguish the exceptional salespeople from everyone else.

1. Proactive
Great salespeople don’t wait for opportunities, they create them. They initiate. They set their own goals and they proactively do what it takes to achieve them.

2. Competitive
The best salespeople are the best because they have to be—they’re highly competitive. And not only with their competitors, but with themselves. They’re always trying to beat their previous records and top their previous successes.

3. Service-oriented
Amazing salespeople don’t try to win at their customer’s expense though. They understand that they only win if their buyer wins as well. Their empathy and their focus on service lead them to be consultants and advocates for their clients.

4. Organized
An efficient salesperson is an effective salesperson. The most effective employ both tools and systems to stay organized so they can make the most of their precious time.

5. Positive
Extraordinary salespeople think positively. They expect success. They see the bright side and can perceive opportunities where others can’t. They’re optimistic about the future and believe that things will work out.

6. Resilient
Things don’t always work out though. And when they don’t, great salespeople press on nonetheless. When they fail, they pick themselves up, learn from their failure, and try again.

7. Personable
Exceptional salespeople know how to make friends and build relationships. They tend to genuinely like people. They are good listeners and are able to read people and adapt their behavior. Plus their positive attitudes are attractive to prospects and customers alike.

8. Assertive
This doesn’t mean that they will “go along to get along” or allow themselves to be pushed around, however. Top salespeople are not shy about making recommendations or asking for commitments. That’s not to say they’re pushy—there’s a big difference between assertive and aggressive, and great salespeople understand the difference.

9. Conscientious
Outstanding salespeople care. About big things and little things. About themselves and others. They are honest and ethical, taking pride in their words and actions. They ensure that things get done and that they’re done right.

10. Disciplined
You can’t do everything, and superlative salespeople accept this. They excel at prioritizing their to-do lists. They’re fanatical about managing their time and focusing on what’s most important.

11. Tenacious
Too many salespeople give up too easily. Top performers know that sales can often take a long time. So they follow up relentlessly. They evince a similar commitment when facing challenges: they stick with the problem until they solve it.

12. Confident
Exceptional salespeople are supremely confident. And not just in themselves. They’re also confident in their product, service, company, and team members. And because confidence is contagious, their prospects become confident as well.

13. Inquisitive
There’s always more to learn, and the best salespeople never assume they know it all. On the contrary, they have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge which leads them to become life-long learners. They read books, magazines, and blogs; they listen to CDs and podcasts; they attend conferences, seminars, and workshops. They are always learning, so they are always getting better.

If this list doesn’t describe you perfectly, don’t despair. Think of it as a roadmap to greatness. You can improve in any or all of these areas. Just pick a few, make a plan, and execute it.

Strengthen your skills in these thirteen areas and you too can be one of the best.

Perception Is All That Matters for Your Sales

April 11th, 2017

Perception Is All That Matters for Your SalesEvery business speaker, blogger, podcaster, columnist, and comedian owes a huge debt of gratitude to United Airlines. In forcibly dragging a paying customer off an overbooked plane at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, United has given us all great content to use on stage, in print, and online.

And they’ve given us an incredible amount of content as well, because United did pretty much everything wrong in this situation, from their policies which led to the incident, to CEO Oscar Munoz’s horrible half-hearted apology.

Now, there are some mitigating factors here.

1. Airlines are legally allowed to bump passengers from flights when they are overbooked, or when they need to transport crew, as was the case here. This is specified in the “Contract of Carriage” of every airline.

2. Because purchasing a ticket enters you into a legally binding contract, passengers are legally required to leave a plane if they are bumped.

3. United has a lower rate of bumping passengers than many other domestic airlines, including Southwest, JetBlue, American, and Frontier.

4. The people who forcibly removed the passenger were not United employees, but rather, Chicago Department of Aviation security officers.

5. United did not do anything that violated the law or company policy. “We followed the right procedures,” United spokesman Charlie Hobart stated.

Here’s the thing, though:

None of that matters.

All that matters is the video of a paying customer being dragged down the aisle, shrieking in terror. Tens—if not hundreds—of millions of people have seen that video and come to the conclusion that United Airlines is a heartless company staffed by jack-booted thugs who just might forcibly eject them from their next flight.

It doesn’t matter if that belief is right or wrong. Perception is reality. Perception is all that matters. And once that perception is created, it’s extremely hard to change.

What does this mean for your business? And what can you learn from United’s extraordinary blunder?

1. Policies are less important than people.
I’ve written about this before. If your policies create problems for your customers, then your policies need to be revised. Or scrapped completely. Policies should enable great customer service, not undermine it.

2. Someone is always watching.
There are more video cameras today than ever before. Everybody with a cell phone has one. Always assume everything you—and your people—do is being recorded and act accordingly.

3. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the right if others think you’re wrong.
People judge you by what they see without knowing the backstory. And they don’t care about the backstory. Because they put themselves in the position of your customer, not you. Customers care about themselves, which is why you need to care about them too. Show sensitivity to them. Make exceptions for them. Solve problems for them rather than creating more.

4. Have a crisis communication plan in place.
Don’t hope a crisis never happens—plan for it to happen. With the ubiquity of social media, having a plan in place is more vital than ever before. As crisis communications expert Gerard Braud advises, “A crisis communication plan has to be built for speed—the speed of Twitter. If you wait hours to respond, and Twitter is responding in seconds, you’re already too late. You absolutely must have an extensive library of prewritten news releases that can be edited and used in a matter of minutes.”

5. Every person in your company impacts sales.
From the CEO to the janitor, everybody in your organization affects sales either positively or negatively. And every single thing they do has the potential to help or hurt your sales.

6. Train your people.
For that reason, you should be training your people continually. All your people. On a wide range of skills, including sales, communication, leadership, negotiating, customer service, teamwork, problem-solving, conflict-resolution, personal development, and more. Effective training not only prevents problems from occurring, but enables your people to improve results in all areas of your business.

The way people perceive your company determines how successful your company is. Keep that in mind as you formulate—and reformulate—your policies, communicate with your team, create your plans, train your people, and make decisions. What narrative do you want the public to see and hear? You are constantly being judged. Give people reasons to judge you positively.

26 Ways to Boost Your Customer Loyalty

April 4th, 2017

26 Ways to Boost Your Customer LoyaltyEvery business wants more customer loyalty. Loyal customers are the easiest and fastest to sell to. They buy more often. They don’t beat you up on price. They forgive you when you make a mistake or encounter a problem. They tell other people about you. Loyal customers are pure sales gold.

But loyalty is a two-way street. You have to earn loyalty. And you earn it by exhibiting it.

Are you being loyal to your clients? Are you taking great care of them consistently? Are you demonstrating—rather than merely stating—your appreciation?

Here are 26 ways you can exhibit loyalty to your customers:

1. Greet them by name
2. Remember their preferences
3. Reduce their waiting time
4. Give them your best pricing
5. Upgrade them
6. Give them a bonus
7. Waive a late fee or finance charge
8. Invite them to events
9. Customize your product or service for them
10. Resolve their problems quickly
11. Give them gifts
12. Feed them
13. Stay in regular communication with them
14. Don’t give new clients better deals than you give existing ones
15. Ask for their input on new offerings
16. Provide them with information to enhance their life or business
17. Make their buying process faster and easier
18. Offer them exclusive deals and sales
19. Give them a dedicated phone number, web site, or contact person
20. Let them be the first to try new products and services
21. Keep them updated when problems or opportunities arise
22. Buy from them
23. Refer business to them
24. Publicize them
25. Donate to their favorite charities
26. Ask them how you can improve

How many of these actions are you taking on a regular basis? The more you do, the stronger your customers’ loyalty will be.

Customers become loyal to a company when the business makes them feel appreciated, important, and cared for. When you are devoted to your customers, they’ll be devoted to you.

Are You Making Your Prospect Uncomfortable?

March 28th, 2017

Are You Making Your Prospect Uncomfortable?A female friend called me recently to tell me a story.

She had arrived home from work around dusk. As she approached her house, she noticed two men walking through the neighborhood. She pulled into her driveway, opened her garage door, and parked in the garage.

As she exited her car, the two men approached her driveway and began their spiel. They were selling home repair services and wanted to talk with her about her house. She told them it wasn’t a good time for her, but they kept walking up the driveway, talking as if she hadn’t said anything.

She stated firmly that it was getting dark and she wasn’t comfortable talking with them then and there. They continued to close in on her, reciting their sales pitch. It wasn’t until she threatened to call the police that the two salesmen finally turned around.

Needless to say, after that experience, my friend is never buying anything from them. In fact, she has talked with her neighbors, and now none of them will consider buying from this company.

This might be the best home repair company in the country, using the best quality supplies and the most skilled labor. But it doesn’t matter because their clueless salespeople made her feel so uncomfortable that she never wants any contact with them ever again.

Are you—or your salespeople—making your prospects uncomfortable? It’s easy to do because we forget that other people are not necessarily comfortable with what we’re comfortable with. So be wary of these potential triggers:

Many people find profanity offensive. And even many who use profanity among their friends or family don’t approve of using it in a business situation. Also, avoid sexual innuendo and double entendres. This is a sales call, not a nightclub.

Dirty jokes, ethnic jokes, blonde jokes, etc.—avoid them all. What you do with your buddies is one thing. What you do with prospects and clients is another thing altogether.

Body Language
Are your arms crossed? Are you leaning over your prospect? Do you have your feet up on something they shouldn’t be resting on?

Facial Expressions
Is your facial expression warm and friendly, or cold and dour? Or alternatively, are you undressing the other person with your eyes?

The line between professional and casual gets more blurred by the day. Err on the side of professionalism. You can always loosen your tie or remove your jacket if you perceive you’re overdressed. And be sure your outfit isn’t too sexy for a business situation.

Physical Distance
Getting too close to someone can evoke a response ranging from mild anxiety to sheer terror. Keep your distance. Exactly how much depends on the culture. But better to be too far than too close.

Acting like you didn’t hear what the prospect said, insulting a competitor, dismissing a prospect’s concerns or priorities, failing to do what a prospect asks, or doing something without their permission all raise red flags in your prospect’s mind.

Foreign Language
Using a language your prospect doesn’t speak causes them to immediately distrust you. Use only the language they know best, or have an interpreter translate everything you say.

People don’t want to deal with a salesperson who looks or smells bad. Get some honest feedback about your appearance and body odors. And if you smoke, quit.

Being pushy, impatient, disrespectful, demanding, or loud will cause prospects to run in the opposite direction.

People don’t buy when they’re uncomfortable, anxious, distrustful, or scared. The buy when they’re comfortable, confident, and excited. Everything you—and your sales team—say and do either increases your prospect’s comfort and confidence level or erodes it. Make sure all of your words and actions do the former and not the latter.

Five Steps to Creating a Powerful Marketing Piece

March 21st, 2017

Five Steps to Creating a Powerful Marketing PieceMuch—if not most—marketing is wasted. Various studies put the number at anywhere from 40% to 60%. You can’t afford to waste time, money, and effort like that though. If you want to generate more sales, your marketing needs to be effective.

How can you make sure it is? With five simple questions: who, why, what, where, and when. Whatever kind of marketing you’re contemplating—be it a website, a radio commercial, a flyer, a YouTube video, a sales letter, a Google ad, a brochure, a social media contest—answer these five questions in detail to ensure its success.

1. Who is the audience?
Everything starts with your intended audience. Who are they? What do they read, watch, and listen to? Where do they go and when? What are their problems and goals? What do they want more of and less of? The more narrowly you can define your prospective customers, the more relevant a message you can craft. You’ll also know where to put that message for maximum exposure to those people.

2. Why should they care?
Whatever your medium, you only have a few seconds to grab the attention of your prospect. To do that, you need to open with something that will resonate with them. Which means your headline or opening needs to make a statement or pose a question that relates to something they care about. (Hint: Your company, product, or service ain’t something they care about.) Your headline or opening should address a problem they have or a goal they possess.

3. What is the message?
This is the bulk of your marketing piece. What do they need to know? How will buying your product or service impact them? How does it achieve the promised results? What makes your product or service better than your competition’s? What proof can you provide? Include as much information as the medium allows, always linking everything back to the benefit to the reader or viewer—because that’s what they care about most.

4. Where do they go to take the next step?
What’s the next step? Do they need to call you to schedule an appointment? Should they come down to your location? Click here to have someone contact them? Submit an entry on your Facebook page? A marketing piece without a call to action is virtually worthless. Tell them exactly what you want them to do. To improve compliance, make the step easy.

5. When should they take it?
Finally, tell your prospect when they should take action. Should they call now? Do they need to come to the store on certain days or certain hours? Is there a deadline? Be clear. Also, it’s essential that you overcome their natural inertia by giving them a reason to act when you want them to. It can be a promotion, a bonus, a limited supply, an event, or something else they gain by acting in the specified time frame or lose by failing to act.

Too many businesses waste their marketing budgets by sending the wrong message to the wrong people. Follow these five steps with every marketing effort you make and your business won’t be one of them.

Selling Virtuously

March 8th, 2017

Selling VirtuouslyDoes boosting your sales mean you have to be sneaky, underhanded, manipulative, and high-pressure? Absolutely not! In fact, if you truly want to excel in sales, you need to be just the opposite. Because a virtuous salesperson is a successful salesperson.

Listen to my appearance on the Black Belt Selling podcast with Anna and Stephanie Scheller. In this interview, we discuss:

• Why the old ways of selling don’t work today
• The key to making the sale
• How a coach or mentor can help you boost your sales
• The two most important sales skills you must master
• And more!

You don’t have to choose between selling effectively and feeling good about yourself. You can—and should—do both!