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Guest Post: Are You More Comfortable Being “Salesy” Or “Subtle”

friendlyprofessor1A few months ago, Joseph Riggio (pictured here) sent me an article he’d written about marketing and sales. I finally sat down to review it and wanted to share it with you (with my comments woven in) because I think it lifts up a very important conversation in marketing and sales. My comments will be indented.

Are You More Comfortable Being “Salesy” Or “Subtle”

by Joseph Riggio

I want to expose and clarify a great lie in the world of marketing, that might make a critical difference in your business.

Here’s the lie: No one likes being sold anything … sometimes followed up with, … they would rather be allowed to buy what they want.”

Sorry, but to put it bluntly … that simply not true of everyone.

In fact there are many people I’ve worked with who love being sold, and tons of clients I’ve trained, coached and mentored who love selling, even hard ball selling after I taught them the ins and outs of how to do it with true empathy and compassion.

To some folks that just sounds crazy … “Hard ball selling with empathy and compassion.” It sounds like an oxymoron, like they can’t possibly go together. But, please believe me it can really work when it’s done properly!

This is an important distinction and one I’ve found to be true in my life too. How could it be that someone is being salesy and I’m loving it? I’ve met a number of people who were shameless sales people which, you’d think, be against everything I teach and yet I find myself charmed and engaged. There’s no guile to them. There’s nothing hidden. And I have no doubt that they have my best interests in mind. This speaks to what Lynn Serafinn speaks about of in her work on the Seven Graces of Marketing – the importance of being direct. And, regardless of the style, people love people who are straight with them. Some people are direct in a charming and sweet way (e.g. Carrie Klassen of PinkElephantCommunications.com who is the Audrey Hepburn of the marketing world) and others, like Joseph are direct in a more New Jersey kind of way. My pal Joey Hundert of Sustainival.com used to work the Edmonton farmer’s market selling hemp oil and he would have crowds surrounding him as he threw down his engaging. loud, Coney Island style spiel for the benefits of hemp. He would educate, harass and love people up in a very big energy way. people loved it. I loved it. I could never do what he does. So, finding your style and trusting that voice is critical.

The caveat I’d add is that no one wants to be pressured. Sales pressure is a universal bad. There’s a fine line between challenging someone and them feeling as though their feelings and needs are fundamentally not being respected.

Now it’s not my intention here to sell you on hard ball selling, even with empathy and compassion. What I want to do instead is share that it’s vital to you to figure out your selling style and go with it, whatever it is that fits for you.

There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” and that old saw is just as true for online businesses as for brick and mortar ones.

The great management guru from the Harvard School of Business, Peter Drucker, said that … the purpose of business is not creating profits, it’s creating customers.”.

This is a hard truth of business even if I might take exception with the wording a bit. I see many people who have great products and services but no one is buying them. And it’s a bit tragic. Your business should be there to support you. It should be a sustainable venture not one that’s constantly draining you. Many of the people I work with need a real reality check around what people want and what it takes to get enough people to say yes that they can breathe easy again.

I’ve trained, coached and mentored thousands of folks on how to sell professionally … not market, sell. To me this distinction is critical, if a bit subtle at times.

Marketing is getting someone to raise their hand and say, Hey, I’m interested.” and in business, that means “Tell me more about how we make this happen.”

In some schools of marketing “How we make this happen” is called the offer … but in my book, that’s where selling begins, i.e.: right after they raise their hand and say, “Okay, I’m interested.”

Just to make things really clear before I base jump off the marketing cliff and into the ravine of selling, the distinction I’m making is that selling begins when you’re talking to someone who’s crossed the line over from interested in learning more, to interested in making something happen.

Mark Silver speaks about this at length in my Heart of Selling interview with him. He makes the distinction between the first journey (marketing) and the second journey (selling). At some point, there may need to be a real, honest to goodness, face to face human conversation with someone. And there’s absolutely an art to that. It’s not something I do very much as my business is increasingly online. Though I’m a fan of another Peter Drucker quote too which is that, “The purpose of marketing is to make selling redundant.” The idea that, if your marketing is good enough, you really don’t need to sell anyone because people just buy. Because I’m lazy, this is the approach I’m drawn to and why I’m a fan of the Three Roles of Marketing.

This is also a critical distinction in writing copy for the Internet and online business marketing and selling.

Okay … Time To Pick A Horse To Ride

I’m no cowboy, just a kid from New Jersey, so I claim no great riding skills, but I’ve been around horses since I was a kid. One thing I do know is how different horses’ temperaments can be, and how important it is to pick one that suits your personality if you’re going to attempt to ride it.

In marketing and selling it’s often the same thing, i.e.: you must pick a style that suits you … and ideally one that suits your customers and clients too, or at least pick customers and clients that are suited to your style.

Some folks just naturally like selling and they do it with gusto!

Other folks are really reticent about it and shy away from anything that sounds or feels like direct selling.

Either way works just fine, as long as it’s a match for you.

This is a very important distinction. Central is marketing is the business of filtering for who is a fit for you (and, ipso facto, the people for whom you would be a fit). Like puzzle pieces, you both need to fit together. And some people won’t want to work with you just because of who you are and your style. And most people are scared to really be themselves because it might scare some people away. They are scared because they believe it is possible and desirable to attract everyone when it is neither. The truth is that by being fully yourself, unapologetically, you will get a more polarized response. And that’s okay.

I’m more of the first kind of guy, I like a spirited horse with lots of fire and challenge in him or her. I want to go toe to toe, find out where we stand early on and then once we’ve agreed to some basic rules of relationship get on with it. Cantering is my trot, and it’s only to get to somewhere we can gallop together. Once we’ve come to trust one another I give my horse the reins. When we’re there I let my horse run with it.

My wife and daughter though preferred more contained horses when they rode, sure and stable was their pick of preference. My daughter especially liked a horse that was gentle and accepting, and she can actually ride well … English or Western, doesn’t matter. She’s happy in the saddle and the horses she’s ridden seem happy to have her there – but, she wants to know she can stop the ride anytime and get off when she’s ready, or on those days when the sun and wind are just right ride for hours.

I may not be the easiest horse to ride when it comes to selling or working with after the fact. I like challenging my customers and clients, telling them right up front … Hey I want to sell you something that I think has great value! But, I add the “if” to my sales process at the same time.

Like this, Hey I want to sell you something that I think has great value … if you are struggling converting prospects into customers and clients.”

I usually add something like, And, if your doing just fine already, or you are not ready to take a leap to next to the next level in your business, what I have probably isn’t going to be for you.”

I do this process at the start of things, and qualify prospects in three ways, a) we’re both clear about what I’m doing and why, b) they are a fit for me and what I do, and c) they are interested in making something happen together if my offer is a fit for them.

It’s amazing what a refreshing difference directness can make. It’s one of the reasons I’ve long been a fan of Jay Abrahams approach to marketing. His sales letters are unerringly direct. He tells you his selfish motives upfront and that he wants to convince you of something. And this puts people at ease because they no longer need to look out for any sneaky tactics. And we need to remember that people want solutions to their problems and want to be able to trust your approach and perspective in the way you would go about helping them to solve those problems. So, if you say, “Okay. Check it out. Let me make my pitch.” people will often sit back, relax and take it in as if to say, “Okay. Go ahead. Gimme whatchu got.” The key here is whether or not you’re willing to let go if you realize it’s not a fit.

But there’s also something else too. The upfront, brash and in your face approach can actually feel good. The sensitive approach can feel good. That’s clear. Here’s where it gets gross – when someone is pretending to be one when they’re the other. When someone is pretending that they’re not attached to you buying and that they’re coming from a heart centered place but, really, they’re secretly trying to sell you. When someone claims to be doing conscious marketing but their marketing feels more hyped up than regular marketing. The gap between how they’re posturing to be and how they are will feel even worse than regular gross selling approaches.

Again, it’s okay to directly make your case. It’s okay to just come out with it… as long as they know you’re primary commitment is really to the truth of if it’s a fit and that you are sharing your pitch so that they can make a more informed, educated and considered choice themselves.

My style is to build the outcome early on and I make my business relationships about delivering on those outcomes. If we don’t have an outcome we agree on wanting to create together we aren’t going to have a relationship. So the first thing I do with prospective customers and clients is state my intentions right up front, and make sure I get theirs out in the open as soon as possible.

If I’m writing copy I’ll usually step back a bit after I’ve announced my intentions and spend some time with them to make sure we’d be good together.

Here’s a typical process I’ll follow:

Give them some reasons to remain really interested …

  • Explain to them why my offer might make good sense for them
  • Take the time to tell them who it’s not for and why not
  • If it’s useful and appropriate let them know why I think I’m the right person to be making the offer

Then I make sure they know:

  • What the surface level benefits are, i.e.: the obvious ones that most people will see quickly, and
  • The deep level benefits are too, i.e.: the ones that are usually impossible to see from the outside looking in, but are unavoidably obvious and desirable to anyone on the inside.

I would add to this list the importance of also letting people know your selfish motive for making any special deals (e.g. “My hope is that you’ll like my free stuff so much, you’ll come back and buy more and be a lifetime customer.”) Imagine being able to be that honest in your marketing.

Only after I do all that do I present the offer to actually sell them what I have for them, and I tell them how to get it for themselves – what it will take, how it will happen and what to do to make it happen.

But the critical distinction is that I let them know right up front that I’m selling them something, I tend to come on strong and ask them to join me for the ride. For some people this works great and they really like the experience of someone out in front taking control.

This makes great sense for me right from the beginning, because these kinds of clients fit for me all the way through our relationship.

This is huge. Joseph is comfortable in his own skin. He knows that the way he is in selling is the way he is in everything. So, if they don’t like his approach to selling, they’re not going to like his approach to anything else. Him being himself helps to polarize the response and act as a filter.

They want someone to challenge and provoke them, someone who will push them a bit even when it may feel uncomfortable to do so. The caveat is they want to know that person has their best interests in mind all the time, even when it gets a bit edgy – and I do, or we wouldn’t be working together in the first place.

Customers and clients who need and want hand holding, to be coddled and cuddled aren’t a great match for me. My kind of customer or client wants to run fast, will implement what we discuss as we’re discussing it, and like Dickens’ Oliver they’ll come back and ask for more.

Another important distinction here: Joseph has just named a key criteria of his ideal client! They want to be challenged. Some people are there to comfort the afflicted and others are there to afflict the comfortable. I’m more in the comforting arena. It’s good to know which you are at different times for your clients.

My customers and clients most often point out that they love my integrity, my authenticity and genuineness … and how I am constantly provoking them, pushing them to step up, and demanding more from them then they would ask of themselves in the same situation.

What I hear most often from my clients is, With Joseph what you see is what you get, whether that’s in the office, out for a bite to eat or at his home with his family, he’s the same guy everywhere with everyone.” That’s about the greatest compliment someone can give me by the way.

However, that doesn’t make what I do the right thing to do, or the right way to do it. What it does mean is that while I may be perfect for some customers and clients, I’m not right for every customer or client out there, and they aren’t necessarily right for me either.

Getting Settled In The Saddle

I have close friends in business who are almost the exact opposite of me. They make relationship precede outcome and then, because of the relationship they’ve built, they deliver on the outcomes they promise. They are incredibly gentle and laid back with their customers and clients. They take as much time as their customers and clients need to feel comfortable before they even begin to talk about selling or what they have to sell.

These friends of mine know they prefer to go more slowly up front, to take the time to connect before they jump too far ahead into the heavy stuff. The key to their success is that they know themselves. Instead of putting their attention on outcomes up front, they put their attention on relationships. They allow their customers and clients to lead and then when the timing is right they ask for permission to do their thing and help their customers and clients get what they want and need.

I have seen the marketing and sales processes of these friends of mine up close, sometimes I’ve helped them build or refine their processes and often I’ve asked them to help me build and refine mine. The key isn’t that we try to replicate what one another do in style, but the basic premises of great marketing and selling are consistent inside of any style you choose to use … as long as you make sure you do it in a way that suits you!

When you know you like starting out a bit more slowly, comfortably … walking before you trot, and trotting a while before you canter … heck, maybe you won’t even get up to a full gallop on this ride together, and that’s okay … then you know something critical about yourself, and the kind of clients you are likely to most want to work with and who would be happiest working with you.

Either way … whether you’re an all out thoroughbred racehorse leaving the gate at a gallop, or a beautiful dressage champion taking each step with the utmost care and precision, the choice is yours to make in how you present yourself. My only intention and advice here has been that the best choice is most likely the one that’s a match and fit for who you are at your core.

If you really do like being the salesy type then go for it, shout it from the roof tops early on and as loudly as you like, if however you prefer subtlety and are more comfortable engaging in a dialogue that builds up to something special, take your time and work wonders with it just the way you like.

If you go back take a look at the bullet points of my structure for writing copy for what I do and sell that I outlined above you’ll see they are generalized enough to fit anyone’s process or style. It’s the way you choose to implement that makes all the difference.

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