Getting New Customers

You Can't Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020 - GROW GREAT

You Can’t Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020

You Can't Offer A Solution Without Asking Questions #4020 - GROW GREAT

Thousands of salespeople have sat across from me throughout my career. Some were very good. Most weren’t. Not because they lacked ability, but most lacked what I valued most while leading a company – somebody who really wanted to help me grow my business.

Self-interest is what drives far too many salespeople – and others, for that matter. What’s in it for me? That’s our collective battle cry. I’m okay with it provided we help the other person get what might best help them first. Mutual benefit should be the objective.

Countless sales executives have entered my office for the first time ever, armed to the teeth with a bag (sometimes literally) of tricks they claimed would solve my problems. It always fascinated me how a complete stranger who had spent no time with me, or my organization could have such a solution. Or how they could even know what my problems might be. Focused entirely on what was in it for them, they began their pitch with all the reasons why this solution was ideal for me. It was left up to me to decipher whether or not they really did have something I could find valuable.

That’s a bad strategy for problem solving – no matter if you’re selling a solution or not. Well, actually, even people on the executive team are selling a solution. They’re trying to persuade the organization to accept their idea. The value of their solution isn’t enhanced with a “let me tell you why this is good for me” tactic.

Never put the burden on the buyer – whether it’s your boss, a client or somebody else – to figure out if you’ve got something valuable or not. Presenting the value as the buyer would see it isn’t the same as deciding if it’s right for them, or robbing them of the opportunity to decide for themselves. But let’s back up before we even get to the part where you present a solution.

First Things First. Ask. Investigate.

As a young salesman I read and heard sales trainers use a term that never felt quite right to me. Probe.

Probing is what we were taught to do to uncover a customer’s needs, possible objections and anything else that might help us figure out an ideal solution. Not that there’s anything wrong with the term, it just wasn’t a favorite word for me. My natural style was always to simply have an engaging conversation where I asked customers questions. It didn’t take me long to learn that if I could ask the right question, I could find out more about the customer’s desire. That elevated my ability to figure out what I might have to help them. Or it helped me learn I may not have anything that would help them.

I would often imagine somebody who requested an appointment just to find out more about our company, or me before knocking my door down with a “here’s exactly what you need” pitch. It never happened. Periodically (not very often), I’d see some sales executive who I thought might be open to hearing such a message, and I’d run the idea past him. Most were just polite, but only a few – very few – appeared genuinely startled at such a novel approach. Startled to the point where I thought they might actually try it.

These were the day of the one-call-close. Nothing has changed. People today are aiming for the one-call-close. We’re all busy. Our prospects are busy. We think, “We’ve only got one shot.” That’s not true though. And if it is true, then I want to challenge you to do something more valuable with that one shot.


You can stand out more by not putting your need to make a sale – that includes you executives who are trying to sell your boss on your idea – at the forefront. Instead, try to gain a clearer understanding of the problem. You can substitute pain, desire, want, need or anything else in the place of the word “problem.” Find the word that best fits your situation.

Every single day I’m talking with CEOs. From very small companies to enormous companies. And I always discover the same thing with any of them willing to talk to me – and most of them are willing. Here’s the simple, but service oriented strategy (which isn’t so much a strategy as it’s simply how I naturally operate):

  1. I spend a few minutes (1-2) telling them why I’m reaching out to them. Don’t play some bait and switch game with your prospects (especially your boss). Be candid. Tell people why you’re wanting to hear their story – why you’d like to ask them questions. It’s not an interrogation. It’s a conversation. Don’t make it a grill session.
  2. I then simply ask them to tell me their story. And I shut up. Most open up quickly – evidence they’re not asked this question nearly often enough. We all care about our story. Most of us wish somebody cared enough to ask us about ours. I do care enough. I’m fascinated by the stories I hear. Most days I hear more than one really compelling story. Amazing what you learn simply by asking.
  3. Then I briefly tell them the truth. Sometimes what I do – or anything I might offer – isn’t a good fit for me. That means it won’t be a good fit for them. Other times, I’m not sure. But it’s not up to me to make the call when I don’t know on my end. If I’m thinking, “This may be something valuable for him, but I’m not sure” — then I’ll tell them that. I don’t try to make the decision for them. They need to make the call.
  4. It leads to more conversation or it doesn’t. Either way, I’m good with that and I’m convinced so are they. We both win regardless of the outcome.

I don’t want to sell. And I don’t think selling or sales is a dirty work. I just don’t want to do what most people think of when they think of selling. They think of talking people into things. Manipulation. That’s not what sales is. It is persuasion and influence – which we all want to incorporate into our communication when we know we’ve got something of value…something that can help others. Mostly, it’s giving people an opportunity to solve their problem (remedy the pain, gain some pleasure, get a solution, etc.).

No Agenda Except To Give Others An Opportunity. And Give Yourself An Opportunity To Serve.

Put first things first. Put your prospect (yes, that means your boss, or perhaps a co-worker, or anybody else you’re trying to serve) first. Listen to them. Better yet, express interest in learning as much as you can about what they think, how they feel and what they want or need. Ask. Listen. Pay attention.

People are searching for solutions. Many are staring into space right this minute, wishing somebody would arrive into their life to help them. What if you could be that person? Why can’t you be that person?

My headline isn’t completely true. You can offer a solution without asking a question. You can offer a solution without even listening to the other person. It will be a terrible experience for you – and the person you’re hoping to sell. But you can keep doing it. And keep enjoying a life of disinterested people. They’re disinterested in your solution because you’re disinterested in them.

You reap what you sow.


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The Power Of Leverage: For Clients, Employees, Sales & Profits - GROW GREAT Podcast Episode 4005

4005 The Power Of Leverage: For Clients, Employees, Sales & Profits

The Power Of Leverage: For Clients, Employees, Sales & Profits - GROW GREAT Podcast Episode 4005

Today’s show as sparked by somebody desiring to start up a new enterprise and wondering what I thought about it. Talk turned to leverage and how to gain momentum, especially with a new venture. I don’t necessarily serve the start up niche, but it was a valid conversation any way.

It’s easier to put your back into it when you’ve got leverage on it. Whatever IT is.

Without leverage, putting your back into it will cause you to put your back out! Be careful.

Gladwell calls it “the tipping point.” Others call it by various things. Traction. Momentum. Being on a roll.

It’s mostly similar. It’s the ability to build on success. Sure, more is better, but not always necessary. And as with most things, a key phrase is in play.

It depends.

Is it easier to leverage substantial profits into more profits? Maybe. It depends. Sometimes the leverage becomes more difficult. If you set a record in profits last year, it may be tough to best it again this year. But maybe not. Again, it depends.

Leverage, like most things, isn’t a one-size-fits-all circumstance kinda of a deal. Even so, we’re foolish if we don’t closely examine the power of leverage in our careers, businesses or organizations.

I’ve headlined today’s show with four specific areas: a) clients or customers (those people who pay us for what we can do for them), b) employees, c) sales or revenues and d) profits.

They’re not really in a specific order except for that first one because unless you’ve got a customer (or many customers) you don’t have a business. Recently I’ve read a few blog posts on big time sites that list the most important things needed for a successful startup. It’s surprising how many don’t list customers!

You can have all the technological advantages known to man, the best people cranking out the work and whatever else you want – including tons of capital behind you – but if you don’t have people willing to pay you for what you offer, you’re out of business. Sometimes I laugh at the obvious advice offered in this world where everybody seems to be a teacher of success.

Last week I was listening to a podcast I’d never heard before. Somebody told me to check it out so I did by randomly picking an episode. A few minutes in the guy is extolling the virtues of an email list. He’s talking how powerful an email list is and how his list is worth a specific dollar amount every time he sends out a specific offer to sell something. It seemed like more bragging than anything else. I listened for a few more minutes before giving up on it. I’d heard this all before.

The way to make money online:

Step 1: Build your email list. The money is in the list.

Step 2: Sell something to your list.

Step 3: Watch the money roll in, even while you sleep.

It’s like so much other sage advice out there. Let me go ahead right now and tell you how to become a millionaire. Ready?

Step 1: Get a million dollars.

Step 2: Call yourself a millionaire.

Thank you. Thank you very much!

The hard part is step 1. That’s the step that’ll trip you up every time! 😀

I’m left always thinking, “Well, duh! Of course the money is in the list, but other than generic crapola, how do you do that?” Well, leverage isn’t some mumbo-jumbo fru-fru stuff. It’s real and it really works.

I’ll warn you upfront, the hard part is getting started. The hard part is step 1. No doubt. It’s a grind that can take a very long time.

Finding a paying customer isn’t easy. Yes, it depends on what you’re selling and to whom, but it’s never easy. And if it is easy, then it’s not lucrative. The only thing easy about it the concept of it all. Supply and demand. Pretty simple stuff really, in theory.

Take GOLD. Do you ever watch the Discovery TV show, Gold Rush? Gold isn’t easy to find. Well, other than going to the mall jewelry store. But if you’re trying to find raw gold where you can make some money, prepare to sweat and cuss. The demand is high, but the supply is limited. That’s why gold is currently selling for $821.50 per troy ounce. Supply is limited because it’s brutal work to extract gold from acres and acres of dirt. Customers are easy. Getting the inventory – the thing you need to sell (in this case, gold) – that’s crazy hard.

I got a spammer’s email the other day that I happened to open because it got through my filter. The guy was selling some online course about how to kill it with your own Amazon store. His pitch was that he could teach you how to set up a super profitable Amazon store where you could make money while you sleep. These people either sleep a lot or they’re obsessed with earning money whilst sleeping. At any rate, he talked about how his course would teach you where to buy inventory that people desperately want. Yes, they’re desperate for this merchandise. Hello, supply and demand. If everybody can buy the same merchandise to sell and then post it at Amazon in their own Amazon store, then supply is open. Demand is sure to be low, along with any potential money to be earned. No go!

Leverage is important because first we have to create and establish VALUE. Value is low when supply is abundant. Supply is abundant when it’s easy. Easy isn’t the ideal way to make money. It takes deep pockets, scope and scale to make money in easy or abundant. Think Wal-Mart or Amazon. Think of your local grocery store chain. They operate on razor thin margins because supply isn’t much of an issue. Having what you want to buy, when you want to buy it, at the lowest possible price to keep you coming back week after week – that’s the game. It’s more of a system or process thing driven by technology than anything else.

But you don’t have deep pockets, not like Wal-Mart or Amazon. You need to leverage a fifth thing – your capital or resources. You need the strongest return-on-investment (ROI) you can get. But again, first, you need customers.

Today, I just want to focus on getting to first base in all of these: clients, employees, sales and profits.

Get your first client. Don’t worry about getting anybody else. Worry about and strategize on ways to get your first customer! Do whatever you need to do to get somebody willing to say YES. Make a sale. Head up (or down, whichever you prefer) and get a customer. Find somebody who thinks you’ve got exactly what they need.

I’m not saying give it away. Free samples are valid. A free taste. I do that with coaching so people can test drive me before they write me a check. The sole purpose is to convert them into a client though. My intention is to be so dazzling and high value that they’ll be compelled to say, “Okay, this is awesome. I want to hire you.” From one free session I hope to gain a client for 6 months or a year. It legit because I’m not cheap, but I am high value. I think people deserve to get a sense of my work before they engage me. Not everybody needs it, but some do. So I’m cool with making the offer even if it costs me some time and results in no sale! Those are risks I’m willing to make because I’m leveraging my time. More importantly, I’m leveraging my experience, expertise and skill. I’m giving people a taste of it so they can better know me. It results in trust and usually results in a mutual discovery that this dog will hunt.

You’ll be tempted to think if you can sell one, you can sell two. Maybe. Maybe not. It depends. Was your mom your first sale? See, that skews things dramatically.

But there is a number you can leverage. I don’t know where it is. You likely don’t know either until you start moving. It’s like obscenity. You’ll know it when you see it.

That’s why you often hear the phrase, “The rich get richer.” It’s true. They do. Because money is a wonderful leverage tool. During the recent recession I knew business men who took advantage of the real estate crash because they had a resource others didn’t have. MONEY. CASH MONEY. They were able to move in with their cash and leverage it into assets worth a lot more because people were desperate for their resource. People had real estate, but needed money. Now that real estate prices are up double digits, those investments are worth far more than these guys paid. The power of leverage.

Companies do the same thing with employees. Look at the top employers based on employee feedback. Why do they attract the best talent? Because they got it started. Again, the key is to get it going. If your company sucks at recruiting or retaining top talent, nothing will change until you make that a focal point. First, you’ve got to figure out what you need to change to attract the talent you most want. Next, you’ve got to change things so you become what and who you need to be to get such people. Then, you have to go find your first rock star employee. Leverage that employee to find your second rock star employee.

The University of Alabama football team has won the national championship 4 out of the last 7 years. They’ve been able to leverage recruiting some of the best football players in the country because good players (rock stars) want to hang with and perform with other good players. Like football players, there are plenty of talented people to go around. You can get rock stars if you want them. But you have to get your first one or all bets are off.

Sales is coupled with clients. You can’t have one without the other. Well, you can if you’re a non-profit I guess, but we’re not talking about that. For our purposes, a client or customer is somebody willing to pay you money for your product or service. Sales are different because you might sell one client something for $100 and another customer might buy something for $1000. That’s two different levels of leverage. Maybe. It depends.

You figure the $1000 sale might be more likely to leverage into another $1000 sale. It could be. And you should try. Leveraging sales is like visiting a busy restaurant versus one that’s empty. People want to do business with somebody others find valuable. Especially if we’re unsure or the business is an unknown to us. That’s why referrals and recommendations are important.

Higher sales drive sales higher. Or they can. But again, let’s concentrate on the first sale. Maybe it’s our first $100 sale. But it could be our first $1000 sale. Or our first $10,000 sale. Get the first one. Again, slog it out, grind it out, put in the work. You have to get one before you can get any hope of leverage.

Ditto for profits. They work much like sales, but they’re harder. Well, in some ways. Nearly everybody I know complains about profit margins eroding. If sales are going well, profits are always at risk. Or so it seems. There’s always pressure on profits, driven in part by competition. Name the industry and give me Google and within seconds I’ll find the bottom feeder of that industry – the outfit who seemingly is unconcerned about making any money!

Here’s the real bottom line with leverage: you have to have something to get something. You can’t leverage NOTHING.

For those of you with growing businesses though, there are lessons to be learned. It’s more common than you’d think to forget the power of leverage or to assume that leverage is on auto-pilot. Don’t neglect your leverage. Do so at your own peril. I’ve seen it happen. We get on a roll and assume we can keep this roll going. Until it doesn’t keep going. All of a sudden we hit a pot hole we never saw coming and BAM! Momentum (and leverage) are stopped dead in their tracks.

It happens when a company tries to cut their way to success. Good luck with that strategy. They never thought they’d be bleeding, but here they are with blood spilling out everywhere.

Like a skilled Judo opponent, sometimes our own body weight can be used against us. Leverage that we once had now belongs to our competitor, or the market. We’ve lost it and it can be a demon to get back!

But that’s the job – to find the leverage again (or for the first time).

Turnaround artists are skillful at this. It’s a special skill set some have. They can enter a business that has lost momentum and leverage, and with a bit of time and some resources they can put their back into it and get it back. They look carefully at the operation and dissect what’s really happening to see where to marshall the resources so they can get the thing back on its feet.

Get one. Your first one. Then get another one. And another one. Use the first to get the second. Then use the first two to get the third. Use the first 3 to get the second 3 and you’ve doubled. That’s leverage.

It’s the wise use of resources and the readiness to use them. It’s courage, tenacity and determination. Honestly, it’s not much else except maybe discipline! Sure, know how helps, but it’s not nearly as important as the other aspects.

Look at where you are right now. Wherever that is, however good or bad – see it for what it really is. We’ve all got things we can leverage to help us grow great, or greater. It can be hard to see when we’re staring down a problem though. The mountain looks daunting to climb when you’re standing at the base. So start climbing. Grab the first hand hold. Plant your foot on the first ledge or inside the first crevice. Now, look for the next move. The very next move. Using one step to find your next step is leverage.

Here’s the thing. Until you grab hold of something there’s no leverage. Until you get off the ground and onto the mountain, no leverage. I know it sounds obvious, and it really is. But I also know how obvious escapes the smartest among us. We’re so busy chasing our tails and putting out fires, it can be hard. Or, we can forget about it. Sometimes we just grow too complacent and over time some failures seem to illustrate our false belief that we’re just not one of the lucky ones. Truth is, we’re neglecting to do the work to leverage success into greater success, or to even leverage our failure away from more failure…and toward more success!

So today, get off your butt. Go get one win. Big, small or anything in between. Then get another one. Success is a habit and we could all use better habits.


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4001 Happy New Year! Two Words To Define 2016

2016 Changes

What’s Going On?

It’s what we ask when we pick up the phone, or when we greet a friend. Today is January 1, 2016 and it’s an appropriate question to begin this new year.

I’m not going to bore you with the details except to tell you that it’s been a long time coming. Led Zeppelin released an album years ago entitled, The Song Remains The Same. As I was preparing for today’s show I thought of that song and record. And I also thought of the phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The notion is that rarely do things fundamentally change so much. The status quo can be tough to alter.

As a man in search of an epiphany I’ve been fortunate to have a few. Not many, but a few. Last year I had a couple of them. One was that my lifetime spent building successful businesses prepared me to serve a bigger number of people than I first thought years ago when I began a side project of helping business owners grow their businesses. The other one was my personal style – the essence of who I am and what I do, coupled with how I do it – is just in my DNA and it’s ridiculous to do anything other than own it.

Neither of those was a first time epiphany. I had thought of those things before, but in 2015 I gave them deeper thought than maybe ever before. I made up my mind to wrap my arms around both of these things, embrace them more fully than I ever had before.

I’m a business guy. I’ve always been a business guy. It’s not a one-dimensional thing because the world of commerce is filled with a variety of characters, styles, approaches, experiences and skills. For every person who is animated and loud there are others who speak softly and behave in utter tranquility. There are blue jean wearing CEO’s and those who prefer custom order Brooks Brother suits. Some CEO’s drive only BMW’s and others opt for a pick-up truck. Business people don’t fit in a one-size-fits-all category. It’s part of the fun and allure of business. At least it is for me. And always has been.

I’ve spent most of my adult life running luxury retailing companies. Living with the daily pressures of business building is how I’ve lived most of my life since I was first given the opportunity to lead an organization. I know what it is to make payroll, manage an advertising budget, find ways to shave down costs, negotiate long-term leases, buy trucks, hire talent, train that talent and handle the occasional problem that erupts when you discover employee theft, or when you’ve got to make a management change, or when an employee suddenly dies. That variety of issues makes business building among the most exciting things anybody could ever do.

The more things change, the more they stay the same means that I decided last fall it might be time to get back to my roots — even though I’m still well on my way to reinvention and growth, personal and professional.

Which brings me to the two words to define this new year of 2016…

Grow Great.

It’s a complete sentence. It’s action oriented with a strong, powerful verb: GROW.

But it’s focused on a specific goal that’s positive. Some people are growing lazy, fat, complacent, depressed, cynical…and lots of other negative things. Our world is filled with that kind of growth. Instead, I chose a word that isn’t limited to any specific aspect of personal or professional growth. It transcends business and morphs over into our every day lives with our friends and family. It applies to the CEO who heads up a non-profit or the City Manager who operates a multi-million dollar civic budget. Maybe it seems beyond the reach of many, but I don’t think it is. I think everybody has it within their own grasp if they could just see it for what it is – possible – and if they could tap into learning a new things or two. The object of our growth? Greatness.

Grow great.

Grow-GreatOne big change is the podcast. The name. The focus. Even the format.

The podcast will focus on the trifecta of business building:

  1. Getting new customers or clients
  2. Serving customers or clients better
  3. Not going crazy in the process

Lest you think it has no application to everybody I serve – CEO’s, business owners, executives or city government leaders – consider YOU as a business. YOU are a business. The non-profit you run needs patrons and supporters. You could view them as vendors. You serve a cause or a group of people. They’re your customers. All the stuff you do to manage the work, or lead the people — that can be the stuff that drives you crazy if you’re not careful or skillful. Ditto for anybody leading a city government.

We all have to serve people, find ways to do it better and we need to find better ways to do it without losing our minds, or our personal lives.

Every organization I know of has problems. Every problem I’ve ever seen has one or more elements of these trifecta issues. Every problem. I don’t care if we’re talking about sales, marketing, improving processes, investing in new resources, handling personnel problems…every single problem can fit into one or more of these categories. Every problem you face will fit into these, too. Your career challenges fit into these. You need or want a new job or opportunity (new customers needed). You need to be more promotable or advance to a bigger role (serving existing customers better). You hate what you’re doing and you’re thinking of doing something completely different (you’re trying to avoid going crazy).

Here’s how Wikipedia defines “business” — a business, also known as an enterprise or a firm, is an organization involved in the provision of goods, services, or both to consumers. It could be YOU. It could be whatever organization you’re part of. Non-profit. Civic. For profit. Big. Small. Medium. Ten thousand employees. A solopreneur.

The podcast will focus on the trifecta of business building. It’ll contain information designed to help you grow your career and your business. Growth. That’s the objective. Targeted growth. Greatness. That’s what we want to accomplish. I’ll leave it to you to define that for yourself. Some would think it’s great to break 6-figures in personal income. Others would think greatness is defined by being able to sell an enterprise for 9 or 10 figures.

I’ve really only got three caveats to growing great — sustainable, predictable and improving.

Sustainable means it’s getting stronger over time. Day after day it’s getting better. It’s supporting itself. It’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s not living on debt. It’s self-supporting financially and it’s also fueling its own growth.

Predictable means you can calculate and strategize a degree of growth. There are actions you can take to bring about the desired results. It’s not a game of chance. It doesn’t rely on luck or happenstance. Instead, it hinges on putting the right processes and people in place to get the work accomplished.

Improving means it’s not going backward or standing still. It’s moving forward, advancing. Week after week, month after month, year after year — it’s getting better and better.

I’m going to take my own enterprise – Bula Network, LLC – to new, higher levels. Two years focused on only executive and leadership coaching left me knowing how good that fit me, and my life goals. It also taught me that my roots of business building don’t need to be sacrificed. I learned how congruent my skills and experience are. My value in helping executives and leaders is largely based on my vast experiences in building great businesses. There’s just no separating them…not if I want to provide the highest value possible. And I do.

My business consulting will go back to the roots of where it all began – helping business owners and business leaders grow their business. And that’s what I mean by the more things change, the more they stay the same. A new day. A new year. The old skills that have proven so successful throughout my life are going to be put to good use to serve people just like YOU.

The Responsibility Of Those Further Up The Path

As an experienced business builder and leader I don’t feel better than you. Certainly not more important. However, my responsibilities are different. So are my urgings.

When I sit across the table from a 35 year old leader or emerging leader it’s easy for me to remember my own life. I’ve been there. I know well how it feels and what the hurdles are. Because I’m just a few steps further up the path I’m able to work with such leaders and warn them of the potholes that may lay ahead. I can also help spot opportunities that often go unrecognized because the years and experiences have taught me to hone my real-time vision of both problems and opportunities. My clients need to benefit from my experiences. Truth is, the podcast listeners benefit from it, too.

The two words to define this year are the title of the new show – Grow Great. This is about the 4th iteration of this podcast, which is why I started with a 4000 series number. It’s a new beginning. In every way.

For you longtime listeners I hope you’ll stick with me. For new listeners I hope you find remarkable value and become faithful listeners.

My goal is to keep the shows as tight as possible. I don’t have an ideal length in mind because the subject matter needs to determine that. I am going to try to keep the episodes shorter – my aim is around 20 minutes. I’ll also try to keep each episode more focused on a single idea or action. Additionally, I’m going to make better use of tags and headlines. I know clever is what the Internet world seeks, but I’m aiming for something more. I want clarity and simplicity.

I hope you’ll subscribe to the new version of the podcast. You won’t have to change a thing if you’re already subscribing. The show name will change automatically. The RSS feed is unchanged. The name and cover art will change. Otherwise, the song remains the same.

Let’s make 2016 our very year ever! I aim to help you do that.


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Thank you!

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

290 The Power Of Asking Better Questions

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

Spend enough time in sales and you’ll soon realize the power of questions. They serve to help you find out if you’re a suitable solution for a prospect. They also help you serve clients better.

One of the first things I learned was how powerful questions are to learn more. Namely, about the people I was attempting to serve. A couple walks into the stereo shop where I was working as a high school kid. I was naturally curious about what they were looking for, why they might be looking for it and what kind of music they most wanted to play. First, I remember being curious about who is really doing the shopping here. Is it her? Is it him? Is he helping her, or vice versa? Only one way to find out. Ask.

I was the naive sales guy willing to ask what others thought might be the stupid question. For me, it was less naiveté and more curiosity. There was also the practical element of it all. I needed to know so I could better serve them. I wanted happy customers. The road to happiness isn’t paved with good intentions or anything other than finding out what must be done, then doing what must be done.

In this particular case she was looking for her first real stereo system – not one of those all-in-one affairs that was the starter system for many of us. She wanted to have a really good, albeit not too expensive system. His job was to make sure she didn’t get scammed. I figured as much.

I didn’t ask the usual questions though. He remarked about that. Others wanted to know, “How much do you want to spend?” I never went there even I knew it was a perfectly logical question. The reason I didn’t go there was because it just didn’t feel right to me. It felt like I was just like everybody else and my big driver then (as now) is that I’m not like everybody else. That’s right. I’m better!

If you’re going to be better than everybody else, then stop doing what everybody else is doing. Ask better questions. Prove you’re different. Better!

I asked her what I asked lots of shoppers during those times in hi-fi stores. “What’s your favorite record right now?”

We’re in the mid-1970’s. I don’t remember what her answer was, but it could have been anything from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres to some Earth, Wind and Fire funk. Who can remember? Not me.

I do remember the question taking her – and her boyfriend back. They came in for stereo gear. We talked music. I didn’t think it odd at all. Why did we want good stereo gear? That’s right. To play our favorite records. Yes, kids. It was the days of vinyl, turntables and phono cartridges.

Ballard StreetThe boyfriend observed that my question wasn’t the first question they’d been asked elsewhere. “Don’t you want to know how much we want to spend?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I figure you guys will spend whatever you want. I don’t have much control of that. I just want to make sure you know what’s available so you can make the best decision.”

Oh, I had him on his heels now. Armed with specs he may have stayed up all night memorizing so as not to be taken advantage of, and so he might appear the knight in shining armor to his sweetheart, a teenage kid stood in front of him armed with nothing but my love of music, my knowledge of the gear and my desire to find out, “What’s your favorite record right now?”

Oh, I asked many more questions about her record collection including what her all-time favorite record was. Her favorite band. The last concert she went to. I knew she hated disco – beginning to be a thing about that time. I was happy about that because I couldn’t stand disco. She had roommates in college and didn’t want anything too big. Or too loud, except when they had parties. On and on this went as I put record after record on a turntable – the records she most loved, of course. Discovered only because I asked.

And I simply walked them through what an expensive system involved, all the while telling them, “I know you’re likely not looking to spend this much, but let’s talk about why these expensive systems cost what they do. That way I can show you what you give up as we walk down toward systems that may be more what you had in mind.”

It was a strategy I used my entire career in consumer electronics – up until the time I walked away from that industry in 2009 (well, I stopped even consulting in that business by 2011). Old habits are hard to break. When you’ve spent a lifetime in an industry it can be tough to walk away, but I did. I had always heard about “step up” selling, but I never did it. Step up selling is when you attempt to step people up a price point, to a higher level where presumably you can make more profit. There’s little to no profit in the low end of any market. Step customers up to a higher price point and you tend to encounter higher profit margins. It seems logical. I just never did it because again, it sounded like everybody else and my motto was to zig when everybody else was zagging. Besides, it felt much better to teach people about the higher end stuff and most admitted nobody ever took the time to do that. I did. But we both know I’m special. 😉

The boyfriend was disarmed right away because he knew I was no threat to him, or his girlfriend – or their budget. I didn’t even know or care what their budget was. I knew it really didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that I have a clear understanding of what she (they) wanted so they could make the best, most informed decision possible and have the system that fit her needs and desires. These things take time. The grand thing about all this for me, at the time, was that we could do it while listening to music. It just doesn’t get much better than that for me. I still miss the hi-fi business. 🙁

I don’t remember how expensive the most expensive system was that we first looked at, but I briefly went over a few key reasons why expensive systems were expensive. Why hi-end turntables performed much better than low-end ones…and why she’d be better off spending more money on the phono cartridge where most people skimped on that and ruined any hope they had to get a great sound. She was learning and my questions demonstrated one key element that good questions always do…

I cared about her.

My competitors hadn’t asked her these questions. They’d gone straight into pitch mode, trying their best to sell her whatever they could. I gave her time, attention and was genuinely interested to know what she most wanted in a hi-fi system. That was over 40 years ago and I’m still the same guy. I’m no longer selling stereo gear (sometimes I wish I were), but I’m still selling, serving people and trying to do good. Working hard to make a positive difference.

You Can Make The Biggest Difference When You Take The Time To Find Out More

I’m typically an impatient man prone to just get on with it. But in the rush to make a sale, I’m like a camel. I can go for long periods of time waiting as I build the relationship, finding out all I can, teaching as much as possible along the way. I know I’ve got my hang up’s. We all do. Maybe for me it’s the desire to appear genuine, knowledgable. I’ve never been too bothered about not being the smartest man in the room. I’ve long joked that even when I’m alone I’m not the smartest guy in the room. But I’m almost always prepared. It doesn’t mean I’m ready, but it means mostly I’m ready enough.

The other day I ran across this little graphic with a quote by Hugh Laurie, the actor who played Dr. House on TV.

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

Pretty good, huh? I agree with Hugh. Now is as good a time as any. I just always figured it was up to me to put myself in the best position to make now be as right as possible. And with that, you’d think I might over prepare, but not so much. Perfectionism is not my problem. My willingness to accept imperfection is pretty high, but when you live behind my eyes — that’s just how you have to roll.

You’ve heard the famous quote.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”  Theodore Roosevelt

It’s true. Conversely, I can tell how little you care by how little homework you did, or you little you care to find out what I think, or how I feel. Tell me, don’t ask. And I’ll confirm the shallowness of your concern for me. Ask me, and take the time to really listen. And I’ll know you likely care. Keep doing it and I’ll know how much you care.

Speed dating just gets to a faster no I suspect for those who participate. Speed selling does the same thing.

So I hope I’ve shown you that questions can make you stand out, stand apart from the crowd. They display your genuine care to learn more about the people you’re attempting to serve (those people who may buy something from you). They also serve to give you insight and information that help you make customers happy. Good salespeople are good servants. They don’t want returns, refunds or buyer’s remorse. Ever!

Questions are so powerful they deserve more time than we give them. And more creativity, too.

During my years running retail companies I was fanatically against hearing anybody in stores say, “Can I help you?” It screams, “I’m a salesperson intent on selling you something.” Instead, I taught sales staffs to simply welcome shoppers with a simple, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening” followed by “Welcome to (insert the same of the store).” Then just shut up, but be attentive.

Inevitably the shopper would ask the first question. It might be asking where something was located. Or something else, but the question they asked would be the ice-breaker where our staff members could begin to build the relationship by asking questions designed to help serve the shopper. The intent behind the questions is important.

They must be designed to find out more in ways that demonstrate you want the person to be armed to make the best decision they can make. All the while arming you with the information you need so you don’t waste their time, or get it wrong.

My college couple shopping for a small starter hi-fi system may have been willing to spend the money for a system that would play twice as loud as she’d ever play it, but it would have been the wrong system for her. How would that have helped me serve her better? How would that have given her anything good to say about me, or the store I represented? I wanted her to tell all her friends about me. I wanted her parties to be successful and for my name to be dropped as the guy who sold her that killer system everybody was enjoying. Getting it wrong would have negated all those things.

Getting it right demands that you ask the right questions at the right time. And today, I’m challenging you to formulate better questions. Get outside the space you operate in. Your industry – whatever industry it may be – it overrun with “me, too” copycat-itis. Every industry is. We find somebody succeeding at something and instantly put it into practice never fully even knowing why it may work for them. Sales gurus peddle scripts guaranteed to bring in more sales. “We’ve tried this script on over 10,000 calls and we know it works.” Well, maybe so, but if you hop down that road copying it, sounding like you’re reading a script I guarantee failure. Besides, if you don’t take the time to understand the value behind it, you can’t own it. And if you can’t own it, then neither will your prospect.

It’s not about scripts. My admonition about store greetings was a script of sorts. How we answered the phone was, too. But it was natural. It was easy. It was straight-forward, friendly and simple. Too many times we get wrapped up in contrivances that we think will “make” people buy from us. Listen, you’re not going to make anybody do anything they don’t want to. You may as well quit trying because it’s a waste of time and energy. Besides that, it’s wrong-headed.

Instead, spend your time crafting questions that will actually help you help your prospective clients. Show them how much you care about serving them well…and getting it right. Do everything in your power to make them feel and understand how motivated you are to “get it right” for them.

The crazy bottom line to all this is stupidly simple: care more. 

Care enough to prepare. Care enough to learn. Care enough to teach. Care enough to share.

Care enough to ask.
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Unforgettable: The Value Of Sequential Marketing - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 264

264 Unforgettable: The Value Of Sequential Marketing

Unforgettable: The Value Of Sequential Marketing - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 264
Nat King Cole sang about it, but you have to practice every day in your organization.

People stop buying from you for the following reasons:

a) They had a poor experience the last time they bought from you, so they don’t come back.

b) They don’t need your products or services any more.

c) They moved.

d) They shop price and have gone to a new lower priced provider.

e) They died.

f) They forgot about you.

It’s that last one that I want to talk about. “How can they forget about us? We’ve been in business since 1938,” said the business owner. The store was located in a market of about 200,000 people. The owner assumed everybody knew all about his business. Because his store had been a fixture in the market for over 70 years he wrongfully concluded that nobody could forget about him. He was wrong.

A casual meeting with the staff revealed that frequent comments were made by shoppers, “You guys are still here? My parents used to shop here. We didn’t know you guys were still around.” In these cases, another generation of shoppers had emerged who simply didn’t think of this store.

Markets, like businesses, are alive. Organic. They’re fluid and always moving.

We can’t assume our business will thrive today just because it’s been around for 70 years. Like people, businesses can grow old and die. Some die of natural causes. Some die due to neglect and abuse. Others are murdered by competition. The job of the business owner is to protect the business – maintain the heath of the company. Part of that job is making sure the market doesn’t forget about the business.

One way to do that is by using sequential communication. Sequential simply means regular, consistent and one after another consistently. Communication can take on many different forms. It could be in traditional advertising such as newspaper advertising, radio or TV spots – or maybe direct mail. It could be in other communications that you don’t think of very often. For instance, it could be the way your phones are answered, the way your employees greet shoppers and all the various scripts that might exist to convey information to your prospects, shoppers and customers. Communication includes how your business cards look, and the message they convey. It includes the message or music used when you put callers on hold. It includes the messages that appear on your sales invoices. The cleanliness and order in your business also conveys important messages to the people who visit your business. Frankly, every interaction with prospects, shoppers and customers screams a message about your business.

Some businesses make the mistake of failing to have congruent messages. That is, they say one thing, but do something else. They may say they’re the lowest price, but shoppers may find it’s just a slogan. They may say they’re fast, but buyers may find their execution is slow. Make sure your business is making good on whatever promises are made by your marketing efforts. Talk is cheap. Your actions must be in step with your marketing promises.

Consistency is a key component in the battle against being forgotten. Part of the challenge of consistency is finding something that works. Businesses tend to chase the quick fix. An owner tries a marketing strategy – let’s say, a direct mail campaign – and it fails. Immediately, he’s looking for a different strategy. However, it could be that the offer wasn’t compelling. It’s the classic case of blaming the messenger for the message. Direct mail is still an effective marketing tool, but the very best list in the world can’t convert if the offer is poor.

Sequential communication, as I’m using it here, is an old concept. It simply means that we don’t just communicate with our prospects once, then hope for the best. It means we plan a series (a sequence) of communications all designed to generate business. The objective is to generate buying customers!

As old as this idea is I’m finding more and more business owners who have never heard it. Trust me. This is not an original idea. My career only goes back to the early 70’s, but it seems I’ve known of this strategy forever. We’ve got some advanced tools today to help us execute it better, but the idea is relatively unchanged.

Here’s the recipe:

1. Contact your list with an offer. This offer can be made via direct mail or via email. It should be made directly to the prospect though. Make the offer as compelling as possible. Spend some time on the offer so it’s unique and not some “me-too” campaign. Build in a way to track the response. You want to know who responds and who does not.

2. Plan a second communication only to the people who failed to respond to the first offer. This is where some business owners fail to see the logic of sequential communication. Many of them see it as a wasted effort. No, it really makes sense if you’ll stop to think about how people behave.

Have you ever asked somebody for something, or invited somebody to something – and they were non-responsive? Sure, it’s happened to all of us. Sometimes they just don’t want to do whatever we’re asking. But other times, they’re doing what we all do. They’re neglectful, forgetful and they procrastinate. Why do you suppose your dentist sends you a postcard reminding you of an appointment you made months ago to have your teeth cleaned? Why do you suppose that same dentist will have somebody call you the day before? Man, they already sent me the postcard. That phone call following the postcard is sequential communication. It’s what brings you back to the same dentist time and again. They’re continuing to make contact and keeping you in the fold of their business. You are their customer and the sequential communication is a crucial part of their strategy to protect their most prized asset – their customer base.

That’s exactly what you want to do for your business. Some people will neglect your first offer. Regardless of the offer, they’ll just fail to act. Maybe they’ll think of accepting your offer when they first see it, but life will take over and they’ll forget. Timing is everything. Sometimes our offer just arrives at the wrong time. You can’t catch everybody at the right time.

When you send your follow-up communication you’re reminding them that you’re still standing ready to serve them. You’re refusing to let them forget about you.

I’m not talking about two different offers. This is the same offer. In fact, it’s important that your second communication remind the prospect that you’ve offered them this before. I suggest that you keep the second communication within 2 weeks of the first one. I have heard of a few businesses that have successfully followed up with a reminder communication beyond 2 weeks, but I think it’s dangerous. Why? Because when 2 weeks have passed the prospect will see it as a brand new offer instead of a reminder of the offer you made earlier. You lose the value of sequential communication when you wait too long. The objective is to make the communication a reminder, not a completely new offer.

Give prospects a reason for the reminder. You have to answer the “why?” question for the prospect. When we get the phone call from our dentist, after we’ve already been sent the postcard – we know exactly why they’re calling us. Apply that same logic in your sequential communication. Help prospects see the clear logic of the second communication.

Let me interject here that I know businesses who have successfully used a series of communications – either direct mail or email – to increase their conversions. Instead of sending one follow-up message, they send more. In some cases, quite a few more.

One of the most discussed topics in marketing is how much communication is too much. You’ll have to judge that for yourself. My thought is, if your offer is compelling enough then it’s hard to over do it. If your best friend was neglecting to take advantage of some offer that you thought was really valuable – would you bug them until they finally told you, “I’m not interested” or would you just let them neglect to take advantage of the deal? Most of us would bug them by telling them how crazy they are if they don’t jump on it. Make sure your offer is compelling, then give prospects every possible consideration to accept it.

Think about how often you reach out and touch prospects. Pay attention. Remember, your first offer will likely hit some people at the wrong time. It may not mean they’re uninterested. It may mean they’re just distracted. Give yourself the best chance to be memorable. Refuse to let people forget about you.

By the way, if you’re operating an organization in a space that doesn’t involve selling something for money, sequential marketing is still highly valuable. Establishing ongoing, profitable communication with the people you serve is crucial in order to be top-of-mind with them.

When I was still a teenager I learned a valuable lesson about selling hi-fi gear. It was quite by accident, but it proved invaluable to me through the years.

At the time mail order houses were the bane of the local retail hi-fi store. People would shop at a local store, listen to the gear they were thinking of buying, then call an 800 number in New York City to get a deep discount on the exact same item. We were used to these things, but knew if we did our job well then we’d likely be able to influence shoppers to buy from us based on a variety of things we could do that the New York mail order houses wouldn’t. For starters, if there was a problem, the shopper knew they could return the item. But that wasn’t the lesson I learned. I learned something far simpler and more powerful.

If I educated the shopper about a feature that meant quite a lot to them I got the credit for that feature. Let’s suppose you cared nothing about the tuner section of a receiver – that is, the radio part of it. I could drone on and on about that and it wouldn’t resonate with you. But if I found out you were really into the preamp section of the unit because records were your thing, then I might mention how a particular unit was known for having a superior preamp section. You’d perk up and pay closer attention. I had already learned the power of asking questions and listening in order to find out what mattered most to shoppers. But now I was learning that if I told you about a feature or benefit that was critical to you, then you’d give me credit for that. It was as though I had personally engineered that feature or benefit into the gear just for you.

Here was the magical thing about it. You could go find that unit cheaper in the back of a stereo magazine and buy it from somebody you’d never met in New York City. Or you could come see me, a guy who had sat with you in a sound room listening with you to your favorite records, and buy from a person who had told you about a specific thing that really mattered to you. By getting credit for the most valuable feature or benefit, you remembered me. And hopefully, it resulted in you becoming my customer.

So it’s not always about being a purple cow. And it’s not about doing something insanely out of the ordinary. Putting the people you serve at the forefront of your efforts is the key. Making it about them, not you. You’ll be remarkable and unforgettable by focusing on helping others in the most selfless way possible. Why? Because it’s rare. It’s unique. And it always will be.

Reach out to serve. Yes, it’s marketing, but it’s because you’ve got something others need and want. Don’t deny them the opportunity to experience what you can do for them. Get in touch. Stay in touch. And don’t stop until they opt out or tell you to quit. Those who opt out or tell you to quit weren’t going to let you serve them anyway so don’t fret about what you fear you may have lost. You’ve lost nothing. You’ve gained tighter focus on those who are most interested in what you have to offer.


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