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How to Get a Testimonial – The Easiest Way

Testimonials are the very best marketing materials you have, bar none.  I truly don’t care how good your marketing department is, how much you invest in marketing materials, etc.  You will never have a better marketing piece than a testimonial from a happy customer. The trouble is that most salespeople don’t know how to get a testimonial.

That’s because a testimonial allows a prospective customer to see you through THEIR eyes – and that bridges the credibility gap.  That’s the hardest thing to do when attracting new customers.  So, with that in mind, I’m going to talk about a few ways to get testimonials, and show you a very recent example of the easiest way to get them.

Testimonials used to be hard to get.  You had to ask your customer to write a letter on their letterhead, and sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn’t.  Even your happiest customers sometimes don’t take time to write a testimonial letter; they just get busy and it gets pushed to the bottom of the stack.  Technology makes testimonials a lot easier to get.  Here is how to get a testimonial in three methods, from toughest to easiest:

  1. The old school. Yes, you can still ask for the testimonial letter.  And your odds of getting one are roughly the same as they always have been – about 50/50 if the customer is truly happy.  Those aren’t bad odds and if you ask enough customers, you’re going to get one.
  2. The LinkedIn recommendation. Easier than the testimonial is the LinkedIn recommendation.  The Recommendations section is, fortunately, one thing that LinkedIn has left in their free option (thus far), and I like it a lot.  It’s pretty simple to use.  Here’s LinkedIn’s tutorial on getting them.  NOTE:  Do not confuse LinkedIn “endorsements” with LinkedIn RECOMMENDATIONS.  Their “endorsement” section is meaningless – it just asks people to check boxes.  I have endorsements for things that I don’t do and have never done.
  3. The video testimonial. Now we’re talking!  This is one way you can really make tech work for you.  When you’re meeting with customers, they have a tendency to say a lot of nice things about you.  Wouldn’t it be great if prospects could see and hear them do it?  You have a smartphone, right?  All you have to do is ask the customer to say those things, again, on video.  Explain to them why.  My favorite way is to say, “I really appreciate that.  You know, one way that I attract new customers is through comments like that from customers like you.  Would you mind repeating those great words on video?”  The vast majority of customers will be happy to do so.  Then you turn on your video camera on your phone and record them.You can either just ask them to repeat what they said, or even do a little interview with them.  I had just such an opportunity yesterday after a Sales Audit with Excel Linen and the raw video is below.  The reason I left it raw, rather than editing out some of it (for instance, me asking questions), is that I wanted you to see how the process works.  It’s easy.  In fact, I probably didn’t do as good a job on this one as I could have; few of my clients are local these days, so I am a bit out of practice on face to face testimonial gathering.  Still, when opportunity knocks, you answer.

    Wait, you’re saying that most of your sales calls are video and not face to face, so this won’t work?  Sure it will.  All major video conferencing platforms have an option to record.  Record your conversation and then download it and convert it into a video you can use.  Make the tech work FOR you, not against you.

Once you have a testimonial, USE IT.  Post about your recommendations on LinkedIn.  Splash the video all over social media.  Have them handy on your phone to show your customers.  And don’t think that a testimonial on one platform has to stay there.  Transcribe video comments and put them in text form on your website.  Take a LinkedIn recommendation and use it as a video frame.  Once people have said how awesome you are, for the record, you have a duty to USE IT!

Now go get some testimonials.  Here’s my video from yesterday.

How to Prepare For a Sales Call

I’ll be honest.  How to prepare for a sales call is something that is so fundamental that I forget to write about it.  For one thing, it’s not all that “sexy;” it’s much more fun to give great presentation tips, or some killer questions, or even talk about management strategy.

But then I talk to salespeople, the conversation slips around to how to prepare for a sales call, and I realize that many salespeople still don’t use all the resources available to them.  So, in that spirit, here are four ways that you should research every prospect with whom you will be meeting:

  1. Company web page. Yeah, it’s simple, and I have to think that nearly everyone does it – but not everyone looks for the right things.  We tend to get overwhelmed by the ‘pretty’ of the site and fail to read what we should be reading.  Here are the biggest touchpoints on their site:

    The ‘about us’ page:  This is where they will show potential customers why those customers should be buying from your target company.  In essence, this is their best foot forward.  Know it and refer to it.

    Their ‘news’ section:  All too often, this will be obsolete – if it happened in 2017 and it’s still top of their blog, they don’t have much ‘news.’  That said, if there is genuine news, scan it to see if there’s anything that impacts you or gives you a feel for their company culture.

    Executive bios: Is your contact listed here?  If not, why not – are you starting your selling efforts too low in the company? If so, what can you learn about your contact?

    Ease of contact:  This will give you a great idea of how “open” they are to the world.  This might seem surprising to you, but some companies close themselves off to the outside world.  They have a great web presence, but getting ahold of them can be very difficult, to say the least.  Openness to contact can mean openness to new ideas.

  2. Reviews. You should ALWAYS look at their reviews.  If they are on Yelp (for instance, food and hospitality), look at those reviews.  If not, Google and Glassdoor can also be great sources of insight into what their customers and employees say – and you’d be surprised at how often a sales need can be uncovered in looking at reviews.  Don’t be afraid to ask about those reviews in the sales call, even having them up and on your phone to refer to if necessary.  It’s possible that your customer might not have even seen the review.
  3. LinkedIn. You should always look up your contact on LinkedIn.  Looking at their career history is good – looking at their activity is better.  What things do they like or share on LinkedIn?  What causes are they passionate about?  What GENUINE (never fake this) commonalities can you find with yourself or your company?
  4. General Web Search. Finally, search (Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, etc.) the company name and your contact name and see what comes up.  A couple of years ago, I had a client who sold large-ticket items that usually involved some level of company-offered credit terms.  A quick Google search ended that idea – the first ten results after the company web page were lawsuit filings from the previous year – all for non-payment of debts.  Usually your results won’t be this dramatic, but you can get some good general insight on the company by searching them.

How to prepare for a sales call isn’t that tough; you just need to plan for it. Are there more things you can do to research? Sure – but sometimes it’s better to simply ask questions in the call.  Hitting these four touchpoints above won’t take you that long (probably fifteen minutes or so), but will make you far better prepared to ask good questions to discover deep needs which then gains you a competitive advantage.  Don’t skip this step.

A Good Sales Job Shouldn’t Hurt Your Conscience.

A few days ago, I got a message from a salesperson who used to work for me many years ago, when I was a sales manager. It said, “Troy, you’re not going to believe this, but I have found a sales job that I am not good at!”  From most salespeople, even those who have worked with me, this wouldn’t raise much of an alarm.  But this message was from one of the best salespeople I’ve ever worked with, who has had a long track record of success across multiple industries.  I immediately perked up. I asked her what she was talking about.

“My problem,” she said, “is that I’m trying to save customers from quitting their service – but when they tell me why, I actually see it from their point of view, and I feel like I’d probably do the same thing!”  It’s not a big surprise that she sees things from the customer’s point of view.  One thing that makes her great (and can make you great, too) is her empathy and ability to see situations from the customer’s point of view – and if seeing things from the customer’s perspective is a hindrance to success, that’s a signal that bigger changes are needed than a simple sales approach.

To make a long story short (I know I don’t do that often – don’t get used to it), the real problem is that the company’s business model is obsolete now, given the wider range of choices available to the consumer. Those choices tend to not only be priced lower, they also provide better service and better meet the customer’s needs and expectations.  Essentially, her company is selling high-priced buggy whips in a world that is adopting the automobile.

The larger problem, for her, is that it hurts her conscience when she “succeeds” in getting a customer to stay, even when she knows it’s not in their best interest to do so.  I understand that – I had a job like that in my sales career, and I stayed for less than a year.  When you make promises to customers that aren’t being met, and you know they won’t be, it’s a stain on your personal integrity.

Worse, she has caught her management in enough lies that she no longer believes in the integrity of her company.  She will leave this job, I’m sure, and the company will lose a quality salesperson.

But believe it or not, this article isn’t about her.  It’s about you and your company, and the need that we all have to take a quick self-check from time to time about what we do.  If you aren’t having the kind of success and results that you feel you should have, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does what I’m selling still have value in the marketplace? Sure, everything has SOME value – but is your product or service worth what you charge for it?  If time has passed you by, it’s time to update and evolve.
  • Is my customer making a good decision by buying my stuff? This is the crux of selling.  My definition of selling is this:  Selling is the act of helping customers make positive buying decisions.  If you’re winning when you make a sale, but your customers aren’t winning, it’s time for a re-evaluation.
  • Am I asking my salespeople to make promises that I know I won’t fulfill? Yeah, it sounds awful, but it happens every day.  I once left an industry when the service manager at my company said, “Troy, your department’s job is to sell fantasy – my department’s job is to re-sell them on reality.”  If there is a significant difference between the sale and the service, you are being unethical.  Stop it.

It can be tough to know when to evolve or change.  And not all evolution is good – many businesses have evolved themselves right out of business, when staying the course would have kept them viable.  But if the answers to the first two questions are “no,” and the third is “yes,” you have a problem.  And there’s no better time to fix it than the present.

My former salesperson will be fine (and frankly, I’m a bit honored that after nearly 20 years, she still comes to me for advice and counsel).  She’ll end up leaving this company and find another position where her skills are more appropriate.  Her company, however, won’t be fine.  They might be okay this year and next year, but soon, the obsolescence of their business model and the nature of their sales process will catch up to them.

My Top Five Rules of Successful Selling

If you’ve read my work before, you know that one of my common statements is that our profession of selling has changed more in the last ten years than in the hundred years previous.  That’s 100% true.  And it’s also true that 2020 has put the pace of change on fast forward.  We’ve talked about that in this space before (and if you haven’t seen those articles, visit my blog here; there are a lot of them).

Some things haven’t changed about selling.  It’s funny – in many of my speaking and training programs, I refer to my “Number one rule of selling,” which we’ll discuss below.  I’m often asked what my OTHER big rules of selling are, so for the first time, here are my Top Five Rules of Successful Selling.

  1. If it works for you, and it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical, or against the best interest of your customers or company, do it. This is the one I refer to all the time in my speeches.  Not everyone sells exactly the same way, which means that some people are going to do things that I (or you) might not do and might not work for us.  BUT – I always say that if you are having success with a technique that doesn’t match my teachings, with the above caveats, keep doing it – but consider at least trying a different approach.  Great salespeople are constantly learning, and you’d be amazed at how many people have a technique that works for them, finally try something new, and then have a new technique that’s working better for them. In this case, the rules of successful selling are very personal.
  2. They can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist. This is probably the greatest reason to keep prospecting.  Social media is great – but it’s still a “crank and hope” strategy for most B2B salespeople.  You should always be working to make sure that every potential customer in your territory or market sphere knows you exist and has an opportunity to buy from you.  I’ve always used what I call the “blanket” philosophy of prospecting – I throw a virtual blanket over my market and then work to touch every prospect under it.  You should too.
  3. The only real market research happens when you ask someone to buy. Sure, focus groups, surveys, and other hypothetical approaches are great – but if you really want to know if a particular product or service has legs, try to actually SELL it to someone.  I’ll never forget working for a company about twenty-five years ago that rolled out a new product. It was well researched; in fact, some of my own customers were very positive about it – right up until I asked them to write a check for it.  It wasn’t just me, either; the entire product flopped because, in the hypothetical sense, it looked great. In the actual sense, nobody was all that excited about paying for it.  Your salespeople are always the best market researchers.
  4. Comfortable Customers Buy. This simple three-word statement forms the basis of my sales training and approach, and it’s one of the biggest rules of successful selling.  Think about all the manipulative and phony techniques that are designed to maneuver a customer into a corner – and throw them away forever.  Customers that are comfortable with you and your sales process (which respects their buying process) buy, buy more happily, buy more often, and pay more.  When you make a customer uncomfortable in their dealings with you, they’ll find someone else – or just buy it (whatever “it” is) online and not have to deal with a salesperson.
  5. You must love the ACT of selling, not just the result. Sales is a hard job.  What makes it harder is that, for even the best salespeople, the majority of their activity does not result in a sale – that’s why we have sales funnels.  We recognize that not every call results in an appointment, not every appointment results in a proposal, and not every proposal results in a sale.  Salespeople who only love the sale (the result) tend to burn out quickly; salespeople who love the calls, the appointments, the proposals, and the rest of the work not only have longer careers, they have more successful ones.

Now you know my top five rules of selling. There are definitely more guidelines – but most of them fall under one of those top five rules.  Which one is most important?  I’m not sure there really is a hierarchy, despite my numbering them.  Follow them all and you’ll have a great career – even in the weird selling world of 2020 and beyond.

Five Outdated Sales Techniques That Have Only Gotten Worse With Age

I’ve been going back lately and reviewing some of my past articles; as Jeff Foxworthy once said when listening to his old material, “There’s some good stuff in there!”  Some of these articles are pretty relevant today as-written; others will do with a little updating.  I’ll put updates, where necessary, in italics.  This one focuses on outdated sales techniques that should have been retired long ago.

Some outdated sales techniques are not like wine or cheese – they don’t get better with age.

I was listening in on some sales calls with a distributor of high performance auto parts, along with their Inside Sales Manager.  A customer had called in to ask about a particular engine wiring harness.  The salesperson explained that, yes, the harness would work on his engine just fine.  Right as the customer was about ready to buy, the salesperson said, “However, it’s not designed as a stock replacement harness; it won’t work on your original 2000 Camaro.”

The customer stopped and said that what he wanted was a stock replacement harness for his Camaro, and the salesperson explained that this harness was designed to swap the engine into an older car and wouldn’t support all the functions of the Camaro’s system.  The customer thanked the salesperson and hung up, and the Inside Sales Manager came unglued.  He referenced one of the worst outdated sales techniques you can use, and if you’re using them, you’ll want to STOP now.

  1. “Never answer the question the customer didn’t ask!” is what the Sales Manager yelled at the poor salesperson.  He said, “If you hadn’t volunteered that information, he’d have bought.”  The salesman was a rookie, so I stepped in.  “If he’d bought,” I said, “that harness would have come right back to you as a return, and the customer would have been upset.  What’s your win there?”  As the manager stammered, I said, “Or worse, he’d have tried to cut into and modify the harness to make it work, it still wouldn’t have worked, and then he couldn’t return it OR use it, and he’s out $1,000.  How does that help anyone?”  “Never answer the question the customer didn’t ask” is an old canard that’s built around “get the order at all costs, and to hell with what happens afterward” transactional sales.  It’s old and outdated.  Your role is to help the customer reach a succesful buying decision.  So here’s your new rule:  If it’s information the customer needs to know in order to have a successful result, give it to them, whether they asked or not.  I’m reminded about the old trope that salespeople shouldn’t be “Free consultants;” another old saw that I disagree with.  My thoughts on that are in this video.
  2. The “take away” close.  The way this one works is that, at closing time, you say something like, “You know, you really shouldn’t buy this (for whatever noble reason).”  The idea is that the customer now wants it so badly that he will then justify why he should buy (and deserves to own), and in so doing, sell himself on the product.  Here’s the problem.  If you’ve been selling correctly, you’ve built up a lot of trust and credibility with the customer.  Based on that, when you use the “take away,” one of two things will happen.  First, the customer will believe you because of the credibility and trust – which means that you lose the sale (or you end up having to re-close, which makes you a liar).  Second, the customer sees right through the tactic, realizes that you’re lying, and walks.  Neither is good.  Just play the close straight.  Only take it away if you’re really going to take it away; i.e. it’s not a good purchase for the customer. Or, I would add, bad business for you – I’ve taken offers away more than once if they wouldn’t result in good business for me.
  3. Never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.  This is the old “lawyer’s technique,” and basically it means that the salesperson is scared to death of being surprised by the answer to a question.  There are two problems with this philosophy.  First of all, you must ask questions to which you don’t know the answer to properly discover and interpret needs – and be prepared for surprises and for the call to go in directions you hadn’t anticipated. Second, by the time the lawyer gets into the courtroom, the witness has already been questioned – numerous times – and the lawyer already knows what the witness is going to say.  That’s not the case in a sales call.  Not asking questions to which you don’t know the answer means that you’re fearful. Drop the fear and do good customer discoveries – that’s the best way to sell today. It always has been the best way to sell – and always will be.
  4. The salesperson should seek to control the customer and the sales process.  First of all, any salesperson who believes that he has “control” over the customer is fooling himself.  The customer can always remove themselves from the process.  Whatever control we have is more aptly referred to as “influence,” and is shown by the customer allowng or asking us to direct parts of the process.  Seek influence, rather than control, by respecting the customer’s intelligence, showing your expertise, and working side by side for a successful result.
  5. The Up Front Contract.  Essentially this is a technique where you open the sales call with a closing question designed to lock the customer in with “intent to buy if things are right.”  This can range from the car salesman’s “Are you here to buy a car today?” to “If you like what you see today, is there any reason we can’t move forward?”  The problem with this question is that it occurs at the start of the selling process, before you have built any trust or equity with your customer, and before you have earned the right to ask a closing question.  At this point your customer knows nothing of your offerings, your pricing, and many times their needs haven’t been defined and matched to a product or a service – and you’re asking a closing question?  Ridiculous.  And if the customer says “yes” to the question and later says “no” to moving forward, the only thing you can do is whine, anyway.  Don’t worry about the buyer’s intent until the buyer has a reason to have intent.  If they are seeing you, they are Motivated to enter a buying process – but that’s all.
  6. I’m going to add a sixth technique, which I call the “Good Time Charlie.”  Good Time Charlies hardly ever focus on customer needs and solutions; instead they focus on being the customer’s buddy, buying lunches, drinks, sports tickets, etc.  They seldom know much about their product, and beyond the personal level, they know little about their customers.  GTC’s were becoming obsolescent – but the events of 2020 have made them obsolete.  If you are one, or if you employ one, it’s time for that person to update their skills.  It’s never too late to do so.

All of these outdated sales techniques have one thing in common – they are designed to maneuver and manipulate customers into places that they don’t want to be.  If you’re using them, the ‘70s called and they want their sales techniques back. Even the customers of the ’70s didn’t like these techniques – they just didn’t have an alternative.

Today’s customers do have alternatives.  The ability to buy nearly anything over the Internet allows customers to eliminate salespeople from their buying process at will – and if you use any of these techniques, they will eliminate YOU.

How to Build a Sales Process That Works.

This is actually an update of an article I wrote six years ago after missing a flight.  The article is still a very pertinent tutorial on how to build a sales process.  While there isn’t much that I’d change about what I’ve written, I’ll add a few notes in italics that reflect our current realities in 2020.

Skipping steps in your business processes can be disastrous.  Read why here.

I’m writing this article from the Baltimore-Washington Airport.  That wasn’t my intent.  My intent was to write it from the warmth of my living room (yes, I do write a lot of these articles at home).  Unfortunately, I can’t do that.  The reason I can’t do that is that I missed my connecting flight.  And the reason that I missed my connecting flight is that I skipped a step in one of my processes.

When I fly, no matter what I’m told, no matter what’s printed on the boarding pass, I do the same thing every time I get to the airport, whether it’s a connecting flight or an origination flight.  I pull out my boarding pass, and I carefully double- and triple-check the flight number, the gate, and the time.  However, after arriving in Baltimore from Providence, I didn’t do that. I looked at the board and saw my destination and time, and didn’t check the flight number.  You guessed it.  I was at the wrong gate, and I arrived at the correct gate two minutes after the doors closed.  The result was that I ended up cooling my heels for four extra hours in Baltimore, and getting home later than I should have.

You know, every time I fly now, even six years later, I remember this moment and I recall sitting in the airport after a long trip, pretty disgusted with myself.  I’ve had similar feelings over the years whenever I attempted to skip a step in my sales process and it came back and bit me.

And yes, there’s a sales lesson on how to build a sales process here, and here it is.

Don’t skip steps in your sales processes.  Salespeople tend to get really excited when we get positive signals from a customer – so excited, in fact, that we want to speed things along and get the deal done.  Sometimes that causes us to skip important steps – like a complete discovery, a full proposal, etc.  And invariably, it comes back to bite us.  Usually, the results cost more than a few hours in an airport.

One of the issues, I think, is that too few salespeople and sales managers really understand “sales process.”  So, I’ll lay it out here in very simple terms, and you can expand on it as you need to.  The definition of a “Business Process” is this:

A Business Process is a set of steps, tasks, or operations that must be performed EVERY TIME to generate a successful result.  Notice that I said “must be performed.” One common mistake I see in businesses that want to build their processes is that they include steps that are good, and perhaps advantageous, but don’t have to be done every time to get the desired result. Here’s how to build a sales process:

  1. Find someone to sell to.  Whether this happens through prospecting, inbound marketing, or a current customer relationship, the sale begins with the identification of the person to sell to.
  2. Discover needs.  When a purchase is being considered, needs must be discovered and identified in order to move forward.
  3. Identify Product/Service Recommendations.  The needs are then correlated to a product or service that should be purchased.
  4. Price and Terms.  Most of the time we consider this the Proposal phase; the customer must be made aware of the necessary price and terms for the purchase.
  5. Decision.  The customer decides to purchase.

These steps happen on EVERY sale and purchase.  Right now you’re saying, “But wait, Troy, what happens when the customer buys and doesn’t even talk to a salesperson?”  Guess what – the customer still goes through those steps.  The difference is that the customer executes those steps HIMSELF OR HERSELF.  The customer still identifies his or her own needs, identifies a product or service to satisfy those needs, finds the price and terms, and makes a decision.

That’s not all parts of how to build a sales process, of course.  Your sales process may include other steps.  For instance, for a technical product, your customer may have to go through a technical demonstration, and this may be a mandatory step so that the customer fully understands your product.  That’s fine, but don’t fall into the trap of introducing steps into the process that don’t HAVE to happen.  The prime example of this comes from a regional manager at a company that I used to work for.

He discovered that closing ratios were much higher if the customer took a plant tour prior to buying, so he mandated that all prospects had to take plant tours before they could be offered a proposal.  The result?  Sales dropped dramatically.  The reason was simple – most customers didn’t want to take plant tours and wouldn’t. Yes, closing ratios were higher IF the customer took a tour – but the tour wasn’t a mandatory part of the process.  And if you’re wondering, sales at my branch were fine.  I ignored the directive.  The point was that my regional manager attempted to add an extra step that was nice IF we could get it, but shouldn’t have been mandatory – hence not part of our process.

Where salespeople really get into trouble is when they try to skip or shortcut steps.  For instance, salespeople – in a hurry to get to the close – will cut the Needs Discovery short because they think they have all the needs, when in fact they don’t.  Missing needs means that the customer probably won’t buy.

I’m sitting in an airport writing this when I should be home eating a nice dinner, and the reason is that I shortcut one of my key processes.  Processes exist for a reason.  If you shortcut yours, it might cost you more than time.

Here is what I would add.  In addition to thinking through the steps in your process, you should also think through HOW they will be accomplished, and leave flexibility.  For instance, will these steps be accomplished by phone, video, or live and in-person?  Can you build in options?  Let’s say that you need to add a step to demonstrate a piece of equipment, and the ideal way to do it is live and in-person.  If that live demo is impossible, how much of that live experience can you simulate via a remote demonstration or a Zoom call?  Today’s salesperson must be competent in both process and the means of delivering the process – which requires more of us.  That’s okay; we need to always be developing our skills.

You might also benefit from my video Six Tips For Better Video Selling.

How To Compete With Online Vendors

I paid $22.99 for a magazine yesterday.  Not a magazine subscription; a single issue of a magazine.  The magazine is called Magneto, and it is (big surprise for those who know me) a car magazine.  But it’s not just any car magazine.  It’s perhaps the finest magazine focusing on rare and exotic vintage cars, and the racing thereof, that I’ve ever seen.  And in the fact that I paid nearly 23 bucks for it is a sales lesson that’s very timely and very applicable in how to compete with online vendors.

You see, I’m passionate about car magazines.  I love them.  I love reading them, and I spent over ten years writing for them as a freelancer.  In fact, I wrote over 300 articles for them, and one of my stories was nominated for a National Motorsports Press Association award.  I was good at it and I loved it, although it was never more than a side gig.  I quit writing for them in about 2008, when two things happened – first, my business as The Sales Navigator started occupying all my professional time.  And second, the magazine business itself was in a decline.  Magazines got thinner in both page count and paper quality, the amount of space allotted to editorial content went down, and there was less of a demand for the in-depth analytical articles I liked to write.  And, full disclosure, the magazines were paying less.  It felt like a race to the bottom.  That was one race I had no interest in.

Fast forward to 2020.  Most of the magazines I used to write for (Circle Track, Stock Car Racing, Street Rodder, Rod & Custom, Racing Milestones, and many others) are gone.  History.  In fact, the largest publisher of car magazines shut down 19 titles last year.  The few that they have left are a shadow of what they once were.  Even Hot Rod, the magazine that arguably started the car magazine industry, is a shadow of what it was just fifteen years ago.  The reason is simple – the level of content and photography that those magazines used to provide is now widely available on dozens of websites, for free or very inexpensively.  Those titles attempted to continually cheapen their product to try to make the numbers work in the face of Internet competition – and they lost.  (Is any of this starting to ring a bell yet in your business?)

So, you’d expect that when I go into my local Barnes & Noble, the magazine rack would be barren, right?  Nope.  The space once taken by thin, low-quality magazines is now occupied by high-end magazines.  Magazines like Magneto, Rodder’s Journal, and many, many other titles that, on a per-copy basis, go for double or triple the price of the magazines they replaced.  And yet, people buy them.  Why?

Because those magazines are incredibly high-quality in all phases. The editorial content is the best, period.  The cars covered are unusual and important, and the stories told are complete and interesting, and not just a list of specifications and dates.  The photography is high-end, done either in studio or on location by the best photographers, in the best lighting, with the best equipment and the best editing software.  Advertisements are present but don’t dominate the magazines.  And these magazines are BIG.  My new issue of Magneto is 178 pages of automotive goodness, and it’s produced on very heavy paper and cover stock, most resembling a paperbound book.  In fact, some people refer to these as “bookazines” or “coffee table magazines.”  Are they successful?  Many of these magazines are all out of back issues for purchase, so I’d say that, yes, they are.

These magazines are successful because they don’t attempt to compete with cheap online vendors.  They have picked out a niche, they are doing that niche better than anyone else, and they have created an economic structure (the amounts they pay for writing and photography) that the Internet simply can’t match.  Do they sell as many copies as, say, Motor Trend?  Probably not – but they make the economics work very well for them, and have figured out how to compete with online vendors.

Take a look at your business.  At least once per week, someone asks me, “Troy, how can I possibly compete with cheaper online vendors like Amazon?”  My answer is, “You probably can’t – especially if you’re trying to do it the same way.”  Cheap online vendors aren’t a fad – they are here to stay.  But there is still a high demand for a higher-service, higher-contact, higher-quality business model.  Here are five quick ideas to help you compete, and win, against pure online vendors:

  1. Establish two-tiered pricing. Some of you CAN compete with Amazon on pricing – IF you do business the Amazon way.  With Amazon, everything is automated and there is no personal customer service involvement whatsoever.  If you’re selling a more commoditized product (for instance, reams of copier paper) and can make money at that pricing level as long as no personal service is involved, consider allowing your customers to buy at that price point IF and only if they are willing to buy with the same no-personal-service model.  But when they need personal service – even if it’s a phone call – they get a different and higher price point.
  2. Do it better. Let’s be honest – Amazon doesn’t thrive off high-end products.  Their biggest niche is in the low-end, cheapest possible, products.  Look at the Magneto solution; sell products that are so good they nearly require the buyer to have a more personalized experience (and the higher price point to go with it).
  3. Know your customer. One big edge you should have is this:  Your salespeople SHOULD know your customers better than any online vendor ever could.  That SHOULD be because they consistently question and update their knowledge.  It’s an unfortunate truth that too many salespeople don’t ask questions and don’t know much about the customer (good sales training should focus on questioning as a primary skill) – and those salespeople then wonder why they lose business.  Not only should you be asking lots of business-related questions early on, you should be updating your knowledge of those issues every six months or so.  Your business changes, and so does your customer.
  4. Focus on helping your customer run his/her business better. This is related to the previous point – what do you do to truly help your customers run their businesses better that isn’t tied to a check?  For instance, do you refer business to your customers?  Even better, do you put customers together who could do business together?
  5. Create an experience. I often pick on the car business, and for good reason – I sold cars at the start of my career.  As part of my education, I read a book called Customers For Life, by Carl Sewell, the owner of Sewell Cadillac in Dallas. He talked about making a visit to Sewell an experience.  When salespeople greeted customers, they didn’t race each other to get to the door and they didn’t immediately ask them about buying a car.  Instead, they welcomed them and opened by offering them a cup of (good) coffee, a glass of wine, or a soda (I visited the dealership several years ago, and they really do this). They created an experience out of a visit to Sewell – and they sold an awful lot of Caddys.

There are, of course, numerous other ways to compete with the Internet vendors, but this is a start.  The key is to not try to be Amazon.  One of my favorite sayings (and as far as I know, it’s my own) is:  “You can’t beat your competition if you’re trying to be your competition.”  Magneto and their counterparts have figured that out, and that’s why they’re successful.  You can be, too.

Successful Coaching: How to Be a Better Manager

I’ll say it right up front.  I love coaching.  I’m very passionate about it, and the reason is that when coaching is done successfully, the coach can see the results as they happen.  My first real experience as a true coach came in my first sales management job, and in that experience, I realized that successful coaching is a partnership between the coach and the coachee.  My most recent coaching experience reminds me of that, and in this article, I’ll outline how to make coaching work.

First, I’d like to point out one critical aspect of coaching.  Coaching is an individual process and a collaborative process.  That means that coaching is not training (which typically is a group experience with a defined curriculum), nor is it discipline and dictation (which is a “do this or else” process).  Successful coaching requires investment of energy from both parties, and if either party drops the ball, their efforts will not be successful.

With that said, here is the basic coaching process:

  1. Seeing the coachee in action: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can’t coach from your desk.  The only way to coach sales behavior is to observe them live and in person.  That means doing ride-alongs, listening in on phone calls, or watching them on video calls (whichever is their main venue).  Only seeing them in action gives you the real-world perspective you need to be able to coach accurately and fairly.
  2. Identify a behavior (or behaviors) that, if changed, will increase the coachee’s success. Everyone has behaviors that can be improved upon.  Your job, as a coach, is to identify those behaviors and come up with a plan for improving them.  One word of caution here.  The rule of three applies – never ask your coachee to change more than three behaviors at a time; if you do, they will likely just shut down.
  3. Sell the new behavior to them. The best coaches are also salespeople; they understand that the best route to change is through selling the benefits, not dictating.  Explain how it benefits the coachee (not you) to change the behavior, how they will be more successful, have more fun on the job, etc.
  4. Gain the coachee’s buy in. Now, ask the coachee how they feel about the new behavior, and if they agree that it could help.  Failing that, ask if they at least buy in enough to give it a full-throated try.  If you’ve done a good job of selling the behavior to them, gaining commitment to give it a whirl shouldn’t be difficult.
  5. Role play the new behavior. Now, role-play the new behavior with them to see if they grasp the basics.
  6. Put them in a situation to implement the new behavior as soon as possible. Now it’s time to get real; they should be placed in a real-world situation ASAP to use that new behavior.  It’s even better if you are present to again use this as a coaching opportunity.
  7. Follow up periodically. Make sure that the new behavior is now part of their professional repertoire; also, make sure that the change is generating the results desired.
  8. Re-coach. A coach’s work is never done.  Now it’s time to continue the coaching process by finding new opportunities.  Remember, even your very best team members can improve.

If your coachee is open to change and improvement, trait-fit for the job (this is critical), and is willing to put in the hard work and effort, great things can be accomplished.  A client of mine recently had this experience.  We had identified two sales managers whose performance was marginal, and frankly, they were potential turnover candidates.  We made the decision to invest time in coaching them.  My client did a great job of coaching them up, and now, a year later, those same two sales managers are being groomed to be given more responsibility in a promotion to Regional Manager.  Those are the moments that make any coach proud.

People are not disposable.  Yes, sometimes we have to terminate substandard employees – but it’s usually worth the time investment to attempt to coach them up first.  I don’t have patience for employees who won’t do the hard work that the job requires, but I do have patience with employees who simply haven’t been given the skills to succeed yet.  Successful coaching is the most critical skill that any manager has, and the most gratifying.  Make sure you take the time to be the best coach you can be.  I do, and I love it.

How to Make Classroom Training Effective

A few days ago, I saw a post on LinkedIn asking, “Is classroom sales training effective?” Unfortunately, like most of these threads, it quickly devolved into post after post of sales trainers saying, “Well, no, most isn’t – but MINE is!” I honestly hate that, because some people are looking for real information about this topic. So, I’ll answer as best I can and I won’t mention my training; if you want to learn about it, you’re more than welcome to, but that’s not what this article is.

The truth is that classroom training gets a bad rap. If classroom learning didn’t work, why would we spend all those years going to school? And don’t give me that “but adults learn differently” stuff. They might – a little – but classroom training still can be very effective. But making it effective requires work – on the part of the trainer, on the part of the trainees, and on the part of management. I’ve been doing classroom training for 20 years, and here are the key elements I’ve discovered.


• The trainer should learn about your company, what you do, and what specific functions your people perform, and how that will impact the training.
• The trainer should prepare enough to be at least conversant with the language of the trainees. He/she doesn’t need to know as much about the specific work environment as the trainees – that is unrealistic – but at least the basic terminology; the trainer should incorporate this into the training materials.
• The manager should be open to conversation with the trainer. Sometimes, managers will want to hold back on their true impressions of their staff a bit to have the trainer ‘evaluate’ their people during the training. This is the wrong approach. The trainer’s job is to educate, not evaluate; if you want a second opinion on your staff, this should be a separate project. Sure, all trainers – myself included – will gain impressions and will probably share them, but this shouldn’t be their prime mission. If you want the best training experience, help your trainer help each person get the most from the experience.
• The manager should set expectations with his or her staff. Those expectations should include sharing the trainer’s bio, their agenda (the trainer should provide you with these items), and what the expectations for both learning and conduct will be. For instance, staff should know beforehand that phones should be silenced, side conversations kept to a minimum, etc.


• The training should be as interactive as possible; nobody wants to listen to a talking head all day. The trainer should break up the lectures with exercises, role plays, and other ways to get staff involved.
• The manager should be in the training session. I can’t emphasize this enough. Talk to any trainer – myself included – and they will tell you that the worst and least productive training sessions they have ever done have been those where the key manager is absent. This means that the manager doesn’t know what’s being taught and doesn’t know how to follow up later, and it means that the conduct of the staff can be unproductive.
• Which leads me to this. The staff’s conduct should be professional and they should participate. It’s okay to have fun – good training should be fun – but the primary mission is to learn. On a (fortunately very) few occasions, I’ve had training programs that felt like Romper Room. The trainees just basically played around, talked among themselves, etc. “But it’s the trainer’s responsibility to control the room!” Not really, to be honest. I’m there (and other trainers are there) to help staff learn important techniques to help them succeed. I’m not there to babysit, and frankly, if your staff needs much “controlling,” you have deeper problems than a training program.


• Most training fails to affect behavior because the training ends when the trainer walks out of the room. To make sure that the training bears fruit, the manager (who was in the training, remember) should reinforce what is taught with follow-up exercises, role plays, and on-the-job observation. Most of the time, less than 20% of what is taught makes it into the actual workplace. Good follow up can radically raise this number.
• The trainer should give some tips or guidance on how to follow up with staff. This can be written or verbal, and it can be as simple as showing the manager how to use the workbook to create future training and dialogue. If the trainer has an advanced program, milestones can be set up to trigger when that program is appropriate.

As a trainer, the most gratifying aspect of my work is when a trainee tells me that they have used my training to make money. The worst aspect of my work is finding out that the training died in the training room. In either case, proper preparation, in-training conduct, and follow up makes all the difference in the world. You’re investing the time and money in training. Invest just a little bit more and make it stick in the workplace.

Five Tips for Maximizing Video Selling

Last time out, I discussed the top trends in selling coming out of Covid-19.  If you haven’t read that one, you should read it now.  But, the #1 trend that I have identified, and that I think will be evergreen (meaning it will outlast Covid-19 and the aftermath) is the increasing use of video in selling.

With everyone working from home, more and more people have gotten comfortable with video conferencing, whether it’s a Zoom call or a different platform.  And many of those people have found it to be a time-efficient way to have meetings.  Those people may want to continue to use video conferencing when you are selling to them – so you might as well make it good.  Here are five ways you can maximize video as a sales tool.

  1. Ask for the upgrade. I said before that video selling lies between two-dimensional (phone) and three-dimensional (in person) activity.  So, when your contact wants to set a phone appointment up (you are making appointments for your phone calls, right?), ask for an upgrade.  “I’d be happy to have a call with you at that time – but would you rather have a Zoom call?”  Remember, more people are familiar with this technology than ever before. On video you can get more cues to and from your buyer – so the more calls you can upgrade from phone to video, the better off you’ll be.
  2. Respect the request. On the other hand, if your customer requests that you meet through video instead of in person, respect that.  Right now, many people are still leery of face-to-face meetings, and if your customer is one of them, you could put them off by pushing for a face to face meeting.  Accept the video call.
  3. Make sure your video is right. The great thing about video is that you have control over the visuals.  Think through your equipment and your backdrop.  Today’s laptops and phones have very high quality HD cameras on them, so that’s not a problem – but the camera lens should be at eye level (so you are making quality eye contact with your customer) and you should be looking AT THE LENS instead of at the screen.  That one’s difficult.    The backdrop should be interesting but free of anything off-color or distracting.  The lighting should be at your front and not your back.  You may want to get a good quality external microphone (mine is a Blue Yeti).  The best way to ascertain all of this is to set up as you would for a call, and then shoot some video of you talking.  Practice and get comfortable.
  4. Learn the technology. Right now, there are many different technologies out there.  They all have their pluses and minuses.  My best advice to you is to pick a technology that you like, get really comfortable with it, and then when you do schedule a video call, you be the person who does the inviting, rather than expect the customer to do so.  I will freely admit that I myself have been a bit tardy on this one.  That said – if your customer already has a preferred tech, go with it – which means you need to be conversant with many platforms and not just your own.
  5. Show up ten minutes early. The same rules apply for this as for a face to face call.  If you’re going to participate in a video call, you should log on ten minutes early, whether it’s your tech and platform or theirs.  If you’re on early, that means that when they log on they don’t have to wait for you; if it’s theirs, that means that if there are any technological hoops you didn’t know about (such as an app to download), you have time to do it before it’s meeting time.

Video calling is something we are going to be working with forever now, at least until someone invents a hologram so we can project ourselves into the customer’s office.  Do these things and you’ll be very effective at it, and you’ll beat salespeople who aren’t.