The year was 1990 and it was a blistering hot August day in Brussels. Shoppers were hurrying down the streets eager to get to their air-conditioned cars or to the nearest shops to escape the heat.
I scanned the crowds, looking for my ideal customer. Suddenly I spotted her. An older woman in her 60's pulling a small kart of groceries behind her.
"Excuse me madame, do you like animals?" I asked
"Well...yes of course. I love animals" she curiously replied as she looked up at the face of this smiling 19 year old Belgian kid who was just back from a half year in college in the United States.
"Well, do you know that every summer across Belgium, thousands of pets like this one are abandoned by their owners when they go on holiday?" I showed her a brochure with pictures of abandoned animals.
"That's horrible! how could anybody do that to their pets?" she exclaimed.
"It's shocking. But people these days seem to value more the convenience of going unencumbered on holidays than the pets who love them unconditionally" I replied despondently.
"Do you have pets at home?" I quickly asked.
"Yes, I do young man. I have a 6 year old dog named Bruno." she replied.
"Oh that's wonderful. For years, I had a Belgian sheepdog named Sandro. He lived until the ripe old age of 12 but sadly last year we had to put him to sleep due to arthritis." I said, my shoulders dropping a bit.
"That's very sad. My Bruno has had his own issues with arthritis and I don't know what I would do without him. I'm sure your dog meant a lot to you." the old woman answered.
"Yes he did. We took him everywhere with us. My family actually moved countries 6 times and each time we took him along. You'd be amazed, but grew to believe he could actually bark in 4 different languages!" I exclaimed chuckling.
"Oh my goodness. That's too funny. My Bruno actually understands both Flemish and French. My grandkids talk to him in Flemish but I usually speak with him in French. But when it comes to food, he understands virtually everything I'm sure!"
"People always underestimate the intelligence of animals. They are so much more than simply pets.
"Madame, I really don't want to take up more of your time in this blistering heat and I'm sure you'd rather be inside with Bruno and cool glass of lemonade." I said, looking up at the bright sun in the sky.
"How would you like to be able to help some of the animals such as the ones in this brochure that are abandoned by the thousands each year?" I answered, going into sales mode for the pitch.
"Well, I don't know. What can I do. I don't really have any more space in my house for pets and I don't have much money to spare." stammered the old woman.
"I understand, but if more people like you made even a small gesture we could save thousands of these of animals each year. For example, simply by purchasing one of these plush dogs for 5 Euros, your generosity could make a meaningful difference to other abandoned dogs like Bruno." I said as I pulled out a small, light blue plush dog from my backpack.
"I see but I really don't have that kind of money at the moment. I'd like to help but..." she replied
"I understand and you don't even know me or my company. I don't want to put you in an awkward position. But we are a non profit and depend on the help of people like yourself to be able to help these animals."
"If the plush animal is too much, would it be possible to ask you to purchase a simple brochure in that case? Over the course of a week it's less than .30 euros cents per day. It would really help us." I persisted.
"Well, OK then. You seem like a decent young man simply trying to help and what those people are doing to those pets is outright awful. How much is it?" she answered, reaching for her purse.
"2 euros madame. We really appreciate your help and you have no idea how much ordinary people like yourself can help these animals." I replied with a beaming smile.
The whole encounter probably lasted about 7 minutes and added to the 700 euros I made in about 4 weeks doing direct sales on the streets of Brussels. It was probably one of the toughest life experiences I've ever had but it proved to be invaluable to me even today.
After more than 25 years in marketing and degrees from INSEAD and Georgetown, I'm still amazed at how little emphasis is put in schools on teaching our students probably one of the most important skills they'll ever need:
If you think about it, we're selling every single day to different audiences.
When we ask our boss to approve a budget for a new product, we're selling.
When we negotiate bedtime hours with our kids, we're selling.
When we negotiate alimony, we're selling.
When we ask a stewardess to change our seat for a flight, we're selling.
Anytime we ask someone to do something for us which is directly in our best interest but not necessarily in theirs, we're selling.
And yet most business schools and colleges don't seem to place much emphasis on this except for a small number of classes on organizational behavior (which most of us fail to pay any attention to until about 15 years after we graduate) and the occasional elective class on negotiation.
So we graduate with these expensive pieces of paper feeling on top of the world, but have no idea how go out and make people buy something they may or may not really need.
So what did I learn selling plush animals, brochures, pepsi cans, video games, rave parties, mobile games and app stores over the past 25 years?
Mad mork's golden rules on selling
1. Tell a story. Sounds simple but how did I start this post? I started by telling you a story. People are moved by emotion and stories have been proven over 1,000's of years to be the best way to convey information from one person to another.
In his book, Talks Like Ted, celebrity speaker and coach Carmine Gallo studied hundreds of the world's best speakers and spent countless hours reviewing the most successful talks on TED. He found that about 65% of the content in successful talks were centered around stories and connecting with people's emotions. Stories connect emotionally with people. Once you connect emotionally, you simply have to make sure you identify what the person needs.
2. Solve a real problem. To sell anything to anyone you need to solve a need - either real or imaginary. In the example above, the old woman's need was to feel like she was helping other pets like her dog Bruno. When you correctly identify a person's need and articulate it back to them, your product / service simply becomes the answer to their problem and it doesn't even feel like selling at all.
3. Be curious, ask questions. Most sales people get you on the phone or send you an email and go directly into pitch mode. Wrong! The key to solving a real problem (as above) is to understand what the clients problem is. How do you do that? By asking questions. But don't just ask Yes/No questions. Ask open ended questions. Ask questions that get people talking and don't be afraid to ask "Why" when they give you an answer. The deeper you go the more you're likely to get to the real issue of what the client wants.
Most of us love to talk about one thing: Ourselves. When you ask simple, powerful questions you keep people talking. The more they talk, the more information you get and the higher the likelihood that you can understand their needs and serve them (see below).
4. Look to serve, not sell. If you go in with a mentality of "how can I help my client; how can I serve them?" you open up a world of possibilities.
I had a woman who I met multiple times over the course of six months. She never engaged me as a coach. Most coaches would have stopped trying. However, six months later she sent her husband to me for help. I helped him land a dream job in a tech company. Two months later she became a client and now works at a top tech company.
I focused on serving her by helping her husband. Now I'm helping her.
5. Never follow up! How do you feel about those emails, phone calls and voicemails that start with "I'm just checking in" or "Do you have any more questions for me"? "Can I send you any additional information?" If you're like most people you either, delete, move to spam or mark the email for later (then never get to it).
Any email I send always contains something of value for my potential client. A link to an interesting article, an e-book that could be helpful, a video that might inspire them or an intro to someone who can help them where I can't.
Why? Because I'm focused on serving not selling. I'm there to help. So when an email comes from me, the intended recipient always knows there is something smart, valuable and useful inside. I'm not chasing dollars.
6. Don't be needy This particularly true in service businesses and it's sad to say that but most people dislike "needy" people. It's like a bad girlfriend or boyfriend but minus the sex. Neediness turns people off and scares others. Never be needy; in business or anything else.
7. Offer a limited set of options. When was the last time you went to the supermarket and changed toothpaste?
Let me guess? Never.
Why? Research shows that when clients have too many options they get confused as their brain are overwhelmed by the choices. However, when they have too few, the sale ends up simply being a yes / no decision which isn't a good place to be for the seller.
As a general rule of thumb, look to provide your client with 3 options: a high end, mid level and low end option. Human psychology shows us that most people gravitate towards the middle. They usually can't afford or don't want to pay the highest price, but don't like being seen as cheap either. So the answer generally lies somewhere in the middle.
8. Create clients. Look to build relationships with people. Take your time, ask questions and meet them multiple times. Remember that your goal is to get to know them and to get information. The more you meet them and get to know them, the more you will understand their needs.
Whether you're selling a SaaS solution, aircraft engine or selling a car, if you go forward with the mentality of taking your time and not trying to make an immediate sale, you'll learn more about your client and appear much less needy.
9. Make the ask. Once a client has clearly spelled out what they need or asked a question that makes you feel that they are ready to buy, don't be afraid to make the ask.
A great way to make the ask is also by helping the client imagine where they might be if their problem was solved for example:
A divorce lawyer trying to sell legal services.
Lawyer: "I understand this must be a very challenging time for you. What do you think your life might look like if you were able to put this ugly divorce behind you?"
Client: "It would be such a huge relief. We've been a odds for months on this. I just don't know how to proceed at this point."
Lawyer: "What do you think you'll do once all this is settled?"
Client: "I've been meaning to visit my mother for a while now. She lives out in the country and rarely sees her grandkids."
Lawyer: "I see. That's sounds really nice and there's nothing like reconnecting with family. If could get some extra people on the case and speed things up and we could potentially have this wrapped up in the next 2 months. How would that make you feel?"
Client: "I'd really like that. I realize this would cost extra but at this point I just want this to go away."
10. Smile and laugh. My final golden rule is probably the simplest: People like to buy from people they like and people they trust. There's an entire body of proven research around the human benefits of smiling. Not only does it make us feel better but it's contagious. When you smile at someone, it's very hard for them not to smile back.
If you can make someone laugh, you not only break the ice and make them feel at ease but you make a lasting, emotional connection. There's a reason great salespeople in movies are often smiling and cracking jokes: Because it works. People want to be around others who make them feel good. Laughter helps release endorphins which are the chemicals in our bodies that produce that feel good feeling.
So the next time you dread making any kind of sale keep this mind: Life is always about selling in some way or other but don't think about it as sales, think about it as serving and as the opportunity to get to really know someone else and build a lasting human connection.
You'll grow to love sales and won't even think about it as such. If you're interested in some amazing books on the topic of sales, here are my top picks. Don't forget to subscribe to my podcast for more great tips on careers, marketing and startups, like us on Facebook to keep track of live events and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
- The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer.
- How I Raised myself from Failure to Success in selling by Frank Bettger
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
And keep smiling!