The Strategist

You Make It Sound So Easy

He walks me down the stairs from his office. His face suggests he's unsure he'll get real value from what he's paid me so far. We spent the morning going over his current ideas of what his marketing strategy might look like and how he thought the sales process might work. He's not enthused; all we've done is covered "old ground" -- I've given him nothing new.

He expected better, especially given how confident I was when we first discussed working together. He wanted someone that could execute. Someone that would get things done. Get results. Instead he got me. Someone to help him "think". To him, it doesn't seem like a good deal so far. But that's OK. I'll hit him with a zinger tomorrow. Maybe two.

It's the next day. We're sat across from each other staring at our laptops. I silently kick myself for still not having bought a Mac. His looks shiny. I've reviewed the bullet points he added to the document last night. They're a list of all his anxieties about his planned strategy. Yesterday -- when I asked him to list his anxieties, he told me he thought sales was all about "being 'slick' with gelled back hair, being all sharply dressed and having charm."
"You know(?) ... charisma." He says. "I've never done sales before, I don't know if I have the right personality for it."

"Yes", I say, "I know the type you mean, the guy with the Armani watch, and the Hugo Boss suit, and the slick BMW or Mercedes". Now I'm just reeling off images from "Glengarry Glenn Ross" (the movie). I don't know if he's seen it. I dare not ask. I don't want to re-enforce those ideas, but it's clear that's the kind of picture he has in his mind.

I tell him, "some of the best sales people in the world are natural introverts". "hmm" he replies. He's intrigued.

"Let me ask you this" I say, "These people you're approaching. Is it not true they have a problem? A problem that you're looking to help them solve? And is it not true that you have a really good solution for them? Let's face it -- they should want to talk to you, right? After all you're helping their business. You're solving a problem for them, no?".

"I suppose...when you put it like that. That makes sense. I never thought about it like that." He says. He breaks a smile and seems re-assured.

I ask him, "When do you want to get your first 20 customers by?". He tells me "1st October ... I know it's ambitious, but if I work hard. I think I can do it."

That's fifteen working days from now. I admire his determination but wonder if it's necessary. I move over to the whiteboard and suggest we start with the "HOT" leads first. He's still waiting to be impressed, but he's not as hungry for it as yesterday. At least we both share our love of whiteboards, so that's something. Or is it(?).

I ask him to remind me of the type of people the "HOT" leads are, so he takes me through it quickly. I then start with the "Sales Pitch" and write down just two lines. It's barely more than a salutation and an opener -- like an email or phone opener. He's expecting more; I don't have it. It's unnecessary. He's underwhelmed.

(It's OK, the first revelation is coming.)

I ask him "What needs to happen at the end of the sales conversation -- what is considered a conversion?". "I need their email address. That means they're live on our system and I can send bookings their way."

"OK - Great!" I say, "that should be easy enough. What are their objections likely to be?" . He goes through the list of objections. They're fairly standard, like the customer saying not having time to speak, or the decision maker isn't available, or they're just not interested. He's getting anxious just thinking about it. He's projecting into the future, wondering how he's going to find the courage to deal with rejection. He's expecting this to be hard. Glengarry Glenn Ross visuals are back again.

I pick the second "objection". The one about the decision maker not being there. "But you've spoken to some of these customers before, right?" . "Yes, I visited them before, but you see ... at that time, I didn't have anything to show them. I didn't need a sales pitch at that point. Now I have something to show, so I need to know how to sell it".

I say, "OK. What if there was a lady at the side of the road, and she had a tyre puncture. Would you be anxious about approaching her to help her? Would you spend hours thinking about what you're going to say? Or would you just approach her and say you can help ... and just get on with it? It's a no brainer, right? Well unless you don't know how to change a tyre, like me!". We break into laughter, but he concurs. It's clearly a no-brainer and there's no question he'd help the lady, so why can't he help the client.

So now I have a lot to say in one go. I plan my pauses and breathers along the way.

"OK, how about this... If they say the person you need to speak to isn't there ... and now thinking about the fact, that you're eager to help them -- which let's face it -- is true.

... You genuinely want to help them get more customers, so...thinking about example of the lady with the punctured tyre and what you would do if she politely refused your offer of help. What I mean to say is, that you wouldn't let that deter you. She clearly needs your help. So with that same idea in mind...

... with your prospective customer -- why don't you insist that, it's 'OK' and all you need is 'an email address so that you can send bookings there way'?

...then all you have to do is send them their first customer. Maybe you could even do that for zero commission, and then call them again to tell them you need to send them payment for the booking. I mean, sometimes when you offer someone a chocolate biscuit, they don't try it because they're not sure if it'll taste good. But when you're so convinced that it does taste good, you can insist a little, and they can clearly tell from you that you like it, so they probably will too. And after they've had one -- and liked it -- they might want one more(?)

...I mean, which customer is going to refuse money being sent their way? Why not treat it as a 'done deal'? Seems to me they need you more than you need them(?)"

[The product he's "selling" helps his customers generate more customers of their own, for which he wants to take commission. He has to get them signed-up to his system as part of his own sales process though.]

It's here. He's got the first revelation. I wondered if he'd be able to process the whole thing in one go, but he got it. The man exudes intelligence. He's not selling anymore, he's "helping". He's not a salesman. He's a problem solver. He's starting to see it. He's getting more comfortable in his chair. He's relaxing. The smiles are more frequent.

So we move on. We start looking at all the possible objections a prospective customer could have, and then we work through each one; one by one. Now we've renamed the sales pitch document to the "problem solver" pitch document. We're going to see how many people he can solve a problem for. The pitch is still just a couple of lines and the crux of the sales process is just a few bullet points.

Now it's time for the litmus test. It's time to make an actual phone call. He's anxious again. I act encouraging. "We've been through all the possible eventualities, and I'm sure you agree, this is a no brainer".

"You make it sound so easy" he says. I concur that's exactly the point. I say (rather rhetorically) "Why shouldn't it be easy -- why should it be difficult?".

He's prepared himself. And now he's ready to make the call. He finds the number for one of the hot leads and gives them a call. In the meantime, I enable the voice recorder on my phone and begin recording the call so we can analyse it later.

"Oh hi Martin, do you remember me? I popped in some time ago and remember I said I'd come back once I had something to show you? Well all I need is an email address and I can have you live on the system and we can get the ball rolling". I can't hear what Martin is saying, but judging by the way the man in front of me is scrambling to find a piece of paper and a pen to write down the email address with; it would seem his prospect his happy to oblige. Now he's lost for words. He wasn't expecting the conversation to get this far. That too so quickly. He expected resistance but met none. So he regains himself, continues the conversation and begins to explain the terms and conditions. The customer agrees. He (my client) concludes the conversation and ends the call. He looks at me with an expression that seems to say "Ok, you were right. This *is* easy".

I look at the length of time it took for the call. Just over 3 minutes. I then turn to him and say. "I know you wanted 20 customers by October, but at this rate, is it not fair to say, you could get 20 in just over an hour?". He does the quick math in his head and answers "yes, yes it is".

There's the first zinger.

He breathes a sigh of relief and sits back in his chair. Suddenly he realises that all the stress and anxiety of sales he was anticipating for the next few weeks will be far less than he thought.

Now we move onto the cold leads. We work through the pitch and then the possible customer objections. It takes us some time, but he's content with what we put together. There's more faith this time that it could work. He tells me he'd love to get 65 customers by December. That's in just over 3 months. So I take a look at the whiteboard, and the diagram I have drawn out for the cold leads sales process. I then, rub out some lines and move things around slightly.

"What if you were to do things this way? Could this work?". "Ah yes, that could work. And that's very easy indeed."

Wait for it....

"But then that means, you could potentially get all 65 customers in one day, no?"

There's the major zinger. It's hit him hard; it's as if he's in a suspended state. I look at him processing things in his mind for what "seems" like nearly seven minutes. He's trying. He's trying very hard to find "the catch." The one reason to not have to give this a go. But he can't find it because it all "adds up". It makes sense.

I finally break the silence: "What are you thinking?".

"Well" he says "This is just *such* a seismic shift. What you're essentially saying is that I could save myself weeks if not months of hard work and reach all my targets in just one day with a few simple changes in the sales process. It just sounds too good to be true. I am trying to look for a catch. Surely there has to be one. I am trying to process this whole thing in my mind. It's too new. It goes completely against everything I've ever imagined about sales and how things are supposed to be."

Now he's tired of trying to find a catch. He's tired of resisting. He starts to realise that all the big heavyweights did things that don't scale this way. Now he's not resisting the new process, but rather making sure it can be as effective as possible; that we're not compromising any part of the product or customer relationship along the way.

We're out of time for today, but I agree to come back next week to wrap things up.

Before I leave, we start talking about AirBnB. About how their technique differed but how the principles they applied were similar. I then explain how I'd taken insights from the likes of AirBnB, Elon Musk, LinkedIn and IBM, and distilled them down into something that could work for him.

Now he gets it. He's finally starting to feel like this was money very well spent on me. We walk down the stairs from his office and he admits "I had my reservations after you left yesterday. I wasn't sure If I'd made the right choice, but today you allayed all my fears about whether I was going to get value out of this."

I say "I'll be back Monday and hopefully we can wrap this up. If you think of any potential problems with the process by Monday or if there any new anxieties that arise, then do let me know and we'll get them addressed Monday".

I come back Monday. I'm a little anxious myself. Maybe he's found a way to convince himself the process can't work. Maybe I'll have to go through the whole thing again. Thankfully, he's convinced it can work. He just wants to address some of the things that could go wrong. We work through each and everyone of them. Things get a little involved at times, but not unbearably intense.

Now it's time to put it to the test. After all, uptill now it was just a theory. I say "Why not make a call to the prospect you fear the most". He agrees. He makes the call. Again, things go better than expected, but not quite as well as last week. We make a couple of adjustments, and he makes the next call. Boom. The client agrees to sign-up.

My job is done.

Where he thought he could get 20 customers in a few weeks, I showed him how he could get those in an hour. Where he thought he could get 65 customers in a few months, I showed him how he could get them in a day.

Now all I had to do was give him a diagram of the sales process so he could remember how to follow it. After all it was radically different to his original plans, and he was likely to forget how it all fits together.

Suffice to say, he had a far better sales process than when we first started.

We have to change the way we think about sales and acquiring customers

If there's one thing we've all often shared about our ideas of sales, it's that they've all been based on our experiences at the receiving end. We've all been harassed by cold callers, door to door salesmen and incessant spam one way or another.

These experiences condition us to think that getting new customers has to be a process that goes against our instincts. That somehow we have to struggle against the element of our being to get people to buy from us. That somehow we have to stop being human. Void of empathy, emotion or social etiquette.

The good news is that's not true. The even better news is, that those that use aggressive sales techniques have poor sales performance records on aggregate.

It's ideas like believing that sales requires a huge amount of charisma, or that's it's only for extroverted people that need to change.

All this stems from the mindset that selling is about persuading people to buy. The truth is -- sales is about offering a solution to people's problems and getting them to see the value that can be created for them. The easier we can make it for them to make a decision and the more friction we remove from the process (I.e the easier we make it on ourselves), the more sales we can make and the more customers we can acquire.

What really needs to change is what we think sales really is. I.e an opportunity to help people with their problem(s) and to exchange value in return. It is *not* an exercise in persuading (god forbid, forcing) people to part with their money.

Once we change our mindset, everything become easier.

It's a no brainer.

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Khuram Malik

Hi, my name is Khuram Malik. I am the Founder and Chief Strategist at . I help Businesses and Start-Ups figure out how to get from 'here' to 'there' regards their business goals. If you'd like strategy help with your business, why not book a discovery session with us at and let us help you figure out where your growth opportunities are?

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