Michael Greenberg comes from a long line of entrepreneurs on both sides of his family. But his parents didn’t want him to be an entrepreneur. He dropped out of college, enrolled in a coding bootcamp and joined a startup, but it didn’t turn into the next big thing.
In this episode, Michael shares some wisdom on staring a consulting practice and how to use podcasts to do guerrilla sales and marketing, including:
How to know if you’re ready to start a consulting practice on your own.
Why startups and small companies often hit the wall and stop growing.
Who to invite on your show to boost your own authority and exposure (and get leads).
How to get great guests, either locally (not so feasible right now) or virtually.
How to plan a “story arc” across multiple episodes that not only gives your listeners a coherent narrative, it also forms the basis of other forms of content, including e-books and book books. (Hmm, maybe I should I be doing a better job here.)
How to have a conversation with guests that doesn’t feel like a sales pitch and doesn’t feel awkward for you or your guest. (The podcast is really about selling you, not your services.)
How to prepare questions and segues to keep your interviews flowing smoothly.
Why you shouldn’t worry about promoting your podcast too much.
How to plan your initial podcast launch, including how many episodes you need, and how to use “Allied Guests” to set you up for success.
How much time you need to invest in a podcast-based marketing strategy.
Plus, get Michael’s very Sales-for-Nerds-friendly tip for helping nervous CEOs before a VC pitch.
Enjoy, and feel free to suggest how I could use Michael’s advice for Sales for Nerds. 😉
The Wine & Whiskey
I got to enjoy some Cooper Jaxson Pinot Noir from California, and Michael had Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey, which apparently has a distinct, smooth flavor because of the wheat. (Hmmm, I need to try that.)
Damian Thompson is founder and Chief Training Officer for Salesability, focusing on sales training for small business owners who don’t like sales. Sounds like the kind of guy we need to have on Sales for Nerds!
Damian started out selling newspapers, then did door-to-door sales in college. After college, Damian’s first “real” sales job was in enterprise software security. Then he’s help big companies set up a new sales office in foreign countries. He “burned the suit and tie” in 2011 and started trying to build his own business online. He moved to the Philippines, and started building an outsourced sales business. But it was hard. Then he did some copywriting and lead generation on demand, but was doing sales coaching to pay the bills.
Finally, he realized that he should focus on the sales coaching, with a particular attention to skilled creators who are reluctant sales people. Because they don’t like it, they don’t treat it with respect, so they never get really good about it. Their passion keeps them afloat, but they never build the sales process to grow beyond themselves, then they make the “$100,000 mistake” but hiring a savior salesperson, who then fails, because they were never setup for success. Here’s more of what Damian learned…
Damian’s definition of a real business is having revenue come in that you don’t have to touch.
Damian says there are a lot of charlatans like Grant Cardone. There’s also a lot of noise from SaaS companies like Steli Efti from Close, Aaron Ross from Predictable Revenue (see Aaron’s interviews on Sales for Nerds here and here) that doesn’t necessarily apply to the typical small business. Most sales training is run for big companies selling to other big companies.
Sales is a process– there’s no such thing as a natural born sales person. Once you take it on as a process, engineers can be great at sales.
There’s no such things as multitasking– time management is a huge problem for founders who struggle with sales.
Make sure you do prospecting every day, even when you’re busy with other stuff, or your pipeline will dry up and you’ll be in big trouble.
What you shouldn’t doing?
Trying to automate too much. You can’t automate empathy or insight. Mass cold email is terrible.
Fear the telephone. Pick up the phone (or Zoom or Skype) and call people. “Email for marketing, the phone is for selling.”
Charge too little. Everyone expects to be on time and on budget. Getting the first dollars is always the hardest– because they have to trust you. Note that you’re not selling your time– if you spent a lifetime learning to do something quickly, that’s valuable. It’s about the goal you help them reach.
Fail to sell against the status quo– by failing to establish consequences for inaction. Damien uses a personal example– I’m trying to lose 15 pounds– I know how to do it and I even tell myself that I want to do it, but I’m not doing it.
Skipping over the early qualification stages to try to speed to the end of the sale. Don’t ask “just enough questions to write a proposal.” Then you end up harassing the wrong prospects, and you’re constantly following up without giving any value, and you decide you hate sales.
Not having a system for sales. You are in control– just because someone asks you for something, doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Don’t be not in control. Don’t let your prospects bully you.
Taking time with the wrong prospects. These people are happy to waste your time.
Not setting up sales reps for success. Typically when business owners hire operational help, they know how to do the process they’re hiring someone to do. But in sales, they don’t have a process, so they hope that a magical sales person will fix everything, but they’re not set up for success.
You have to “go the gym” every day. Your personal trainer can’t work out for you. You have to spend time on sales.
And you have to ask decisively for the next step. For example, you ask a web lead for a 20 minute call. But what happens at the end of that call? Is it a proposal? If so, do a live proposal review and schedule it on the call. Then what happens when you present? You ask for the business. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they say no, but have a decisive next step for the “I have to think about” people.
Always ask for a meeting until you get a yes or no. If someone isn’t willing to get on a call with you, will they give you thousands of dollars? There’s nothing you can do with sales skills to sell something to someone who won’t get on the phone with you for a few minutes.
The person who wins is usually the most honest. So if you feel like you’re getting brushed off, make sure they have permission to say “no” without hurting your feelings. (And then ask what you could have done differently.)
Here’s the question to ask: one a scale of 1 to 10, and you can’t say 7, how big a problem is this? If they say a 6 or below, it’s not worth pursuing. If they say 8, 9, or 10, ask for more information on why.
Now go PICK UP THE *$@& PHONE!!! Or Zoom or whatever. (Here are some tips on doing video calls— especially important since face to face meeting are off the menu for now.)
I got to enjoy some Chateau Fongaban Bordeaux from Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion. (In the episode, I mistakenly pronounced, or tried to pronounce it with an ‘R’ instead of an ‘F’ and the beginning– you can look at the label and decide if that’s a reasonable mistake.)
Amos Schwartzfarb was an English major turned rock climber who accidentally stumbled into entrepreneurship and sales.
Now, with 6 startups under his belt, and with experience advising dozens more as the head of TechStars Austin, he’s distilled major sales lessons into his book: Sell More Faster: the Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups (which was part of the Sales for Nerds bookshelf giveaway).
In this conversation, we talk about the strange path Amos took to sales (even by the standards of this podcast), and some of his early struggles with sales, and what helped him get much more effective.
We also dig into the W3 framework (who?, what?, why?) that Amos lays out in the book, including:
When to narrow or broaden your niche
The difference between customer development and sales, and when and how to do each one
Why the important part of “what?” is what are they buying, not what are you selling
The importance of “digging the hole”– doing the actual work, and what that means
We got to enjoy some Qupe Syrah from Santa Barbara county. Highly recommended.
Tukan Das, CEO of LeadSift, comes from a computer science background, doing his research on sentiment analysis. He used machine learning to analyze topic-based sentiments, like “I love Steve Jobs’ vision, but I hate the latest iPhone”, which has positive and negative sentiments in the same sentence. (Tukan notes that computers have even more trouble with sarcasm than people.)
Tukan was comfortable writing code, not with sales and marketing. So when he started LeadSift, he hired a sales person. This was a mistake, because he had a “glorified idea”.
At that stage, “it’s almost impossible for an outside salesperson to sell.”
It took almost a year to realize the problem, and then Tukan had to step in, after a lot of developers building custom code based on sales requests that weren’t really the right fit. When Tukan started running sales, he first insisted that they couldn’t give anything away. People had to pay some non-zero fee. Then he switched from month-to-month to 90 day paid pilots. (They picked $99/month, almost out of thin air. One prospect insisted on paying $500. From that point on, they went with $500.)
For the first 2 years, they focused on outbound emails. In 2016, they got about 6 meetings per 100 contacts. 20% of those meetings that were a fit became customers. So they got about 1 customer per 100 contacts.
Tukan emphasizes that each contact required several emails, LinkedIn follow up, and a lot of persistence. About 30% of the emails are personalized, 70% is template. (Note that LeadSift has some capabilities to make this easier.)
They also got rid of their slide deck presentation. (Hallelujah! How much time have we all wasted in PowerPoint hell?) They would tell stories based on the specific needs of the prospect, along the lines of John Livesay’s better selling through storytelling.
Tukan also learned to not take rejection personally. Sometimes people would come back later when the timing was better. Sometimes they don’t. It’s ok.
After a seemingly successful sales meeting with a Fortune 100 prospect, followed by ghosting, one of Tukan’s advisors gave him some great advice:
Customers who do not understand your value proposition don’t owe you anything.
So now Tukan asks people to tell him upfront if there’s not a good fit.
Who’s better at telling the story of what you do for your clients than your clients? Social proof is a huge boost to trust and sales. (Do you want to go to an unknown restaurant, or one recommended by a friend?)
Meg Cumby started out in journalism, worked in government communications, and started freelancing (not on purpose). She realized the need that other consultants had to gather and edit testimonials and case studies. Meg attended a freelancing conference, and was talking to another attendee about the trouble with getting testimonials. Meg wanted to interview, as she did in journalism, not just write. However, initially Meg thought there wasn’t a market here.
The focus on testimonials didn’t happen overnight. Meg knew she had something during a group coaching session with Kai Davis, and another freelancer vented about how hard it was to get testimonials.
Meg tried to just have more conversations and notice when people get really interested and ask a lot of questions.
When she started consulting, her first clients came from past relationships.
When should you ask for a testimonial?
When you’ve wrapped up a project or when they’ve seen results.
After a big win in a long project.
In other words, when the client is going to be enthusiastic and able to talk about how you have helped.
Set the expectation from the beginning that you’ll do a wrap-up call for feedback and if there’s positive feedback, you may want to use some of that in a testimonial.
Meg recommends recording the call (she is a journalist, after all) and using a transcription service. Personally, I just take notes.
Video testimonials are even better– more compelling, but harder for you and the clients. It can get expensive to do this professionally, if that’s the expectation for your prospects. If you’re just getting started with testimonials, start with written testimonials. Don’t make it harder. (Meg has a ton of testimonials on her website, MegCumby.com, and they are all text.)
What makes an effective testimonial?
It’s about the client, not you. (Sound familiar?) What challenges did they face and what results did they get?
What objections or anxieties did they have before they hired you?
He has 6 questions, and Meg has massaged them for consulting and added some more.
What was the challenge that led you to engage with me?
What hesitations or concerns did you have before engaging with me?
What made your choose to work with me?
What did you find as a result of this project? (And why was that important?)
What specific feature or benefit did you like most about the service you received?
What are 2-3 other benefits?
What could have improved or done better, even with the benefit of hindsight? (Makes it easier for the client to deliver negative feedback.)
Would you recommend me to others?
The order of the questions should provide a natural flow. Make sure you surface the objection(s) and hesitation(s) to provide a more compelling testimonial. And use real names (and company and title for B2B, location for B2C) and pictures, if you can. Try to get more than one, but any testimonial is better than no testimonials. (Meg notes that she’s working on getting headshots for her testimonials because she’s having technical challenges with her website template.)
Include relevant testimonials in proposals.
Before all else, just get a testimonial up on your site. You can always improve, add more, add video, etc.
Laura Briggs is a former middle school teacher, so nothing phases her. 😉 Like so many young teacher, the structure of the educational system left her burned out and she entered the digital freelancing economy as a freelance SEO writer.
She’s done TEDx talks on freelancing, and just released her first book, Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business.
In this episode, Laura pulls back the cover on the mysteries of SEO, which can seem so daunting, complicating, and time-consuming that many of us punt on it. Punting is not a great move. Here are some key things to take away:
The biggest misconception is the feeling that SEO is so complex that you have to pay someone thousands of dollars per month.
The first thing you need to do is figure out the most important keywords for your business. “For your business” means the words that your customers use to describe their problems, not the the words you might want to use to describe your offerings.
You can use tools like UberSuggest to help find keywords.
YouTube (the world’s 2nd biggest search engine) is also useful. Just start typing in the search bar and see what YouTube suggests.
What do people describe as their biggest problems, when you meet with prospects in person or on the phone.
Excluding bad fit visitors is as useful as including good fits. You can be explicit about who is a good or bad fit, right on the page.
How many keywords do you need? (Keep in mind that “keyword” is really a “key phrase”, of 3-6 words, not a single word.)
Use the “keyword” about once per 100 words. Don’t “stuff” the keyword unnaturally into content in an attempt to trick Google. Write for the human reader first.
Use specific “long tail keywords” to get more specific, and get traffic from your ideal prospects. For example, ranking for “tennis shoes” is going to be hard, because you’re competing with folks like Nike. But if you say “the best tennis shoes for marathon runners”, you can target much better.
You can link to blog posts, which can provide more variation than the “static” service pages on your site.
Post at least once per week. (!!!)
You can post about your core business, but also “complimentary content”, like “what do eat before you play tennis.”
Create a schedule that you can sustain.
Work in the medium you enjoy, and then repurpose (for example, if you are comfortable talking, then record a video and have someone transcribe it as a blog post, or vice versa).
Backlinks are hard because you don’t have control (on multiple levels). Work on the stuff you can control first. Link properly within your own site, and also link to resources that you cite in your writing. For example, in writing for attorneys, Laura might cite research from hospitals or government sources.
Remember that the human reader is the priority. Even if you can somehow trick Google into sending you traffic, what’s going to happen if you don’t write for your ideal visitor?
How much time do you need? You need to spend some time upfront. But, once you have a routine, you can batch, bimonthly or monthly, by setting up a calendar and creating a lot of posts or videos or whatever else. This should take at minimum 2 hours per week, but again, you can batch your work. Do what works for you.
For example, Laura prefers to carve out one day per month to crank on content. Even for YouTube, Laura will switch shirts between videos and crank out 4 videos. (Too bad this strategy is dangerous for Sales for Nerds.)
Steve Benson is the CEO of Badger Mapping, an app that literally helps sales reps solve the Traveling Salesman Problem, one of the canonical hard problems in computer science, and also very important in the real world. While Steve works in mapping and has a degree in geography, he’s got a background in field sales, becoming Google’s top enterprise sales rep in 2009.
Yet he didn’t have a grand plan to combine his love of geography with practical real-world careers.
He started his post-MBA career in sales at IBM, but was only passionate about the software, not the hardware and services. Joining Google and being close to the Google Maps team, he had a lot of geographical thoughts swirling in his head.
How to run a successful sales meeting:
Get in the right headspace before the meeting. Focus on value. Describe the product like you’re describing a vacation. There’s a different sound in your voice than if you’re describing a product that we’re not really excited about.
Have a pre-call before the meeting. Make sure you know the #1 thing your contact wants to get out of the meeting. Set an agenda.
Don’t just drone on about features– talk to the pain and the needs.
You’re not trying to do training– you can do that after the sale.
Wrap up, make sure you’ve covered what the prospect needs, and agree on the next steps. Set aside time to do this.
Flip the script and put your “dinosaur feature” at the beginning.
How to handle price objections (and other objections, including disagreement among your champion’s colleagues) proactively. (Also see Terry Hansen’s episode on objection prevention and handling.)
Steve enjoyed some 2015 Smoking Loon cabernet sauvignon.
I had some 2014 Wind Gap Ni-Pente Pinot Noir.
Where to find Steve…
Badger Maps— if you spend your day driving all over the place to meet prospect, partners, and clients, mention this podcast to get 2 months free.
I got to know Sean (and his cohost, Jonathan Taylor) when I joined them on their Persuasion by the Pint podcast.
Since we are clearly kindred spirits when it comes to podcasting, and Sean happened to be visiting Austin and I hadn’t really done an episode about copywriting, we got together to give you some great stories and practical tips on writing copy, which I know is a tough challenge for a lot of people.
Sean was also a good sport and departed from his usual pint into the wine world.
In this episode, learn:
The amazingly simple way Sean made $250 in high school to buy Christmas presents for his family and girlfriend.
How Sean flunked out of school, joined the military, got a sales job, and made it into the top 30% but could never quite make it to the top.
How he started a business with his dad (“we just about killed each other”) and decided he had to do something else.
How he got down to his last $26, and how what he did with it changed the course of his life.
How he could charge double or triple what his competitors charged.
How to write copy that people actually want to read (and what people usually do instead).
Simple, practical tips that anyone can follow to create great copy, like:
Record your sales calls, transcribe them and tease out the words and phrases your prospects use.
Take a webinar or sales deck and turn each section or slide into an email.
If you have an FAQ section on your website, turn each one into an email. (Or maybe you don’t have an FAQ section, but you do get certain questions frequently.)
“If you were writing for a friend, how would you say it?”
The W.O.R.D. formula for developing copy
Win the reader’s attention.
Orchestrate the reader’s desire.
Determine next action. (Doesn’t have to be a sale– it might even be a “give” instead of an “ask”. You don’t have to get them all the way to the sale all at once. Make their path small, easy steps.)
Much, much more…
Sean is a big beer drinker, but was a good sport. We did an easy drinking California Pinot, the Ampelos 2014 from Santa Rita Hills.
Rick is the VP of Sales and Marketing for National Association of Sales Professionals, so he’s like an uber meta-sales person, but that’s not how he started. He got a summer internship knocking on doors for a painting company. Learn about his journey, and hear Rick’s insights on sales psychology, including:
Why you’re a sales professional if you’re a business owner.
What he learned his first day doing door-to-door sales as an introvert, and how you can use it when dealing with your own inner psychology.
How Rick became the #1 sales rep for a Cisco integrator, outselling many people who had been there long before him.
How much time to give yourself to do research before a call.
How information gets conveyed (55% body language, 38% tone, 7% words). This is why talking on the phone loses so much information.
(Check out the show Lie to Me for more on how body language reveals a lot about us.)
The importance of finding mentors, and why it’s not as hard as you think.
Pre-framing (don’t just punt it to the prospect), re-framing (getting back on track), and de-framing (backing out gracefully if there isn’t a fit) are 3 great skills to learn.
Learn to ask questions gently, but persistently.
Sales is not about directing, it’s about aligning and redirecting. (Don’t attack someone, they will put up a wall.)
The one thing Rick would like people to fix: don’t focus on yourself.
Rick brings some innovation to Sales for Nerds by having champagne.
I make a move to Burgundy with Chateau de Santenay Bourgogne Pinot Noir, which is definitely more earthy than the California Pinot I often drink, but still accessible and it doesn’t have the deep earth flavors some people don’t enjoy.
Vanessa Van Edwards is lead investigator at the Science of People—a human behavior research lab. She is the national bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People, which was chosen as one of Apple’s Most Anticipated Books of the year. Her work has been featured on CNN, NPR and Fast Company. She has written columns on the science of success for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post. Vanessa started her study of people as a shy teenager, trying to figure out how people interacted. This turned into a lifelong pursuit. When I read her book, I wanted her to come on the show. Vanessa was kind enough to take time away from her 10 week old daughter to share her story and wisdom. There’s a lot of great stuff in here, including
When to practice your new tactics (and when not to).
One of the few things Reuben did right in college, and how you can apply this technique right now to help you.
Why we subconsciously use defensive body language in work settings, and what we can do about it (another great VVE technique).
Starting a conversation vs “sparking” a conversation.
Why everyone should do 6 months in sales of some kind.
Vanessa’s sales tip– don’t focus on sales, focus on stories.
Don’t hand out your props at the beginning of the meeting.
How to let other people impress you, instead of trying to impress them.
What to say, where to stand, and what to do at networking events.
How to share stories effectively, and how to know if your stories are too long.
How to ask for advice
Bonus: A tip that Vanessa has never mentioned before when people ask if you know someone…
Howard’s End, by E.M. Forster. One of the great works of English literature (so I’m told) with a great motif: “Only connect!”
Other Tools & Resources:
Check out Vanessa’s site Science of People for all kind of goodies on improving your social interactions.
As mentioned, Vanessa had to take a rain check on the wine because she has a newborn that she’s feeding, but in her honor, I got to enjoy something from one of her favorite Oregon wineries, Argyle (it’s the 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir). It’s got a bit of fruit and bit of earth, but not whelming, and it’s got more body than a lot of Willamette pinots.