Remember The Alamo

You want to feel really old? Here’s what I recommend…

Go visit your sophomore son Evan at Rhodes College in Memphis and have a little stroll through the dormitory.

I know because I took said stroll a couple of weeks ago and noticed that the residents had a decided lack of interest in interacting with me.

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Actually, that’s not quite true. They had zero interest in interacting with me.

Just walking the 50 steps from the front door to Evan’s room caused near panic among the student body. Funny-smelling cigarettes were hastily snuffed out, doors were slammed shut, bottles of who knows what disappeared in an instant.

It was like one of those “Running of the Bulls” scenes where people are jumping through windows and trampling each other to get out of the way of the oncoming beast.

Like I said, old.

We did have a great weekend though, although it didn’t begin so well. Because when I arrived at the airport from Boston, the first thing I had to do was pick up my rental car.

(I don’t want to be too specific, but the name of the company I made the reservation with kind of rhymed with “Alamo.”)

The guy at the rental desk was extremely friendly. For my money, even a bit overly friendly.

He kept asking me all kinds of questions about why I was visiting, where I was staying and what I would be doing, all while repeatedly calling me “Mr. Michael,” a common southern salutation that always strikes me as simultaneously both too familiar and too formal.

But then it got interesting. He asked me what kind of car I wanted; I told him I didn’t really care. I was alone, I wasn’t driving very far and I didn’t expect to use the car much anyway.

But he kept pushing me on preferences and, not wanting to appear the stereotypical chilly New Englander, I finally gave one up: leg room.

I’m a long way from gigantic, but I said that if I had a choice, I’d take the one with the most leg room.

He grimaced. “Oooo, Mr. Michael, I’m afraid you’re not going to find a lot of leg room in any of the vehicles in the class you reserved. For just twelve dollars additional a day, however, I could upgrade you to a midsize.”

I considered it, declined the offer and signed the papers. Then, I was directed to follow another guy out to my car, which was … wait … here it comes … a midsize.

As it turned out, you see, and after glancing around the parking lot, I realized that they didn’t have any cars in the small size I had reserved. Mr. Alamo was planning to give me a midsize all along – the only question was whether or not I’d be paying for it.

Now the truth is, I don’t really blame the guy; I don’t even really blame Alamo. The industry as a whole has taught us, over time, not to trust them about anything.

Their goal, at every rental, is to sell you as many add-ons as possible – from insurance to gasoline to size upgrades – whether or not it’s in your best interest to buy them.

And that, my bull-dodging friend, is the problem with “upselling” as a strategy.

It seems to make financial sense – “maximize revenue per customer.” But for solo professionals like us, people who trade in trusted advice, it’s death.

If prospects and clients can’t trust that you have their best interests at heart, you’ll never get beyond selling a commodity service based on who’s got the lowest price (rental cars, anyone?).

Instead, when it comes to selling, I recommend keeping one very simple, easy to remember concept in mind: Do what’s in the best interest of the person on the other end of the phone.

More specifically:

Step 1: Help them figure out what their problem is.

Even if they show up ready to buy, help them first clarify and pinpoint the problem. That’s very valuable to people, and it’s a good way to build trust while demonstrating your knowledge.

Talk to them, ask a lot of questions, uncover where the pain is, find out why they think they can’t fix it by themselves.

Step 2: Point them in the right direction – whether or not that direction is you.

You wouldn’t sell your best friend on a service she didn’t need, would you? No, you’d tell her, “Save your money and go do blah, blah instead.”

Same rules apply here. Don’t sell people things – let alone upgraded, gold-plated things – if they don’t need them. It doesn’t serve them and it definitely won’t help you develop a reputation as a likeable expert.

Here’s the bottom line. It took me a long time to understand that selling isn’t about convincing people of anything, nor is it about taking advantage of them.

It’s about matching – their problem with the right solution. If you happen to be the right solution in a given situation, great, now you’ve got something to talk about.

Absent that, you’re about as necessary as a middle-aged bald guy in a Memphis dorm.

P.S. And speaking of Memphis, click here to watch Evan (singing) and his band performing their original song, “Unsung Memories,” captured on my iPhone at a local bar that weekend.


2 thoughts on “Remember The Alamo

  1. Kevin Lee

    Thanks Michael, your posts and podcasts are always top notch! As a blogger and writer, I’m in the process of lightening my nine to five paid workload…. as I retire in two years, and I can’t wait to explore with you what I will do next for excitement, etc.

    Thanks again,
    Kevin Lee


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