Why Your Selling Isn’t Working

Our printer at home is broken.

Actually, that’s not true – I wish it were broken.

Because if it were – and I mean really broken, like someone backed over it with their Ford Focus and cracked it in half – then I wouldn’t be wondering whether or not I could fix it.

The problem, in short, is that it won’t stay on our network.

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One minute it’s there, all happy and green check-marked, ready to print. Other times, like a
belly-button on a 53-year-old solo professional marketing consultant, it seems to have vanished without a trace (or is that just me?).

And so I did what I always do when I have a printer-related dilemma … I went and visited Will, over at Cartridge World. Will doesn’t sell many printers, mostly just printer supplies. But he knows all about them and, as I’ve learned over time, he’s more than happy to help you troubleshoot your problems.

I asked him what he thought. He said, “You need a new printer.”

I asked if he could sell me one. He said, “You don’t want one of these. Go pick one up at Staples. And oh, by the way, one week out of every month, they put their printers on sale. Make sure you wait for that.”

And that, my belly-buttonless friend, is why I buy all my printer supplies from him. He knows that by helping me solve my problem today – and without any regard for his wallet – it will come back to him in the long run.

Compare that to the conversation I had yesterday with the VP of Business Development of a video production company that I was thinking of hiring.

I said: What kind of companies do you tend to work with?

She said: All kinds. We’ve worked with really big, really small and lots of start-ups.

I said: Any particular industries?

She said: All industries! Tech, banking, manufacturing, professional services … you name it.

I said: What types of videos are you best at?

She said: All types. We can do a great job with whatever you need.

Finally, and realizing that my attempts to ferret out the company sweet spot were going nowhere, I switched direction and asked, “What would make me the wrong client for your company?”

Uh oh, long silence. She eventually uncorked a few mouthfuls of salesy blah blah, but she was clearly stumped. The idea that somehow I wasn’t a potential sale, today, had apparently never occurred to her.

So what’s the difference? Will didn’t sell me a printer and she didn’t sell me video production services. Didn’t they both lose, equally?

No, and here’s why:

  1. Focus. Will will sell you a printer, occasionally, but it’s not his business. He sells printer supplies and he’s developed a reputation for that. I don’t buy those anywhere else.

    Biz Dev Woman will sell anything to anyone who’s willing to write a check. I’m sure it works for her here and there, but because she’s so broad, I associate her with nothing in particular.

    Word of mouth requires focus and consistency in what you do and for whom you do it. If you’re known for everything, you’re known for nothing. You’ll spend your life chasing prospects (as opposed to them chasing you) and get squeezed on price along the way.

  1. Credibility. Will could have sold me a printer that day. But instead he sent me to Staples, because they were a better match for what I needed. Now I know I can trust him. The day he suggests I buy one of his printers, I won’t hesitate to reach for my credit card.

    Biz Dev Woman? I don’t know what to believe. Instead of using her knowledge and expertise in the world of video production to help me sort through my options, she squandered an opportunity to position herself as a likeable expert. I can’t imagine why I would ever go back to her, let alone send anybody in her direction.

Here’s the bottom line. It took me a long time to realize that effective selling – the kind that leads to positive word of mouth, enjoyable work and terrific clients who happily pay you what you’re worth – has nothing to do with learning how to “close” people. Its nearly all about learning how to help them.

Sure, sometimes helping people means sending them on their way. But if you view that as a marketing opportunity – a chance to demonstrate both your knowledge and your trustworthiness – as opposed to a “lost sale,” you’ll make a lot of friends today and a lot of money tomorrow.


7 thoughts on “Why Your Selling Isn’t Working

  1. Alexandre L'Eveille

    Great article! Reputation building is one of the key things I work on with my branding clients—positioning yourself as the expert in what you do well, and promoting that consistently at every opportunity and interaction. You want people to have you top-of-mind when they need what you’re good at. And, of course, that is another excellent reason to publish an enewsletter as you know. Gives you a chance to market by providing a service: the value of your expertise with no pressure and no strings.

  2. Bill Alpert

    Well I think most seasoned sales pros will say, you *do* have to know how to close in addition to helping people. Being only helpful does not a business transaction make.

    The problem with Ms. Super-Seller and so many other “me-too” businesses is that they consistently put their own needs and priorities first, if they consider their prospects needs at all. Most often they can’t articulate their strengths because in reality they are unremarkable in every way.

    At its core, this is a shortcoming of capitalism in the era of WalMart and McDonalds. Bland is more often than not the norm. It’s all about the price, and not the work. It is artless and heartless, devoid of any “emotional labor,” as Seth might say. Your friend Will is an increasingly rare find these days. And I’m sure that your own customers feel that way about you, Michael.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Great insights, Bill. The upside, for solo professionals in particular, I think, is that the bar is so low. Every time I’m stuck on hold or caught in some kind of endless customer “service” loop, I smile a bit knowing how easy it is to be better!

  3. kate

    Hello from sunny South Africa – gosh you dooo write so well – I ALWAYS come away with aha, I must remember that, or I must include that – such a pleasure to learn from you – thank you!
    By the way if you are planning a trip to South Africa in the new year, we’re opening a great little guesthouse in the quaint little town of Barrydale with the most exquisite mountain views and lots of happy and friendly charm – it would be an honour to meet you face to face and show you some of the delightful attractions in the area! Kind regards Kate

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Believe me, Kate, we would love to get down your way. I may come knocking on your door one day yet!

      1. kate

        Please do – today is such an epic day for all South Africans and others in the world – it is Nelson Mandela’s memorial service – talk about THE best relationship builder, negotiator, leader, best businessman, best everything in my opinion!! Can the world learn so much from this man….


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