Because EXPerience Matters
Turn Selling Into Buying
A Seminar By:
Professor Bruce M. Firestone, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Telfer School of
Business, Executive Director, Exploriem.org, Broker, Partners Advantage
GMAC, Founder, Ottawa Senators and Mr. Trevor Wilkins, Principal, Holis
• Do you want to learn how to really make people want to buy from you?
• Do you want to learn negative cost selling?
• Are you in the solution selling business?
• Do you know how to get on the ‘same side of the table’ as your customers and clients?
• Do you know how to think in terms of 2-D and 3-D business models so that you can not only take care of your clients but your clients’ clients too?
• Would you like to ‘master the game’ of sales influence and then watch the Senators
play the Calgary Flames?
If so, then mark the 9th of February 2010 in your calendar and spend the afternoon learning enough to pay for many more Sens games. Starting promptly at 12.30 pm and finishing at 6.00 pm, the seminar will be followed by a buffet meal where you can share and discuss your experiences and chat with Bruce, Trevor and other attendees. The Sens game starts at 7.30 pm.
A joint presentation sponsored by Exploriem.org and Holis Associates.
The power of the brand: how marketing leads to greater brand recognition which leads to greater trust which leads to sales.
‘Intricate’ your clients: create a business ecosystem and secure your place in it on a sustainable basis for the
Solution selling: learn how to ‘sit on the same side of the table as your clients’ and provide solutions, not
problems, for them.
Negative cost selling: understand your clients’ businesses almost as well as they do. Demonstrate your value proposition by showing your clients (using a spreadsheet) how your product or service will either lower their costs or raise their revenues (or do both) by more than the cost of your services so that they are, in effect, experiencing a negative cost. That is, you can show your clients ‘how you will pay them to hire you!’
The Power of the Brand
Most people don‘t understand why branding is important—it might be a personal brand (i.e., yourself) or a
company brand you are trying to build—whatever it is, branding is important for one over-arching reason:
―People like to buy from people they like and trust,‖ Prof Bruce, Ottawa, Canada.
Or put another way: ―Have you ever bought anything from someone you didn’t like or trust?‖ The answer is
probably ―No‖ or if it is ―Yes‖ then you only did it once and never again.
You build your brand (or in the case of an individual, your reputation, which is your personal brand) because it engenders trust. Trust is the most important thing in business and probably in life. I can easily convince my students of this simply by asking them a question: ―What if your girlfriend (or boyfriend) was fooling around
behind your back, what kind of relationship would that be?‖ You can see their eyes go back and forth as they recall
a situation they may have experienced—then they understand.
What a well respected brand creates is the opportunity to sell successfully. Here is how it works:
1. You work hard (for years) to establish a reputation for good work, high ethical standards and
2. Trust creates an environment for you where clients will send you more and more of their work.
3. Trust creates an environment where your clients will refer other clients to you.
4. Trust gives you breathing room when you do make a mistake: people will cut you a lot of slack even then
because they trust you.
5. Trust creates a personal brand for you individually, independent of your firm.
6. If you change firms, many of your clients will follow you because they trust you and have confidence in
7. Trust creates a brand and a brand creates a marketing opportunity and you can turn that market into sales or
as my wife, Dawn likes to call it ‗IGA money‘, money you can touch, feel and spend.
Here is the process in a diagrammatic format:
Your Reputation Marketing through
a Marketing and Brand
Process builds build
your Trust in you
Trust in you creates an
opportunity for you to
Sell in a separate Sales
A good example of this process at work is the marketing that Clarica Life Insurance (now a Sunlife Financial member) did when they first came on the scene. For example, a man is seen in a restaurant waiting for someone to come out of one of the W/Cs because it isn‘t clear to him which is the men‘s and which is the women‘s. The ID signs are ambiguous. When finally someone does exit, the person is so androgynous that the poor guy still can‘t figure out which is which. Fortunately, a Clarica agent is waiting in the wings to clarify the situation. A whole series of television ads were done using this theme and a sense of humor and they made an impact on the marketplace. But why did Clarica invest tens of millions of dollars in a marketing campaign like that? It is instructive to find out why.
First, let me ask you another question. How many of you have wanted to get up off the couch after watching an insurance commercial and place a call to an insurance agent to buy some life insurance? Right. Zero.
There isn‘t even a call-to-action at the end of these Clarica commercials; selling life insurance is not like the type of selling that Vince (aka Billy Mays) uses for ShamWow! products. ―Call now. Operators are standing by to take
your order at 1-800-555-5555 and if you call right now, we’ll give you an extra set for FREE!‖ doesn‘t work for
most products and services.
So why did Clarica run these commercials? If you look at the diagram above, Clarica was marketing by way of a
marketing process to build their reputation and brand. A good reputation and solid brand created trust in Clarica in
the minds of the public. So then, when a life insurance salesperson sits down with John and Sally Smith in their living room to sell them life insurance, John might say: ―Oh, I have heard of you!‖ John and Sally already trust the
salesperson before their first meeting ever takes place.
Right off the bat, they trust Clarica a heck of a lot more than they trust, say, a representative from the Pirate Insurance Company of Kinakuta (a fictional country featured in Neal Stephenson‘s novel, Cryptonomicon). So if
you are thinking about trusting the future of your family to either someone representing Clarica or the Pirate Insurance Company (who you have never heard of before and who hasn‘t spent a ton of money creating their brand
and a reputation), you are probably going to go with Clarica.
Note that Clarica doesn‘t sell a thing through their marketing; they have established a separate sales process to do
that (i.e., having thousands of life insurance agents out there, making meetings and actually doing the selling.) If you meet anyone whose biz card reads, say, ‗VP of Marketing and Sales‘, say hello to someone who doesn‘t have a clue as to what their job really is.
So a sale, any sale, actually gets completed because of trust: the client trusts you and, therefore, they are willing to buy from you. That‘s the real secret to successful selling: creating trust. Again remember, people like to buy from people they like and trust.
Ethics and Branding
Let me start with ethics. There is nothing more important for you and your career than your reputation. When I was just starting out in business in 1982, a wealthy lawyer by the name of Kent Plumley (he made a lot of his money as an early stage investor in Mitel and later in Newbridge) told me: ―Bruce, the number one thing you have to
remember is: protect your reputation.‖
I thought that was easy for Kent to say, given that he was sitting on millions. But as I grew older I realized he was right. Do you know why?
When I was starting out, one of the real estate lawyers who helped me also helped herself. We noticed that whenever we were closing on a property, another developer always seemed to be in the same area, sniffing around. It wasn‘t long before we figured out there was a leak in the law office we were using at the time and, with the help of the senior partner, we set about trying to prove it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the case. It was a devastating blow to the firm and the lawyer involved was summarily dismissed. She was never a significant player after that in the real estate business in Ottawa.
I don‘t care what city you are in (a small city like Ottawa, a mega city like NYC or a city like Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America). Every city is controlled by a small number of business and political leaders. In Ottawa, the number of real movers in tech or real estate or any other major economic engine probably numbers no more than 600. In NYC, it‘s more but probably not more than 2,500. So it‘s a small number really.
What that means is that if you muck up your reputation, you probably have to move. Better to keep it in the first place, right?
‘Intricate’ Your Clients
You all know the one about the Ford Motor Car Accountant who sat on their BOD? At every BOD meeting, he kept pressing the Board to shutter factory after factory. That was his entire contribution to the debate on going at the time (circa the 1980s). Finally, one of the other Board members told him: ―Imagine how much money Ford
could save if we closed every plant?‖
It‘s thinking like this that has led the Big Three North American car producers to the edge of the abyss and it‘s also
why newly installed GM Chairman, Ed Whitacre has sacked just about every senior GM manager including their most recent CEO. Big Ed needs new people with new ideas who can turn GM around.
In today‘s world, you need to do more for your clients than tell them the obvious. I can‘t believe how many
accountants add little value to their clients‘ businesses. If he or she tells me that if next year you increase revenues
by x% and reduce your costs by y%, you‘ll make more money next year than you did this year. Gee, I had to pay
$350 an hour to hear that? It reminds me of what one Manager said to his star player when the Atlanta Braves were perennial losers and the player came in to ask for a raise. The Manager said: ―I reckon we could’ve finished last
If you want loyal clients, clients who send you work year in year out, you‘ll have to better than this: you have to
make yourself indispensable. As my friend, the late Elliot Richardson, former Attorney General of the United States, said when we were trying to Bring Back the Senators: ―Bruce, first we’ll intricate the NHL. Then we’ll get
(In Elliot‘s honour, I added his word to UrbanDictionary.com:
How do you do this? One of the ways you intricate your clients is simply by the passage of time. If for example, it‘s legal or accounting work you are doing for a client, the fact that you have their entire history is a huge advantage for you. If your client is buying real property, mortgaging it, doing a merger or acquisition, starting a new division, whatever, the fact that you have their files is very important.
But I can‘t believe how many law firms and accounting firms don‘t harness the data to make themselves
(* The data can be as simple as remembering and filing your clients‘ clients and suppliers‘ contact information.
Recently, a client of mine complained to me that every time he need his lawyer‘s assistant to do something for him,
he needed to give the legal secretary the telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses over and over again. This is ridiculous. If you are going to be a ‗deal maker‘ type of lawyer or accountant, then you need to be able to
talk to the clients and suppliers of your client.
If, say, you are trying to get a real estate transaction closed for a client, you may need to talk to your client‘s
Banker, Surveyor, Environmental Consultant (for, say, a Phase 1 Environmental Assessment), Insurance Broker (for an insurance binder), Title Insurer, Mortgage Broker, Appraiser and a half dozen other suppliers to your client as well as your client‘s client (perhaps the Seller, the Buyer or Investors). I can‘t tell you how many lawyers just sit
and wait to be told what to do instead of taking the initiative to contact on behalf of their client all the stakeholders involved in a closing. And then they or their legal assistants can‘t find or remember their contact info including
email addresses, web sites, fax numbers, telephone numbers (not just at work but cell numbers and even home numbers too), snail mail addresses, etc. Your clients will thank you and become more loyal to you if you relieve them of a lot of this burden and they won‘t mind paying you and your staff extra because paying you to do these
things let‘s them concentrate on growing their businesses while you focus on getting deals completed for them. They won‘t want to move to a new law firm or accounting firm for a lot of reasons, one of which is that they will need to train a whole new crew to become familiar with their business‘ ecosystem.)
I tell my wife that in my consulting practice, my true J.O.B. description is that I am a file clerk. She laughs (thanks, Dawn) but it‘s true. My clients are generally hopeless at keeping their files straight so they are always coming to me. Simple but true. You can do it too. I put a huge amount of effort into capturing data electronically; I must PDF a few thousand documents every year for clients and I can get their information much faster than they can. Information is power. (I also make sure I capture the data on multiple backups too BTW.)
Before I get to the Three Laws of Power Selling, I thought I should restate for you the three most important things that every new startup and freshly minted entrepreneur has to worry about first. The three most important things you need to focus on above all others are: Sales, Sales and Sales.
It turns out that most entrepreneurs are blessed with cleverness, ambition, flexibility, initiative, the ability to work in teams, curiosity, creativity, fear of failure, willing to take responsibility, leadership, energy and willingness to work hard; they have lots of ideas, some good and some bad.
But if you can‘t sell, you‘re toast. I have often heard CEOs of large, successful corporations and Presidents of fast
growing SMEEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) say: ‗Ah, now that things are going so well (i.e., sales are rolling in rather nicely), I can stand back and work on the business instead of in the business.‘ This is completely wrong; as soon as a CEO delegates wholly the responsibility to his or her Vice President of Sales, the business starts to go down hill.
When Lou Gerstner stepped in to the CEO role at IBM in the early 1990s (a time of great crisis for IBM), he took a very active role in sales. Within a few days of taking the reins, he wanted to see a list of IBM‘s top 300 customers. Why? Because he wanted to visit each and every one of them.
Sure you want to spend some time working on the business but you have to working in the business too and you have to be involved in sales you have to be in the sales loop otherwise you have abrogated your basic responsibilities to your company‘s stakeholders including your customers. I mean there are times when your customers don‘t want to talk to another sales engineer; they need to talk directly to you, Ms. CEO or Mr. CEO.
And this way you disintermediate all the layers of bureaucracy; you get the real story and you then are in a position to create new sales channels and new sales opportunities that only the CEO or President can champion at the end of the day.
I thought it was weird circa 1995 to 2001 that all of a sudden entrepreneurs and their financiers started thinking that they needed financing first and sales second (or third or sometimes not at all). I have always taught that if you have revenues, you will get financing and not the other way around. Have you ever heard of a business folding where their sales are booming? Don‘t think so.
They might change CEOs for one reason or another but if you have great sales, your company is going to be around for a long time.
So, quick, what is the entrepreneur‘s first and foremost challenge? Sales, Sales and Sales.
Getting sales is not easy. There is always competition and it‘s hard to find customers.
Some of my students tell me that their ‗pixie dust‘ in their business model is that there isn‘t any competition for
their (great!) new idea. This is actually quite funny there are two reasons why there might not be any competition. One is that it is a bad idea. Two is that it is a good idea that no one else has thought about before (unlikely but possible). However, in the second case, if it is a good idea, you absolutely will have competition. Check out how long it took for competitors for Viagra to appear. (I am not saying Viagra is a good idea, never having tried it myself, but it sure is a money maker.)
If your idea is a good one, you will create your own competition. So it‘s a tough old world out theren your competitors don‘t want you to succeed but, guess what, your customers and your future customers do.
They want you to be successful because they need your product or service. They don‘t want you to go out of business. They are your greatest allies.
So making a connection with them (this is called marketing) is really crucial and you have to be able to make these connections cheaply and effectively (this is called Guerrilla Marketing substituting advertising and promotion brains for money).
But Guerrilla Marketing is something I deal with elsewhere; here let‘s assume that you have made the connection
with a potential client. How do you make your selling proposition irresistible? Well, you do it by first applying Firestone‘s Three Laws of Power Selling.
The Three Laws of Power Selling
Here below are Firestone‘s Three Laws of Power Selling. First, I‘ll iterate them and, second, I‘ll give some examples that will seek to illustrate how the Three Laws of Power Selling actually work. Most people read these types of things and they nod wisely but really have no idea how to apply these how-to-guides to their situation. I have found that people learn best from RL (Real Life) examples.
Firestone‘s Three Laws of Power Selling are
• Law No. 1: SITTING ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE TABLE
Thou shalt get on the same side of the table as thine customer or client.
• Law No. 2: SOLUTION SELLING
Thou art selling a solution to a client problem or opportunity.
• Law No. 3: NEGATIVE COST SELLING/NEGATIVE COST MAREKTING
Thou shalt demonstrate that thy solution is a negative cost for thine customer that thy customer‘s or client‘s costs
decreaseth or thy customer‘s or client‘s revenues increaseth or both.
Thou shalt find persons who be willing to pay thou to market thine wares or services
Law 1 Some Examples of SITTING ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE TABLE
When I was doing some consulting work with GradeAStudent.com (started by four, really smart, former students of mine), I told them that if they adopted Law No. 1, they could greatly increase the amount of hardware and software they sell.
Their main business is at-home computer service fixing your PC on-site: installing software, getting rid of viruses, making your network to run, etc., etc. But clients naturally trust them to help them buy hardware and software too. I told them that instead of trying to sell their customers stuff; they should put their suppliers on the other side of the table. So basically a GradeAStudent.com techie would say to a customer: I can get you XYZ virus scan software from Acme Corp. for 200 bucks and it does everything, including block spy ware and ad ware and pop ups, as well. Or I can get you something cheaper from Pirate Software Co. for $99 it scans for viruses but doesn‘t block pop ups, etc.
Now the GradeAStudent.com techie is taking on the role of trusted advisor, a consultant to his customer, if you will he is on the same side of the table as the client. The suppliers are on the other side. If the client doesn‘t like any of the options, the techie can then say: Look, maybe I can get you a better price from Acme or Pirate or maybe I can find something that will suit you better from someone else.
In either event, the client isn‘t saying ‗no‘ to GradeAStudent.com and they aren‘t ‗buying‘ from GradeAStudent.com they are buying ‗through‘ GradeAStudent.com and from GradeAStudent.com‘s suppliers. The question of GradeAStudent.com’s margin and markup on the sale isn‘t likely to come up at all; it will be the
suppliers who will most likely take heat if the pricing is too high or the offer doesn‘t have all the features (or has too many of them) that the client wants. GradeAStudent.com can back away from any solution with no loss of face. This kind of ‗non-selling‘, selling is extremely powerful.
Another client of mine, a web developer at EnvisionOnline.ca, was asking how he might apply Law 1 to his business. I thought about it a bit and came up with this example for him. He has already designed a web site for a Home Heating and Air Conditioning Company (HHAC, not their real name). I told EnvisionOnline.ca: Why not turn HHAC into a quote machine instead of a seller of AC units or furnaces? The idea would be for HHAC to consult with their clients, get on the ‗same side of the table‘ and spec two or three different solutions for them. Again, HHAC clients would (hopefully) tend to see HHAC‘s suppliers as the entities they are negotiating with, not
Maybe EnvisionOnline.ca could create an opportunity for itself to get some recurring revenues by optimizing HHAC‘s web site for maximum search engine traffic and perfecting an online quote system for HHAC.
EnvisionOnline.ca could operate the site for HHAC. Today, what once were product companies like IBM want to be more like service companies and get more of their revenues from consulting for clients or operating things for their clients. It makes sense these types of revenues can be more predictable and they obviously can lead to more product sales too. IBM has been very successful at this: operating huge data centers and other back office operations for major global companies. They now get a huge portion of their revenues from services. And when these back office operations need new equipment, you can be sure that IBM supplies a lot of that as well. But service companies also want to be more like product companies. Selling products has its own appeal you make a thing once and you resell it over and over again.
EnvisionOnline.ca develops products (web sites) with many, many of the components being repeatedly reused. By operating client web sites (consistent with the Three Laws of Power Selling, of course), EnvisionOnline.ca can be more of a service company with more predictable revenues perhaps.
Now another important feature of the Three Laws of Power Selling is to make sure that you are applying the Three Laws to not only your sales to your clients and customers but also thinking through how they might or should be applying the Three Laws to their efforts to sell to their clients. Huh?
Now one could carry this on down the food chain indefinitely but I think applying the Three Laws to two generations of the business-land ecology is enough to think about at any one time.
So let‘s go back to Law 1 and see if we can find an example where we can apply this type of thinking. How about the case of Brymark.com, a seller of promotional items. One of their sales people, Dale (not his real name) is a keen golfer and he wants to sell promo items to Golf Pros but everywhere he goes, he hears the same story they don‘t have the budget for it.
Now Golf Pros do a lot of teaching (their bread and butter) and Dale notices that a lot of those keen students are lawyers. Dale realizes that lawyers (at least in Canada) are usually in tough trying to find ways to market and sell
to new clients Canadian lawyers tend to do less of those late night television ads than their US counterparts who don‘t seem to mind a direct pitch like say: Have you recently been injured in an accident? Do you need someone to represent you and take your side?
So maybe Dale can solve the problem this way: he will sell the promo items to the Golf Pro but he will get one of Golf Pro‘s legal clients to pay. This is how it works: he chooses a promo item that appeals to both of them the Golf pro and the Law Firm, say, mouse pads. He brands the mouse pads with both the Golf Pro‘s information and the Law Firm‘s pitch too.
Now the Law Firm gives out free mouse pads to its clients, many of whom are probable golfers, and the Golf Pro gives out the mouse pads to his clients, many of whom are probably in the market for legal services. By thinking about how the Golf Pro‘s clients sell (or market) to their clients, Dale has made a sale and created a new marketing channel for both the Golf Pro (who gets the Law Firm to distribute his marketing info to their clients) and the Law Firm (who gets the Golf Pro to distribute their marketing info to his clients).
This is called co-branding and can work with more than two parties as well. For example, promo items for a high end men‘s shoe store might work well with an upscale jeweler and a high performance auto dealership.
This kind of selling is more difficult to do because it involves a minimum of three parties: you, the sales person, and at least two co-branders. Anytime, you need three approvals to get a project off the ground, well, that‘s tougher to get than a two party agreement. Obviously, the degree of difficulty goes up as you bring in more co-branders. Having said this, by making it more difficult for himself, Dale is also making it harder for his competition to duplicate too. And in the promo business, which is absolutely cutthroat at the best of times, that‘s not a bad thing.
I really like how the Ottawa 04 International Animation Festival sold to one of their key sponsors (Electronic Arts, EA). Usually, these sponsorships are pretty boring put up a banner, hand out some brochures, demonstrate the products or service. Most sponsors get involved with good works out of guilt and don‘t leverage their sponsorship dollars very well, if at all.
But the Festival had clearly thought about some of EA‘s challenges, like the fact that one of EA‘s biggest problems (circa 2004) is how to recruit top notch talent. By getting on the same side of the table as EA, the Festival thought about who EA is selling to; they need to sell to (i.e., recruit): software engineers, animators and computer graphics artists. And those just happen to be the kind of people who might come/be attracted to an International Animation Festival.
So EA brought their recruiting machine to town.
So the Festival was not only thinking about how they could sell to their customer (EA) but how their customer (EA) could sell to their customers (software engineers, et al). You can only see solutions like this when you are sitting on the same side of the table as your client and looking at their problems the same way they do. This leads us to Law No. 2.
Law 2 Some Examples of SOLUTION SELLING
Law No. 2 involves ‗solution selling‘. I am always amazed at how many sales people make a sales call on a prospective client knowing next to nothing (or sometimes absolutely nothing) about the potential client‘s
organization and its problems and challenges. It‘s hard to sell a solution when you don‘t know the problem.
Solution selling is all about knowing a client‘s business and business model in incredible detail so that your product or service addresses, in a very direct way, at least one of their key issues.
Solution selling often involves self-financing offerings, where the money the client needs to have in order to pay you for your services or products doesn‘t actually come from them but from their clients; i.e., your client‘s clients.
I worked with one NPO (Not for Profit) outfit and we devised and entire program for them that cost them $100,000+/- to implement but generated more than $600,000 in net funds from event participation and sponsorship. They never had to reach into their (short) pockets for a dime.
Furniture sellers and auto dealers do this all the time they provide attractive financing deals (OAC, On Approved Credit) like those don‘t pay a cent events until some point in the future or by providing you with 100% financing at
super low interest rates.
I have been involved in mergers and acquisitions where the acquiring company ends up with more cash after buying the other business than they had before. These are called ‗accretive‘ financing deals they can be cash accretive or earnings accretive or both. This is another, more complex form of solution selling. Another way to look at it is, if I am asked to help sell a company, one of the first things I might do is to try to find a way to provide the acquiring company with the financing to do it so they don‘t have to reach into their jeans for any money at all.
In one transaction I am familiar with, the acquiring company bought a franchise for $30m, half down in cash and half paid at $5m per year for three years. (The numbers have been changed to protect the identity of the acquiring company).
They then entered into a long term lease for a facility and received a leasing inducement in the amount of $20m in cash from their Landlord. They also put in place a credit facility with their Bank for 50% of the value of their new franchise.
If you do the numbers, they put up $15m in cash to get into this business but received back (from the leasing inducement and the credit facility) a total of $35m so they had $20m more in cash after buying the franchise than before. Nice work if you can get it.
Accretive deals like this are much easier to do when you are a large company with a top credit rating and explains to some degree why the rich get richer and the rest of us, don‘t
Real Estate transactions can often be like this too. It‘s a form of Bootstrap Capital.
How can you acquire real estate with no money down? I get asked this all the time. In reality, you usually can‘t do this; it‘s more like acquire real estate with little money down. But it can be done. For those of you who are curious about this, you can read an example of how Betty and Phil (not their real names) acquired residential rentals with very little money down.
One of my former students started his residential construction business with no money down by finding a willing landowner to play along with him. He optioned a piece of land for almost nothing ($500), put his sign up, put a trailer on site and he pre-sold 10 units from plans. With the deposits he received from Purchasers, terms he got from his suppliers and with the co-operation of the landowner, he was able to profitably build more than ten single family homes in his first year.
The landowner and his suppliers got paid out of the closings. He had zero bank financing and practically zero cash when he started out but he did have one thing credibility. And that can take you a long way.