The true secret of the Yes/No response

Big TickI received a marketing email today from an expert in direct marketing, in which he wrote about sorting out the dead ducks from those who are really interested.

He referred to the Reader’s Digest Yes and No reply envelopes.

He called it the Yes/No option, implied that it was how to sort out the ones who are not really interested, and went on to say that is does not work in face to face selling.

I agree with that, but I believe he got it slightly wrong about the Reader’s Digest envelopes. Their intention was not merely a Yes/No option to separate tyre kickers from real prospects.

In direct mail, your objective should be to encourage response. Even negative response.

The more Noes you attract, the more Yeses you’ll get as well.

Encourage people to reply, and you have a dialogue going. That develops the relationship. Along the way, you’ll tip some Undecideds into the Yes camp as well.

Test it. Run one stream with a straight Yes or No response, and another which allows everyone to respond, some with an order, some without one. That’s what a Prize Draw does. Everyone can enter, whether they order or not.

In face to face selling the same thinking applies. In my Five Key Questions for Sales people, the fifth question is: What’s the least you will settle for?

It’s about planning for a fall-back option if you do not get the sale. Something to keep the door open, to maintain a dialogue and develop the relationship.

That’s the real secret behind the so-called Yes/No option.


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How good are the pictures you create when you speak?

Watching the Canadian Grand Prix I found myself getting confused from time to time because of the way the commentator was describing the action. Here’s an example of the kind of thing he was saying (not an actual quote).

Imagine you are actually watching the race, and get someone to read this aloud to you:

“Leading the race is Nico Rosberg. In second place is Lewis Hamilton, third is Hulkenberg, still on a one-stop strategy, using the super soft tyres, and the gap has widened to over 11 seconds, to the battle between Perez of Force India and Vettel. Button is cruising along in sixth place, with Felipe Massa in seventh. He’s catching up fast because his tyres are younger than Vettel’s.”

How easy was that to take in?

It’s easy enough to take in the 1-2-3, because they are described as a list. But the next bit creates a totally different picture because it is described in a different way and actually interrupts your understanding of what is going on. It creates a succession of disconnected images

When making a speech or presentation, it is always worth considering the pictures we make with our words, and check that consecutive images are consistent with one another.

Effective communication depends on connecting with the way our listeners receive and understand what we are saying. That’s why triads and repetition work. Repetition reinforces the message.

In a written text it is quite attractive to change the way in which a list is described. Not so in a spoken text. If, in the example above, the commentator wanted to make a point about the gap between drivers, he could have said:

“Leading the race is Nico Rosberg. In second place, just one second back, is Lewis Hamilton, with Hulkenberg third and only a couple of seconds behind him. Those are the three podium positions. Behind them the gap has widened to 11 seconds, to the battle for fourth place between Perez and Vettel. Down in sixth place we have Button, with Felipe Massa seventh.”

Read both version aloud and see which feels easier to understand.


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10 Tips for doing business in India

At Party - Copy   I am about to travel to India later this month, and it occurred to me to share some tips on doing business in and with that country.

1. Business is conducted at a slow pace. Be prepared for a good deal of discussion, followed by a long wait for final decision
2. A handshake signals an agreement; but business contracts will be scrutinized and this can take weeks or months.
3. A direct ‘No’ is never possible; Indians will say many things that sound like ‘Yes’ but aren’t!
4. Phrase questions carefully, i.e. “Where does this road lead?” not “Does this road go to Mombai?” Indian responses can be ambiguous or they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear so as not to upset you.
5. Always budget for “commissions”; you will be expected to pay for any introductions or favours. These payments are the oil that greases the wheel.
6. Indians are often seen as the best negotiators; they’ll drive a hard bargain, and then drive it some more! Negotiating teams are led by management and supported by technical experts. High-level management make the decisions but they may not be represented on the team. Try to make contacts at the highest levels and provide incentives for middle managers and assistants to help make your case.
7. Relationships are important, along with good contacts for business. Building trust is vital.
8. A win/win approach is aimed at, though compromise is acceptable, but trust makes everyone flexible.
9. Don’t expect people to use their initiative and make things happen; strong fatalism and predestiny play a large part in people’s thinking
10. Don’t give criticism as Indians easily take offence; be sensitive to, and respectful of, the concept of Face. Harmony is extremely important.

Above all, remember that Indians are proud. They have their own way of doing things, and that may not be the same as yours. Stand alongside them rather than head to head and you’ll go much further.

I shall be posting more tips of this ind on

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And what do you do?

handshake4  In this age of Networking, there are many versions of how a person should introduce themselves.

Some Networking groups (Breakfast meetings, typically) start with a round robin, with everyone given between 60 and 120 seconds to make what they call their “Elevator Pitch.”

This is fundamentally flawed thinking for two reasons. First, when someone asks the standard question, “What do you do?” they are unlikely to be prepared to listen to such a long answer.

Secondly, the word “pitch” implies asking for business – even before getting to know the other person. And that is unpopular anywhere east of the Atlantic ocean.

The correct term is “Elevator Speech”.  It’s a mini (persuasive) speech.

The name derives from the hypothetical situation in which you meet a potential business contact in a lift, and s/he asks you, “What do you do?”

You have as long as it takes for the lift to go from the ground floor to the first floor (15-20 seconds) to say something that prompts the other person to say, “Tell me more.”

Most people reply with a label: I’m a Surveyor / Marketing Manager / Shipping Clerk / Sales Consultant / whatever.

Wrong! And a wasted opportunity. Your job title is unlikely to encourage anyone to say, “Tell me more.”

The other day I went on a discussion forum where an American was guiding his readers in how to construct and deliver an Elevator Speech. He got it badly wrong.

He recommended saying, “People hire me to …” in order to communicate that you are only interested in those who would pay you.

He advised against saying, “I help people to …” because that does not signal the need to pay for your expertise. In his opinion.

My response was to say, “The Elevator Speech needs to follow the rules of selling”, so the model I follow is:

  1. Establish a need
  2. Explain the consequence
  3. Offer a solution

Here’s one of my Elevator Speeches:

  • You know how some people are scared stiff of public speaking? (Did you nod?)
  • And others make presentations that are really boring? (Did you nod?)
  • Which means that they don’t make the impact they would like to make. (Consequence)
  • Well, what I do is to help them speak in public without fear, and in a way that makes others want to listen. (Solution)

Try constructing your own Elevator Speech, along those lines. It will help you to focus on your own added value, and what you bring to the table.

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Pietersen Personality


Kevin Pietersen’s career as an England batsman is over.

It’s an announcement that resonates well beyond the Cricketing constituency, possibly even within business. Certainly, there will be quite a few people thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

In simple terms, the Pietersen saga seems to be this: he is a huge talent in his chosen sport. World class, even. But he cannot get on with those around him.

The history of sport is littered with similar cases of exceptionally talented performers who rubbed teammates (and their public) up the wrong way. And not just in sport. That is almost to be expected. Brilliance, by definition, sets an individual apart from the rest.

Remember Cassius Clay? He was vilified at first. Mother Teresa wasn’t easy to get on with. Willy Birmingham worked wonders on behalf of the Dublin homeless, yet he was always at odds with the regular world.

Star players do things differently, as well as better than the others. Often they have a different mindset, contemptuous of ‘average’ performance, obsessed with improvement, driven to win.  Such people are mavericks — resisting the dictates of the group, unwilling even to fit in.

Today, as they read about Pietersen, they must be drawing a parallel with themselves, examining why they do not fit in, wondering (yet again) why their own brilliance has not made them popular or sought after by their teammates or colleagues.

I wonder if there is a current culture of intolerance towards mavericks. If so, that would be a pity, because mavericks push the boundaries back, set new standards, break the old mould. They challenge conventional thinking and demonstrate what higher achievements are possible.

In business, mavericks are essential.  But so too are team players. The challenge facing business leaders is how to give mavericks their heads without disrupting the group ethic. In the present economic climate, many a maverick will choose to go it alone, free to set their own agenda but missing out on what could be achieved with the resources of an organisation.

Interestingly, some of them join social media groups, where once again they go through the whole process of not fitting in, choosing to dip in and out, quarrelling with the cliques, perhaps questioning their own social skills.

The Pietersen personality is more widespread than you might suspect. And while I hold no brief for that cricketer, I would urge managers in business and in sport to develop an understanding of the maverick mentality, and learn how to incorporate brilliance into the team.

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How to speak so others want to listen

Blue hills

Don’t look at me in that tone of voice, it smells a funny colour.

It’s a popular saying from way back, and it carries a lot more meaning than at first appears.  “That tone of voice” implies a critical note, and one that causes offence.  Equally, you can convey much more than the words you use, through the way you speak.  In the words of the song, “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it.”

The way you use your voice can make you persuasive and plausible, or it can lose you business.  It can inspire people to follow you or it can distance them from you.  Unfortunately, too many people cause upsets without realising it, just through their tone of voice.

Does it matter?  Only if you want people to like you.

Can you do anything about your voice?  Almost certainly.  It depends on two things: your mental attitude and certain physical changes.  I’ll come to those in a moment, but first let’s consider some typical situations in which the tone of voice has played a major role.

I was running a training session in which I introduced the idea of the Elevator Speech.  It’s something I do very frequently, and I usually do it the same way.  I start by asking all the delegates present “What do you do?” and inevitably they give me their job titles.  I then jokingly say, “That’s so BORING!” and they all laugh.  Not this last time, though.

There must have been something on my mind as I said it, and it upset the people there.  Later they said I had been rude.  Whatever had been on my mind, it changed my tone of voice.  Everything else was exactly as it has always been – or so I thought.  But that slight, almost imperceptible change in my tone, made it sound as though I was being rude instead of funny.

Now consider the way you sound on the phone.

A customer calls and asks a question.  You are a bit busy, but you want to be helpful, so you give what you consider to be an efficient answer, to the point and without wasting the caller’s time.  You think you’ve done a good job.  The caller, on the other hand, may go away thinking you have been rather offhand, possibly even rude.

If you have a tape recorder, use it to understand the effect of your tone of voice.  Record yourself speaking on the phone to different people – a supplier, a customer, a friend, a family member.  Record yourself asking for help, and record yourself giving information.  Is there a difference?

The principal difference in attitude is this: when you are asking for help, you are the supplicant, the other person is the dominant.  When you are giving information, the roles are reversed.  The sales person is the supplicant, the client is the dominant.  As supplicant we use a more appealing tone of voice.

Not everyone in a dominant role will use a less attractive voice, but the temptation is there.  Check out your own voice and see if you detect a difference.

So what can you do to make your own voice sound more attractive? Here are a few simple techniques:

  1. Keep a mirror on your desk to check if you are smiling when speaking – until it becomes a natural thing to do.
  2. Practise speaking lower than usual, especially if your voice is high pitched.
  3. Get feedback from trusted friends on the sound of your voice.  Change what they don’t like.
  4. Sit up straight. Posture affects the voice.
  5. Drink lots of water, especially if you do a lot of talking on the phone.
  6. Practise proper breathing from the diaphragm.
  7. Put a note on your desk that reads: “Hello old friend!” to remind you to speak to everyone as you would to an old friend you haven’t seen for ages.

Be friendly, show everyone respect and develop a mellifluous sounding voice.  It’s an unbeatable combination.

For help with your own voice, go to

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Brown envelopes get opened!

Brown envelope

Brown envelopes.

They have long been associated with ‘bungs’ and payoffs, referred to with a smirk.  Filled with cash to avoid a paper trail.

But brown envelopes were also used frequently for official mail – stern warnings and timely reminders from the Inland Revenue, utility bills, circulars, and the original junk mail.

When I worked at Reader’s Digest, we devoted much time and creativity to making our outer envelopes look enticing. We mentioned the £250,000 Prize Draw, we suggested that a prize may already have won, we encouraged an immediate response to avoid missing out. We even designed envelopes that had to be destroyed to get at the contents.

Anything but a brown envelope.

The market followed our lead, and it became the norm for direct mail to come in message-laden envelopes that were white or even coloured. But not brown.

Brown envelopes are back. Because ‘official’ correspondence from HMRC has continued to arrive in brown envelopes, we have been pre-conditioned to open them at once, often in trepidation.

Two brown envelopes landed on my mat this week. One was from HMRC, demanding money which I had already paid. The other was an almost identical cover carrying a pitch for an equity release scheme.

It was clever. Whoever created the latter mailing has a good understanding of the effect of conditioning.  We are conditioned to respond in a number of ways, and it is sound marketing to make use of that conditioned response.

You should do the same.

For example, in Direct Marketing is makes better sense to aim at existing users of someone else’s brand and try to win them over to yours, than to try and convert non-users.

Existing users are already sold on the benefits of your (kind of) product, and are accustomed to buying it. Your task is simply to place your brand between them and their usual choice.

It works in B2B as well. I was advising a large financial organization recently, in their pitch for a prestigious account. Initially they wanted to put the entire story into their presentation. I advised them to cut down the content drastically.

I pointed out that the target company was already buying the kind of services they were offering. That’s a given, I said. Just focus on how you do it differently, but package that with a reminder of how your service meets ‘official’ requirements and keeps them on the right side of the law.

Their conditioned response goes like this: “Oh, we have got to have this in place, and you can make sure it is.  That keeps us safe and out of trouble.”

That’s the brown envelope argument.


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7 Key elements of Direct Mail

Post boxes

1. The List comes first
• Who is your target market?
• Must be relevant to your product or service
• Is the Database up to date, accurate, fully named?

2. Make the envelope look right
• Use a stamp not a franking machine
• Make it look like personal correspondence
• Don’t put sales messages for the sake of something to say

3. Create an offer that’s hard to resist
• You must MAKE AN OFFER
• Address the question, What’s in it for me?
• Make a ‘soft offer’, i.e. one that requires minimal commitment. If you require a ‘Yes/No’ response it’s a Hard Offer.

4. Aim to create ACTION
• Always have a response device
• Write the response device first
• Give a compelling reason to reply

5. Stop expecting only a 1% return
• With the right ingredients you CAN get double digit response
• Avoid trying to convert non-users
• Focus on getting users (others’ customers) to switch to you

6. Testing can make all the difference
• How will you know what works? By testing
• How will you know what works BEST? By testing
• Use a rolling test programme to stay ahead of the game

7. Monitor your results
• Things change. So keep your eye on all results
• Change only one key element at a time and note the effect

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Handling rejection in sales


Selling has long been considered a confrontational conversation, lightly smeared with honey to make it seem agreeable.  There are two reasons for that: first, the sales person wants to win while the prospect wants to retain both his money and his pride.

Now, of course this does not happen in every sale, but it can be considered a typical model.  Elements of the confrontation could quite easily enter any sale, and at any stage, even after the sale has been completed.

The second reason is that the sales person is scared of rejection.  As is well known, fear of loss or pain is a much more powerful motivator than the prospect of gain.  Rejection brings loss of face – a concept not restricted to Orientals.

For example, I bought a cooker over the phone, having done my research online. They delivered the wrong one. When I called the store to tell them, the manager became so defensive that he didn’t wait for me to finish what I was saying before jumping in to offer an alternative. He wanted to over-ride any blame by proposing a quick solution. That way he would occupy the moral high ground — as the problem solver rather than the one who had erred. He would also be calling the shots.

To avoid rejection, the sales person needs a protective strategy.

Some adopt a tough attitude, placing themselves in the dominant role, and the prospect in the role of supplicant (like the cooker store manager).  This old-fashioned macho approach is doomed to failure in the long run.  Even short term gains may quickly be reversed with cancellations at the first opportunity.

I declined the alternative cooker, and the store manager tried to make me feel unreasonable, instead of being agreeable about it. So I cancelled the order and asked for a refund.

Even the prospect or customer wants to save face!

If you are selling, you need to build into your preparation a fall-back position, a Plan B.  What is the least you will settle for if you don’t get the sale?

It could be something as simple as an introduction to another prospect, or even another appointment in three months’ time.  Viewed in the context of a new relationship, an immediate sale is not the only objective.

Work out what you will accept as an alternative to your main objective and you will be able to walk out with your tail up.  Selling is hard, and no one can endure repeated rejections without being affected.

So protect yourself.  Plan your fall-back position and give yourself another chance to feel good about the encounter.

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Who writes those dreadful cold calling scripts?

Male with steam

“Could I speak to the person who deals with elfin safety, please?” asked the caller. I replied that there was no such person here, so the conversation ground to a halt and she hung up.

What could she have said differently about Health and Safety that would have engaged my attention? What could she have said about the danger of not addressing H & S?

Could she have said something like this: “Who would be the person responsible for dealing with a complaint from a former employee about an unsafe computer?”

Or what about, “I’m calling from XYZ to ensure that companies like yours are not at risk from problems arising out of faulty office equipment. Who is the person I should speak to?”

The caller who rang had no chance at all with the approach she used. But is there a different approach that would get your attention and keep you talking?

I’ve no idea who writes the scripts for call centres, but most of them are so bad that they couldn’t possibly have been written by a professional copywriter. Cold calling scripts are specialist skills and can only be written by someone with first hand experience of selling.

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