Category Archives: Sales

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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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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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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The Naive Customer

Vulture small

I believe people.

That makes me a sucker for sales pitches and confidence tricksters, many of whom infest the internet.

I am also an early adopter. When something new comes along, I’ll take it up. And when I come across a good deal, I want it NOW.

Such tendencies have repeatedly got me into trouble. For example, this week I came across an American (of course) offer to show me how to use Twitter to build a large and responsive list. All for $17. It turned out to be a $17 ticket to receive a $197 pitch, with barely a nod in the direction of the original offer.

Numbers of times I have signed up for some mouth-watering guide to something or other, only to receive links to 10 downloads, all of which I would have to read, and none of which I would have the time to manage.

It’s a safe ploy to over-deliver by orders of magnitude, knowing that the customer has only himself to blame if he does not carry out the full programme. It’s like the small print that no one can be bothered to read before ticking the box – with similar dangers!

Another ploy that catches me out is to make me jump through several hoops between paying for the product and receiving the download, so that I lose track of what I’ve ordered. My download folder is full of items that I haven’t had time to open or activate.

When I say I want it now, it means I’ve seen something I’d like to have, the solution to some problem or other, but I want to get it now and use it later, when I have more time. I want to download it, and place it where I can see it, preferably not in the Download folder, where I’m likely to forget about it.

I admit I have only myself to blame, but I’m certain those internet marketers have the measure of me and others like me. They know that some of us can’t be bothered to chase them for a refund of the $17 (or other small amount), even if we could locate them again.

Another interesting development has been the email thanking me for an order I did not place. Or for registering for something I did not request, asking me to activate my account. It all seems plausible

I see myself as an opportunity for unscrupulous internet marketers, and a warning for other naïve customers.

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Don’t rely on facts alone

In an article on Influencing, I read this: “With rational persuasion, you persuade others with solid facts, clear explanations, and logical arguments.”

It reminded me of my early days in selling classified advertising. It was at a time when that branch of advertising was still rather primitive, even though job advertising in particular was high volume, high revenue. The ad agencies that specialized in classified advertising were unsophisticated and their media buyers were not much more than clerical processors.

There was a considerable gap between the selling of display advertising and what occurred with ads for jobs, property, gardening equipment and whatever else cluttered up the back pages of newspapers. Even the vocabulary was different. The ‘classified’ people spoke of ‘selling space’.

Unusually for that time, I decided to use the readership profile of my newspaper, as derived from the National Readership Survey (NRS). No one else was doing that. I sold readers, not space, and had all the facts, figures and statistics to back my carefully structured argument.

I got sales, but only because the media buyers were afraid of looking foolish in the face of the figures I presented. I made sales, but not friends. Media buyers were intimidated by my “solid facts, clear explanations, and logical arguments”, and were reluctant to develop relationships with me.

Selling is the process of persuasion, which means, in simple terms, getting others to want your offering. Generally, people buy because they want something, not just because they need it. And that’s an emotional decision, not a rational one. They also buy because they like you.

If facts were enough to make a sale, no one would need a sales person. It would be sufficient to send the facts in an email. Clearly that is not so. Information is important to bolster an argument, but it is not the argument itself.

Persuasion works by focusing on both the benefit to the other person of accepting your proposition, and on the disbenefit of not doing so. Most of all it works by showing the other person how they could safely make the decision to change their thinking and/or accept your proposition.

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Added value will get your price

It was raining on Bromley High Street this Saturday morning, a light shower wetting the market stalls, sending shoppers scurrying for shelter. A long line of people pressed up against two sides of a corner shop in Market Square, extending out into the open. The final dozen places in the queue were unprotected from the rain, so clearly they were not just aiming to keep dry.

“Why are you queuing?” I asked the lady who joined the end of the line.

“That jewellery shop is closing down,” she said, implying that there would be bargains.

People who might not normally buy jewellery from that shop were lining up to pay less than the regular price. The original asking price is the starting point, so any discount represents a gain for the buyer, who considers the item’s value to be at least as much as the original price, and possibly higher.

We all have two prices in our heads for any item of value: the price we’d set if we were selling (the true value) and the price we’d be willing to pay (the tipping point). In a closing down sale, you get both, the tipping point price that gets your wallet out, and the verified true value, represented by the original price.

In business, the gap between the two prices is the added value. It can be an actual figure or a perception. The perception can be enhanced by adding more items of value. That’s why US sales letters pile on bonuses, each with a stated cash value (worth $750).

Now imagine your product or offering can be placed in one pan of a pair of scales. The other pan contains the amount of your client’s money represented by your price. Initially, the client will feel that his pile of money weighs more than your offering, so no deal.

Now add as much (perceived) value as you can to your pan. When your pan weighs more than his pile of money, he’ll be glad to make the exchange. Recently I bought a camera in Singapore. I was prepared to pay £500, but the salesman wanted me to pay a little more. Not much more, just enough to feel he’d pushed me beyond my self-imposed limit.

So he added an extra SIM card, then a spare battery, then a battery charger, and something else. We reached the tipping point. I said I wanted one more incentive, so he added a lightweight tripod. I bought the camera. Win-win.

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Other cultures are different. Fact.

If you are doing business with people from other cultures, you need to understand (and accept) that they are different, they behave differently, their values and norms are not the same as yours. And that’s a fact.

Some years ago, a central African country obtained a large cash injection from the EU for a project that was never implemented. A couple of years later they applied to the EU again for aid for a different project.

On that occasion, the rotating Presidency of the EU rested with a certain northern European country, who asked the Africans, “Where is the money we gave you for the last project?” No answer.

The Africans repeated their appeal for aid, but made no reference to the previous grant. In frustration, the EU President said, “We are happy to give you the aid for the new project, but if you didn’t use the last grant, show us the money and we will top it up for the new project.” No answer.

The Europeans then closed down their diplomatic mission and pulled out of the African country. They saw things in black and white and could not understand why the Africans were unable to show them the money or explain where it was.

I was reminded of that incident when I sent a sum of money to India in support of a good cause. Even allowing for variable conversion rates, the sum that arrived was 15-20% lower than I expected. I asked for a paper trail, but nothing happened, but I gather that the money had travelled through two or three banks.

Pandit Nehru once said that cash transactions in India (as in government spending) were like passing a block of ice from hand to hand: it would inevitably be smaller on arrival than when it started out.

It is, of course, easy to condemn. However, I as explained in my book, “Communicating Across Cultures”, different nations have different values and different ways of doing things. In the book I defined culture as “the way we do things around here”. And, of course, each nation has its own way of doing things, which will often be very different from your own.

Accepting that is the way to cross-cultural understanding. It’s the starting point.

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Not another sales call !

I get quite a number of calls from call centres, all scoring high on the annoying scale. As you know, if you have ever been afflicted by that menace, the callers suffer from poor training and impossibly bad scripts.

They tax my patience and exhaust my tolerance. And I will confess to being less than polite on occasion. All right, every occasion.

This morning I had a call that started suspiciously like a call centre approach. “Sorry,” I said, “you’re calling from where?”

The caller repeated the company’s name, but it meant nothing to me so, still in call-centre-response mode, I asked, “Why are you calling me?”

Fortunately my tone had not quite turned hostile, because the caller said I had been recommended as a sales trainer, and would I do some training for them?


You get my point, don’t you? Dangerous to leap to conclusions or make your mind up before you have all the facts …that’s fairly obvious. But there’s something else besides.

I had allowed those call centre agents to change my attitude to unknown callers. Through their irritating ways they had created the wrong automatic response in me, and that was the greater danger.

It reminded me to act in accordance with my own norms.

As Polonius said to his son, “This above all, to thine own self be true.” You never know, but the next person to cross your path may be trying to do you some good.

So let me do just that for you.  I’ve written an e-Book called The Voice of Leadership, and I’d like to send it to you with my compliments. To get it, just go to and click on the image at the bottom right hand corner of the page.

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Get the words right

My Maths teacher at school, Mr Banerjee, one day asked us to define ‘parallel lines’.  My friend Bill piped up: “Lines that never meet.” Mr Banerjee drew two lines on the blackboard, angled to one another, like the sides of a cone, not meeting. “If extended,” clarified Bill. Mr Banerjee then extended the lines at the wider end. “In both directions,“ said Bill, realising he had been caught out.

That little exercise focused our minds on the need for precision in language, and has stayed with me these many years. Lack of precision in the use and choice of words can have two significant effects on the reader or listener. Both negative.

It can communicate something very different from your intention, and it can diminish you in the other person’s eyes. Today I’ll focus on the latter.

I’ve been reading a thriller on Kindle by someone who is described as a best-selling author, scriptwriter and former newspaper journalist. It’s not a bad read, especially as Kindle allows me to read very fast.

However, I keep stumbling over the mis-use of words and misspellings that interfere with the author’s credentials, as far as this reader is concerned.

She has one of her characters pouring over some maps, instead of poring over them. She describes someone else as a business magnet instead of magnate, and she has the main character focussing on something or other, instead of focusing on it.

The book seems to have been published by a mainstream publisher, albeit a small one. It wasn’t self-published. So how did it get past the editor or proof reader? But more importantly, how come a newspaper journalist doesn’t know the difference between words that sound the same but have greatly different meanings?

As I contemplated writing this, I realised that I will be called a nit picker or a pedant. So be it.

Among the attributes I admire in writers are erudition and education. Of course I will excuse those who have compelling tales to tell, such as harrowing personal experiences, but those are rare exceptions. Their stories will surmount the errors in their language.

In general, a writer must command the respect of the reader. That respect is lost when solecisms occur. Even The Times is guilty. Not long ago they ran a headline which included the word “span” instead of “spun” (as in “span out of control”).

A lifetime ago, a brilliant New Zealander called Eric Partridge wrote a book called “Usage and Abusage”. I recommend it to writers and editors. And to anyone else who writes about their business, in sales letters, brochures or on websites.

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