This is the 2nd post in the NON-MBA blog series. You can see the full collection at The NON-MBA.
If you haven’t seen Jon Favreau’s new film “Chef” yet, I highly encourage you to do so.
He plays a chef from Los Angeles and at one point he’s teaching his 10 year old son how to make Cuban sandwiches that they’re giving away to people on the street.
He goes into detail about how it’s important to wait until the cheese is ever-so-slightly melted and that the bread is golden brown. If it’s undercooked then the cheese won’t be melted correctly. If it’s overcooked then the bread will be burned.
It needs to be just right.
After he’s done explaining this, he goes back to doing other things while glancing over every so often to make sure his son is doing it correctly. At one point, the chef looks down and sees that one of the sandwiches is burned.
He quickly says to his son,”Oh. That one’s burned – just throw it away and make a new one.”
His son replies,”But why? They’re not paying for them.”
He immediately stops what he’s doing and tells his son to follow him outside. He explains to his son that he cares about the food that he creates. That through food, he’s able to touch people’s lives. That it’s not about whether or not the person paid $100 or if they paid nothing at all, he refuses to serve anything other than his best.
He refused to sell a product that he didn’t care about.
You need to believe in your product. Quality needs to be placed above all else. Lots of people can sell products that they don’t truly believe in (or to people that don’t really need them), but this is a short-term strategy that’s doomed to fail.
If you don’t believe in the product, don’t sell it. If your business is creating a product that you don’t believe in, either fix the product or change the business. Building a business around anything other than a quality product or service is not going to work in the long run.
The quality of your product needs to be something that you’re unwilling to compromise.
Quality is difficult to define, but for our purposes here, think of it as the “value for money for a specific customer.” On an objective scale, a Rolls Royce might be of higher quality than a Honda Civic, but it also costs a lot more.
Another way to look at it would be,”If the person I’m trying to sell to was my mother (assuming that my mother had the same needs, budget, etc. of this customer), would you still want them to buy your product or would you direct them to somebody else’s?”
You need to believe in your product. Using sales techniques and buyer psychology is fine, but it needs to be built on top of a framework of quality.
That’s what it means to sell like a human.
So assuming you have a great product that you believe in, one of the first things you need to learn how to do is to sell. Sales is the underlying framework of all business.
Sales cure all.” – Mark Cuban
Learning how to sell is much more than just convincing someone to buy your product. It’s learning how to sell yourself. It’s selling a technical cofounder and an early team on your vision. It’s convincing them to leave the security of their jobs and take a huge risk with you. It’s selling investors on your idea. It’s selling partners and joint ventures.
While there are a few good resources that I’ll go into later, sales is highly experiential. You need to do it to get better.
I learned sales while selling cell phone contracts and car stereos. I had a boss who was a great salesman. I learned a bunch of little techniques like this one:
If you’re selling someone a physical product face-to-face, hand it to them. If you’re physically holding something, your brain imagines that you own it. You begin to convince yourself that you should buy it to remove the cognitive dissonance between “I’m holding something” and “I’m owning something.”
The act of asking someone for money is usually out of people’s comfort zones. It shouldn’t be. If you’re selling a product that you truly believe in, you’re helping people. Your customers have a problem that you’re helping them to solve.
Be honest and authentic. If you find out from talking to a customer that there’s actually another product that’s better for them than yours (and you’re not planning on branching into that market), point them towards the other product. In other words, be a human. If you do this enough times, you establish yourself as “that really helpful person” instead of “that sleazy salesperson” and the net benefit is much higher.
You can read about sales all day long (and the reading list is coming up), but practicing selling is where you’ll really learn. You didn’t think you could get an MBA, even the NON-MBA, without assignments – right?
Do at least three of these tasks to put your sales machine in motion:
- Find something in your house that you don’t use anymore and sell it online (eBay, Craigslist, Gumtree, etc.). Notice that I didn’t say “post” it online, I said “sell” it online. If that means you need to make multiple posts or tweak your copy, all the better. eBay allows you to look at expired posts. Compare the posts where products like yours sold well to the ones where they didn’t. What do you notice? Google around for “how to write an eBay post that sells well.” Try to identify a burning pain that this product solves and be creative in telling your customer how this pain will be soothed.
- For the next 30 days, every time you see an advertisement or copy that makes you really want to buy something, save it somewhere. Save it to a specific bookmark folder in your browser, Evernote, Pocket, cut it out of a magazine, take a picture of it with your phone – it doesn’t matter how, just save it. At the end of the 30 days, look through them and try to determine what it is exactly that makes you want to purchase it so much.
- Get three salespeople to sell to you for at least 10 minutes. This could be a car salesperson, someone at a retail store, someone who tries to stop you on the street for whatever people stop you on the street for – and just let them sell you. Engage with them, come up with objections and see how they overcome them. Pay attention to their techniques.
- Sell a personal service. If you’re just getting started in sales, this will likely be more difficult than selling an object from your house. That being said, it’s important to get comfortable selling yourself. You can use some of the same sites that you used to sell your household item, but sell something that you’re going to do for people. If you speak more than one language, sell language lessons. If you’re a writer, sell articles. If you can’t think of anything, look at the services other people are offering – offer to vacuum and shampoo somebody’s carpets if you have to. And when you do land a job, over-deliver. This isn’t about finding a scalable business, it’s about gaining experience selling yourself. Additionally, there’s a psychological boost you’ll get when you exchange goods or services for money.
While doing these exercises, refine your sales techniques by reading or listening to these resources:
- Get some virtual mentors. The people you most want to be your mentor are probably not going to want to mentor you. It’s unfortunate, but true. The good news is that with the advent of smartphones, we have a great tool that acts as a sort of virtual mentorship: podcasts. Try to set aside some time every week (or every day) to listen to a few minutes of a podcast. I recommend starting with The Tropical MBA, James Altucher or Mixergy. Scroll through their libraries and start listening to the episodes that sound interesting.
- How to win friends and influence people. Sales, networking, business development – all of these things boil down to communication and interaction between people. This book will give you a good baseline if you’re not naturally charismatic (I’m not) and help you feel more comfortable around people.
- The Ultimate Sales Machine. Hands down one of the best books on sales that I’ve ever read.
- The Four Hour Workweek. If you’re at all interested in entrepreneurship, you’ve probably heard of this book. It’s polarizing. Some people hate it and some people love it. I love it. I don’t agree with everything he says, but reading this book will absolutely change the way you think about business.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This book isn’t about sales or even business, it’s a philosophy book. However, the author talks about the virtue of Quality a lot and I’m a firm believer, as I’ve said above, that quality lies at the base of any good business (or life).
Check out the 3rd installment of The NON-MBA series at Take productive action first
As usual, if you have questions, comments, other sales tactics or ideas, please leave them in the comments below.