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The ‘Old School’ Factors that Lead to 21st-Century Sales…

"All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust." – Bob Burg

When I first started out as a business owner, marketing my freelance copywriting services, I was very aware of my biggest constraint:

I was a lousy salesperson.

When I was a kid, I had a hard time selling raffle tickets to my own grandmother.

And all the books I was reading said that I had to be a “natural salesperson” or I couldn’t be successful in business.

So, let me cut to the chase: That is completely wrong.


You do need to understand how selling works if you want your business to thrive — whether it’s a big organization or a one-person show.

Yes, you can hire sales professionals, but you can’t outsource the fundamentals of creating an environment where people feel inclined to buy from you.

It’s your job to figure out what makes people buy the kind of thing you have to offer.

And that’s absolutely something you can learn. You don’t have to be “born” understanding how selling works, any more than you have to be “born” knowing how to play the piano, or “born” knowing how to ski. Some people take to those activities more quickly, but all of us can learn them.

No school like the old school

I decided to fix my deficient skills by studying traditional sales experts like Zig Ziglar and Jeffrey Gitomer, then figuring out how I could make their advice my own.

People often make a distinction between “selling” and “marketing,” but I follow John E. Kennedy’s definition of marketing and advertising as “salesmanship in print.” (Or pixels, as the case may be.)

So instead of making cold calls or face-to-face visits, I create words on web pages that act as my salespeople.

Reading the advice of these sales trainers and ad men, I discovered that good selling isn’t about trying to pressure anyone. It’s about helping people bridge the gap between what they have and what they want.

One of my favorite “old school” pieces of advice was articulated by Bob Burg:

“All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”

Smart salespeople know how to create that “know-like-trust” response in a few moments of interaction. On the web, we pursue the same goal by constructing an environment that cultivates those responses.

Creating an environment where selling can happen

Good, relevant, and strategic content is one of the best ways to construct that kind of sales-friendly environment.

It lets you attract new people to your business or project, then gives them an enjoyable place to hang out while they get comfortable with you.

Smart content lets your prospects educate themselves about what you have to offer, so that when they do decide to buy, they know they’re making a wise choice.

Getting to know you

It’s a cliché that we’re living in an age of astonishing technological change.

The mobile phone in your pocket has more computing power than NASA used to land astronauts on the moon.

And with the internet, you have a communication tool of equal potency. The internet connects us to people all over the globe, far more than we could ever meet face to face, and allows us to have complex, rich interactions.

The trick is to be interesting enough that people want to know more about you.

Given all of their options — the endless stream of content shared on Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium, Pinterest, Instagram, and a hundred other platforms — what is it about your content that attracts someone and gets them to want to know you better?

As you’re building your sales-friendly content environment, think about ways people can get to know you once they’ve found your site.

  • What are you all about?
  • What products and services do you offer?
  • What’s different about your approach?
  • How about your free content — is it worth their time?
  • What can you help them with?
  • What kinds of problems do you solve?

Getting to like (or love) you

As we’ve seen over and over with YouTube celebrities, just because your audience knows you doesn’t mean they necessarily like you.

If you want to rack up views of people watching you eat detergent capsules, attention might be enough. But if you’re actually selling something, attention is just the beginning.

There are so many small businesses today. Most of us have become spoiled — we see no reason to do business with anyone we don’t like.

Except our internet providers. We’ve got a ways to go on that one.

If you aren’t an internet provider, your customers actually have to like you.

Liking comes, in large measure, from shared values. Red or blue? Big or small? Do you love dogs, the planet, your flag and country, babies, justice, equality, freedom?

Your values and beliefs are a big part of how we decide whether or not we like you.

In the fragmented culture of the early 21st century, there’s no position you can take that will make everyone like you, so don’t try.

You can be applesauce (most people like it okay). Or you can be kimchee (a lot of people hate it, but the ones who love it are passionate about it).

Applesauce worked reasonably well for 20th-century sales and marketing.

In the 21st century, you need to be kimchee.

Getting to trust you

Even if your audience loves you, that doesn’t automatically translate to trust.

We can connect with millions of other people all over the globe. And, if we’re bad people, we can scam them.

Facts that aren’t facts, people who aren’t people. We live in a Philip K. Dick world that might not quite be a dystopia, but it has its dangers.

Here’s another old-school sales maxim:

The confused mind does not buy.

Our smartphone-carrying, pseudo-sophisticated selves are driven by a Paleolithic, predator-obsessed brain that’s watching all the time for threats.

As soon as your potential buyer gets nervous or confused, she’ll stop dead in her tracks and wait to see if she can sort the situation out.

And then something else will catch her interest, and she’s gone.

To create the trust needed to complete a transaction, your message must be perfectly clear.

That means a clear call to action, a compelling benefit that you communicate well, and website design that’s easy to navigate and understand at a glance.

You also need to send plenty of signals that you’re one of the good guys. Everything from your guarantee to a Better Business Bureau badge to your social media following sends a signal of safety.

Customers won’t complete any transaction with you (even an email opt-in) if they don’t feel safe.

Selling doesn’t stop there

There’s more to selling, of course, than creating an environment where prospects know, like, and trust you.

But if you don’t create that environment, the most brilliant sales and marketing techniques in the world are going to underperform for you.

So start there — and check in regularly to make sure you’re still creating an environment that’s friendly to sales.

How about you?

Do you consider yourself a good salesperson? Have you ever thought about sharpening up those skills?

Let us know in the comments. 🙂

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