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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Yesterday I was writing a long article entitled: "7 Big Lies About Marketing." I'll have it available to all More Clients subscribers in a week or so. It really addresses the issue of why so many people are resistant to and avoid marketing activities. 

Well, it took me most of the day to write it, so I didn't have much time to write the eZine. So, instead, I'm including an excerpt from the article on the selling process. 

Marketing Lie #5 - Selling is Nothing But Manipulation

If marketing is difficult for some people, selling is even harder. In the same way that marketing is seen as dishonest, selling is seen as manipulative. However, if we look closely, we’ll see that selling is most effective when it’s not manipulative. 

The dictionary defines manipulation as: “Control or influence over a person – cleverly, unfairly or unscrupulously.”

Do some people use manipulation in selling? No question about it. But do you have to? No you don’t. And in my experience, a non-manipulative approach to selling is much more powerful and effective than manipulation can ever be. 

Let’s define selling: “Give or hand over something in exchange for money.” So when you sell your services, your prospects get your professional services and you get paid for that. Nothing inherently manipulative in that, is there?

I recently asked one of my clients who is a sales management consultant what he thought the biggest mistake people made in the selling process. He said, “Spending too much time trying to convince people.”

He hit the nail on the head. If all your attention is primarily focused on convincing people that your services are great and that they should buy them, you are bound to cross the line into manipulation.

But isn’t that exactly what selling is – convincing people to buy from you? Well, no it is not. Not even close.

The purpose of selling is to discover if there is a legitimate match between your clients' needs and wants and your ability to meet those needs and wants by providing your professional services. And you don’t get to that match by trying to convince someone of anything! 

How you get to an agreement to work together is by first discovering, in great depth, exactly what those needs and wants are. A selling conversation that works is where you ask questions and listen about 3/4 to 2/3 of the time and talk about 1/4 to 1/3 of the time.

And you’re not asking questions and listening so that you can say the right words to manipulate your prospect into buying!

You are asking questions and listening to determine if there’s a real fit.

You want to know about three key areas: The prospects situation – what’s working and what’s not working; the prospect’s goals – where they want to go; and the prospect’s challenges – what is holding them back from achieve their goals.

Yes, you must be prepared; yes, you must ask the right questions and really listen; yes you must know what to say and how to say what’s necessary to match their needs to your solution. But no manipulation, i.e., coercion, on your part is required.

After you’ve learned all of this from a prospect, you should know very clearly whether or not your services will fit their needs. And that’s when you explain in a very straightforward way exactly how you can help them. And ultimately, if you are on track, your prospect will agree that your solution is a good choice. 

If it's not you should let them know. After all, there's nothing worse than signing up a client where you don't feel confident that your services will serve that client. Things will just backfire on you. I've seen it happen many times.   

When Independent Professionals start to think of selling this way, all the effort and struggle drops away. Since you’re not trying to convince someone to do anything they don’t want to do, what’s left is real interest, openness, and a focus on making a difference. 

What people discover when they approach selling this way is that they get little resistance from the prospect. It’s a cooperative exploration of possibilities, not a confrontation.  

How do you approach selling non-manipulatively? Please feel free to share it on the Blog by clicking on the Comemnts link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

In the Mastery Conference, a couple weeks ago, I recommended a book that helps with generating creative ideas. 

The book is called "How to Get Ideas" by Jack Foster. 

I hadn't looked at it for years, so I pulled it off my bookshelf and started reading it again. And just as I remembered, it's a brilliant book, well written, not too long that just triggers ideas left and right. 

This eZine is not a book review, but is inspired by some of the ideas in the book. 

Like many books, it lists some quotes at the beginning of every chapter. This may be my favorite:

"We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything."

- Thomas Edison. 

Well, he should know with 1,093 patents to his name, Edison was the founder of our modern technological society (for good or for bad)! He certainly knew more about almost everything than anyone in his time. 

But by his own admission, Edison realized that he really didn't know diddly.

Look, take a very common thing, say a pen. I'm sure you have one in your office. What exactly are the materials made of; what are its exact dimensions; why was it designed that way; how was the ink manufactured, the spring in the barrel; where was the metal mined for the ink refill, and for the pen itself; if it's made of plastic, where did that come from? 

And there's more. Why was this pen named the name is has; who thought up the idea and designed this specific pen? How was it marketed, how was it distributed? What stores sell the most of them; what is the profit margin for a pen - for the manufacturer, for the store selling it?

I'm quite confident I could ask questions about that pen all day long. Right now all I really know is that it's a pen I use it for writing. All those other questions? Like Edison said, I don't know a millionth of one percent. 

Now this is just a pen. And there are several billion other things in our world, some naturally formed and some made by humans. And how much do you know about all of these things. Again, virtually nothing! 

Now, think about marketing. How much don't you know about marketing? Well, if Edison was right, we know virtually nothing about marketing. (By the way, a millionth of one percent is a hundred millionth of something.)

So, here we are, Independent Professionals who want to know something about marketing and we actually think that what there is to know is finite. 

After all, I have my 7 Marketing Principles, right? If you know those 7 principles you'll know all you need to know? Right?

Well, those might be a starting point. But even I don't know a millionth of one percent of each of those principles. No kidding. Even though I'm pretty successful at marketing myself and helping my clients market themselves, I still realize I know virtually nothing!

Yet people often think that just one little technique applied successfully is all they need to know. 

So first, get over yourself. 

You will never really know much about marketing, but do you see how that actually opens up huge possibilities? There are thousands of variations, fine tunings, adaptations, combinations, etc. that could take your marketing to a whole new level. 

And that's where this book comes in. It gives you a ton of great ideas to generate ideas. And now that you know that the possible ideas for marketing are virtually infinite, you can stop looking for "the right answer" and start generating a whole lot of answers.

When people tell me they can't come up with any new marketing ideas, I often tell them the story of Frances Snyder, a business writer. She came to me many years ago looking for help with her marketing. She told me she wouldn't network or cold call.

So I asked her if she had any ideas. "Well, yes," she said, "I'd like to take pictures of my siberian husky, Mutombo, and put them on mailing pieces I'd send out to a list of businesses." 

Crazy idea, right? 

But after digging a little I saw how passionate she was about her dog. So we took that idea and ran with it. Over the next three years she did a monthly mailing with pictures of Mutombo, along with some great writing and artwork. 

Did it work? Amazingly well. She got customers such as Bank of America! And heck, that was just one simple idea. 

My suggestion: Get a copy of "How to Get Ideas" and jumpstart your creativity. You can get it on a Kindle for $9.99 and be generating new ideas in just a few minutes! I am.   

What do you do to generate creative ideas in your business? Please feel free to share it on the Blog by clicking on the Comemnts link below.

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

In the recent Marketing Mastery Conference I gave a presentation on "Beyond Byron Katie" that generated results I hadn't anticipated. 

As you may know, I've been applying The Work of Byron Katie to work with my clients for over ten years. As soon as I learned her process I knew it was what I had been looking for.

In marketing and selling there is one big issue - the "Elephant in the Room," so to speak. And that's resistance, avoidance and stuckness regarding marketing. 

In fact as soon as the ideas of marketing and selling are raised, there is an immediate reaction in a large percentage of people, and the reaction is not positive. It's massively negative for almost everyone. 

In other words, it pushes a lot of buttons - fear, rejection, ridicule, manipulation, dishonesty, hype, doubt, mistrust and a whole lots of other thoughts and feelings that make us want to get up and run the other way.

Byron Katie's work faces these things head on. Her work is simple to the extreme. It first asks us to question our beliefs, thoughts, assumptions, judgments and virtually anything we think is true about something we're resisting.

Is that belief you have about marketing true? Can you absolutely know that it's true? And when you believe it's true, how do you react, how do you behave, how do you avoid, how do you freak out?

And just asking this is revolutionary because we are addicted to believing our thoughts. Worse than any heroin addict. So asking if one's beliefs are true is very rude. It's insulting to who we think we are. So you can only do this work with someone who has agreed to explore and find the truth. 

Marketing leads to rejection, is manipulative and dishonest. 

Are those beliefs true? And we explore from there. 

But what I discovered doing The Work on my own beliefs and those of my clients is that it was actually hard to come up with and state a belief that was triggering my stuckness or avoidance. 

"What is a limiting belief you have about marketing?"

"Uh, I'm not sure. Maybe I just don't like to market and have to work at getting better at it."

Well, that leads nowhere. 

But I made a recent discovery from another author, Peter Ralston, in his "Book of Not Knowing" Ralston is an advocate of inquiry, much like Byron Katie, however He adds one piece to The Work that can dramatically increase its effectiveness. 

And that is to first ask: Describe your behavior. Describe how you are actually behaving or avoiding. What does your resistance manifest as? How are you demonstrating your aversion?

Do you see how this is so much easier to access?

In the workshop I asked a participant what avoidance behavior she was acting out in her business. The answer was immediate: "I avoid any kind of conflict, especially when someone is dissatisfied in any way with my work."

We talked about this a little more and explored what triggered this kind of avoidance. And then we dove in to find the belief. I asked her: "What would you have to believe to keep avoiding conflict at any cost?"

You see, the belief is hidden beneath the avoidance. We notice the avoidance, we notice the suffering and pain it's causing, but we don't see the belief underneath, driving it all. 

The belief was pretty clear: "Conflict leads to pain."

And if that's what she believed, then wouldn't it be crazy to expose herself to any potential conflict? That's like putting your hand over a gas burner or hitting yourself on the head with a baseball bat! 

So if the belief, "Conflict leads to pain" was absolutely true, then it sure would make sense to avoid conflict. But what if it wasn't true? 

Now that's where things get interesting. After all, it seems true. It seems that conflict does lead to pain. 

So then I asked, "Can you absolutely know that conflict always leads to pain?" When you question a little more deeply, it tends to undermine the certainty. 

"Absolutely and always? well, I guess not. I see that facing possible conflict could actually resolve some things. If I expected conflict anytime a client was dissatisfied with my work I'm missing the chance to come to a resolution that would satisfy the client. That won't happen if I hide my head in the sand."

So asking those first questions results in a change of perspective. 

And the third question leads to transformation, that is a completely new possibility can arise with this question:

"Who would you be if you could no longer attach to that belief?"

With that question we're saying if effect, if that old, limiting belief were impossible to even think anymore, what would be left in its place? 

Wouldn't there be openness, space, freedom and lightness?

Wouldn't you be someone who could hold conflict lightly, in a sort of detached way? Conflict wouldn't be any more significant than a carpet or a chair. It would just be. 

Try to imagine something that completely triggers you and pulls you around by the nose every time you think of it. Then gently release the attachment and see it drift away like a balloon rising up into the air as you gently let go it. 

That wasn't so hard, right?

I continued. "So now are you starting to see that this belief about conflict is not inherently upsetting? It's just a situation. It's a client who is dissatisfied right now. But with your avoidance you have no power to handle this like an adult."

"Conflict leads to pain. Just a belief, right? But not a very empowering one for you in your business. So why not try another belief. One that could be more useful to you. It's not true either, but it might work better for you. Do you have one?"

"Hmm, how about, conflict can lead to improving my service?

"If I see every time a client is dissatisfied I can see that as an opportunity to make things work better to decrease satisfaction in the future."

That's a pretty good one, don't you think? There's even a book about that. It's called "A Complaint is a Gift" by Janelle Barlow. 

And with that, the Bryon Katie Work ended. 

I don't know about everyone else in the room, but I felt infused with a feeling of Infinite Possibility. After all, if in only a few minutes you can transform a painful belief to one that opens up new vistas for making your business better, what wouldn't be possible?

Do you have any examples of doing The Work and the difference it's made? Please feel free to share it on the Blog by clicking on the Comments link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

As you might have noticed, I'm on a kind of tear about selling these past few weeks. 

You see, selling is the place you can leverage yourself better than any other marketing activity. 

By knowing how to increase your closing percentage, the fees for your service and the size of your contracts, you can increase your income by 300% or more. 

During the past four years, (2009-2012) I offered my Marketing Mastery Program, and by doing all of the above, I dramatically increased my income - 20 new clients in about 6 weeks for a $10K program that generated close to $250K/yr.

But it actuality takes more than doing the things mentioned above to get more clients to work with you. It's not just selling a bigger program and increasing your rates. Truthfully, anyone could do that with a little extra work.

The real skill is getting your prospect excited about working with you and saying yes, despite the cost and the involvement in such a program.

And if you don't master this process, your selling is simply going to s**k compared to what's really possible.   

This past weekend I held my 4th Marketing Mastery Conference with past participants of the Mastery Program, plus a few of my existing clients. 

I told them that I wanted to demonstrate my selling process, not just talk to them about it. 

Well, due to the limitations of the written word and the fact that I didn't record this session, I'm going to explain as best I can the most important thing I do during the selling process.

You might sum this up best as "total attention on the prospect."

Here's the thing, when you are sitting down or talking on the phone with a prospect, you are thinking a lot about how you will impress them by what you have to offer and how much it will help them. 

But if that's where your attention is, do you have your full attention on the prospect? No you don't, and that division of your attention is what sinks the sale.

So I'm saying 100% of your attention needs to be devoted to the prospect.

In that selling conversation (which we re-dubbed "possibility session" instead of "strategy session" in the conference), you'll be mostly asking questions and really listening to the prospect. 

How often does that happen in everyday life?

Not a whole lot, right? No, our listening is more like waiting for the other person to stop talking, so that we can then share our brilliant insights or observations or tell our clever story. 

And anything even remotely like that kind of conversation, absolutely kills your selling effectiveness. This truly becomes s**ky selling. 

It's not about you. It's ALL about them. 

It's not about your brilliant ideas, it's all about their brilliant ideas. 

It's not about your clever answers, it's about their clever answers. 

Just imagine talking to a prospect for an hour or more and just being fascinated, riveted, entranced and deeply engaged with this person – and you hardly say anything! 

You just gently steer the conversation by asking questions.

And, by the way, you can't fake this. It's impossible. If the prospect feels you are faking interest, they will write you off as a fake or perhaps worse. They won't even know this consciously, but they'll know it in the pit of their stomach.

OK, think of the next person you're going to have a selling conversation with. Look at your plan and your questions and then think as deeply as you possibly can about how you can spend most of the time with your undivided attention on them. 

Now, as I said, this is a little hard to completely explain through the written word. You really need to see this process in action, or at least listen to a conversation like this. 

Believe it or not, it's not something that most Independent Professionals have ever heard or witnessed. They've rarely experienced anything close to this. 

Sure, they may have done role plays, but they've never heard an actual authentic selling conversation based on the practice of "total attention on the prospect." 

And this is why selling tends to s**k so much! 

Nobody has a real model they can emulate. Almost all the models we've been taught or seen are in some way manipulative in some way or the other, with way too much attention on the seller, not the buyer.  

To that end, I want to invite you to attend my new Virtual Workshop held in 5 sessions from October 16th to December 4th.

The title is, "The Secrets to Closing the Big Sale"

But as you may have gathered, it's a lot more than just closing the sale, it's diving deeply into every single aspect of the selling process. 

And the centerpiece of this workshop are actual live selling conversations, real and unexpurgated. I don't do role plays. I can only make it real. 

This kind of demo tends to blow people's mind somewhat!

At the conference, after doing my selling demo, two things happened: 

1. The person I did the demo with signed up for my services. 

2. People who witnessed the demo told me that their whole paradigm of selling shifted completely. 

This is the kind of experience I want to invite you to.

I hope you can attend. And, by the way, if you are unable to attend live, every session will be recorded and there will be a lot of supplemental material to study so you can go through the whole program on your own schedule. 

To find out more about the Virtual Workshop, go here:

www.actionplan.com/big-sale-virtual  

What have you found is the most important thing in the selling conversation? Please feel free to share it on the Blog by clicking on the Comments link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Last week, I talked about how to make selling easier by using a script or an outline. This gives you a "track to run on" and ensures that you cover the essential areas of the selling conversation. 

Today, I want to talk about a number of selling mistakes commonly made by Independent Professionals or anyone involved in the selling process. 

Some of these may be familiar, some may be ones you're trying to correct, and some you don't even see as mistakes. But making any of them can dramatically decrease your sales effectiveness. Correcting them can lead to more sales success. 

1. Not opening the selling conversation with the purpose of the conversation. You need to make it very clear what your purpose and expectations of this conversation are. If you don’t, you fail to set the tone and direction of the meeting. 

"David, the purpose of this meeting is to learn more about your situation, your goals and your challenges in your business (or other area of your life). At the end of this conversation, if I think I can help you, I'll explain how I help my clients produce results in this area. Are we on the same page?"

2. Salesperson’s disease – talking too much. Selling is about 3/4 listening and 1/4 talking, perhaps 2/3 and 1/3, at most. Don’t fall in love with the sound of your voice. Know what you’re going to say and say it! No hype, exaggeration, etc. needed.

This is greatly helped if you have a script or outline. Three quarters of the script is questions and getting the prospect to talk. But some are so afflicted with this disease that it's hard to see that they are talking so much. You might want to record a selling conversation (with the prospect's permission) to see how much you talk and how much you listen.  

3. Not telling any stories – You don’t want everything you talk about to be conceptual. Tell stories about clients you’ve worked with who have experienced similar issues as your prospect.

Stories are effective because they are emotional. Facts carry little emotion. So weave the facts into your stories: "I had a client you couldn't break the $50,000 income barrier. She worked long hours and tried so much, but nothing worked. But when she learned how to raise her prices and increase her selling ratio, her income went up to $150,000 in less than a year." 

4. Going into "salesperson mode." This is beyond talking too much, it's resorting to hyperbole, exaggeration and even confrontation. Listening has stopped and the pressure is amped up to uncomfortable levels. 

Unfortunately this is the behavior of the stereotypical salesperson that some think is necessary to make sales. The truth is that this behavior is a turn-off and will halt any word-of-mouth business. Tone it down and listen more.  

5. Going into passive mode. This is the opposite of the above and just as ineffective. In order to show that you're not a hard pressure sales person you avoid any enthusiasm, and when you present your services you come off as flat and boring.

You may think, "I don't want this prospect to think I'm conning them, after all, I'm a professional!" We need to find the middle way, where we talk about our services with natural enthusiasm, ask insightful questions and see if we can really help this prospect with our professional services. 

6. Failing to bring up objections. Standard sales training teaches us how to handle objections. But advanced sales training shows how to bring up any possible objections before they become issues (often unspoken ones) that sink the sale. 

For instance, if your coaching services require a lot of work on the part of the client, don't hide that. It will only come up as an objection later on. Instead, confront it directly: "If you work with me, it means you'll be doing most of the implementation, and that means a lot of work. Are you up to that?" 

7. Turning closing into a confrontation. Closing simply means asking a question about what the prospect wants. So you might ask, "Can you see yourself succeeding with your teams by using my TeamExcel approach?" This lets you know if they are interested on not. 

This is different than asking, "OK, would you like to move ahead with my TeamExcel approach?" See the difference? The first one is checking on agreement and leaves space for more conversation, whereas the second one is more like an ultimatum, which can be awkward.

What mistakes have you made in the selling conversation? Please share your experience by clicking on the Comments link below. 

Complimentary TeleClass

Please attend my TeleClass: "Secrets to Closing the Big Sale." Thursday, September 26 at 12 noon. This TeleClass is an introduction to my Virtual Workshop of the same name, starting on Wednesday, October 16. If you are not getting the results you want from your selling, attend this teleclass where we'll cover the following:

- Why we need to plan selling as much as we plan marketing

- The 5 Selling Skills that we must have (but don't even know about)

- Why the process of selling is more important than "salesmanship"

- The 5 mistakes in the selling process and why we make all of them

- The key essentials of making bigger sales

Make your reservation at this link 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

What is selling? Well it's a lot of things, but my basic definition of selling is: 

"Converting a qualified prospect into a paying client."

That's easy to understand. But what selling actually is, is a more complex question. Thousands of books have been written about this. Today, hundreds or perhaps thousands of sales workshops and seminars are being conducted around the country. 

And what is taught in these books and workshops? Here are just a few of the most popular topics:

    - How to build rapport and trust

    - How to ask questions and listen

    - How to understand the buyer's motivations

    - How to qualify a prospective buyer

    - How to find the prospect's pain

    - How to build interest and desire

    - How to present benefits and features

    - How to close the sale

    - How to respond to objections

    - How to get the first payment

I'm sure you could think of a dozen more. The truth is, there are a lot of principles of successful selling, and one should endeavor to learn these skills to sell more successfully. 

Selling is Like Acting

Selling is a lot like the profession of acting. An actor's job is to sell the audience on the reality of the scene he or she is playing. Even though you know a play or movie is "make believe," a good actor helps you suspend disbelief and feel that what is up on the stage or screen is true-to-life.

Now imagine that we have a very good actor. This is someone with years of experience, great reviews and who is a great audience draw. 

He auditions for Shakespeare's Hamlet and gets the part. But for some reason, his skill and ability has gone to his head. He decides that, because he is such a great actor, he will simply improvise his part in Hamlet. He's excited about the possibilities. 

In the first rehearsal, the female lead delivers a line from Hamlet and he responds with his own improvisation. It's good, mind you. He uses the right language, tone, emotion and accent. You believe him completely. It seems to be working. 

And then the director chimes in. "What the #%!* was that!!?? That's not Hamlet. Those are not your lines. Where's your script?" 

The actor is promptly put in his place and realizes that if he wants to improvise Shakespeare, he'd better find an "improv company" instead of a "legitimate theater company." So much for his noble and inspired experiment.

Selling is Not Improvisation 

Now here's the funny thing. Every day, in thousands of selling interviews around the world, almost all sales people are behaving just like this actor. They are well versed in all the sales skills, but they are mostly improvising.

They have either forgotten or never knew one of the most important facts about selling: 

Selling is a step-by-step process and requires a script. 

If you don't like the word, script, then we can use the world "outline." The thing to understand is that selling cannot be a random collection of sales skills improvised on the spot.  

Here's what I've discovered about selling: If you teach someone all the selling skills, no matter how well they are learned, but don't use a script, you tend to have inferior selling results. 

If you teach someone the selling process through a step-by-step script or outline, you'll have better selling results. I've seen people with mediocre sales skills still get results this way. 

And if you teach someone the process first and then help the salesperson develop the more refined selling skills to conduct this process, you will have superior selling results. 

But you should always start with the process. 

So what does this look like?

You start with a script or an outline of the selling process. For Independent Professionals, I have a detailed 11-step process. At each step you either ask a specific question or say a specific thing. You don't miss any of these steps. Each one has a purpose and accomplishes certain things. 

It's a bit like learning a play in high school drama class. You start with the script and memorize it. Then, as you deliver that script, you start to develop your acting skills. But even if one's acting skills are not highly developed yet, you still accomplish the basic purpose of the play. And with time and work, those skills will improve and so will the play. 

Steps in the Selling Process

What are the all the steps in the selling process? Well, I'm going to reduce it to fewer steps for this article, as the whole process is more than we can encompass here. There are also pre-selling steps, but for our example, we'll start with a face-to-face meeting. 

1. State the purpose of the meeting and get agreement on that purpose. 

2. Start asking questions about the prospect's situation. What's working and what's not working? 

3. Ask questions about the prospect's goals and desired future. 

4. Ask questions about the prospect's challenges. Why are they where they are now instead of where they want to go?

5. Present your solution, methodology or approach to helping your clients achieve their stated goals. 

6. Close by asking if they think they could reach their objectives by using your approach and solution. 

7. Close on price and make arrangements to move forward. 

Yes, I know this sounds too simple! But remember, it's just a bare outline. A real selling script is several pages long and takes into account every contingency, and every question a prospect may have. 

The amazing this is, if you started to use only this bare outline today for your next selling conversation, you are likely to get much better results than what you're getting right now.

Simply put: Selling based on a script or outline makes selling much easier and much more effective.

Invite to Intro TeleClass 

Starting on October 16, I'm conducting a 5-session Virtual Workshop on the complete selling process called: "Secrets to Closing the Big Sale" that is appropriate for virtually any Independent Professional. 

Next week, on September 26, I'm conducting an Introductory TeleClass on the topic and will give you a taste of some of the most important ideas from this Virtual Workshop. If you would like to attend, just go to this link and make your reservation. 

     www.actionplan.com/big-sale 

Do you use a script or outline in your selling process? How does it work for you? Please share your thoughts by clicking on the Comments link below. 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

If you've ever found yourself roaming a cavernous Costco warehouse to pick up your 12-pack Britta filers, cheap jeans or giant-sized frozen strawberries, you've also noticed something else. 

You've noticed that at the end of most of the 2-story food aisles are men and women wearing white smocks and hairnets giving out tasty food samples to the throngs of members. 

If you missed breakfast that day you can get a sample of juice, a section of organic banana, a waffle, and a piece of tasty sausage. I've got to admit that I've gone back for some of these free goodies several times, hoping I won't be noticed. 

So why does Costco do this?

Because samples sell. In fact, sampling is one of the most powerful marketing strategies of all time. Food and personal care companies have been doing it for decades. 

The famous copywriter, Claude Hopkins re-invented sampling in the 1920's by placing advertisements in newspapers for Pepsodent toothpaste, with a coupon at the bottom offering a free 10-day supply of Pepsodent. This catapulted Pepsodent to the #1 toothpaste in America for 30 Years. (Why they lost that position is a whole other story!) 

If you look around you, sampling is more common than you might think. The whole purpose of sampling is to give consumers a taste or experience of what you're offering. 

Car dealerships give test drives every day of the week, which often lead to sales. After all, how can looking at a car and reading about a car ever compare to actually driving a car? 

Apple Stores display the complete line of their computers on easy-to-reach tables for consumers to not only look at but to use. Every computer is always on and ready to play with.  

Byron Katie, the famous self-help guru, provides videos on her site of her "doing the work" with people. You get a sense of exactly what the work is in a way that the printed word doesn't.

Carl Contino, my wunderkind website developer, got my business by developing the first draft of my website on spec. I didn't have to pay anything unless I wanted to move ahead.

The question is, what samples are you offering to your prospects? 

These days, so many Independent Professionals are online where they have a great opportunity to offer samples, yet the majority still don't. 

Let's go back to marketing 101 for a minute. In marketing, your first job is to get the attention of your prospects with your message about the value that you offer. 

But that doesn't get people to buy; it just gets them interested. They want more. They want information and they want a connection or a relationship so that they feel they can trust you before they buy.  

First, you provide information on your website through content such as: explaining who you work with, how you work, the services you offer, case studies, your biography, etc. 

And you can develop a relationship through keep-in-touch marketing, usually an eZine (email newsletter) with relevant and educational topics on your area of expertise.

The truth is, most people don't do a very good job in the information department, and even fewer do anything to keep in touch. These are both things you must work on if you are to go anywhere with your business. 

But the third step is beyond information and relationship.

It's giving your prospects an experience of your work. Yes, Independent Professionals can give samples just like any other business. And if you really get this and work on making it happen, it can take your business to a level that was previously impossible. 

The art of giving experiences, for Independent professionals, is to offer experiential samples that take you little or no time. You see, if you give samples of your consulting or coaching, that can be very time consuming. 

This can certainly be done when you're going after a high-end client. In those cases, giving an introductory workshop or other kind of presentation that is NOT a sales pitch but a bona fide sample of your actual work, is very effective. 

But for all of us who work with small businesses and individual clients, this is not so practical. But there are several ways to give samples that take some up-front work and then can be delivered online or through groups and take relatively little time to offer.  

Articles and Reports

The tricky thing about written samples is that often they only convey more information. And that's not enough. An article or report that is nothing but a collection of concepts doesn't have high impact. Instead, write articles and reports based on case studies of actual client successes. 

Discuss your key ideas, but always tie them to results you actually produced. And go into enough detail that your readers get an experience of how you work. And while you're at it, why not include an audio or even video version of this article or report, as listening to someone is more experiential that reading. 

TeleClasses and Webinars

I've been doing these for close to 15 years. Because they work. If someone is looking at working with me or joining one of my programs, they want to get a sense of who I am and how I work, beyond everything they've read.

In late 2008 I launched my new Marketing Mastery Program with two simple teleclasses. The first one covered the basics of marketing and selling high-end programs and the second included a number of clients I'd worked with to share their experience of working with me and the results they'd gotten. 

I didn't do any selling on these teleclasses. I simply educated the participants and gave them an experience of me - "what you hear is what you get." In January 2009 I opened the program to enrollments, and in 6 weeks I had filled the program to capacity. I used this exact process four years in a row (and then took a well-deserved break)!

Now there are a lot of ways to offer teleclasses and webinars. There is no "one perfect system" - although some people would like to convince you that there is. The key comes back to the central idea of this article: Give them a real experience of what it would be like to work with you. 

Samples of Information Products

This simple, but powerful strategy has been used since the early 1900's. If you have a book, offer a free chapter. If you have a course, offer a free section of that course. If you have an online program, give away part of that program at no cost. 

These days it's getting harder and harder to sell information products - especially if they're about marketing for small businesses! 

When I launched the InfoGuru Marketing Manual in 2000, there was virtually no competition in this space. Now there are hundreds of competitors, all chasing the same customers and clients. And many of them first read my InfoGuru Manual!

But even if the competition is stiff, the answer is still the same - give them a sample of what you are selling. Many people will check you out because it carries no risk to them. And a certain percentage will like the sample so much, that they'll buy your info product or service without resistance.

In my experience, the way we promoted a few years ago won't work the same way today. I discovered that fewer people were willing to try out the More Clients Club free for two weeks if they needed a credit card to get in. "After all, what if I don't like it and I'm automatically charged in two weeks?" It can be a hassle to ask for a refund, so fewer and fewer people wanted to go that route. 

My solution was simple: Give prospective members of the More Clients Club a sample of the Club for free with no strings attached.

This is exactly what I did, and now a stream, instead of a dribble of people, are checking out the Club. No hype-filled persuasion required. Now people can check it out without any pressure. If what they get for free whets their appetite for more, they can join. If not, well, they got some useful ideas anyway.

So, I invite you to get access to my More Clients Marketing Sampler for two reasons: One is to get free access to some of the best material from the Club - marketing tutorials, programs, expert interviews, coaching calls and resources. The other is just to see how I've put this all together. You may be inspired to use my approach in your business as well! 

Here's the link to gain access to the Sampler:

www.actionplan.com/sampler or join by filling out the form below. 

Please let me know how you are using the "Costco Factor" by offering samples and giving experiences in your business. Just click on the Comments link below.

Free: More Clients Marketing Sampler for Independent Professionals. Get this free sampler of marketing tutorials, recordings, resources and exercises, designed to help you be a better marketer of your professional services. 

 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Yesterday, on Labor Day, I was kicking back, reading, listening to music and browsing the web. I wasn't sure if I'd write an eZine or not for today, after all, it was Labor Day! And then...

I came across a story online about this amazing 16 year old, Jack Andraka, who devised a revolutionary medical test for detecting the almost always fatal disease, pancreatic cancer. 

The idea came to him in biology class while listening to a lecture on atnibodies and reading an article on "carbon nonotubes" at the same time. It was one of those "Eureka!" moments.

What inspired me was that because he didn't know it couldn't be done he found a way to do it anyway. I've talked a lot about "friendly persistence." Well, as you'll learn in his talk, Jack should be the poster body for that powerful trait. His discovery may lead to some of the biggest breakthroughs in medical diagnosis for not only pancreatic cancer but many other diseases as well. This is not just another smart kid!

When you think about how frustrating marketing your services may be, how can those challenges even hold a candle to what this young man figured out? It may inspire you to watch this video once in awhile and jump in there with both feet and figure out how to make things work (with the help of Google, and Wikipedia, of course) in just about any area of your life.

Here's the video of his TED presentation. Be prepared to be amazed. 

You can learn more about Jack on the TED website here: Jack Andraka

Feel free to comment how this talk can inspire you in your life and your business. Just click on the Comments link below.

Free: More Clients Marketing Sampler for Independent Professionals. Get this free sampler of marketing tutorials, recordings, resources and exercises, designed to help you be a better marketer of your professional services.  

 

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By Rober Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

I'm working with a great client right now, Elmar K. He's a German, living in Denmark, who does one-on-one personal growth work called "Focusing."

We're working on developing new materials for his website and I'm guiding him through the process. His website is going to be in both German and English. Elmar's challenge is that although he speaks very good English, some of his writing comes across somewhat awkwardly. 

So I suggested that it would be a good idea to find an editor that could take his German-style English text and transform it into more accessible English. 

I told him I'd find him and editor and so I put out this announcement on Facebook:

"I need an editor. I have a German client who speaks English well, but his written materials in English come across somewhat awkwardly. I need an editor who can go over his materials and tune them up."

In about a day I got eight responses (boy if, you want to find something, anything, Facebook is incredible), and they all responded to me by email. 

As a marketer, I'm always interested in how people respond.

A couple answered saying they could do it, but said very little else except their hourly rate. A mother recommended her daughter but her website didn't look like she did this kind of work. Another gave a long list of all the services she offered, plus pricing for 17 different writing assignments, but left out editing! And her website was very impersonal and corporate looking.  

Two gave me very good responses, talking a little more about how they worked how they charged etc and their websites were very good. They were in strong contention until I got an email with this message from Maggie Dennison:

"Thank you for publishing this opportunity.

 "I can help your client. I lived in Germany for 18 years and speak fluent German: that means I can recognize what someone is trying to say simply by looking at their sentence structures and the types of mistakes they are making.

 "Often it's because they're using German structures (that I'm familiar with) that don't translate directly into English - and so the meaning gets lost or it sounds awkward.

 "My fees for editing are on a hourly basis and vary depending on how deep the edit needs to be. As a starting point, before I see the material, I'll guess $XX an hour."

To tell you the truth, how could I pick anyone else? She had absolutely nailed the issue we were dealing with and responded to that so specifically that my confidence was high that she could do the job. Not only that, her website was very personal and informative. 

I'm sure a couple of the other editors would have done a great job, but it was impossible to ignore Maggie because of her skills in this particular area.

Now I doubt that Maggie gets a lot of assignments like this, but I'm guessing that when she responds to the needs of a prospect, she customizes her response based on their specific needs and her relevant experience. 

Do you do the same?

Look, just saying you do can do something and listing your rates isn't enough. You need to make that personal connection. 

I remember years ago putting out a call for a business coach. I got a lot of responses but only one really responded specifically to my needs and showed that he was sincerely interested in and excited about working with me. I hired him for a year of coaching and he helped take my business to a whole new level. 

What matters in your messages?

Above all else, a personal message that speaks specifically to my needs and proves that they "get me." Maggie really nailed it this time and won my business just through an email. 

What are you doing to make sure your messages, emails, website, articles, etc. really connect with your prospects and get them to respond, excited to do business with you?

Please feel free to comment on the More Clients Blog by clicking on the Comments link below. 

Free: More Clients Marketing Sampler for Independent Professionals. Get this free sampler of marketing tutorials, recordings, resources and exercises, designed to help you be a better marketer of your professional services. 

 

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by Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing

Yesterday, in communicating with one client, I was explaining the results another client had just produced. And as I did, I had an ah-ah about the approach we'd used. 

This approach is really the ONLY foolproof marketing strategy. It's the only thing that has ever worked, the only thing that will continue to work and it's the only thing that works right now. And I mean for you!

So you'd think it would be very popular. 

No, quite the contrary, it is not popular at all. Now I know that's insane, but it's the truth. Successful marketers use this approach day-in and day-out, and because of it they keep getting continually better marketing results. 

But not the average Independent Professional, because they simply don't know about it or don't use it. 

Let me tell you about my client who is applying this strategy to the Nth degree. His name is Rajesh Nagjee and he lives in Dubai. He recently created a new high-end program with my help called the "CEO's Business Growth Program."

It's a one-year in-depth training, coaching and masterminding program for medium sized business in Dubai, as well as in Lagos Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya. The fee is $20,000 U.S. per company owner per year. 

We've been working intensively on his sales conversion process.

Rajesh sets up one-day introductory workshops with the help of his business associates in each area. In the past he led the workshop and then set up "group strategy sessions" with those who were interested in the full program. The thing is, his conversion rate was low - 10% or fewer of the attendees signed up for the full program. 

So we went to work to turn that around. I suggested he set up individual strategy sessions, immediately after the intro program, and then give these prospects more written information about the program to study before the strategy session. And we made a few more adjustments and tweaks as we went. 

In a couple weeks he had turned around the results to a 25% conversion rate. That's a 250% improvement!

Quick quiz: What was the strategy he used?

No it wasn't changing from group strategy sessions to individual strategy sessions. That was just one technique amongst many. No this strategy is one you can use with any technique, in any situation, marketing and selling any service or product. 

Perhaps the best name for this strategy is:

"Iterative Optimization"

As I said, it's the only thing that really works, but almost nobody does it. Another more common name for this is, "Continuous Improvement of a Process."  

Let's look at those fancy words:

Iterative means the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an "iteration," and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. 

Optimization: make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).

All this takes are some basic observation and measurement skills and some foundational marketing knowledge. 

And the strategy is actually pretty simple. 

1. Record your current processes that impact performance. That is, note the exact processes you are using now (i.e intro workshops and group sessions) and how well they are doing. 

2. Change one step or tactic in the process that has the potential to get a better result than the previous step.

3. If that new steps works, find another step in the process and work to optimize it.  

4. Continue to refine the process until you have maximized the results as far as possible. 

OK, but how is this any different from trial-and-error and fine tuning something? Well, it's quite different. 

First it's not random, but organized; it's based on actual measurement, and the changes made are based on sound marketing and sales principles.

If you don't put all of these into play, it's complete guess-work. 

Let me give you more details of how this actually worked for Rajesh. 

Rajesh told me that the group strategy sessions weren't working because people didn't show up or they didn't enroll. I told him that selling is a very personal interaction and that even though meeting individually was more time-consuming, that time would be justified if the closing rate increased. So we switched to individual strategy sessions and put them right on his calendar immediately after the introductory workshop. 

He did a few individual sessions and said they were working better but that the people were not as prepared as they should have been. So I reminded him that when people are interested in something they always want more information. So Rajesh put together a detailed overview of the full program. 

Then he told me that this worked great for the people who had read it, but some hadn't and were still not prepared. So we created a one-page checklist to give to participants to tell them exactly what to read and what to do before the strategy session. And we had them sign it and confirm verbally that they understood what to do. 

As a result, everyone who set up a strategy session showed up prepared and informed about the full program. And Rajesh's closing rate went up dramatically. For the next intro workshop, 28 attended, 14 signed up for a strategy session, and 7 enrolled in the full program. 

Now with even a little more "iterative optimization," I think he can improve these results even more.  

Why you don't do this in your marketing and why you must.

You don't do this because it seems easier to try things randomly, without a plan. It's not really easier. And it can be a lot more frustrating in the long run. But it does take some dedication and commitment (like anything else worthwhile).

But if you are serious about growing your business, this is the one strategy you must understand and work to implement consistently. If you do, the rewards can be enormous. 

This is why I've had success in helping clients increase their incomes from 50% to 300%. There was no magic in it, unless you think the words "iterative optimization" are magic. 

Perhaps they are!

What are you doing it optimize your marketing? Please feel free to comment on the More Clients Blog at the link below:

Free: More Clients Marketing Sampler for Independent Professionals. Get this free sampler of marketing tutorials, recordings, resources and exercises, designed to help you be a better marketer of your professional services. 

 

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Robert Middleton, the owner of Action Plan Marketing, has for 30 years, been helping Self-Employed Professionals attract more of their ideal clients.  He offers the online membership site, The More Clients Club, a group marketing coaching program called the Marketing Action Groups, and individual coaching and consulting through his Marketing Action Coaching. If this is your first visit to the More Clients blog, make sure to get a copy of the More Clients Starter Kit