Selling is not all about the product

Over my decades in business, I’ve noticed a baffling trend:  “sales” has become a dirty word.  I’m on a life-long campaign to change that.

In fact, many companies no longer call sales people sales people.  They have account executives or account specialists, business developers, client advisors, relationship consultants, territory managers and numerous other monikers.  I even received an email from a radio station saying that they call their sales people business improvement planners.

I’m not sure why the word “sales” seems to have such a negative connotation.  I still have “Envelope Salesman” on my business cards – and am proud of it.  Companies cannot succeed without sales people bringing the business through the front door.  It’s that simple.

You don’t even have to be writing up orders to be in sales because everyone in the company is selling something – ideas, customer service, reputation.

You already believe in your products – or you should – so that ought to be the least of your challenges.  Sales is really about selling yourself!  You may not have a formal sales quota to fill, or get paid on commission, but a good knowledge of how to sell can be very useful to your success no matter what your career goals are.

Handshake in front of business people

Here are some sales tips that apply to any endeavor:

  • Manage your time wisely.  Keep track of how much time you spend on your sales process.  Identify the activities with the greatest payoff, and maximize those while delegating or cutting down on any that don’t add value.  Remember the 80/20 rule:  In many cases 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers.  Focus on the 20 percent first.
  • Do your research.  Whether you’re selling a book or just trying to get a job, start by learning as much as you can about your industry and the people in it.  The more you know, the better you’ll be able to present your product when the time comes.  And don’t forget that knowing something about your customer is just as important as knowing your product.
  • Get in front of prospects.  Every sale starts with a prospect:  a potential customer with an interest in what you’ve got to sell.  Identify those who need what you’re offering.  Find out where they are so you can target your sales efforts effectively.
  • Listen more than you talk.  Don’t think of sales as the art of pressuring a reluctant customer into buying something he or she doesn’t want.  You’ll get better results by asking questions about your prospect’s problems and really listening to his or her needs.  Then it will be easier to position yourself effectively.
  • Get into the customer’s mind.  You’ve got to tailor your approach to match individual buyers, not take a one-size-fits-all attitude.  Once you’ve targeted specific prospects, spend some time getting to know their personal priorities and professional preferences, and what they’re looking for when they consider products like yours.
  • Create the demand.  It’s not how much it’s worth, it’s how much people think it’s worth.  Customers often buy products if they can be sure that product will help them solve a problem – and do it quickly and easily.  Show how your product or service will make life easier for the person whose support you need.
  • Stop selling, and let them buy.  Most people like to buy things, but we really dislike being pushed into a purchase.  Don’t be overly aggressive.  Be ready to answer questions, and present your product as an opportunity.  Never ask a person a Yes or No question when it could be Yes or Yes instead.
  • Eliminate the risk.  Money-back guarantees and other sales tactics limit the customer’s risk of making a mistake.  You can’t offer a “warranty” on your ideas, but know the risks of your product or service ahead of time, and have solutions ready when you are questioned.
  • Develop your sense of humor.  You don’t have to memorize a string of stale jokes, but you should learn how to see the humor in every situation.  If you can make a customer smile, your job is halfway complete.
  • Follow up.  Persistence pays.  Don’t make a pest of yourself, but check in regularly with your customers and prospects to find out what they need.  You don’t want them to forget about you.
  • Accept rejection gracefully.  Rejection is – and always will be – part of business.  The sooner you move on, the sooner you’ll make another sale.


Mackay’s Moral:  Whatever you’re selling, you’re selling yourself first.

Make points with persuasion

We are in the thick of the most unusual political seasons I can remember.  Who would have imagined the slate of hopefuls that spans the spectrum?  And what will it take for the candidates to convince voters that they should lead the country?

Qualifications?  Sure.  Campaign promises?  Perhaps.  Appearance?   Doesn’t hurt.  The best opposition research?  Not necessarily.

But the one factor that will always make the difference?   Persuasion – the same sales skill that sets the successful apart from the competition.

Simply said, it doesn’t matter who has the best ideas or the most workable plans or the nicest smile.  It all comes down to persuasion.  Who can get their point across and bring others over to their side?  They could all take a lesson from my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln.

One of Lincoln’s most valuable skills was his ability to persuade others to his point of view, no matter how entrenched their position.  Lincoln described the art of persuasion in a speech to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society:

“When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted.  It is an old and true maxim that a ‘drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’  So it is with men.  If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.  Therein a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high road to his reason, and which, when once granted, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.

“On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and tho’ your cause be naked truth itself … you shall no more be able to reach him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.

“Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him, even to his own best interest.”

An eloquent argument, for sure, and it is timeless advice.  You can bully your way into power, but your effectiveness is greatly reduced.  Lincoln understood that you must demonstrate respect for the other party or your efforts will be wasted.

Persuasion background concept glowing

Here are some persuasion techniques that have served me well.

  • Speak their language.  Listen to how people express themselves.  Some people will see things:  “I don’t see what you mean.”  Others will hear:  “That doesn’t sound like fun.”   Others will feel:  “I don’t feel good about that.”  Acknowledge their concerns and use the same language to respond to them:  “I see your point . . . I hear what you’re saying” to let them know you hear their concerns.  It will help them accept your point more readily.
  • Use their names.  What’s the sweetest sound in the world?  Your name on someone else’s lips.  Just don’t overdo it.  For a new acquaintance, make sure you’re pronouncing it right, and don’t use it before you’ve established some sort of rapport.
  • Use action words.  Be direct.  You’ve got to ask for the response you want.  Don’t ask someone to try to do something, or to think about doing it, if you need an immediate response.  But if you are negotiating for the longer term, give them time to think about your request so they don’t feel pressured.
  • Get your foot in the door.  You don’t have to lead off with your main point.  First get the other person’s attention, and then apply some persuasive techniques – offering an additional benefit, changing your request to what you really want, or letting them turn you down now while leaving the door open to agree with you later.

Two key words will make you more persuasive, according to Jerald M. Jellison in his book “Overcoming Resistance.”  Those words are “if” and “then.”  Whether you are trying to sell a car or an idea, the message that works is:  “If you will take this action then you’ll get this reward.”

Let me phrase that another way:  If you want to be persuasive, then don’t be evasive.


Mackay’s Moral:  Persuasion is an art.  The tongue can paint what the eye can’t see.  

Charisma breeds success

Some people walk into a room and all heads turn.  When they begin to speak, people are mesmerized.  They instantly gain respect and trust.  In a word, they have charisma, one of the most desirable and enviable qualities in the world.

What is charisma?  It’s hard to define, but it is many things, such as likeability.  If you want to influence people, they must like you and respect you.  But charisma is so much more.  I believe the definition is found in the letters of the word itself.

Confidence.  Confidence doesn’t come naturally to most people.  Even the most successful people have struggled with it in their careers.  The good news is that you can develop confidence, just like any muscle or character trait, if you’re willing to work hard.  Charismatic people believe in themselves, and share that confidence with the people around them.  We want to follow leaders who believe they (and we) can do anything.  Don’t ignore obstacles, but focus on what you can achieve.

Happiness.  I believe we were born to be happy.  The happiest people I know are not the richest or the most attractive or even the best at what they do.  The happiest people are those who discover that what they should be doing and what they are doing are the same things.  True happiness lies in satisfaction, which is an essential element of charisma.  People who are happy are much more pleasant to be around.  And they tend to spread happiness.

Authentic.  Be real, be yourself, be consistent.  When people know what to expect from you, they are more comfortable approaching you.  Even if there may be disagreement or difference of opinion, they know whom they are dealing with, and that you have values and standards that are constantly demonstrated.

Respect.  Charismatic people not only command respect, they offer it in return.  You will never meet a charismatic bully – no one likes to be pushed around.  I think that one of the most important skills to master is learning how to respectfully disagree.  Even when you don’t agree with them, or you want them to do something different, give supporters, potential allies, and even adversaries your full attention when they’re speaking.  Show that you respect their viewpoint, and they’ll more readily listen to you and your ideas.

Interested.  Are you the person who walks into a room and announces, “Here I am!” or are you more likely to say “It’s so good to see you!”  Putting the emphasis on others is not only charming, it’s a wonderful way to acknowledge that they are important to you.


Smile.  It’s so simple, yet so significant.  People like to be around pleasant people, and nothing communicates that better than a smile.

Mannerisms.  Body language must match speech.  Watch how charismatic people walk into a room, how they shake hands, how they hold themselves while listening to others.  Good posture and confident body language can win people over on a subliminal level.

Attitude.  The late Steve Jobs, the computer genius who co-founded Apple, was a very charismatic leader of technical people.  When his group was designing Apple’s new Macintosh computer, Jobs flew a pirate flag over his building.  Its purpose?  To signify his team’s determination to blow the competition out of the water.  He demonstrated the kind of can-do attitude that is contagious – with confidence in the people around him to produce successful results.  Such validation makes a leader very charismatic indeed.

“The most important single ingredient in the formula for success is knowing how to get along with people,” President Theodore Roosevelt said.  I believe that statement is timeless.  I have never met a successful person who hasn’t figured out how to get along with others.

To that end, I have relied on the guidance of two of my favorite authors throughout my career.  Here are a couple nuggets of their wisdom:

Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking” said, “Getting people to like you is merely the other side of liking them.”

Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” said:  “You can win more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”

I recommend you put them at the top of your reading – or re-reading – list.


Mackay’s Moral:  Charisma is likeability on steroids.

Getting fired can be a good thing

When you are fired, you’re rejected.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s the end of the road for that job.  But it might put you on the superhighway to a Super Bowl championship!

kubiak1Look no further than Gary Kubiak, who is the newest poster child for rebounding from adversity.  He was fired as head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans after the 2013 season when the team won only two of 16 games.  If you had predicted that less than two years later, he would coach the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship, people would think you were delusional.  But good things happen to people with experience who continue to work to improve.

Professional sports, entertainment and business are filled with stories of people who got second, third, fourth and more chances.  That’s because there is no substitute for experience.  For example, last year in the National Football League there were seven head coach openings.  Four were filled by people like Kubiak with prior experience.

Kubiak also exhibited a strong leadership trait in loyalty.  He brought seven assistant coaches from his previous head-coaching job in Houston with him to Denver, and he also signed a few players who were cut from his previous team after he left.

It’s interesting that the two competing coaches in last year’s Super Bowl – Bill Belichick of New England and Pete Carroll of Seattle – were both fired from previous jobs as well.

I remember before last year’s game how Carroll called himself a “retread multiple times.”  He said:  “It’s just experiences ….  Everybody is going to falter and make mistakes and say, ‘I wish I would have known then what I know now.’”

I interviewed Bill Belichick for my 2004 book “We Got Fired! … And It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Us.”  Belichick was fired by the Cleveland Browns after the 1995 season and became head coach of the New England Patriots in 2000, after Pete Carroll had the job for three seasons and was fired.

Belichick said:  “I think every game, every week, every year is a great experience.  I’d say I’ve learned every year I’ve been in the league no matter what capacity it’s been in.  Hopefully I’ll keep learning.  I’ve got a lot to learn.”  And this from one of only two NFL coaches with four Super Bowl championships.

One comment that Belichick made, which I also heard Gary Kubiak mention, was about delegating.  Belichick said that he is a detail-oriented person and has learned to delegate more with the Patriots, focusing more time and energy into some bigger picture things.

After a sideline stroke during a game in 2013, Kubiak also said he has learned to delegate more and not be a control freak, as he was in his previous job.  He empowered veteran players to make decisions and impose team policy.  It helps that he inherited a veteran team, including his quarterback Peyton Manning.

Yes, the same Peyton Manning that won a Super Bowl in 2007 with the Indianapolis Colts and was also “fired” when the Colts were able to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

For the rest of us, getting fired may not be as public.  So it’s important to figure out why you were fired.  Most people are mistaken in why they believe they lost their job.  Some will say that they’re failures, others that their boss had it in for them, and others yet that they were sure their career ended because of a faux pas they made at the company picnic.  Often firing is a straightforward cost-cutting measure.  When you’re fired, it’s easy to weave fantasies and imagine villains. If you are going to spend even an hour feeling miserable, make sure that you are miserable for the right reason.

Tony Dungy, whom I was instrumental in recruiting to the University of Minnesota and who was recently elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is another Super Bowl winning coach who was fired.  For the record, he coached the Indianapolis Colts to the 2007 championship after being fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Dungy said:  “When I got my first head coaching job at 40 years old, I thought I was ready.  I was shocked at how much better I was at 47.”

“Because you get fired doesn’t mean you were a bad coach,” Tony added.  “It doesn’t mean you weren’t smart.  It means it just wasn’t the right situation.”


Mackay’s Moral:  The way to douse a firing is to use what you have learned for an even better hiring.

Encouragement is verbal sunshine

Lord Chesterfield, in his famous letters to his son, said:  “My son, here is the way to get people to like you.  Make every person like himself a little better, and I promise that he or she will like you very much.”

Most of us are aware of the tremendous power of encouragement, yet we fail to take action.  Making others feel important and better about themselves should be a driving force in our relationships.

Mahatma Gandhi inspired millions of people to go beyond their limitations to accomplish great things.  It was said of Gandhi that he refused to see the bad in people.  He inspired, even changed, human beings by regarding them not as what they were but rather as they wished to be.

“People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be – not what you nag them to be,” said politician Scudder Parker.

Growing up I studied people like Dale Carnegie, who said:  “Tell a child, a husband or an employee that he is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, that he has no gift  for it, and that he is doing it all wrong, and you have destroyed almost every incentive to try to improve.  But use the opposite technique; be liberal with encouragement … let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it  … and he will practice until the dawn comes in at the window in order to excel.”

Silent gratitude isn’t much good to anyone.  But suppose instead that I encourage two individuals one day and that each of them is motivated to encourage two others the next day.  If this process continues, 120 people would be encouraged in seven days.  At that rate, 16,000 people could experience encouragement by the end of 14 days.  And at the end of three weeks, two million persons would be affected.

Those numbers are optimistic, to be sure, but just imagine the impact.  Smart organizations understand that on a local scale, operating in an atmosphere of support and encouragement will improve not only morale, but in many instances, their bottom line.  They encourage employees to take risks that will move the company forward.


For example, Ore-Ida, the frozen foods subsidiary of H.J. Heinz, was trying to encourage more learning and risk taking in its research activities.  Management realized that research and development is inherently risky.  They knew that the only way to succeed is through lots of tries.  A good try that results in some learning is to be celebrated even when it fails.

When we eliminate unrealistic expectations, allow for failure without punishment, and appreciate and encourage people’s efforts, we lay a foundation for people to excel.  Creating a supportive environment should be a central pillar of any business plan.  Otherwise, why bother to hire the best people?

Legendary Alabama football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant shared his secret for encouraging players to come together as a team, how to lift some up and how to calm some down.  “There are just three things I’d ever say,” he said. “If anything goes bad, I did it.  If anything goes semi-good, then we did it.  If anything goes real good, then you did it.  That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

Or do their best work for your company.

Glenn Van Ekeren tells the true story of what happened many years ago in a Paris opera house.  A famous singer was to perform to a sold-out house.  The feeling of anticipation and excitement was in the air as the house manager took the stage and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your enthusiastic support.  I am afraid that due to illness, the man you have all come to hear will not be performing tonight.  However, we have a suitable substitute we hope will provide you with comparable entertainment.”

The crowd groaned in disappointment.  The environment turned from excitement to frustration.  The stand-in performer gave the performance everything he had.  When he finished, there was nothing but uncomfortable silence.  No one applauded.  Suddenly, from the balcony, a little boy stood up and shouted, “Daddy, I think you are wonderful.”  The crowd broke into thunderous applause.

Who wouldn’t love to hear, “I think you are wonderful” every now and then?


Mackay’s Moral:  A person may not be as good as you tell her she is, but she’ll try harder thereafter.