Entrepreneurs: Effective Selling Is About This, Not That

It took me a long time to realize that effective selling – the kind that leads to positive word of mouth, enjoyable work and terrific clients who happily...

Our printer at home is broken.

Actually, that’s not true – I wish it were broken. Because if it were – and I mean really broken, like someone backed over it with their Ford Focus and cracked it in half – then I wouldn’t be wondering whether or not I could fix it.


A tale of two salespeople

The problem, in short, is that it won’t stay on our network. One minute it’s there, all happy and green check-marked, ready to print. Other times, like a belly-button on a 53-year-old solo professional marketing consultant, it seems to have vanished without a trace (or is that just me?).

And so I did what I always do when I have a printer-related dilemma … I went and visited Will, over at Cartridge World. Will doesn’t sell many printers, mostly just printer supplies. But he knows all about them and, as I’ve learned over time, he’s more than happy to help you troubleshoot your problems.


I asked him what he thought.

He said, “You need a new printer.”

I asked if he could sell me one. He said, “You don’t want one of these. Go pick one up at Staples. And oh, by the way, one week out of every month, they put their printers on sale. Make sure you wait for that.”


And that, my belly-buttonless friend, is why I buy all my printer supplies from him.

He knows that by helping me solve my problem today – and without any regard for his wallet – it will come back to him in the long run.


Compare that to the conversation I had yesterday with the VP of Business Development of a video production company I was thinking of hiring.


I asked her, “What kind of companies do you tend to work with?”

“All kinds!” she replied. “We’ve worked with really big, really small and lots of startups.”

“Any particular industries?”

She quickly responded, “All industries! Tech, banking, manufacturing, professional services … you name it.”

So I investigated further. “What types of videos are you best at producing?”

She quickly responded. “All types. We can do a great job with whatever you need.”

Finally, after realizing that my attempts to ferret out the company sweet spot were going nowhere, I switched direction and asked, “What would make me the wrong client for your company?”

(Uh oh, long silence.)


She eventually uncorked a few mouthfuls of salesy blah blah, but she was clearly stumped.

The idea that somehow I wasn’t a potential sale, today, had apparently never occurred to her. So what’s the difference? Will didn’t sell me a printer and she didn’t sell me video production services. Didn’t they both lose, equally?

No, and here’s why.


1. Focus

Will will sell you a printer, occasionally, but it’s not his business. He sells printer supplies and he’s developed a reputation for that. I don’t buy those anywhere else. The VP will sell anything to anyone who’s willing to write a check. I’m sure it works for her (here and there), but because she’s so broad, I associate her with nothing in particular.



Word of mouth requires focus and consistency in what you do and for whom you do it. If you’re known for everything, you’re known for nothing. You’ll spend your life chasing prospects (as opposed to them chasing you) and get squeezed on price along the way.


2. Credibility

Will could have sold me a printer that day. But instead he sent me to Staples, because they were a better match for what I needed. Now I know I can trust him. The day he suggests I buy one of his printers, I won’t hesitate to reach for my credit card.

When it comes to the “we do it all” VP, I don’t know what to believe. Instead of using her knowledge and expertise in the world of video production to help me sort through my options, she squandered an opportunity to position herself as a likeable expert.

I can’t imagine why I would ever go back to her, let alone send anybody in her direction.


Effective selling is about this, not that

Here’s the bottom line.

It took me a long time to realize that effective selling – the kind that leads to positive word of mouth, enjoyable work and terrific clients who happily pay you what you’re worth – has nothing to do with learning how to “close” people. It’s nearly all about learning how to help them.

Sure, sometimes helping people means sending them on their way. But if you view that as a marketing opportunity – a chance to demonstrate both your knowledge and your trustworthiness – as opposed to a “lost sale,” you’ll make a lot of friends today and a lot of money tomorrow.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in developing email newsletters for professional service firms. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.

Since launching Blue Penguin in 2000, Michael Katz has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Business Week Online, Bloomberg TV, Forbes.com, The Boston Globe, and other national and local media. He is the author of three books, and has published over 350 issues of “The Likeable Expert Gazette,” a twice-monthly email newsletter with 6,500 passionate subscribers in over 40 countries around the world. Michael has an MBA from Boston University and a BA in Psychology from McGill University in Montreal. Connect with @MichaelJKatz on Twitter.


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