I first heard those words in 2006 from Mahan Khalsa, author of the excellent book Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play.
(Which, believe it or not is a book about selling consulting services).
A few years earlier I'd been working in Basel in Switzerland, doing some strategy work for a large pharmaceutical firm.
Back then my favourite pastime outside of work was magic. Not the “sequinned suit, girls jumping in and out of boxes” type. But close up magic – the sort done right under your nose that leaves you completely mystified.
I was pretty good (I had a lot of time to practice in hotel rooms working away from home so much). I'd performed professionally a few times in restaurants and at parties. And I wanted to take my skills to the next level.
It was never going to be a career option. Frankly, unless you're really, really good, it just doesn't pay well enough compared to consulting. But I wanted to be the best I could be.
I found out that Roberto Giobbi, famous magic author, inventor, collector, and one of the world's leading teachers, lived in Muttenz a short distance away from Basel. So I booked a lesson.
I remember my taxi pulling up at Roberto's house and studio one evening in the rain, and feeling both excited and apprehensive in equal measure at meeting someone whose work I'd read for so long and who I'd seen perform many times on DVD.
After looking around Roberto's studio and some of his collection of historical manuscripts and books we got down to work.
I did a short routine for him (a combination “ambitious card”, “Triumph” and “card to impossible location” if you're interested).
We then sat back and analysed the routine.
What I'd expected was to focus on my technique. Roberto is schooled in the “Spanish style” – complex yet artistic sleight of hand.
What we did was very different.
Roberto asked me what I was trying to achieve with my magic. What I wanted my audience to experience and to feel as a result.
Tough question. But a good one.
Was I trying to fool them? Amuse them? Astound them? Make them laugh? Give them a once in a lifetime experience of sheer wonder?
And who was I trying to be? A suave entertainer, a clown, a skilful cardsharp?
Roberto and I worked through these questions over a number of hours and a couple of drinks too. It was hard work. These were questions I'd never really thought about much before.
But it turns out Roberto was right. If your goal is to entertain your audience. If you're playing with them, rather than trying to outwit them – then they play nicely back.
Rather than your performance being you trying to impress them – to “make” them laugh, to “make” them like you – it becomes one where you work together with the audience to help them have a good time.
When they know they're in safe hands. That you're not trying to make fun of them or embarrass them. Then they can relax and enjoy the ride.
In magic, intent is more important than technique.
Though as Mahan would say – technique is still important. Clumsy technique spoils the illusion, breaks the spell.
But if your audience doesn't choose to join you. If it's you vs them rather than you with them – then all the technique in the world won't save you.
Marketing is like magic.
You must start with the right intent. Your goal must be to help your clients succeed, not merely to sell them your stuff. You with them not you vs them.
When your potential clients see your intent, they too can relax knowing they're in safe hands.
So before you go into any sales meeting, ask yourself the questions Roberto asked me. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want your clients to feel and experience?
Get that clear and you'll see a difference in how they react to you.
By the way, Roberto is still available for coaching if you're into magic and want to learn the “real work”. Go here for more details.
One of the biggest barriers many consultants, coaches and other professionals have that stands between them and achieving their business goals is their own mindset and attitude towards marketing and selling.
I can't tell you the number of people I meet who absolutely know they need to be more effective at marketing and sales – yet who feel incredibly uncomfortable doing it.
And I have to admit, I used to feel that way too.
In fact, I'm still not a “hardcore” sales person ruthlessly focused on getting the sale. My primary concern is getting the best outcome for my clients. And I'm happy that way.
But what I've found is a way of thinking about marketing and sales – mindset “hacks” – that allow me to remain fully congruent with my primary goal of helping clients, while still being effective at marketing and selling.
I'm not saying you have to share all my beliefs and ways of thinking about marketing and sales. But I have found that the more of these you internalise and believe in, the more successful you're likely to be at sales.
Mindset 1: Taking Control
A lot of consultants and coaches have a very passive mindset about marketing and selling. “If I do good work, people will hear about me”, “Word of mouth is the best marketing”, “Something will turn up, it always does”, “Once the recovery kicks in…”.
These may all be true – but if you let them dominate your thinking, it causes you to be passive. To sit back and wait for things to happen. If you want to be successful in marketing and sales you must decide to take things into your own hands: to choose Action over Hope.
Mindset 2: Focus
We’re so overwhelmed with opportunities and information these days it's very easy to lose focus. Every day I read reports of others “crushing it” with webinars, events, product launches, direct mail…
It’s so tempting to become distracted – to try to do everything. To try out every shiny new method you hear about in the hope it will magically bring you in clients without a lot of work.
But the truth is that if we split our focus and keep trying new things, we'll never get good at any of them. We'll never develop the skills or the reputation for any of them to pay off. The path to success is to pick two or three proven approaches and stick with them.
Mindset 3: The SACI Principle
This builds on the principle of focus – and it's something I've written about in detail here.
The SACI principle is that success comes not from silver bullets or one big amazing event – but from Simple Actions Consistently Implemented.
We all know we should keep in touch with our contacts and nurture our relationships. A simple action. But how many of us do it consistently? The same applies across all our marketing and sales. It's consistency that counts.
Mindset 4: Systematize
This was quite a tough principle for me to get to grips with. I love to try new things, to innovate and play around with my marketing. But once you've found something that works, you need to set it on “autopilot”. You need it to be working day in, day out without having to think about it all the time.
That doesn't mean it has to be automated – much of it can't be. But it does mean that – for example – if you've chosen to write articles or blog posts to attract clients, then you need to have a plan for what you're going to write and you need to dedicate a morning a week to doing it. Rather than just aiming to grab some time when you can and make it up as you go along.
Mindset 5: Client Focus
We all talk about being client focused. But in this context, what I mean is that when you have a sales meeting with a client, you're overriding thought should be “how can I help?” – not “how can I sell?”.
What I mean by that is if you go into the meeting (or if you're on a call with a potential client) thinking that your goal is to sell them your services, that a succesful result from that meeting is to emerge with a paying client. Then the chances are you're not going to sell.
You see, more often than not your potential client will pick up on your motivation. If they think that your goal is to sell them, then they won't trust your advice to be independent and in their best interests. They'll second guess what you're saying and resist your recommendations – unsure whether you're making them because you think it's right, or whether you're making them in your own self interest.
However, if you go into the meeting thinking your goal is to help your potential client – and to discover if working together would be the right option – then things change.
When your potential client picks up that your overriding goal is to act in their best interests – and they will pick up on it – then they'll trust your advice and recommendations. If at some point you suggest that working together would benefit them, they're an awful lot likelier to accept that suggestion as being genuine advice rather than a self interested sales pitch than they would be if they felt your goal was to get the sale.
Mindset 6: Belief in Your Value and Expertise
Hand in hand with your focus on helping clients needs to be your belief in the value of what you do and in the strength of your expertise.
The risk with client focus is that you can become subservient – just doing whatever they ask. That's not in their best interests. You need to have a strong belief in your own knowledge and capabilities – and in the value you bring them.
If you don't believe in the tremendous results your potential clients will get if they work with you, then you'll be unable to convincingly communicate that to them. You'll be tentative. You'll feel uncomfortable quoting the high fees you deserve.
In many ways, the first marketing battle is to sell your value to yourself.
Mindset 7: Make “No” An OK Answer
In other words – take the pressure off.
A lot of sales techniques involve putting subtle (or not so subtle) pressure on your potential clients. Deadlines, scarcity, the risk of others getting this deal if they hesitate.
All designed to put a little pressure on your potential client to overcome procrastination and get them to make a decision.
And they work – in their place.
But with complex, costly, intangible services, there's a lot of risk and uncertainty for your potential clients. they need to see a lot of evidence that this will pay off and that you're the right person before they'll be ready to buy.
If you pressure them before they're ready, it'll backfire. They'll feel manipulated and uncomfortable – and they won't buy.
One of the best ways to overcome this – and to build trust – is to make it clear early on that them saying “no” – choosing not to do this – is an absolutely OK option and not one you're going to fight. Going back to our Client Focus mindset – your goal is to figure out whether working together is the right thing for both sides – not to try to force them to say yes.
Take the pressure off by saying up front that it's absolutely fine if you come to the end of the meeting and either of you decides it's not the best option.
Without that pressure, your potential clients will open up much more, you'll be able to build a more trusting relationship, and you're more likely to get the sale.
Review some of your own beliefs about marketing and selling.
Are they helpful or counterproductive?
Would it be possible to change them?
What should you change them to?
Drop me a note in the comments to say what mindsets – either helpful or unhelpful – you have towards marketing and selling.
Most professionals intensely dislike selling. In fact, I'd go as far to say that a great many fear it.
The thought of having to sell ourselves brings butterflies to our stomachs, makes our palms sweat, and triggers all sorts of negative thoughts:
“I didn't do years of training to have to go out and sell”.
“I'm the expert here, people should be coming to me, I shouldn't have to beg for work”.
“Selling is beneath me”.
In fact, some professionals can't even bring themselves to call selling by it's proper name. They call it business development or even marketing. When really they mean selling: engaging with potential clients and persuading them to hire you.
Why do we get such intense emotions when it comes to selling?
The most common response is that it's “fear of rejection”.
But that's far too simplistic a view. What on earth is “fear of rejection” really? We get rejected all the time. What are we really afraid of?
In my experience, there are multiple factors.
Sometimes we're worried that we might damage client relationships by being “too pushy” and asking for sales.
Sometimes it's because we have a very negative stereotypical image of salespeople. The sales people we've come across are the Ricky Roma, Willy Loman “used car salesman” types and we don't want to be like them. (Apologies to all the professional used car salespeople out there who of course aren't at all like the stereotype).
But the issue I see more often than not is that we're worried what others might think of us. We're worried that by “selling” we might come across as desperate. We have a self image of a highly successful professional we want everyone to buy in to.
Of course, we make all sorts of excuses and rationalisations. The time isn't right to call. A direct mail sales letter is “unprofessional”. Clients' don't respond well to being asked for referrals.
We're none of us immune to this. I did – and to some extent still do – this all the time. I have to catch myself when I start talking to myself like this and shake myself up.
Next time you find yourself thinking like this, take a step back and consider whether this is the reality – or whether the real issue is that you're worried what the client or prospect might think of you.
And then think about how much preserving that image is worth to you. Is it worth limiting your career for? Is it worth risking the livelihood of your business – and your family for?
Sometimes we just have to get over ourselves and get on and do what's needed.