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I’d hear, “This is going to hurt you worse than it hurts me,” just before getting my rearward region spanked into next week. Whenever I used to hear this phrase — which was shockingly regular — I used to think, “Then why do it?” I mean, can’t we spare some pain for both of us by overlooking that little melted-crayon-in-the-Easy-Bake Oven-incident?

Didn’t work that way. I found that out when I had children. It was one of those “upside-down truths” that you appreciate with age.

Later on, my early sales training had brainwashed me into thinking that manipulation and aggression were actually the more tender side of selling. When various closes and techniques were being discussed one day, an older, quite wealthy salesman halted the conversation with, “I don’t sell. I just give people reasons to buy.”

From that moment on, it stuck. My whole “sales” idea got turned upside down (or right-side up). Earning trust, giving useful “buying” information and truly counseling people with the good and bad side of a product or service came much easier. Sales closes were more often the work of the customers themselves. This rid the anxiety of over-selling and gave sincerity to the congratulations for making a good decision.

This approach allows you to be true-faced, not two-faced.


Get the sale by creating a customer

The wealthy salesman made another comment, more powerful than the first, which proved he was ahead of his time: You get the sale by creating a customer, not the other way around. Ignoring this shift can kill your online and offline sales.

That path led Hudson, Ink and me into the world of “two-step” marketing: First, get a request from a customer for more information. Second, follow the request with a conversation that would lead to a sale. Or not. Either way is fine.

Web marketing further confirms the success of this buying pattern shift of creating a customer. Consumers are able to access mountains of information that didn’t formerly exist via the Internet. Their newfound empowerment has led to a sometimes hard-to-swallow set of old sales and marketing dogmas. The hard-driving, “close early, close often” salesperson is increasingly frustrated. Websites that employ sales overkill are labeled “spammy” and should be avoided.

Sites such as Zappos, Amazon, even Wal-Mart, realize that transparency aids the sales process. Relationships are built before the sale and increase closing (conversion) rates. Openness and resistance to the hard sell also increase referral rates and positive online reviews.

Customer retention results soar with gentle, nonsalesy recontact. This is why we’ve seen customer retention sales absolutely explode in the recession-weary world. People want the relationship and reward it handsomely.

Contractors who invest in customer retention are getting excellent returns now. (Eight percent of your total marketing budget toward customer retention can trounce any other 8% in any other media with its hand tied behind its back.)

Lesson: When you craft and cultivate relationships, you forgo hard selling though your sales increase. There are no closes, only openings. You merely continue the conversation, advising, being there for your customers and gaining more business, faster, as a result.

Oh, the remaining sage advice spoken to me by the wealthy salesman is, “Salespeople don’t sell the most; advisors do.” More than a pithy comment, it’s true. Confirmed by in a recent study: Advisors outsell salespeople four to one.

Be an advisor. Then you, too, can be true-faced.

  • Does your marketing talk more about you or about how you solve customers’ problems? (Change the “we” stuff to “you” stuff. Don’t be afraid to give free advice.)
  • Is your customer retention marketing budget more or less than 8% of your total marketing? (If it’s below 4%, you likely have a steady stream of forgotten customers going to the competition.)
  • Do you have old-style salespeople or old-style marketing efforts that are sales-focused and performing less than they did just three years ago? Make the shift.