Bow Tie Sales Guy

Sales and Stories and Bears! Oh My!

I am a big believer in the philosophy that “facts tell, but stories sell.”

I’ve written about it before, but I’m ready to add a very important caveat. We can’t just tell any story, we’ve got to make sure that we’re telling the right story.

Facts tell, but the right stories sell.

The illustrations, images, and metaphors we use need to be fitting to the presentation being made, thought through and well-crafted, and – most critically – appropriate to the audience.


Let me give you an illustration.

grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, Robin SilverThis week Betsy DeVos had her hearings before a Senate confirmation committee to become Secretary of Education. She was asked by Senator Chris Murphy about her stance on guns in schools. Given the increased number of school shootings we’ve seen over the past couple of decades, this is not in anyway the type of gotcha question that is the bane of our political existence. It was a good and heartfelt question.

In response, Betsy DeVos reiterated her support for local decision-making when it comes to such issues. She illustrated her point by talking about a school in Wyoming needing a shotgun to ward off grizzly bear attacks.

Screeching brake noises. What?!?

The story didn’t sell.

You see, Senator Chris Murphy is from Connecticut. Connecticut, as you know, is home to Sandy Hook, where the worst school shooting in American history happened just four years ago. The stories about gun violence in schools that he is used to hearing are the ones told to him by grieving parents.

Betsy DeVos didn’t know her audience. She didn’t tell the right story. And as a result fewer and fewer people are buying her as Secretary of Education.


But this article isn’t about Betsy DeVos. It’s about how telling the wrong story can derail the sales process. I’m sure it’s happened to all of us at some point or another.

I remember once being on a sales call with my manager. We were talking to the owner of a local chain of pizza restaurants. We were trying to convince him to do some advertising with us, and he was throwing up every roadblock he could think of. It was a spirited and lively conversation.

In the course of the conversation, my manager kept coming back to the same illustration, over and over again. He kept describing the difference between a BMW and a Hyundai. Both can get you where you need to go, he would say, but one gets you there a whole lot better than the other. It was clear – BMWs are good and Hyundais are bad. It’s a decent illustration, one that my manager really liked because I heard him use it often.

However, we were talking to a good ole boy who drove a pickup truck. His pizza places are known for their $5 hot and now offer. Honestly, he’s not the BMW of pizza restaurants in our area. He’s the Hyundai of pizza.

We couldn’t convince him to buy from us. As I reflected on that meeting later, I wondered if the story we relied on actually made it harder for us to make the sale.


Here’s something I’ve learned about telling stories in the sales process: you can’t just wing it. You can’t always fall back to the same old illustrations you’ve used a thousand times. The zip and passion and energy won’t be there. The clear connecting of dots for your client will get fuzzy. And you’ll end up telling a story that makes selling harder for you because it doesn’t fit your audience.

So, before your meeting, think about who you’re meeting with. Think about their personality, their motivations, their experiences. Think about which stories are the best to tell and which are best to leave out.

And when you’re ready, go tell a great story.

Because facts tell, but the right stories sell.



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Granny Shots and Selling Great Ideas

I am a sucker for minority reports. I love anything that questions the conventional wisdom. As soon as everybody starts to think the same way or have the same perspective, I begin to wonder if we’ve got it all wrong.

rickbarryIt’s for this reason that when I heard that one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, was going to be doing a podcast called Revisionist History in which he was going to reinterpret something from the past, I knew I would be in. It’s a 10 part podcast, and my favorite episode has been #3 – The Big Man Can’t Shoot.

The Big Man Can’t Shoot is about taking granny shots – underhanded free throws. They look silly but they are far more effective than overhand shooting from the line. With two notable exceptions – Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain (especially in his 100 point game) – nobody shoots this way. Even though it’s better.

In the podcast, Gladwell talks to a sociologist named Mark Granovetter about the Threshold Model of Collective Behavior. The basic idea is that we are all influenced by the behavior of others, but we have different thresholds at which we’re willing to change our behavior. Some people won’t try something new until everyone else is doing it. Other people are early adopters who’s threshold for change is very low. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle.


It’s high thresholds that keep good ideas from catching on. 


In sales, we’re trying to get people to change their behavior, to try something new, to adopt a new idea. It might be a new brand or a new strategy or a new system. For us to be effective, we need to figure out the threshold for change that our buyers have.

Some buyers have a low threshold. They want to be innovative. Appeal to how you can put them on the cutting edge, far outpacing their competitors.

Some buyers have a high threshold. They’re going to need to see case studies, proven results, and examples. For these risk averse buyers, you’re going to need to mitigate the fear of change.


To determine a buyer’s threshold, you’ll need to be direct. Here are some questions you can ask to help determine your buyer’s threshold for trying a new idea:

Tell me about a time that you tried something new. How did it go?

Generally speaking, do you (or the company) tend to be open to trying new things?

What holds you back from making a big change in your strategy?


Your idea, your product, your solution is a great one. It’s what everybody should be doing. It works. Just like a granny shot. But it’s not going to catch on until you figure out the thresholds of your buyers and customize your approach to meet them where they are.


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5 Things I Wish My Sales Manager Would Remember

I’ve have been the manager. And I have been the managed. Frankly, neither is easy. In sales, as in almost all professions, there can be a natural tension between management and employees. As leaders, sales managers need to take the initiative in building strong, successful teams. With all that is on their plates, I think sales managers often forget some basic things. Here are 5 things I wish they’d remember:MA_00000006_fwj0rh


Remember to Sell Me, Not Tell Me

Most sales manager were once salespeople. Usually, they were good ones, which is why they got promoted. But I’ve seen so many sales managers forget the basics that got them to the job that they’re in. Would any good salesperson expect a client to do something simply because the salesperson said so? Of course not. And yet, many sales managers expect their teams to complete tasks or be enthusiastic about an initiative simply because the manager said so. Sell me on it. If you get me to buy in to your idea, then I can’t be stopped. Use your excellent salesmanship, not your position, to get me on board.


Remember what Number Matters Most to Me

I get that the company has numbers to hit. I actually enjoy knowing where we stand as a team. However, just knowing those numbers might not be enough to motivate me. I get that they keep you up at night, but you’ve got to remember that the number that keeps me up at night is the one on my paycheck. If you want to motivate me by giving me team or company numbers, don’t forget to connect the dots back to how my contribution will mean success for both of us.


Remember that I Can’t Have All the Answers

When I first started in sales, I had a manager who would ask me questions I could not answer. He would want to know the details of why certain clients or prospects were doing what they were doing. It was information I simply didn’t have and couldn’t legitimately get. He was frustrated. I was frustrated. There has got to be a better way for managers to engage their team members than to make them feel dumb and ill-informed. Sales managers need to think about how they ask questions and when they ask questions to maximize their information gathering while also minimizing the sales team’s angst.


Remember that I Really Want Everyone to Play by the Same Rules

Seniority matters. Special circumstances happen. And some things can’t be public knowledge. So, the way a sales team operates will not always be fair and equitable. There will be times that someone needs extra space and grace. I’m fine with that. That’s not a problem. In fact, that makes me more loyal to my sales manager because I know if something happens with me, I’m likely to get treated well. The problem is when all the members of a sales team don’t play by the rules. When attendance and activity policies, for instance, aren’t equally enforced, it won’t take long for members of the team to notice and begin to wonder why someone else can get away with something that they can’t. It’s never good when members of a sales team are wondering those kinds of things.


Remember that You Do Impact Morale

I once had a manager tell me that morale among the sales team was not his responsibility. I could not disagree more. What a sales manager does – changing the comp plans, adding additional busy work, showing favoritism, being overbearing – can have a negative impact on team morale. A sales manager who doesn’t appreciate his or her impact on the mood in the office runs the risk of losing their team altogether.


No matter which side of the desk you sit on, the sales process can be improved when there are clear expectations, strong communication, and a ton of trust between a sales manager and his or her team. A strong team needs a strong leader, I wish sales managers would remember that.


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Enneagram and Sales: Personality Profiles

I am endlessly fascinated by the connection between psychology and sales.

What makes a salesperson tick? Are some personality types more likely to be successful salespeople? What insights can we gain from personality profiles that will help us to be better salespeople?

enneagram_colorOne of my favorite personality profiles is the Enneagram. Here’s the summary, according to Wikipedia:

The Enneagram of Personality, or simply the Enneagram (from the Greek words ἐννέα [ennea, meaning “nine”] and γράμμα [gramma, meaning something “written” or “drawn”), is a model of human personality which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. … As a typology the Enneagram defines nine personality types (sometimes referred to as “enneatypes”), which are represented by the points of a geometric figure called an enneagram, which, it is believed, also indicate some of the connections between the types. There are different schools of thought among Enneagram teachers, therefore their ideas on some theoretical aspects are not always in agreement.

The Enneagram of Personality has been widely promoted in both business management and spiritual contexts through seminars, conferences, books, magazines, and DVDs. In business contexts it is generally used as a typology to gain insights into workplace dynamics; in spirituality it is more commonly presented as a path to higher states of being, essence, and enlightenment. It has been described as a method for self-understanding and self-development.


The 9 Enneagram personalities are:

1 – Reformer

2 – Helper

3 – Achiever

4 – Individualist

5 – Investigator

6 – Loyalist

7 – Enthusiast

8 – Challenger

9 – Peacemaker


While I am far from an expert, knowing my Enneagram number has helped me to identify, for instance, why I take a “no” so hard. As a 3 on the Enneagram chart, I am wired to want people to like me and think that I am valuable because of how I serve them. As a salesperson, this means that I am going to take very seriously the need to meet my client’s needs. If I bring them solutions, I can’t understand why they won’t take them. And often, I’ll take it personally. Knowing all of this about myself helps me to take healthy steps of handling areas of personal weakness.


Here’s a great chart from the fantastic Enneagram In Business showing how different people think about sales, according to their Enneagram number:

sales personality



According to this site, the best Enneagram numbers for sales jobs are 2, 3, 8, and 9. Want to figure out your number? Take one of these Enneagram tests.



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Come back tomorrow for an article about a bunch of things I wish my sales manager knew.


Be the Best Version of You: Personal Branding

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of the average business owner.

You walk in the door of her office, and you think you’re unique. But the reality is that your competitors have already been there. Or will be there soon. Maybe even some of your teammates called on her. And so did the yellow pages guy. And the copier salesman. And she got three phone calls from people wanting her to update her website or change her internet service. Not to mention the little league team that wants to put her business name on their jerseys.

iStock_000003300049LargeIt’s been estimated that the average business owner interacts with well over 100 salespeople per month.

You are one face in a hundred.

What can you do to stand out? How can you be memorable? What will make your clients see you as something other than just another salesperson?

Having a personal brand will give you a memorable and meaningful identity with your prospects and clients. Here are some ideas about developing your own personal brand:


Be Authentic
I know what it’s like to sit in a sales meeting or in a training and think, “Man, I wish I could come up creative ideas as fast as she does,” or “If I could just answer answer objections like he does, I’d be all set.” There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to sales, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to master every single one of them. It’s tempting to try to mimic someone else’s approach, to attempt to clone them. But you’ll inevitably fail.

Certainly, take every opportunity to learn from a successful salesperson, but realize that your success doesn’t depend on you copying someone else but rather being the best version of yourself. The very first sale we have to make to a prospect is selling ourselves. If you’re not selling YOU then you’re going to fail. I believe that authenticity is the single most valuable and compelling commodity that we have as salespeople.

If you’re outgoing and gregarious, own it. If you’re a quiet numbers person, own it. If you love sports, don’t be shy to talk about it. If being a mom is what most animates you, share that part of yourself. Let your clients get to know you, the real you, the best you. Don’t be overbearing or obnoxious, but be yourself.

You can only be you. Be the best version of you.


Be An Expert Consultant
One key way you can stand out from the crowd of people wanting to simply sell your clients something is to be an expert consultant. Most of my clients have zero desire to be sold something. However, almost all of them want to be taught how they can improve their businesses. If I can give them resources, case studies, and ideas to do that, I am going to make myself memorable to them.

This requires research ahead of time. Too many salespeople try to learn everything there is to know about a client when they’re standing in front of them. It is much wiser to do a lot of research ahead of time. Get knowledgable about your client’s industry, company, and competitors. You’ll communicate that you respect them and their time when you can ask in-depth questions from the beginning. You’ll show that they mean enough to you that you did your homework ahead of time.

Trust me, after all the schlubs that have forced them into uneducated conversations, they’ll find you as an expert consultant to be a breath of fresh air.


Be Appropriately Professional
A few years ago, I attended a sales meeting in Wisconsin with our local sales rep who had scheduled the meeting. We were meeting with the headmaster of a large, stuffy, religious high school. Tuition was expensive and standards were high. Students had to wear a dress code, and the headmaster reminded me of someone out of Dead Poets Society. Our local rep and I met in the parking lot. He showed up an oversized polo shirt, shorts that showed off a large tattoo on his leg, and a pair of scuffed up work boots. I was in a suit and tie … just like the headmaster we met with. We didn’t close the sale.

It’s tremendously important to communicate respect to your clients by appearing, talking, and conducting yourself in an appropriately professional manner. To be clear, I don’t think it’s necessary to always wear a suit and tie with a client. In fact, I think it can be a determent if it communicates “sleazy salesman.” Or, if you’re meeting with an auto body shop owner, for instance, I doubt a business suit is the way to go. The point is not to be too casual or too formal, but to be appropriately professional.


Be Consistently Different
Speaking of how we dress, on Mondays through Thursdays, my company requires me to wear a suit and tie. For a while, this policy annoyed me, until I decided a few years ago to use it to my advantage. I started wearing bowties. In my market, I’m totally cool with being remembered as the “bowtie guy.” In fact, I’ve embraced it. The thank you cards that I send clients and prospects after meetings have my custom bowtie logo on them. They reinforce my personal brand.

There are hundreds of hooks you can use to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Be the person who drops off coffees once a month. Take your clients relevant articles. Always send thank you notes.

But to develop a brand, you can’t just do it once and give up. Personal branding takes consistency. When companies develop brands, they create style guides to make sure that all of their communication adheres consistently to their brand. Think about your own style guide – the way you dress, speak, write email, and entertain your clients. How can you do it with creativity and consistency?

That is your personal brand.
That is how you stand out as the go-to one in a crowd of a hundred.


bowtie profile.001Join the Bow Tie Sales Guy community on Facebook. Like our page here and submit questions which will be answered in an upcoming podcast.

Come back tomorrow for an article about the psychology of successful salespeople.


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