How to sell anything to anyone


People are always asking me what our business model is for Brazen Careerist. Now that we have a network of 150 great bloggers, we are focusing on companies. A lot of companies come to us asking for access to the bloggers. Not surprisingly, companies want to recruit from the bloggers and their friends. But we think what the bloggers want is good conversation.

We think that offering someone a job without conversation is like walking up to a stranger in a bar and asking for sex. It doesn’t work. You need to establish some sort of rapport first. People want that from a job offer as well. People today want to work for a company that they feel some sort of connection to—a connection probably from branding and conversation.

So we want to help companies establish their brand as an employer, and create a conversation with people they’d like to hire, now or in the future. That’s our next step. And we have to sell the companies on this idea.

So we had one of my mentors, who is also an outstanding salesperson—Kathleen Kurke—give us a little coaching session on how to sell.

All of us at Brazen Careerist were in the training (there are eight employees now). And all of us were struck by how Kathleen’s advice applies to so much of life, not only to trying to get companies to engage the Brazen Careerist community. Here’s what Kathleen said:

1. Ask a good question.
You probably want a yes or no answer: “Are you gonna buy my product, yes or no?” But yes or no is short-term and opportunity limiting, because anything but a definite yes will be a showstopper. So ask instead a question like: What are the challenges you are facing?

This sort of open-ended question helps you to understand the challenges, solutions, or opportunities you are trying to capture. And the more you can align yourself with your client and their concerns, the more likely you will be to capture their business.

The better you get at asking these questions, the better answers you’ll get; and the best answers get you closer to the person who is accountable for solving the problem. And that’s the person who will be most likely to give you that yes answer that you are looking for.

2. Solve a problem.
People will buy stuff from you because you are solving a problem or capitalizing on an opportunity. In other words, people only buy stuff if it helps them make money or save money.

If you cannot trace your solution to either making money or saving money, then you have a problem.

44 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    “If you cannot trace your solution to either making money or saving money, then you have a problem.”

    Not every career is focused on the almight dollar. Specifically, I’m thinking of the nonprofit sector, where, in fields from education to housing to literacy, when someone wants to know if you have a solution to their problem, they aren’t looking to make money. In the nonprofit sector, you trace your solution to achieving their mission… or saving money.

    • Matt
      Matt says:

      Most certainly all paths lead to making money or saving money. In the case of non-profits – many help families learn save money or learn to make money in some sense (ie job training, personal evaluations etc). Even off track things like fine-art, writers and surfing are about saving money or making money (ie self-induced and made recreation is cheaper than purchased etc)

      My two cents –

      • sarah
        sarah says:

        as someone working in a music non-profit let me just say that by no means is it “about” saving/making money; while money is always a critical consideration in any business endeavor, in some (most?) non-profits it is still secondary to the mission in the scope of what is really important.

        money is a means, not a way.

  2. A.J.
    A.J. says:

    “We think that offering someone a job without conversation is like walking up to a stranger in a bar and asking for sex. It doesn't work.”

    That’s it Penelope. Next time you’re in town I’m taking you to a gay bar.

  3. Tim
    Tim says:

    Most of the nonprofit sector is extremely money-focused. Except it is called “Development.”

    Their job is much more difficult, convince people to give money when their is no tangible benefit.

  4. Tom Scudder
    Tom Scudder says:

    offering someone a job without conversation is like walking up to a strangerwoman in a bar and asking for sex. It doesn't work.

    Fixed that for you.

  5. Chris Gammell
    Chris Gammell says:

    I think this article points out a skill that most start-ups and bloggers really fail to realize they will need. No one cares what you have to say or what new doo-dad you made. There are tons more like you out there. They care about what it can do for them. And the thing is, most people have no clue how to convey this stuff to their customers. Oftentimes, the best start-ups are the ones who have people who know how to sell what they’ve got.

    I spent most of my life wondering why my dad was a salesman and instead I spent my time trying to do other stuff. Now as I try to move out into the world on my own and sell that “other stuff” I’ve learned, I find that more and more I’ve been asking him for advice.

    Oh yeah, I read your blog for that too.

  6. Kevin Cannella - OfficeArrow
    Kevin Cannella - OfficeArrow says:

    Great advice! Rapport – there cannot be enough emphasis put on this.

    I believe selling is about building trusting relationships.

    Have a talk about the person/company’s problem and the aspects of the problem you/your product can/cannot help with.

    If your product does X and the company is really looking for help with Y, because it does X pretty well. Talk about this and how your product may not be the best solution.
    If a trusting relationship entails, when they start having problems with X, you can bet they will come back to you.

    Just some of my thoughts..

  7. Santo Cuollo
    Santo Cuollo says:

    Overall, this was great advice. However, I differ with your comment that it is all about making or saving money, or "more profit" or "less cost". While that is true, those are the “practical” reasons people use to make decisions. There are “personal” reasons that should not be ignored. If I help my boss save money, was saving money my goal? Or was it the recognition I would get from that decision? I am sure anyone can tell stories about a time they bought something when it was NOT the cheapest option. A BMW gets you to work just as well as a Toyota. But I look better in the BMW.

    The truth is that in being persuasive, which is the method of sales, we must understand both the practical goals a person has and their individual goals. By providing a solution that appeals to both, why would a client say no?

  8. Dave
    Dave says:

    I liked Kevin’s comments about opening dialogues, but I’ll add my perspective as a software guy. Most of the projects I’ve worked on have been very schedule driven – “we have to ship release 2.3 by Friday to make schedule” Far too often, managers have focused only on schedule – ship the product on time, no matter what state it is in – we can fix the problems later.

    I’ve always contended that we need to be more upfront with the customer – “look, we’re having problems with this feature, it doesn’t work yet – we can ship it without this feature and make the schedule, or we can wait until we get it fixed – what do you want us to do?” Being upfront about the problems and involving the customer in finding the best solution has always resulted in a better relationship. That whole “dialogue thing” turns you and the customer into a team, instead of adversaries. If you hid your problems, their eventual discovery destroys trust.

  9. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    Tim’s comment on nonprofits and their lack of focus on the almighty dollar has some merit. However, the nonprofits that really believe that line are the ones being bled dry by their overpaid executives and wasteful operations.
    If you can show Goodwill Industries how to save on their heating and air-conditioning bills or how to get more money from their thrift stores, you will make a sale, because it means less waste and more money to serve their recipients. If you can bring more money in for a charity’s fund drive, you will have helped the charity and its clients.
    Waste is bad, whether it is done by a business or a nonprofit.
    I used to give used furniture and clothes to a certain church-based charity that runs thrift stores to fund its social services. Then I visited the stores and saw how dirty the stores were and how neglected the merchandise was. They were literally wasting people’s contributions.
    I still donate used goods, but I give them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. That way someone benefits from my donations.

  10. kristi
    kristi says:

    The WIIFM is where you start, whether you are selling a widget or a news story. (What’s In It For Me?)

    People generally care about their own problems and only get interested in your solution once they realize it solves their problem.

    So you have to guess/learn what their problem is and pitch from that angle.

    Good CRM helps both the “seller” and the “buyer” of whatever the commodity is.

    Nice post, thanks!

  11. Jessica Bond
    Jessica Bond says:

    The ability to sell is an art. Practice will sharpen your skills, but I admire people who are born salespeople. You must “get into conversation” with your customer. At the end of the day relationships rule. The Brazeen Careerist network and idea for companies to “get to know” the bloggers is very innovative.

    Best of luck.
    Jessica Bond
    Medical Careerist

  12. Neil
    Neil says:

    Great first point! It makes so much sense. I’m going to use straight a way on a problem client of mine. Thanks.

  13. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    This is an odd comment: “As you might imagine, this question doesn't come naturally to me because I am so accustomed to the traditional one-way conversation in mainstream media, where I am expected to tell people the answer instead of asking any questions.”

    WTF? If anything a background in mainstream media should make you exceptionally good at asking open-ended questions – far more so than blogging. Whether your finished product is telling people the answer or not, the primary research method of journalism is the interview. (Whereas the primary research method of many (not all) bloggers is keying words into Google).

    The number one thing journalists get taught about interview technique is to ask open ended questions so that a) don’t presuppose the answer and b) you get people putting things in their own words so you can quote them. This is especially true for broadcast interviews but it’s the case for print as well.

  14. avant garde designer
    avant garde designer says:

    “Not every career is focused on the almight dollar. Specifically, I'm thinking of the nonprofit sector”

    I cannot think of a single nonprofit sector that does not/cannot focus on money. No organization is able to serve it’s purpose or fulfill its mission without the almighty dollar. Unless, that is, it’s the Almighty God is working in his mysterious ways.

  15. Adunate Word & Design
    Adunate Word & Design says:

    "Most of the projects I've worked on have been very schedule driven"

    I agree with Dave's comments on dialog and upfront communication with the customer. As a graphic designer and writer, I often run into that same schedule-driven production. It ultimately affects either the quality of the product or the price.

    I can offer them work in only two of three ways “Quick, Quality, or Cheap.” Only two. So I need to start asking questions. What is most important to you? Why do you need the product by next week? Would you be willing to pay a rush fee?

    Quite often, through questioning and dialog, the customer realizes his deadline is not so imminent after all, and yes, maybe he’d rather have a more quality product for a more reasonable price. Often this questioning helps the customer organize his thought process and schedule. You’re not only giving him your product but also helping him improve his own work flow.

  16. bill martineau
    bill martineau says:

    Your right on target specifically with the part where many people are simple unable to communicate their message (be it personal, professional or corporate). We are in a sad place that most people are unable or incapable of having these communication skills. As a professional recruiter in the IT field this is why most candidates fail on interviews…not because they aren’t skilled enough for the job.

  17. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    I wonder why Kathleen Kurke’s company is focusing on:

    "When it comes to recruiting and retaining young talent, what are the greatest challenges your company is facing?"

    Short-sighted! I’m on the very end of what could be considered young talent, and I hate to think that the experience I’ve gained is worth less than my perception as ‘young’.
    Isn’t ‘talented’ talented?

  18. Rick Sline
    Rick Sline says:

    At various times I’ve been either a full-time sales person or selling custom programming that I performed. Without asking a few questions how do you know your product/service will “work” for the prospect.

    When I was selling “canned” accounting packages for small businesses I would go through a series of qualifying steps – was the company too big (or too small), did they have any special needs the software didn’t address, etc. Typically after about 3 meetings with the client I could determine whether it was a good match. I’d then prepare a proposal addressing everything the client discussed – indicating the areas our software did not address “out of the box”.

    It was a numbers game – of qualified prospects who would grant the initial meeting about 60% make it to the 2nd meeting, about 80% of them to the 2nd meeting, 80% to the 3rd meeting and 95% of them got proposals. Of the prospects who received proposals, over 70% converted to customers – generally within a week or two.

    Of those who weren’t good matches, I’d explain why. Whether I dropped them or they choose not to do business with us I would endeavor to ask the following questions:

    1. Although it didn’t work out for us to do business, can you think of 3 other companies who might be a good fit?
    2. Of those 3 companies, which one should I contact first? Why them first?
    3. Who should I contact there? How well do you know them? Would you mind mentioning to them that you referred me?

  19. Jim Eiden
    Jim Eiden says:

    I have a side business in the salvage industry. Basically we “Dial-for-Dollars.” Most of the itmes I deal with with are commodities.

    For example, right now I have 10,000 cubic yards of wood mulch. That’s about the size of a 4 story building. so when I dial for dollars, I tell them the specs and how much. Either they want it or they don’t. If not, I ask them if they know of any other companies / firms who want it. I get some good leads that way that have resulted in sales.

    It is not always a long sell cycle. Everyone knows what mulch is, either you need it or you don’t at the price I have. My price is negotiable as well.

    It does not have to be complicated.

    On the other hand, with my consulting experience, I find the conversation very one-sided and employers do make quick decisions on very limited information.

  20. Karl Staib
    Karl Staib says:

    I’m looking to get out in my community and give a few workshops and speeches to local businesses. I’m a little afriad (ok a lot afraid) of the cold call, but you make some godo points.

    When we wine and dine the prospect with some good conversation. We lean about what they need and if we can help solve their pain.

  21. marguerite dorn
    marguerite dorn says:

    as the co-owner of a recent startup, i found this posting very helpful. i especially appreciate jim c’s comment — you start with identifying what your client/customer needs because, without that connection, you are invisible. keep in mind, however, that this same client/customer just might not know that she “needs” your service/product until you point it out. find the gaps or flaws in your client/customer’s business – then rush in to the rescue!

  22. Dale
    Dale says:

    One important addition, get and hold the prospect’s attention! If you do not get the attention of a prospect, and stimulate interest in you and/or your wares, you never get to first base… the open ended question. They just shut you out cognitively or otherwise.

  23. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    great post…I have 50 sales people who indirectly report to me that don’t seem to get these simple ideas. I’m going to pass this on to them, maybe some of it will stick!

  24. Laurie
    Laurie says:

    Good advice. I’d add to point #1 not just to ask a good question, but to listen to the answer. Sounds obvious, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve answered a question and didn’t feel the sales person heard a word I said. Listening leads to more good open-ended questions, an accurate understanding of the problem, and better solutions. It’s also great for building ongoing relationships (return customers and referrals).

  25. max
    max says:

    The open ended questions are very true. I am in direct sales, and if you leave yourself open for a “no” you’ll get it every time. Questions that assume the buy, but are low pressure and inquisitive work the best. Are you going to buy? vs. if you were going to buy, would you feel more comfortable paying all at once or being on a payment plan?

    Good stuff.

  26. Scott Whitney
    Scott Whitney says:

    Asking “What are the challenges you are facing?” is not going to be productive, if asked in the beginning of the sales conversation. Why? Because you haven’t earned the right to ask that question. While most people agree the key to sales is relationships, the real question is, “what is the key to relationships?” And the answer is credibility. If you’ve haven’t taken steps to establish your credibility, that kind of open-ended question will simply kill your credibility and slow the sales process.

    • Emily Culligan
      Emily Culligan says:

      Scott, what are the steps you use to establish your credibility? I completely agree with your statement, am new to sales, and educating myself in my spare time. This process is fascinating to me, but I’m still a novice. Can you provide an example you would use?

  27. Steve Vise
    Steve Vise says:

    “like walking up to a stranger in a bar and asking for sex.”

    That’s actually a poor analogy. When I was in college, a friend of mine did a little after-hours research. He would go up to a girl in a bar and say, “Hey, you wanna go f***?”

    Sometimes the girl would get mad and tell him to get lost, sometimes they would try to slap him. Interestingly, however, 1 out of 4 said YES!

    I am sure he is a great salesman today.

  28. Nancy Cullen
    Nancy Cullen says:

    I think less focus on pushing your product and more focus on having a meaningful conversation increases your chances of making a sale. The book Marketing for Geeks says it best, "Influence is built slowly through intimate in-person interaction." You have to make a connection. You have to show you care. But most of all, you must be willing to listen.

    Source Quote:

  29. Tom
    Tom says:

    “We think that offering someone a job without conversation is like walking up to a stranger in a bar and asking for sex. It doesn’t work.”

    But it would be awesome and terribly flattering either way! A job offer out of the blue would absolutely get my attention.

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    How To Increase Site Traffic says:

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