Turn to any page in Do It! Marketing by David Newman, a thought leader expert and business consultant to entrepreneurs, and you encounter checklists and bullet points and boxes and numbered lists and worksheets and templates. Instead of being a confusing jumble of ideas, they are actually a cohesive toolbox for small business owners to kick their company toward bigger profits and outpace their competitors—delivered in a high energy, infectious, and often playful tone and style. Business writer Robert Lerose spoke with the Philadelphia-based Newman about some of his compelling ideas, such as the uselessness of sales training and the correct way to follow up with prospects, as well as the one thing business owners should do to thrive in 2015.
RL: Early in the book, you write that "you need to sell the same way that you buy." What does that mean?
DN: How do we buy? We buy from people that we know, like, and trust. Your main job as an entrepreneur is to get seen, so raise your visibility and credibility in front of your target market. The primary purpose of selling anything as an entrepreneur is to offer value and invite engagement. Inviting engagement might be asking for the sale, commenting on a blog post, getting an email address, joining a Facebook or LinkedIn group. If you really anchor yourself in how you buy, that's the same sort of relationship building and value-offering and engagement strategy that you want to deploy on behalf of your business.
RL: You say that people in business need to ask themselves what they want to be known for and to establish a thought leadership platform. What did you mean by that?
DN: I think the big danger that all of us face—I know I faced it when I started my entrepreneurial career—is that we think that our products and services and programs are for everybody. But the truth is, the narrower the focus, the easier all of your sales and marketing and business development tasks become. The thought leadership platform is: how do I amplify that [focus] or share it with the world? When you become known for something, that's really important for your targeting and your specialization. When you build a thought leadership platform, now you're opening up the tent. You're inviting people in by sharing content and experiences, by sharing your expertise. It could be on your blog, on YouTube videos, podcasts, and articles that you write.
DN: One of the bars that I set really really high for small business owners is this: is your marketing material too good to throw away? I got a flyer about 10 years ago from a company called Digital Color Graphics. They specialized in printing marketing and sales material for small and solo business owners. The flyer was filled with marketing information, resources, tips, tactics, strategies, tools, and websites. I tried to throw it away three or four times, but I couldn’t because I knew that I'd need to refer to it. That's what I mean by a thought leadership platform—you become known for being the specialist and the expert and the ultimate authority for a particular product or service.
RL: You claim that customers aren't interested in how you do what you do, whether it's your process or your proprietary technology. Really? They don't care?
DN: No, not in the beginning. First, they have a problem. Second, they think that you or your company can fix it. Third, they think it's worth putting in some time and money to fix this problem. Fourth, [they ask] who can fix it most effectively? Now they might be interested in your 17-point process. The other thing is the FSB effect—Faster, Smarter, Better. The only reason they're going to care about your proprietary methodology is if it makes something faster, smarter, or better for them.
RL: What is a Marketing Language Bank and what can it do for a business?
DN: A Marketing Language Bank is the collection of all of your sound bites, bullets, headlines, sub-headlines—all of the things that you would say about your product, its value, its impact, its result. The best place to start is to think about your best buyers and what they've said to you. What have they said about their situation when they've bought from you? What have they said about their situation when they didn't buy from you? Once you've developed this Marketing Language Bank, you'll never face a blank screen again because everything has been strategically thought out and articulated. Now you've got 5 or 20 or 30 of these little sound bites and conversational phrases and pain points and benefits and outcomes and results that you can talk to and with. It's a predefined bucket that you can continuously reach into for all of your articulation, messaging, and distinction.
RL: You're not in favor of business owners or entrepreneurs getting sales training. Why not?
DN: Most entrepreneurs who've been in business for any length of time come out of a sales training program and go wow—that doesn't fit me at all. A lot of sales training—especially old school sales training, which sadly is about 80 percent of sales training today—is based on manipulation. It's based on being a different person when you're wearing your sales hat than when you're being a regular person. Don't worry about being a good salesperson. Worry about being a good person and you will sell a lot more successfully. That means establishing rapport, listening, tying your products and services to their specific situation, being spontaneous, being authentic, and having a sense of humor. Pretend that you're selling to your best friend. You would not cheat or manipulate your best friend. Why would you do that to a good prospect?
RL: You say that business owners should stop wasting their time following up. Isn't persistence part of a sales strategy?
DN: Sales is not a numbers game. Sales is a timing game. A very different but way more effective follow-up strategy is a value strategy. How can you stay connected to customers and prospects? [You send them] a resource or a web link or a video that they might find valuable or a checklist that you just developed. So that when they need your product or service, they'll have to call you because you've been so helpful and you're always sending them material. In fact, you might be the only person they call. You might have already wiped out all the competition by continuously showing up in their world as a happy squeaky wheel.
RL: How can small business owners make 2015 an outstanding year?
DN: This is going to seem old school, but here it is: be really great at what you do because everything hinges on that. Over deliver and over service the clients and customers you have right now because they're going to do the marketing for you. If you get what matters most right—taking extreme care of your current customers and clients, getting them so happy and so excited that they're going to come back, and refer [others to you]—it takes some of the marketing burden off of your plate and gives them an opportunity to market for you and market with you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.