My thanks to Zig Ziglar

Zig Ziglar speaks at the Get Motivated Seminar...

Zig Ziglar speaks at the Get Motivated Seminar at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

Zig Ziglar died this week. He was described in a report in his local Dallas newspaper as a motivational speaker. Yes, he was that, but to most of us who have read his books he was the guy who taught us how to sell in a nice way.

Seth Godin  as always puts his message over succinctly and well. Of course I never met Zig and cannot remember how I stumbled upon him, but I keep a copy of his “Selling 101” (not an affiliate link) on my bedside table (or night stand to North Americans).

When I left employment, or it left me, I had little idea of sales technique. The every expression sounds clinical. I had been expected in my employment to sell money-saving schemes to potential clients. I had a strike rate of one-in-three or one-in-four, which wasn’t bad, but let us remember that the prospects had already been warmed by their introducers. I really didn’t know how to deal with objections.

When I became an independent business person I did an intensive sales course which was based on a hard sell to prospects who were found through cold-calling from specialist appointment makers. Many had probably agreed to an appointment to get rid of the caller. They felt no obligation to even be at their premises when we arrived, on at least one occasion I was greeted with two words, the second of which was “off”, and if we did get to have any sort of interview it was going through the motions with little prospect of business being done.

The course I had been on and another I drove a long way to do focused on practically grabbing the prospect by the throat at the end of a very structured interview (from our side) and saying “sign here”. Of course they didn’t, and I wouldn’t have in their position.

I thought I was a hopeless salesman, but then I found Zig and read “I’ll see you at the top”. He with his tales of selling demonstrated how to befriend the prospect, not in a dishonest way, but how to establish a rapport and find out what she or he really wanted. As Zig said, it is about being brief, warm, sincere and friendly. The last three seem obvious now, especially having only later read Dale Carnegie, but the “brief” bit was also important; knowing when to be quiet, but sharing just a little personal information to build the relationship. It all works for me.

No one buys what they don’t want, and I know now that selling can only be done through genuine relationships of mutual respect. I don’t doubt that Zig appreciated “How to Win Friends and Influence People (a volume also beside my bed) but he himself was a giant on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you, Zig.

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Working for Godzilla

A couple of weeks ago I saw an interview on a news channel with a client of one of my former employers, which was a very large firm. This ex-client of mine who I believe is also an ex-client of the firm I used to work for was one of the most difficult people I have known in my working career. There are always fireworks around this man because not only does he not suffer fools gladly; he doesn’t suffer anyone gladly.

The interviewer, whom I like, innocently asked about his subject’s company performance in the current economic conditions (which is good considering everything) and about big business directors’ salaries. I was waiting for the explosion and it duly came. I am afraid if anyone watching was waiting to be impressed by the response, she or he would have been severely disappointed. The journalist asking the questions was quite taken aback. Maybe he hadn’t been warned.

This ex-client of my former employer is not someone who follows Dale Carnegie. He gets his way by being a big bully and imposes a reign of terror wherever he goes. The sad thing is that it works for him and he is for that reason a bad-boy darling of the financial press.

When I had to deal with this guy I was an employee some way down the pecking order. When I was permitted to speak to him on the telephone he used to shout at me over any reasonable question I asked and would use a series of expletives. I put up with this because I had to, although one one occasion I did tell him I would speak to him when he was feeling better, and put the phone down.

Of course I and my peers took the flack as a cushion between the client and our principals, who of course only really saw the client on social occasions when he was obliged to try and be nice. Our bosses knew what we had to put up with, though.

When we start out in business on our own account it is tempting to take any work we can get, no matter from whom we are getting it. That might on occasion mean taking on as clients some people whom we find very unpleasant. That would be a mistake.

There is a great deal to think about in running a business and we need as little stress as possible both for our health and well-being and to allow us to think clearly. We don’t need to take on clients who are monsters and who will swear at us and be ungrateful when we are delivering the best service any business could offer.

Once I was cannon fodder for my employer. Acting for myself, I don’t need to be in a war at all and neither do you. That is no way to run a business, is it?

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Getting on the customer’s wavelength

Poor reception

One of the most difficult obstacles I had when starting in business on my own was in persuading my prospects to listen to what I had to offer. Often they were just not tuned in to listen to me, and I guess what was worse was that I was not tuned in to listen to them first.

I thought that in my “brave new world” of being a business owner I should at least get some idea about selling. Unfortunately all the courses I went on at the outset were for the hard sell. The training was to pressure the prospect into realizing the pain they would suffer if they did not buy from me. There were structured scripts and I was expected to “close” the prospect within an hour and not come away before two hours had passed if I had not actually had the unfortunate person sign on the dotted line. I often got thrown out long before.

I didn’t get a single sale that way, and looking back I am not surprised. Firstly, most prospects (if we must call them that):

  • do not necessarily think they have a problem, or
  • think they have a problem but reckon they can solve it themselves or
  • think that some outsider wouldn’t understand the problem.

None of these mindsets will lead them to listen to someone such as myself, or you or anyone unless we have listened to the prospect first and got in tune with their way of thinking.


Our potential clients, who will very likely be business owners themselves, often feel insulted by anyone who gives them unsolicited advice and suggests how they might do things better; or in my case would offer hand-on help when they don’t think they need it. When we think about it, most people feel insulted when they get any sort of unsolicited advice concerning who they should go out with or what colour best suits them.

My sister, who never reads this blog, as a teenager took any sort of advice as a personal insult even if she had asked for it in the first place. She is not unique.


I learned a lesson about selling by telling people they are wrong quite a long time ago, but the other day had a sharp reminder when I made the mistake of offering a new Twitter follower some advice on basic strategy. He didn’t take it well, and although what I said was sound advice he insists he knows better. I should have shut up but if I had not being trying to help I would probably have not followed him back as I do not like his approach to Twitter.

I guess that I could be quite insulted too in certain circumstances. I entirely understand Nancy feeling hurt with the unsolicited advice she received. I might have taken it the same way. (Nancy is a good read so why not subscribe?).

Tune in

It had been said so often that we should listen. We should listen to our family and we should listen to our networking friends, and we should certainly listen to our potential customers before opening our big mouths. Otherwise they may hear us when we speak but they won’t listen. That is because if we haven’t listened then what we say will not be of value to them. Hearing is not listening.

In order to help anyone whether they are our potential client or our on-line or off-line friend we need to know how they feel and what they believe they need. Then we will have something to offer whether it is a business proposition, practical help or a shoulder to cry on. Any of those offerings will go towards building relationships and will help those in need.

From the sales point of view it is always worth re-reading How to Win Friends…  and checking in with Zig Ziglar (not affiliate links) but I expect you have these books already. I have both on my bedside table or night stand. Always listen!

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How the other half lives – an observation in management

After a long break I now find myself travelling to London quite often, and of course it is most convenient to take the train. In a former life I used to commute daily. It is now hard to understand how I ever did it, and it is not just the uncertainty and unreliability of the train service.

The trouble is the people; not all of them of course but just the large antisocial element. Some have bags they lay on other people’s feet rather than putting them on the rack or asking someone else to, others push past, talk loudly on their phones or text constantly..beep beep beep. I guess it is the aggression pheromones discovered in fruit flies which is the cause of this behaviour, and of course relates to survival in a crowded environment.

Given this trait which in the past I have seen transferred into working environments, it seems a recipe for disaster in getting the best out of our staff. One can quite understand how having fought through the melee of public transport, it is difficult to switch off inconsiderate attitudes. It is possible to get people to be more relaxed though, and that is by being friendly with our co-workers. When I first became responsible for staff, I found it easier to be quite laid back and not to pressure people. That way I gained respect and a willingness to deliver amongst my group, but I cannot say it was particularly thought through. I had not then discovered Dale Carnegie.

Do the crowds and general rush make it harder to maintain a good atmosphere and working environment in larger towns and cities? It may be so, but I suspect that if bosses and managers took a step back and thought of their employees as people with needs, feelings and sensitivities, those workers would see their employers as human beings too. Everyone would then get on better and I suspect more work would be done and all would receive greater rewards, both monetarily and in happiness. I do recommend everyone should read Dale Carnegie if they haven’t already.

© Jon Stow 2009