The Fearsome Green Profit Margin
I read books. Always have. Always will. And by books, I mean those old-timey things with pages between two stiff covers, not on an iPad or an electronic reader. I like the feel of paper and the sense of accomplishment gleaned from hitting page 400 and actually turning the pages, one at a time. I like the way a book smells. Sometimes they smell like yesterday, but they always carry me, hurtling toward tomorrow.
As a writer, I craft comic-fantasy fiction but as a reader, I'm nuts about science fiction, mysteries and thrillers. My favorite 14 novels of all time are the original James Bond adventures by Ian Fleming. In my quest to find anything even remotely in the same genre, I've devoured The Saint series by Leslie Charteris, the Matt Helm spy novels by Donald Hamilton and the twenty-one books written by the late, great John D. MacDonald featuring that soldier-of-fortune beach bum Travis McGee.
In these wonderful mysteries, McGee is not just a very capable action-hero and wooer of wanton women, but he—via the insightful prose of MacDonald—was a social commentator on human nature like had never been seen before (or since!) in fiction. Each of the book titles always had a color in it, like "The Deep Blue Good-by" or "A Purple Place For Dying." I'm currently re-reading this wonderful series for the second time and thoroughly enjoying my reunion with an old friend, Travis McGee.
"That's cool, Ricko," you are no doubt thinking, "but what Flip-Furry Freakin' Heck does this have to do with promotional products and how will your twisted reading habits help me Be Bold, Different or Memorable?" Stay with me, peeps, it's coming ...
I'm currently in the middle of the second McGee adventure, "Nightmare In Pink." Travis is poking his unwanted nose into the accidental death of a financial whiz that might not be so accidental. It might be murder! (Dunt Dunt DAAAHHH!!!) In his investigation, he is attempting to delve into the work habits of the victim, interviewing different people on the fringes of the case. Here is what Travis McGee has to say about getting information from people:
"There is only one way to make people talk more than they care to: Listen. Listen with hungry earnest attention to every word. In the intensity of your attention, make little nods of agreement, little sounds of approval. You can't fake it. You have to really listen. In a posture of gratitude. And it is such a rare and startling experience for them, such a boon to ego, such a gratification of self, to find a genuine listener, that they want to prolong the experience. And the only way to do that is to keep talking. A good listener is far more rare than an adequate lover."
Damn. That's John D. MacDonald, folks. Masterful. Insightful. A great delver into that which is human nature. And he's revealed, in that brilliant terse paragraph, a secret of sales success that cannot be overestimated:
The art of listening.
When I coach sales people on how to get initial meetings with prospective clients and what to do and say on those meetings, I always urge them NOT to bring ANY promotional products, to sit down with a pad and a pen and to ask questions. Get them talking and write down EVERY WORD they say because each and every word is a PEARL, a precious piece of WISDOM that must be captured and written for posterity. The less you talk means the more they talk which means you are having an AMAZING conversation even if you say virtually NOTHING. It's all about them, their world, their needs and opportunities to partner with them to accomplish their goals.
To uncover these opportunities ... you listen. And write. And make those little nods of agreement and sounds of approval. When you return, on the second meeting, with your ideas and your branded samples, you PROVE what a good listener you were. And strengthen the budding relationship. And that's when you sell.
Thanks, Travis McGee, for reminding us of the power of listening. It's one of the most important sales tools in your arsenal and if you aren't good at it ... get good at it.
Are you listening?
Rick Greene, MAS, is the western regional vice president for HALO Branded Solutions, a past president of SAAC and the editor of The SAAC Times and the author of two novels entitled "Boofalo!" and "Shroom!" available at www.amazon.com. If you happen to be on Amazon ordering one of Greene's Funny Books, do yourself a favor and try a Travis McGee adventure by John D. MacDonald. Any of them, they are ALL good. And addictive. You're welcome.