AMY PORTERFIELD: Don't have a college degree in what you're teaching? Didn't go to a prestigious MBA school? Yeah, neither did I. I often hear, “But Amy, I'm not professionally or college educated in this area that I want to teach. So who am I to be doing this? I'm not really qualified,” to which I respond, “All you need is a 10 percent edge.” And my guest today actually agrees with that, especially when it comes to building a healthy and successful business. He says, “Even if you have the time, access, or money to attend a Top 20 business school, you would still be missing the practical knowledge that propels the best and brightest forward.” And today he's sharing a handful of those missing pieces. Bottom line: if you know what they are, you can use them to make a world of difference in your business and your success.
INTRO: I'm Amy Porterfield, and this is Online Marketing Made Easy.
AMY: All right, all right. You've waited so patiently to find out who this mysterious guest is. His name is Donald Miller, but his friends call him Don. And you may remember him from episode number 236, “How to Clarify Your Message,” which is still a very popular episode to this day. He's the CEO of Business Made Simple, an online platform that teaches business professionals everything they need to know to grow a business and enhance their personal value on the open market. He is also a podcast host and is the author of several books, including his newest one, Business Made Simple, which we'll talk about a little bit later in the episode.
But today, what we're going to dive into is a handful of areas where entrepreneurs truly excel. And we're going to talk about how and what to strategically and intentionally implement to make those areas of your business work for you and not the other way around. Wait until he talks about the eulogy. You're going to love it. It's something that I am definitely going to do.
Now, we're going to talk about personal productivity; about how you can get more done in less time—yes, please—your messaging; and answer the question, Why aren't customers paying more attention?; marketing, and more specifically, how to build a sales funnel; and last but certainly not least—probably my most favorite part of this interview because I'm recording this intro after I got to talk to Don—my most favorite part is how to close more sales. And the answer to this question is very different than I thought it was going to be, and I called my team right after this interview, and I said, “Let's talk about selling and how to do it differently,” based on this one interview I had with Don. So it's a whole lot of goodness coming at you. So sit back, relax, while taking notes, of course, and enjoy my conversation with Don.
Well, hey, there, Don. Welcome back to the show. I’m so glad to have you here.
DON MILLER: It's good to be with you.
AMY: Now, I know this is getting off topic, but isn't it wild to think that when this episode airs, you will be a first-time dad?
DON: That's right. Yeah. We are due in two days—
AMY: Two days.
DON: And supposedly first babies come a little bit late, is what I hear, so we may be eight or ten days. But today's my last day of work. Tomorrow begins the process of sitting there, twiddling my thumbs, watching my wife.
AMY: Okay. I do love, though, that you took that time off. That's very cool.
DON: Oh, yeah. Wouldn’t have missed it.
AMY: And also, I kept thinking, “I wonder if he's going to cancel this,” because it's so close to your due date. But then I also have heard that the first baby tends to take a little bit longer, so I was crossing my fingers we could get it in.
But congratulations. I can't wait to see all the baby posts. You promise to be posting some of that baby, right?
DON: Oh, yeah. No, I think I'd be in a lot of trouble with a lot of people if I didn't put pictures up—
AMY: For sure.
DON: —so expect it.
AMY: Cannot wait. Cannot wait.
Okay. So, I'm glad to have you back, and we're going to talk about so many topics that my audience is asking about all the time. So I hear many entrepreneurs in my audience or those who want to become entrepreneurs often say, “But I didn't go to business school. I just don't think I can make this work.” In fact, I have a feeling that some of my audience members are nodding their heads right now because they've had that exact thought. So why do you feel that you actually don't need a business degree to be a successful entrepreneur, and what are some of the things that will aid in that success that someone perhaps wouldn't learn in business school?
DON: There are certainly advantages to going to business school, and a lot of it is just networking and who you meet and the isolated experience of studying business. The negatives, as I've seen them, is a lot of the stuff I think you study in business school isn't the stuff you need to understand to actually grow a business. I mean, you study a paper on trade with China. You study a 1973 Volkswagen ad. You study—you basically are being prepared to be chairman of the Fed or to run a venture-capital firm, which almost nobody in that class is going to do. You know, we really just want to go out and run a company. And so that's my beef against business school. And also, you have to ask yourself, is the juice worth the squeeze? in the sense that you could go fifty, a hundred fifty thousand dollars in debt, and now you have debt going into your life in the workplace.
I think the best kind of business education is when you actually work for a company and you develop yourself within that organization in order to make yourself more valuable on the open market, not just in the company that you work for, but actually on the open market. And that's not really what business school teaches you to do. So I think business schools are going to change. I think, in the next five to ten years, what I'm saying is no longer going to be true because they are going to need to change, and I think that's a really good thing. But right now, I would say I don't know if business school is worth it. I think you can get an education on your own that will actually give you the skill set to become more valuable.
AMY: Oh, yes. Totally agree.
Now, I know in your new book, you lay out nine areas successful leaders and entrepreneurs excel in. So do you mind if we dive in just a little bit deeper to a few of those?
DON: Yeah, absolutely.
AMY: Okay. So first up, let's talk about personal productivity. What do you mean by this, and what are a couple of strategies that someone could use in their business to excel in that area?
DON: Yeah. You know, years ago—and you and I are probably both geeks in this area, Amy—years ago—it was ten, twelve years ago—I decided to sell everything I had in Portland, Oregon. I bought a Volkswagen camping van, one of the newer ones, not the older ones; and my dog and I set out to Washington, D.C. to pursue the woman who is now my wife. I was going to move to her town, a few houses down from she and her girlfriends, and try to win her over, and thankfully it worked.
But on the way there, I decided to buy—this is pre Audible and all that—I bought on CD every book I could on personal productivity, on willpower, on self-discipline, on life planning, all like this. And I listened to them. I listened to—I don't know how many hours it took us to get across the country. It was me and my chocolate lab. I listened harder than she did.
And I basically created my own day planner, and I've used it for more than ten years. It's actually not public. I have some friends who've downloaded it, and they love it. But it's not something that I offer to anybody, not because I don't want to; it’s just because it was just something I developed for me.
But for me, what that personal planner does, there's two things that I think are critically important that that planner has done that in the last ten years—I'm forty-nine. So from thirty-nine to forty-nine—I've gotten more done than I did from one to thirty-nine. Easily, if not three times as much.
DON: I became a bestselling author. I built a multi-million-dollar company. I got married, and within days I'll be a dad. All of that I owe to this planner.
And one of the things that it did was I separated my primary projects that were important from my secondary projects. In other words, spending two hours working on the book is much more important than going and picking up the dry cleaning. You know, working on the speech that I've got to give at the conference this weekend is much more important than returning an email from somebody who wants to do business with me. And the problem is the brain doesn't understand the difference. It just hears a ringing phone, and it'll answer any phone. And so you have to actually sit down and process, wait, what's the most important thing I could do, and what am I willing to not let happen in order to get this thing done? So I gave—on my planner, there's three primary tasks that need to be done, and there's about twelve secondary tasks. So just the idea what's primary and what's secondary has been one of the keys, I think, to the amount of productivity I've had over the last ten years.
And what I see a lot of people doing is they're working very hard on things that they just don't need to work hard on. You know, if I don't write almost every day, I can't release a book every year. And I've got thirty employees who depend on me releasing a book out of every year or every eighteen months, at least. So if I have to not pick up the dry cleaning, if I don't pick up the dry cleaning, what I'm going to have is a shirt that's been ironed, but it's not going to look as good as a shirt that came from the dry cleaner. So which is more important? A shirt that has a wrinkle in it or not feeding thirty people some opportunities to make a living?
DON: That's what the brain can't figure out. And I mean, it can figure it out, but it's not going to figure it out intuitively. So every morning, when I fill out that planner, I know what the three primary things I need to get done. And then another secret is I never get all three done. I usually get one done; sometimes I get two done. So everything else just kind of goes by the wayside.
Then, the second thing that I do, which is actually more important than the first thing, is I read my eulogy every morning.
DON: I do my morning ritual. I wrote my eulogy a long time ago, and it said, it would be what I'd want people to say about me at my funeral. It's an old exercise. It predates Stephen Covey. He talked about it in 7 Habits. Our friend Michael Hyatt recommends doing it. I mean, it's just one of the most thoughtful, amazing exercises that you can do. And that eulogy says, “I will have written several bestselling books that help make very complicated ideas simple, in theology, in business, and in politics.” Those are the three areas I want to cover by the end of my life. I've already done theology. I've already done business. I'm going to do business for several more years, and I'm going to switch to politics. So what this does is it tells me where my life is going to go. It also says that I was a faithful husband, that I spent a lot of time with Betsy in the garden, that I was a very good father, and some other things that I want to accomplish.
Our house we built here in Nashville is fifteen acres. It has a house and a guest house and what we call a carriage house, which is basically an event space in the backyard where I will bring people. The event space is still three months from being finished, but I will bring people there to help them process their own story and help them understand how much they've overcome and how beautiful their lives are. Then, they're going to write those stories on five pages into a formula. We're going to put those into binders in the carriage house, and it will contain a library of thousands and thousands of people, and then sitting down and processing all that they've overcome in life and how powerful they are and how strong they are and how loving they are.
If that's going to be true by the time I die, I've got a lot of work to do. I’ve got to finish the carriage house. I've got to write the formula. I've got to invite all the people over. I've got to somehow transition into politics. I’ve got to finish these bestselling books. So it just makes everything—I can't, you know, spend a lot of time on the road, away from Betsy. I can't do that. So it helps me govern and guide my life.
And so my life plan I read every morning on a morning ritual, not every morning, to be honest with you, but every morning when I do my morning ritual, I read it. That ends up being about three to five days a week. And then I fill out my day planner, which tells me my primary and secondary tasks. And it has laser focused my life so that it never feels chaotic. It does often feel very busy, and I have to manage being too busy, but I’m just never off track. And to me, for the last ten years, that's been a gift.
AMY: Never off track. That is something to aspire to, and I really get that from you. You have a great social presence in the sense that you do some videos and you do a lot of quick chats. I call them little mini TED Talks. I love them so much. And I get the sense that you do very much know who you are and where you're going. And this idea of writing your eulogy—when I get off track or things feel really messy, I often come back to, “Amy, who are you, and what do you want? What are you here for?” And a eulogy like that is very clear who you are, what do you want, what are you here for, what's most important? That would really ground you.
DON: Oh, it's absolutely grounding. And you know the other grounding thing that's kind of sad to talk about is the fact that we're not here for very long.
AMY: I thought that, too.
DON: I mean, you're literally going to die. This story ends. And to me, just reminding myself of that every morning—you know, when you write a screenplay or when you write a novel, often you want to put a kind of ticking clock in the story. So, you know, it's not that the man wants to marry the woman; it's that the man wants to marry the woman, but the woman is about to marry his jerk brother next Saturday. And that's the story. And he's got to get all of this done and convince her that his brother is a real jerk and he's the real guy. He’s got to do that by Saturday.
And when you actually read your eulogy, you wake up and you say, “Hey, wait a second. We don't have a lot of time to play around. We don’t have a lot of time to sit around, watching Netflix,” although I love sitting around, watching Netflix. But we don't have a lot—we need to mitigate some of that and actually build some of these relationships and get some of these tasks done and try to make an impact. And to me, that's the other genius of that exercise is realizing there’s a ticking clock in your story. And it gives yourself, it’s a thing that I call narrative traction. Narrative traction, to me, is when you're watching a movie, and suddenly you realize, “Wait, that man should marry that woman. That's the real couple.” That's called narrative traction because you actually engage the story, and you sit there and you watch the rest of it because you're hoping that will happen.
And what I think most people are missing in their lives is narrative traction. They simply aren't interested in their own lives. They're interested in what's happening on Netflix. They're interested in gossip about what somebody else is doing. But they're not interested in their own lives. And so when we actually design a life that that gets us interested in our own life, it pulls us out of a narrative vacuum, or what psychologist Viktor Frankl calls an existential vacuum.
DON: It's as though you're sitting in the theater of your own mind, and you had a wonderful story in high school, and you had a wonderful story in college, and you watched that movie on the screen. It was so fantastic. And you got a wonderful story of how you met your husband or your wife, and that’s fantastic. And then, usually, that’s it. Culture doesn't provide you another story. And so if you don't make one up and dive into one, you are sitting in the theater of your own mind, you're watching a blank screen, and you're wondering why life is so boring and so futile. And you blame it on God, and you blame it on the government, you blame it on everybody else, but the truth is it's your fault. You're still sitting in the theater. You haven't put a new story on the screen. And when we put a new story on the screen, we engage our own lives. It's exciting. It's interesting. It's not always happy. Sometimes it's tragic and hard, but you're always interested in it. You always want to get up and put something on the plot.
AMY: Whoa. I love this. And I mentioned you being on social earlier, but I think also, when we find ourselves so enthralled in other people's lives on social media, probably is a good indicator that maybe we need to get enthralled in our own lives, in our own story, maybe rewrite the story until we get excited about it.
DON: I think that's true. And you know, I try to follow people on social media—Amy, I follow you—who inspire my own story, right? Like, when I’m watching them and I see how good a dad they are, I go, “Okay. I’m going to borrow some of that.” And when they bought a new house, and they're fixing it up, and it's like, “Okay. I want the setting that I live in to be kind of cool like that.” But I hope it’s not a sort of thing where there's jealousy or envy. I hope it's inspiration. Of course, we all go back and forth between the two. But, you know, none of us are perfect. But at the same time, I would hope that when we look at social media, we're more inspired and informed to make our own story interesting.
AMY: For sure. For sure.
Okay. So that is personal productivity. I loved everything you shared there. And I want to move on to the next one that I think my listeners would really find valuable, and that is messaging. So talk to me about why this is important, and how can my listeners audit their messaging to make sure it's getting their audiences’ attention?
DON: Well, you know, there's a lot there, but I'm going to give everybody a strategy they can use right now.
DON: I recently was on a Zoom call with a company called Calyx, and Calyx is a company that does broadband services. The owner of Calyx sold his last company for seven billion. So this is a company that's well founded. It's growing massively. And they are the most fun people to work with. They have a great product. They're extremely smart. I really like working with these guys.
And they showed me a proposal, and the proposal was for a piece of hardware that would allow a broadband company to go into rural areas without having to run lines and all of the infrastructure that's so expensive. So what we're talking about is hundreds of millions of dollars if this proposal is successful. So I read the proposal. And the person who wrote it was an engineer. He's explaining kind of how it works. And it was, in my opinion, for an engineer, it was extremely well read. Nothing against engineers. But it's, you know, they tend to be not the best writers. And it was really well done. But what I said to them was, “Look, when I look at a proposal or a sales letter or a website or anything, I see colors, and the sentences that are red are the sentences in which you are pointing out your customers’ problems. The sentences that are yellow are the sentences in which you are talking about your solutions to their problems and the products that you sell that will solve those problems. And then the sentences that are green are sentences in which you are describing what the customer's life can look like if they buy your product. So if you think about it, that's a story. Customer has a problem, they bought a product to solve it, and now their life is better, and they live happily ever after.” That’s the story. And there's a lot more to a story than that, and I get into that in my books, but that's basically what you need. You need those three things in a story.
So I said, “Look, when I read your proposal, all I see is yellow. There's no red, and there's no green. There's no talking about or empathizing with the customer’s problem, and there's no talking about what their customer’s life can look like if they buy your product. So in other words, you've got a great proposal. It's just all yellow. If you really want to make it great, even better, write some sentences in red in front of it, and write some sentences in green after it. And then you've got a story, because now the solution to the customer's problem is going to make a lot more sense because they have this problem and because they want to live this happy-ever-after sort of life, the yellow suddenly increases dramatically in value, and that's going to make them want to buy it.” And, you know, if they do that, and they will, that's worth tens of millions of dollars to that company.
So, you know, we're probably talking to a lot of small-business leaders, who are the majority of people that we work with. If you're a small-business leader, here's the number one takeaway. You're probably really good at talking about your product. You've probably really worked on it. But get just as good as talking about and empathizing, and empathizing is really important. The best definition I've heard for empathy is shared pain. So you want to share the pain with your customer. You want to feel it, too. Then, you want to solve it with your product. And then, you want to explain what their life will look like after and the sort of happily-ever-after life that they can live. Just make sure that the marketing collateral—and you're so great at teaching this, Amy—make sure the marketing collateral is red, yellow, and green. Make sure it invites customers into a story.
AMY: Oh, so important. You know, recently we did some surveying with our audience. And although I've been at this for twelve years and I feel like I know my audience fairly well, there are some things that were uncovered. We learned that my students, they value freedom and autonomy much more than they do money. And I teach people how to make money, but also how to make an impact. And one of the things we've changed recently in our messaging is when we're meeting them where they're at with their challenges, we're not so much talking about all the money they can make, because although that's important, it literally is not what's keeping them up at night. They genuinely want to make a difference in this world, and they want to do it on their terms. That little tweak of what we learned changed the story, like, tenfold.
DON: Yeah, yeah. And I think story is everything. You've illustrated a really great point. You're going to find out what your customers’ struggles are, and you're going to find out what they want by actually talking to them.
DON: I'm the sort of person—I'm just creative. I never lack ideas. It can be easy for me just to assume that I know what the customer wants. But every time we do surveys and I sit down and we do focus groups, I'm always shocked because I was off a little bit. You got to actually talk to somebody to have empathy. And so you just illustrated that.
AMY: So important, for sure.
Okay. So we talked about personal productivity and messaging, two things that you really get to in your book. You go much deeper, of course. But I want to talk about marketing. And obviously, I have an online-marketing business. I teach marketing, but I want you to talk about it specifically in terms of building a sales funnel and what that looks like, because I think sometimes I take for granted that my audience just gets it, where you don't typically learn this stuff in school, especially if you didn't go to business school. So what does a sales funnel look like? Why is it important? Can you kind of get into that?
DON: Well, I'll tell you, I don't think you learn how to make a sales funnel in business school.
AMY: Okay, good. I've never been, so I wasn't sure.
DON: Yeah. Business school is really preparing you to be a cog in the wheel of corporate America, and it’s not even preparing you to do that very well. So if you're running your own company, I think it is foundational—and Amy, I think you are a terrific place to learn how to do it—but it is foundational that you are able to build a sales funnel and you're able to get your marketing right. For me, there's many, many kinds of sales funnels. The most basic is something that we call a one liner; that is, one sentence that gets people engaged in your product.
So for instance, if I were—that step one is the one liner, and I'll explain what it is. If I were at a cocktail party and I went up to somebody and said, “What do you do?” and they said, “Well, I'm an at-home chef,” I would probably say, “Oh, okay. Where’d you go to culinary school, and what are your favorite restaurants in town, and have you ever cooked for anybody famous?” I would just make conversation. But let's say I went to somebody and I said, “What do you do?” and they said, “Well, you know how most families don't eat together anymore, and when they do, they don’t eat healthy? I’m an at-home chef. I come to your house, and I cook so that your family can actually relax, look each other in the eye, and have a meaningful conversation while you eat food that tastes great and is healthy.” That second person is going to get my business. The first person, it would never, I would never even think that I need to do business with them, because they're an at-home chef for rich people.
DON: The second person, I realize, “Oh, I have that problem, and I want to sit, relax at a table, and have a conversation with my family, and I want to eat food that tastes good but is healthy instead of making nachos again. I want to do those things.” And what they used was a one liner. A one liner is a sentence that starts with the problem, talks about the solution, and explains the result. It's the same as the formula that I gave you earlier. That sentence needs to be written.
And then, that sentence is going to get people to go to your website. And your landing page needs to also invite people into a story. So that's the second part of the sales funnel.
The third part is a lead generator: some sort of webinar, some sort of video course, some sort of PDF, something that is extremely valuable and gets an email address. And then, there's nurture campaigns and sales campaigns that you email people. And the reality is, people don't usually buy from you when they get your email. They buy when they realize they need your product, when they realize your product will solve a problem. That's not always right after they go to your website or right after they download your lead generator. Sometimes it's twenty, thirty, forty, fifty weeks later. So we recommend at least six weeks’ worth of emails, but preferably fifty-two.
DON: Yeah, preferably fifty-two. And we're sort of shocked at how people will download our lead generator. We don't do fifty-two, Amy. We do infinity. We send out emails every single week to our list, telling them who's on our podcast, giving them some valuable information. Because the thing is, I want to be in their inbox whenever they realize it's time to buy the solution. And I know if I skip a week, I'll lose sales.
AMY: Okay. You just said it. Wait. I got to stop you. That is so important. I’ve never said it that way, and I want to say it that way from here on out. I’ll always give you credit. But you want to be in their inbox when they are ready.
DON: Right. There's a window that's going to open—
DON: —and it's their window of need. And it's like, suddenly I need a new roof because my roof is leaking. Well, if you sent them an email six weeks ago, I promise you they've already forgotten you.
DON: So, they heard about you three years ago, and they didn't need a roof. But now you've emailed them every week or so, with some valuable information, and now they need a new roof. And the whole thing is, are you going to be present in their mind when they are ready to buy? And so it's really much more about maintaining that relationship and continuing to offer value than it is about emailing them something that convinces them to buy from you. You just want to be around. You just want to be around.
AMY: That is so valuable, because I know a lot of my listeners right now, they're not emailing once a week. They feel like it's too much, or they're not sure what to say, or it's just not a priority for them yet. But I hope when they hear it, the way you just explained it, they'll realize, “Wait a second. If I'm there, right time, right place, I’m there consistently, but then they realize they need me, there I am. I'll be waiting. I'll be patient.”
DON: That's exactly it. Yeah, yeah. You want to be the guy. You want to be the guy standing around.
DON: That's how I got my wife. You know, she wouldn't go out with me for three years, but I kept riding my bike by her house, kept bringing flowers, and suddenly, she was like, “You know, this guy’s not going away.” And so now we’re married.
AMY: Maybe I better pay attention.
Well, okay. So, I love that you talk about this idea of a sales funnel. And one more thing I wanted to say to that is, as you know, I teach people how to do webinars. And I've noticed—and there's so many different alternatives to a webinar. Sales videos, or not sales videos, but value-packed videos that they can do or challenges or quizzes, all these different things. But I really do believe there needs to be a vehicle in between your emails talking about whatever it is that you offer or how you offer value and sending directly to the sales page. And I love that you mention that in this funnel, that we're not just sending emails directly to a sales page.
DON: Right. I love the webinar strategy, too, and I'm so glad you're teaching people to do webinars. We actually do webinars, but we don't teach people to do them, so I defer to you on that.
AMY: Thank you.
DON: I will say this. I will say that they're incredibly successful for us, and one of the main reasons is it isolates the demographic that you really want to talk to. And the other thing is, if you can add a Q&A to your webinar, we really don't fully know—you can sort of empathize, and surveys and focus groups can help you—but you don't know about what this individual person, what they're struggling with that's keeping them from buying your product. And so within Q&A, you can usually overcome whatever it is that they misunderstand. You can answer that question, and it just leads to a ton of sales.
And another thing that I would do, and I'm sure you teach this, is I'd offer a limited-time bonus. If you respond by the end of the week—
DON: —you get a limited-time bonus. And that really helps. Most people, by the time they attend a webinar and they ask a question, they really want to buy from you. And now all they're saying, they're really not saying, “Talk me into it.” A lot of them are just saying, “Will you please just give me an excuse? Give me an excuse. Give me an excuse to buy this” because they're ready to buy it. And when you say, “Yeah, it’s 10 percent off until the end of the month,” or “When you buy this, you get a free whatever.”
This was so funny. I have no explanation for this. But literally I was behind a jeep today, and there was a tire cover on the back of the Jeep. You know, jeeps have tires mounted to the back of it.
DON: There was a tire cover. And apparently, this is a real-estate agent, and the tire cover literally said, “Free taco when you buy a house.”
AMY: Stop it. Okay, I’m buying a house.
DON: I know that's funny, but I think they're joking about something that's actually very true. It's just like, give me any excuse. Like, “Why did you buy this house?” “One, I wanted it. Two, they gave me a free taco.”
AMY: Listen, free means something.
DON: It really does, yeah.
AMY: It’s fun to get something. But okay. Free taco with buying a house. They might be pushing it a little—
DON: Might be pushing it a little.
AMY: —but I love the enthusiasm.
DON: Yeah, exactly.
AMY: So good.
Okay. So we talked about the sales funnel, but I want to actually talk about sales, because that's another thing you talk about in this book, and specifically, closing more sales. Do you have any tips or tricks around that?
DON: Yeah. Here's what I think sales is actually, what it actually is. I think it's mostly, these days, consulting, and there's a goal that you're trying to do when you sell something, and it's not to sell it. It's not to close the deal. That's actually not the goal. That happens naturally. The goal is actually to connect their problem with your solution. That's the goal. And when the neurons fire in their brain between what they are struggling with and the product that you have that solves that problem, that's when they're going to make the purchase. And when we fail to close the deal, we have failed to connect our product with their problem. That's what we failed to do.
And so we actually have to say, you know, let's say I'm selling children's playground equipment on a commercial level. And here's a church down the street, and I'm going to try to sell this playground equipment to this church. What I'm going to do is I'm going to go in, and I'm going to say, “Tell me. What do you guys want for your church? Where do you want it to go?” “Well, we really want—yeah, we want—people come to us from other churches. That's not what we want. We want the neighborhood to show up.” And it's “Why isn't the neighborhood showing up?” “We don't know. We just think maybe they're kind of scared of religion or scared of churches, or they just see you as an unfriendly place. That's right.” Then you can say, “Well, I think a playground in the yard that says ‘Playground Open to Everybody,’ ‘Play at Your Own Risk,’ or ‘We Love Our Community. Feel Free to Use Our Playground,’ or whatever,” or a dog park or something, “would just make it feel like you're more warm and inviting, and a playground would do that.” Now what I’ve done is I've connected their problem, which had nothing to do with the playground, with a playground. And the truth is it would probably give a more warm feeling.
So I think where salespeople actually lose is they don't find out really what the problem is. They come in trying to talk people into the solution that they've offered without connecting that solution to the actual problem.
I literally have—I have a person now who's texting me all the time trying to get me to buy something, and I don't have the problem that they are trying to solve. And I just keep kind of saying, “Actually, it's really not for us right now.” And, you know, they'll try to reword it some other way. And what they're trying to do is close a sale. The truth is I do have problems they can solve, but they've already demonstrated they're not going to listen or sit down and really try to understand; they're going to try to get the money. And I'm not going to do business with them. So I think we have to become very empathetic sort of consultants.
And the other thing is honestly, Amy, integrity. If I'm talking to somebody and I realize they don't actually have the problem that I solve, then what I want to do is say, “Do I know somebody who can help them solve the problem? Can I give them some ideas about how I think they could solve the problem? Is there anybody else, a customer, that's had this problem that solved it that I could put them in touch with?” I would do everything I can within reason to help them solve this problem. It has nothing to do with me making money.
AMY: Okay. I love it.
DON: Yeah. And if I can do that, I'm going to become known as a person who solves problems. And if I'm a person who solves problems, a lot of those problems are going to help me sell my products, some of them aren't, but I am a person who solves problems. And I think salespeople have a bad name, not because they don't solve problems. It's because they're trying to sell people solutions to problems they don't actually have. And then what happens is you have people out there in the market who are people pleasers who buy things they don't want. And then even though there were people players, they resent having that transaction, and then salespeople get a bad name.
AMY: Yes. I think this happens in the online-marketing world as well. I've heard these complaints. And I love that you said—and it reminds me, when I had Jasmine Star on the show, she reminded the audience that you're not for everybody, and you don't need to be. And so I'm so glad you brought up integrity, saying if the problem you're trying to solve is not their problem, maybe you can offer a different solution that has nothing to do with you making money from that person. I know that sounds so silly, but the world would be a much better place if we all were to do that in our businesses.
DON: Well, not only that, but let's say you don't have a solution. You can actually offer something that's really meaningful, and what you can offer is empathy.
AMY: Oh, yes.
DON: So you can actually say, “Oh, my gosh. We don't actually do that, but can I just tell you something? That's really frustrating. I mean, it's really frustrating. I wish there was a landscape person in your area who could do whatever.”
DON: “And if I see something, I’m going to let you know.” And then, to even call them back a month later and just say, “Hey, I know I don't solve this whatever. I'm really curious. How’d you solve that?
AMY: Can you imagine?
DON: Yeah. The next time they need your thing, you're going to kill it.
I remember I bought a Toyota 4Runner about a year ago. I was on my way to the gym. I thought, “I'm going to go look at the 4Runner. I've driven the Land Rover. I've driven much more expensive cars. But the 4Runner’s kind of cool, and I know it's a little cheaper.” So I pull up. There's a guy. He’s sitting on a bench outside the dealership, and I walk in. I've got my gym clothes on. I'm not going to buy a car. And he says, “How can I help you?” And I said, “Well, I'm looking for a 4Runner, and I just want to see how much they are, what the price range is.” He goes, “Sure. Here it is,” blah, blah, blah. We get in the car. And then he's so encouraging and so nice, we go on a test drive. And he says to me, “Don, you got to know I'm not a salesperson. I'm not even a good salesperson. I got this job ten years ago because I know the owner, and I just like people.” And that was it. And he just, you know, “Where do you live? Why do you want a 4×4? Do you really need the winch?” I'm like, “I don't need the winch. I need the winch, like, three times every ten years, but I want one because I think it looks cool.” He goes, “Well, this is a cool-looking car.” I bought the freakin’ car. And I go to his desk, and behind him are ten plaques that say Salesman of the Year. Now, this is the guy who told me, this guy told me he wasn't a salesperson. I said, “You are too a salesperson.” He goes, “I’m not. I just love people. I just want to solve problems.”
DON: And I'm like, “You know what? You're not a salesperson in the traditional sense.” And he sells more cars than any other sales rep at that building.
But if think about what he was doing, he's out front. He's the first guy that you see. He says he's not a salesperson, to disarm you. And then he just starts asking, “What do you want? What do you need?” And then I said, “You know what? This doesn't have enough power. I really want to go fast.” And he says, “You know, Don, I've got to be honest with. You want to go fast, here's the competition. They're going to make trucks that go fast. This is not a fast truck. This is a dependable truck. Your grandchildren might drive this truck.” And I'm like, “Gosh, he's right. Do I really want a fast truck, or do I want a truck that's dependable?” He goes, “It's just not going to be in the shop.” You know, it was just really a pleasant experience, and he was honest.
AMY: And you felt that he was being genuine. When he's like, “I'm not a salesperson,” you felt like he really believed that.
DON: Oh, I think it's actually kind of true in a weird way.
AMY: Got it.
DON: Like, he's not a salesperson in the sense that he's talking you into something you don't want.
DON: That’s how he’s not a salesperson. He’s a salesperson in trying to connect what I want or what my problem is to the solutions that he has and being honest about solutions outside and what he thinks are the cons to those solutions and why he thinks his solution is the best, and laid it all out.
AMY: I love this. And I think one of the things that we could do better as a team and something I could teach to my students as well is, okay. Think of a few other solutions for people that aren't a good fit. Think about why they're not a good fit, why your product probably does not solve the problem that they're looking for. What are some other solutions? because wouldn't it be nice to be armed with those in advance so you really are serving every which way when you're showing up?
DON: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. If you have a competitor who has a better solution, you know, that's not a problem for the sales force. That's a problem for research and development. That's a problem for your product-building team. They need to build a better product than your competitor. They just do.
AMY: Oh, I love it. I love this conversation. I like that we got into the integrity part of it. I think it's so important, conversations I want to have around that even more so. So this, Don, was exactly what I wanted to talk about, with the marketing and the messages and the messaging and sales funnels and how to close the sale in a very different way than I might have guessed you would have talked about. So thank you so very much for this, all the topics I was hoping to get to.
DON: Oh, my pleasure. It's been such a pleasure to talk to you.
AMY: Well, I want to talk to you, before I let you go, about your new book, Business Made Simple, and I know I shared a little bit about it in the intro and we talked about it here, but give us a rundown of what to expect in this book and, really, who needs to get their hands on it.
DON: Well, it's basically the business education I wish I would have gotten at about twenty-five. I took over a company at twenty-five years old. It was a small publishing company, and it did really well. Became the fastest-growing publishing company in our segment. And then I wrote a book, and that became a bestseller, which had nothing to do with business, and I was off being a writer for twenty years.
But back then—and then I had to build a company around being a writer, and now I have a learning-and-development company for business leaders. And I wish I would have known that I didn't need to read the trade paper or the white paper on trade with China. I didn't need to know that stuff. What I needed to know was how to be personally productive, how to write a really good mission statement that unites a team, I needed to learn how to clarify a message, I needed to learn how to build a sales funnel, everything I needed to know to grow my business. And my business grew from, our first year, we did a quarter million. That was not—a little over nine years ago we started the business. Last year we had 16.5 million—
DON: —with 64 percent profit margin. And we have no venture capital, no private equity, and no loans from banks, and no partners.
So I wish I would have known, but it took a lot to figure that out. And there are just some really basic things. And what I did with this book is I said, “Okay. People don't want to go back and get an MBA. They don't want to go into debt. They also don't want to take weeks out of their lives and sit and watch really long courses.” So what I did was I put sixty daily entries that take about five to seven minutes to read, and then you get emailed a video. And so basically the same thing that's in the daily entry, you get this video in which I teach it to you. So you get sixty videos and sixty daily entries, all for less than twenty bucks, and you can get it on Amazon. I've had people say, “Look, this is better than an MBA,” and that was the goal. It's better than an MBA in terms of how much money it will make you. And the book came out in January, and it's sold, you know, I don't know how many copies it sold. It's done extremely well, but it's just such a practical book for business leaders.
And I've been so affirmed. Last night, Betsy and I went to a brand-new restaurant. It’s about a month old. But the chef, who owns the restaurant and started it, won a James Beard award. And I've seen his episode of Chef's Table.
AMY: So cool.
DON: I'm a huge fan. I'm just an enormous fan of this chef because I'm an amateur cook, who is terrible. Anyway, but you could look through this little peephole—it looks like an aquarium window—into the kitchen, and it just looks like a French operating room of cleanliness and cool.
AMY: Oh, cool.
DON: Yeah. And I couldn't see him back there, and I was like, “Boy. I'd geek out. I wouldn't even know what to do if I talked to him.” He walks by, behind my wife, and I said, “Oh my, that's him.” And she goes, “Oh, yeah, that is him.” And we just keep eating and blah, blah, blah. And then, he's walking back by. I mean, this is a cool moment. You're the first person I've been able to share it with. And he turns around ,and he goes, “Oh, my word.” And he sits down next to me at the table—
AMY: Stop it.
DON: —and he goes, “I'm going through Business Made Simple. I'm watching your videos.” And I'm like—
AMY: Oh, my gosh. You about died?
DON: I couldn't speak. I literally started saying, “I love your car,” because on his Chef's Table, he drives a muscle car, and it’s the coolest car in the world. And my wife was like, “You were such a dork.” And I'm like, “I don't care. I get to be a dork.” And it was just so fun. And so—
AMY: [unclear 42:51]
DON: —you know, I love that it's helping really practical businesses and people who just want to hone their craft. And you know, that guy doesn't need to think about running a business. He needs to think about where to put truffles. You know what I mean?
DON: That's what he needs to be thinking about. And I hope that the book helps people just figure out the business stuff easily so that they can go back to their art and their craft and their customers and do what they love to do and let the business part run itself.
AMY: Yes. Oh, what a great story. I love that! I can't believe he came to your table!
DON: I can’t believe it, either. It was so fun.
AMY: That’s really fun, for sure.
Well, the book is Business Made Simple. I recommend everybody get their hands on it. Tell everyone where they should go to buy the book.
DON: Well, if you buy books on Amazon, just look for Business Made Simple. It's a blue book, and grab it. It should be twenty dollars or less. And then, we will spend the next sixty days together. You might get a little tired of me. But I am going to teach you everything I know about running a business. I promise that.
AMY: So cool. And I'll link to it in the show notes as well.
Don, thanks so much for being on the show. I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed learning from you and having you on the show. Hopefully, you'll come back again.
DON: My pleasure. What an honor to be with you. Thanks.
AMY: I think we can all agree that Don is a wealth of knowledge, right? While he shared a lot of insight during this episode, I want you to take a step back and ask yourself, “What spoke to me the most?” What strategy felt most aligned with where you are and what you need to pay attention to in your business right now? For me, it was when he was talking about, is your solution solving the actual problem that your audience is facing, and how that really needs to resonate with them. That was big for me. So ask yourself, what really stuck out to you, and pay close attention to that area and start taking action in that right away. I can't wait to call Chloe, my chief marketing officer, and talk to her about how Don explained really understanding the problem your potential customer is facing, and I want to look at what we are identifying as the problem for our potential customers and make sure we're really hitting home with that. So I feel like it's an area that I'm going to examine. So maybe that's the area you want to examine, or maybe you took something totally different from this episode. Just take action. So whatever it is, let that guide you so that you really leave here doing something with it, and use the steps that Donald shares, and give yourself a timeline to accomplish the steps you want to take. Like, actually make this actionable. Be strategic and intentional, just like what we talked about in this episode. And before you know it, you'll be feeling more and more like the successful entrepreneur you are.
So, thanks for joining me today. I'll see you next week, same time, same place. Bye for now.