You know what I haven’t done in 25 years?
If you said, “Ask a stranger to dance,” you’re close.
But, if you said, “Set foot in Seattle,” you’re exactly right.
And yet there I was, not two short weeks ago, stepping off the plane at Sea-Tac Airport with my wife Linda and my very excited daughter Emily.
Emily, you see, is attending the University of Puget Sound this year; we arrived a couple of days early to have a look around.
Ask any Seattleite (or whatever these friendly people are called) what to do in their fair city and they will, to a person, recommend a visit to Pike Place Market, a frothing, multi-level jumble of food, flowers, crafts and humanity.
And so we did. We wandered around for a couple of hours, trying out the jam and cheese samples on the top level and perusing the vintage stores in the shops down below.
And then something really interesting happened.
As we were walking back to our car along the sidewalk, a smiling man stepped in front of my wife, put out his hand to give her something and said, “Here, it’s just about ready.”
The “it” in question, was a fist-sized, oddly-shaped, ceramic blue thing which the smiling man had apparently just finished warming in a microwave. Linda took it and he immediately began explaining the benefits of massaging oneself with said thing.
I have to tell you, he was good: informative and friendly, but not the least bit pushy.
But there was more. Because over the next couple of minutes, he managed to massage each of our backs and necks, never once pausing to stop the conversation.
Like I said, he was good at selling. And so I’m sure it comes as no surprise to learn that 15 minutes later, he was $45 richer and I was carrying a warm blue thing in my pocket (insert your own inappropriate joke here).
I share this with you today because the smiling man demonstrated two very important sales techniques:
1. You need a good opening line.
He didn’t say “Excuse me,” or “Do you want to buy one of these?,” or any one of a thousand other worn out phrases which would have resulted in our walking right on by. Instead, he said something intriguing (“Here, it’s just about ready”) while deliberately handing the thing to Linda.
Try to do the same in your own communication.
What’s the first line of your newsletter or blog post? What’s the first thing out of your mouth when you start speaking to an audience? What’s on the home page of your web site?
How you begin has a lot to do with how willing people are to let you continue.
2. You need to offer a free sample.
A sample is valuable because it lets you try out whatever it is you’re thinking of buying. Obvious.
What’s not so obvious, however, is that a free sample also creates a subtle (but compelling) sense of obligation.
As Robert Cialdini describes in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, when somebody gives you something – whether you asked for it or not – you feel a need to give something in return. (His description of the Hare Krishnas’ use of this principle in their airport fund-raising successes is fascinating.)
When smiling man massaged my family for 15 minutes, he was applying this same notion.
When it comes to marketing yourself and your business, you too will benefit by being generous with your time and knowledge. That means doing things like publishing free content, answering unsolicited questions over the phone, or letting an information-seeking stranger buy you a cup of coffee.
Will some people take advantage of your generosity? I guarantee it.
But others, and in addition to getting a better sense of who you are and how you think, will give more consideration to working with you than they would if they were just objectively evaluating what you offer and what it costs.
Here’s the bottom line. As a professional, you need to be good at what you do in order to get and keep wonderful, happy clients. But “good at what you do” is really just the price of admission.
If you can find ways to gain attention and create a connection, you’ll find it easier to get the clients you want.