Are You Falling For The “Almost Win?”

Deja vu hit me while out on a sales presentation today.  It reminded me of a situation early in my career. Any salesperson or marketer can relate.

After a long hard fought battle we made our way in front of the prospect. We went through our talk. We got to the end. He told us he loved it. His team loved it.  He just needed to get his bosses okay. That was supposedly just a rubber stamp.

“Yes! This deal is as good as done.” I thought

 The next day he came back to us and said:

We loved it. This is going to really help us. My boss just needs this one thing to give his blessing.”

Pop The Champagne… Sort Of

Again, the almost win effect triggered that feel good effect like an elicit drug. Just a small tweak to the contract and we had a deal. We suffered through a few more iterations of this. Each time, that yes felt so close. Just a small change or clarification. We bought the lie each time.

Such is the  power of an almost win.

Finally, my manager asked the prospect:

“If we get this done, do we have a deal?”

Our prospect said he couldn’t promise anything but he was nearly certain this would be the final request.

My sales manager told him our final offer. Then he gave him forty-eight hours to come back with a commitment. There would be no more changes. 

The deadline came and went. We penned a letter to the prospect. The deal was off the table and we wouldn’t respond to further inquiries. We trash talked our sales manager behind his back for killing the deal. Of course, he didn’t really kill the deal. We never had one in the first place.

We were victims of the almost win effect. It’s where you keep thinking you’re so close to winning that you keep going back for more thinking  the next time will clinch it.

Lotteries count on this. They purposely let you come close. You get the emotional juice of a win without actually winning, so you play again.

Get Out Of The Almost Win Cycle.

Let’s suppose you sell consulting services. Someone responds to your ad and says “Yes, I’m in. Just one question first.”

You answer the question. You go back and forth a few times. Maybe you modify your offer to suit his needs.

Draft a letter to your prospect after the third almost win. Explicitly state that you will do each of the three requests (or your best offer). Explain that this is your final offer.  Produce a deadline at the end. Once the deadline passes the offer is off the table. The great sales trainer, Zig Ziglar, taught a similar technique. I’ve adapted it from that.

It’s a helpful tool that prevents you from chasing after prospects. Prospects refuse to say no for for one of three reasons.

  1. They’re afraid to say no
  2. They lack authority to say yes
  3. To extract free information from you. (Yes, that really happens)

The almost win triggers addiction like enthusiasm.  Learn to recognize it for what it is.

Will my call today become another almost win? I’m optimistic but realistic.

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You Can Suck Sometimes… And Still Be Persuasive. Just Like TV

I don’t watch a lot of television. There’s just a few shows I like. My favorite right now is “This Is Us.” Do you watch it?  The first two episodes hooked me. The drama, characters, everything was great. I still watch it religiously. I must admit, though, some of the recent episodes are not as good as the earlier ones. There’s been a few disappointments during the latter portion of the fifteen episodes.

One of the wicked powerful things about weekly television is that you don’t have to be great every time. Hook your audience on those first few episodes and they’ll keep coming back. They’ll crave that powerful release of feel good chemicals that a great story delivers.

Of course, if you fail to deliver too many times you’ll start losing your audience. We all have our thresholds where we say enough.

Here’s the thing. Each time you deliver, you win a little bit of goodwill for that one time you strike out.

Greatness Not Necessary

What holds true in entertainment also holds true in communication with your prospects and customers. You don’t need to deliver mind blowing experiences every email, letter or communication. Sometimes good is good enough. You can even get away with a dud. Your favorite show may sneak in a boring episode but you stick with it anyway., right?

Shouldn’t we strive for greatness all the time? Sure. I do. Sometimes I miss. Sometimes my message fails to resonate. The key is that I do it daily. I accumulate enough wins that the occasional dud doesn’t derail me.

Why We Fail To Communicate

So, what’s this rant all about? There’s one reason why we fail to communicate enough with customers and prospects. Our stuff is never ready. We feel the need to perfect it before we send it to the masses. That used to be my problem. I was never ready. I was a perfectionist. Good enough didn’t cut it.

In September I made the decision to publish daily. I gave up on the idea of perfect. I got good at writing interesting and useful articles in 500 words. Forcing myself to hit publish even though I knew it wasn’t perfect was hard at first. It got a little bit easier each day.

Sometimes I go back and look at my earlier stuff.  I find all sorts of changes I wish I had made before I publish. Once in a while I’ll make a change if I publish on another venue.

I doubt anyone else cares though. Nobody’s ever complained to me over a misplaced comma or dangling modifier.

Get good at being great. You don’t need to be perfect.

Provide something interesting and useful. Don’t worry about life changing.

Once in a while you’ll deliver a wow. If you’re always waiting for perfection they’ll never get either.

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My Doctor Needs This Lesson In Persuasion

Men wait too long before they see a doctor. I believe the saying goes something like that. Today, I may have dispelled that theory. After suffering from a sore throat for three days I dragged myself into the doctor’s office.  A quick inspection and a swab of my throat revealed nothing.

It’s probably just something viral. It may take a few days before it passes.” She said

See, I knew I didn’t need a doctor!

I  can laugh about the doctor finding nothing wrong with me. It validates my claim about not needing to see one. That would be a like.

How did I really feel?

I wanted her to find something wrong. I wanted a label on my illness. Something viral feels unknown. Unknown means scary. Just give it a name. Give it any name. I would feel so much better if it had a label.

A label is a powerful persuasion tool. I use them all the time. In a recent article on Medium, I wrote about the PERT method of writing a daily article. Where did the term PERT come from? I made it up.

It’s a series of small steps, when combined, simplify the writing process. That won’t resonate with most people. Giving it a name, however, makes it a thing. It makes it a real thing. Within twenty four hours a few people had referenced the label on Twitter.

Would that process have resonated as much without the label? No way. We can wrap our minds around a four letter label. We can’t wrap our minds around an eighty word process plan.

Writers Fear Labels

Unfortunately, the story does not end here. I often hear copywriters, persuasive writers and plain old writers avoid labels.

“It’s not really a thing. I don’t want to mislead people.”

That’s the common reaction I get when I recommend labeling something. Inventing new labels does not mislead people. It simplifies things for them. Pull out a complex idea. Wrap it up into a short label. You make it easier for your audience to grasp the meaning.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an example you can identify with.

Let’s take a word like confidence? Confidence represents certain feelings we have about our abilities. Nobody goes around saying

“I feel self-assurance and believe with certainty, my ability to carry out this task”

We simply state:

“I’m confident in my ability to carry out this task”

You Don’t Need Permission

Somewhere in history, someone decided it would be  easier to use the word confidence instead of the long winded description. Nobody discovered confidence. Someone invented it by attaching a label to feelings and beliefs it represents.

I doubt the inventor of that word asked for permission. He just did it and it made its way into our language.

Take a look at your writing. Seek out complex explanations. Search for complexity. What label can you use to simplify things for your audience? Make it simple for your audience and see what it does to your persuasive power.

The Best Part About Labels

Finally, we get to the best part. Let’s suppose you invent a label. That label sticks. It catches on. Now, you become forever known as the inventor. The title stays with you. Will my PERT label attract the attention of the masses? I doubt it has the mass appeal. We’ll see

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Keeping Score On Valentines Day… In Romance And Persuasive Writing

It’s valentines day. Guess what? I left the house today without giving my wife a card or even saying “Happy Valentines Day.” You might think that would put me in the dog house. It doesn’t. I had an ace up my sleeve.

She forgot Valentines Day too.

For those of you keeping score, that means I escape with no damage. Make no mistake, we all keep score. You may get away with something once or twice. At some point the tally weighs too heavy to one side. When that happens, the other person will even the score. That’s true in all kinds of relationships whether it’s business, family, romantic or friendship.

Your Audience Keeps Score Too

Your customer or audience keeps score when you write to them. A common example these days involves email marketing. Email is a powerful sales tool. Many online marketers attribute the bulk of their income to revenue generated from emails.

Every email sent updates the mental scorecard  of your prospect. They keep meticulous records too. I sure do. There are some email lists I’ve been on for close to a decade. Why? Because I feel like I get something out of the time I invest in reading them. The scorecard tilts in my favor. Once in a while I’ll buy something. In one case, I’ve been paying a healthy monthly sum to experience a premium product.

Then there are other times where the scorecard swings into the marketers corner. All they do is scream in their email, pleading with me to buy whatever crap they peddle. They urge me to take action before the world comes to an end. I keep score on these too. They provide no entertainment, value or joy in reading their crap. It doesn’t take very long before I delete them from my life. See how easy it is to even the score?

Keep The Score Close

As persuasive writers, how do ensure our audience feels like  we’re not running up the score on them? There’s a simple rule that’s existed since the dawn of man. It still works today as it did millennia ago.

Provide more value than what you ask for in return. As one of my readers, if you feel that you get more value out of reading my drivel than the time you sacrifice, then you’ll stick with it.

Your readers, audience or prospects owe you nothing. They keep score. They want at least as much from you as they give you. That’s true of time, money or other resources. If they feel they get $2.00 of value for every $1.00 they spend, you’ll keep them forever.

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Persuasion Power Of A Great Movie… And How To Apply It To Your Writing

It’s just before ten o’clock at night. I flip on the television. All I want to do is find something to keep me occupied for a half hour.

At 10:30 I set up the coffee for the next morning and then head upstairs. That signals the start of my bedtime routine.

Flipping through the channels, I find the movie “Woman In Gold” about to begin. The summary looks interesting. I decide to watch it.

“Perfect!” I said to my wife
Let’s record it. If the first half hour is good we can always watch the rest later.”

Thirty minutes elapse and I’m drawn into the story. My wife gets up from the couch.

“I’m going to bed. We’re recording it. We can finish it tomorrow”
“I’ll be up in a few minutes. I just need to set up the coffee for tomorrow.” I replied

Two hours later I finally made my way upstairs. The movie sucked me in and I could not pull myself away.

That’s The Power Of A Great Story

Time ceases to exist when you’re engrossed in a story. That’s why most long form sales copy includes a story element. There’s no better way to keep your reader engaged.

Some of the best performing sales letters in history have been pages and pages of small type. Who on earth would read a thirty minute advertisement? The person who’s under the seductive spell of the storyteller.

How To Use Stories When You Sell

There’s two ways I like to do this. There are other methods out there as well. I suggest trying several different ones.

First, tell a first person narrative. The narrator opens with a compelling story that reveals compelling benefits. Then she segues into traditional sales copy elements. Then she goes back into the story. Finally, she closes with an offer. There’s a bit more detail to it than that but those are the basics.

The other option is a third person narrative. It follows the same format as the first person narrative. Open with a compelling story. Segue into traditional sales copy. Then segue back into the story. Finish with your close and offer.

I like writing a first person narrative when it fits. It feels more personal. Do whatever fits best for your circumstance. There’s a great story hidden in any product, service or idea. You just need to find it.

“I Hate Reading Long Sales Letters”

Me too, especially boring ones. Nobody wakes up in the morning looking for a long sales letter to read. I did not intend to watch a two hour movie last night. I did it because the story grabbed my interest and wouldn’t let go. That’s where your power lies. No human can resist a great story.

Seamlessly integrating all the parts takes practice. Don’t despair if it doesn’t look right your first try.

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Tiny Rewards That Keep Your Prospects Coming Back For More… Until They’re Ready To Buy

I reward myself often. Yesterday I finished everything on my “to do” list. My work deadlines, writing, reading were all complete by 2 PM. I build in tiny rewards throughout my day when I get important stuff done.

For today’s reward, I sauntered to my local coffee shop. I sipped a latte while I carefully ravaged a homemade biscotti. I earned my latte and biscotti and that heightened the enjoyment. It wasn’t a moment of weakness where I caved in and ate something unhealthy. In that mindset, I enjoyed it and felt zero guilt afterwards.

That makes rewards more fulfilling than gifts. You feel like you’ve earned it. I aim to elicit that exact feeling in my copy. I want the reader to feel rewarded for reading my piece even if they decide not to buy. It builds trust and keeps them coming back for more.

What About Revealing Too Much?

I get that a lot of business owners only reward paying customers with their best stuff. That makes sense. However, you need not give away the store to make the reader feel rewarded.

Promises of benefits, teases and hiding the magic that makes it all work are all part of solid persuasive writing. You don’t want to give away so much information that there’s no longer a need to buy your product.

That’s where the story ends for many pro’s.

There’s more to it than that. Your audience needs to feel rewarded for their time. If they give you ten minutes of their time they’ve earned something in return. And maybe, just maybe they’ll give me a second, third or fourth chance to close the deal.

That’s why I include some giveaways. Free tidbits of information reward the reader for giving me their time. My goal is to keep them coming back even if they refrain from buying.

Why Reward Non-Buyers?

Your first attempt to sell a prospect may not be your last. Later attempts may finally convince them to pull the trigger. Why should they give you extra chances if there’s nothing in it for them?

Giving away a small nugget of gold won’t devalue your product. Finding that first valuable nugget may tempt them into seeking out the entire treasure.

A small reward goes a long way. Your prospect may not buy from you. Still, she may walk away feeling changed by your piece because of your tiny rewards. If she feels changed, she’s likely to stick with you. The longer she sticks with you the more likely she will become a customer.

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Why Excited Prospects Lose Interest When It Comes Time To Pony Up The Dough

A feeling of relief swept over my body at exactly 7:19 this morning. A dreaded appointment, now re-scheduled.  One less thing to worry about, I thought. I made this appointment a month ago.  Back then, I barely gave it a second thought. I knew it would be unpleasant.

“Ah, still a month away. Plenty of time before I needed to stress about it.”

It’s easy to act brave a month before you’re called on to act. Today, the day finally arrived. Icy roads plus two sick kids and a sick wife forced me to work from home today. That left me no choice but to re-schedule.

Of course, I refer to the dreaded dental appointment. Nobody loves going to the dentist. We saddle up and deal with it because our health demands it. If we’re lucky it’s just two times per year of mild discomfort.

A lot of angst and uneasiness builds up before I walk in the office. Will it hurt? What will he find? There’s always the unknown element.

Did I feel this way when I made the appointment? No. That was a month ago. It didn’t feel real then.

We all face our own unique challenges when it comes to decision making. There’s one quirk of human nature, however, that’s almost universal.

Brave Today. Coward Tomorrow

Let’s pretend I give you a challenge. It involves doing an activity that elevates your quality of life beyond what you thought possible. The activity, however, feels scary.

Next, I tell you this challenge takes place in two months. The fear of doing this activity registers with you. You feel certain that when the day arrives, you’ll overcome your fear.

Two months goes by. Today’s the day to take action. Fear grips you. You back out.

What happened?

Fear holds the most power in the present. The closer the fearful event gets the more we feel it.

This little bit of human nature holds true in marketing too, especially when you sell high priced products.

Tell your customers you’re planning a weekend seminar in six months. Advise them the cost will be $3,000. You may get a lot of folks to raise their hand and express interest.

Here’s the thing:

That kind of expense stings when you’re on a budget. Sample those same customers when it’s time to pony up the dough and see how the fervor recedes. All of the sudden the timing isn’t right. The money dries up. The potential customer disappears.

Anticipate Delayed Fear

First, you must know the fear that will drive your customer when it comes time to buy. Is it money or commitment? Or, is it doing something uncomfortable like knocking on doors?

Second, are you asking for commitment now or at a future date? If you seek commitment later, expect that when “Iater” comes, fear will take over. Those brave souls ready to take on the world today may not be so brave at the moment of truth.

Mitigate Delayed Fear

Finally, when the time comes for your customer to decide, make it easier for them. A series of smaller steps can help ease the fear. Bringing up the fear as a natural step in the process can help.

Sometimes it helps to ask your prospect to role play. Ask them to pretend they were advising a friend in the same situation. What advice would they give? That puts them in the same mindset as if they were deciding for their brave future self.

Understand this one concept and it will transform the way you think about copywriting, persuasive writing and marketing:

Your customer boasts of bravery when tasked with conquering his fear tomorrow. That same customer will feels terror when tomorrow arrives.

Don’t ignore it. Deal with it. You may help him overcome it.

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The Persuasion Secret Driving Shoppers To Empty Store Shelves Before Snow Storms

Like clockwork, it happened again. Making my way through Target at 5:30 made me wonder if an end of the world asteroid might be approaching. People ransacked shelves like animals. Lines corralled into all sorts of funky shapes to let other shoppers navigate. Even the boxes of kitty litter disappeared from shelves.

What caused this mad rush to hoard litter? A snowstorm. Forecasts called for six to ten inches. A storm like this in New Jersey leaves people marooned for up to twenty four hours. So, why stock up on kitty litter for an event that might keep you sidelined for a day? Don’t wield any fancy logic to answer. Emotion drives us in these situations.

It’s not just the litter that was hoarded. Napkins, peanut butter and banana’s all but disappeared. What explains this shopping madness when faced with an impending snowstorm? What does it teach us about harnessing this power in our persuasive writing?

Here’s the takeaway from this madness:


The thought of a big snowstorm creates fear. We fear the big mean storm trapping us in our homes without food. In persuasion, fear causes your prospect to respond in one of two ways. They either deny or over prepare.

Raise the specter of fear without a solution and your prospect denies its existence. If a doctor tells you that you suffer from a terminal disease with no hope of a cure, you’ll enter a denial phase. On the other hand, if the doctor diagnoses you with the same disease and gives you a pill to cure it, you’ll accept the diagnosis because you have a solution.

The same holds true in marketing. Tell me the dollar will crash and there’s nothing I can do about. I’ll call you a fraud. Tell me the dollar will crash but this one investment protects you. I may just believe you and buy your investment.

Peace Of Mind

The risk that we run out of supplies in one day from a snowstorm may be low. We humans, however obsess with zero risk. Buying seven days worth of food also buys me peace of mind. It could be twelve or even eighteen inches and I have nothing to worry about.

The insurance business survives by our need for peace of mind. How much would you pay to reduce the risk of running out of food from 75% to 74%? Not much, right? Now, how much would you pay to reduce the risk from 1% to 0%?  

Social Norms

Let’s pretend you’re super-human. You resist fear. Peace of mind means nothing to you. We’ll still get you. Enter a grocery store before a big storm and what do you see? People frazzled. Carts filled. Anxious employees trying to keep up. Even if you walk in feeling calm you sense the tension. It creates doubt.  

When in doubt we follow the crowd. We see shopping carts filled with food and supplies and conclude we may as well do the same. What do they know that I don’t? I knew that in two days everything would be back to normal. My shopping list at Target consisted of just milk and litter. I left with $94.23 in groceries. My logical brain ceded control to my emotional brain.

Fear, peace of mind and social norms control our lives more than we recognize. Think about how they might influence your audience.

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Persuasive Writer Vs. Salesman. Who Wins?

Do you ever walk into a meeting feeling totally unprepared? It happens to me all the time. Even if I do my homework before a meeting I still fall flat. I’m not particularly adept at face to face persuasion. As an introvert, I prefer to think about what I want to say and how I want to say it.

Today, I was pushed into a meeting without time to prepare. Without my usual prep I felt like a sitting duck. Letting others do most of the talking helped. Still, a question came up requiring my attention. The spotlight was on. I needed to chime in but failed to offer any value.

I covered up my deficiencies by using some fancy jargon that other people in the room didn’t know. It seemed to shut people up when I needed it most. That’s how you level the playing field. You just make everyone else feel as dumb as you. That’s not something I teach. It’s just something I do.

My meager skills at face to face meetings drove my desire to become a persuasive writer. When we write we have time to prepare and craft our words with care. We can choose the strategies and words that lay out our best case. We can research the points where we lack clarity. Finally, we can tinker and polish our work until it reaches its maximum potential.

That’s the upside of persuasive writing. Now, the downside.

No margin for error

In a face to face meeting or even a telephone discussion you can clarify, reword and adjust based on feedback. In persuasive writing that rarely exists. You must get it right the first time. In face to face meetings normal people won’t walk out of a room when they don’t like what you say. In persuasive writing it’s all too easy to click away and do something else.


No matter how amazing you write, you cannot control outside distractions. The person reading your piece gets interrupted with a phone call or knock on the door. That is outside your control. What you can control is making your writing so captivating that the recipient brushes off those distractions so he can read your piece. That’s persuasive writing at its best.


Countless books and courses are available on handling objections. Guess what? In writing, you must bring up and answer all objections. You can’t ignore them. You can’t sweep them under the rug.

In short, when you write for persuasion you enjoy the luxury of preparation and polishing. In face to face sales you may face situations you failed to anticipate. A skilled salesman works around those challenges. The single biggest advantage salesman enjoy over writers is the ability to react.

Writers must get it right the first time. That’s what makes it magical when it works.


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How Your Stereotypes Hinder Your Persuasive Skills

My love hate relationship with Whole Foods continues. Two weeks ago I bought two jars of peanut butter from them. I failed to realize until I got home that they both expired in 2015. Yeah, 2015

Last week they were having some issues with the coffee roasting machine. So, today I called them up to make sure their machine was in good working order.

I called up and spoke to a friendly woman. Let’s call her, Mary. Mary said they were still having trouble with the machine.  Perhaps sensing my angst, she offered to put a bag aside for me.  She promised to hold it for me if I arrived before her shift ended at 6pm.

You’re the best Mary! I’ll be there at 5:30”

I arrived at Whole Foods and headed straight to the coffee section. I did not know what Mary looked like. Based on her voice and the fact she worked at Whole Foods, I created a picture in my mind. A stereotype. I knew she was probably in her 20’s and probably a health food junky. She probably couldn’t wait to get out of there and go hang out with friends.

I went to the coffee section and found it staffed by nice woman. She appeared to be in her mid 50’s. She appeared to be in charge, giving orders to another employee. I walked up to the counter and got her attention. Her demeanor changed from serious manager to friendly service.

“Hi, I’m looking for Mary. She’s holding a bag of coffee for me.”

“Oh, that’s me. Are you Barry?”

Wow. I was shocked. I had this image of what Mary would look like based on my prior experience with Whole Foods. Somehow, I created a stereotype of a typical Whole Foods coffee barista. She looked nothing like what I pictured in my mind.

She knew her coffee though! And she shattered my stereotype of Whole Foods Barista’s.

What Is A Stereotype?

Let’s look at the definition of stereotype

“A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”

Stereotyping carries a negative connotation with it. In fact, it can be a positive or negative depending on how we apply it. We all do stereotypes. We do it unconsciously.

Stereotypes allow us to make snap evaluations based on an appearance. That can be good or bad. We know how they’re often used for prejudice and bias. They can also help us. Let’s pretend a man walks into a bank with a ski mask and trench coat. My stereotypical picture of a bank robber tells me to get the heck out of there and call the police.

Stereotyping Mistakes In Persuasive Writing

If I ask you what your typical customer looks like, an image pops into your head. You derive that image from a stereotype of your customer.

When it comes to marketing, copywriting or any persuasive writing, we write like we’re talking with one person. Before you start, ask yourself what stereotypes might interfere with your vision of your customer.

Your stereotype may not match reality. You can work around this roadblock by writing down your stereotypical view of your customer. Then, as you gather information about your customer compare that to your stereotypes.
You may experience that same “wow moment” like I did when I saw Mary at Whole Foods. You’ll create a new stereotype of your customer. This one may actually match reality.

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