The Email I Most Feared

The email came in at 4:32 PM. It was the kind of response I feared most.

Are you free at 4 PM tomorrow to catch up?”

What an ass. He’s going to make me wait.  Is he too busy to squeeze in a three-minute phone call?

Here’s what happened.

I applied for a project that’s a bit outside my area of expertise. Getting it is a longshot. I went for it anyway because I found it interesting. I want to know just one thing. Am I still in the running for it?

I’d be okay with a yes or no response via email. Maybe he prefers a verbal discussion? Sure, I get that. A quick phone call would have been fine too.

Instead, he makes me wait.

The Powerful Human Desire Nobody Talks About

Waiting triggers anticipation. You don’t hear it discussed much among sales, marketing on persuasion experts. It’s one of the most powerful urges we face. It’s the driving force behind page turning novels. It keeps us awake at night, too anxious to calm down.

When I saw the email telling me to wait until tomorrow, it began. I started fidgeting. I banged my fist on the table.

Then, I tried to interpret his nine-word email.

Does that mean he has good news to tell me? Is that why he wants to schedule a half hour call?

Wait a minute. It can’t be good news. Wouldn’t he just write that we’re moving forward but we’ll discuss the details tomorrow?

When we feel that level of anticipation, we turn to a familiar strategy. Distraction.

First, I went for a walk. That helped until I finished.

My mind raced so I decided to write. That too helped for a short while.

Then, I hopped on Amazon and did some shopping. I spent $51 on books.

All these distractions helped to relieve that anticipation.

That’s the power of this urge. If you trigger enough anticipation in your audience, selling becomes easier. Your audience seeks to quell that anticipation. Position your solution as the only means of relieving the uneasiness.

Creating Anticipation

How do we create this magic anticipation? It takes practice to do it well. I won’t lie. The formula is simple. Even a first time effort yields benefits.

  1. Curiosity – The first step is creating curiosity. Once your audience feels curious about something they seek the answer
  2. Mystery – Build up the mystery. This creates that feeling of anticipation. The deeper the mystery the more anxious they feel
  3. Hold Back – Once you give up the secret, the anticipation dies. Satisfy a smaller mystery but leave the big mystery open. Offer your solution as the answer to that mystery


Our meeting occurred. We talked for five minutes. He said they decided to go in a different direction. Don’t you just love corporate-speak?

I felt relief.  I made the effort. That’s what counts. Now I can move on.

As the saying goes: “The waiting is the hardest part”

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Your Customers Take You For Granted. Remind Them Why They Need You… Without Sounding Pompous

Any first world person knows this feeling. You spend a lifetime without something. Then, you come to own it. Soon, you cannot live without it. I bought my first cell phone at the age of twenty-six. I seemed to get along fine without it until then. Today, if I left the house without it, I would feel naked.

Most of us just accept that it is the right of every American to own a smartphone. It was once an elite device that drew amazement. Now, we take it for granted.

Almost every product or service in our lives follows the same path.

Yesterday, our dishwasher broke. That forced us to wash our dishes by hand. What a pain in the butt. It seems a bit shallow to cry about a broken dishwasher when a billion people go to bed hungry every night. The experience, however, shows us something critical about how we adapt.

Adapting To Excellence

Once we grow accustomed to something we take it for granted. Nobody sits around marveling about the time-saving wonders of dishwashers unless you use one for the first time. Once you adapt to the experience, you forget how much benefit they provide. Only when they break do you appreciate the value.

From Wonder To Vendor

Your customers may feel the same way about the service you provide them. They marveled at it when they experienced it for the first time. As the days passed it became commonplace. They adapted to it. They forgot what life was like before you entered the picture. Now, they take you for granted. You’re no longer that wonder. You’re now a vendor.

How do customers treat vendors? They work you on price. They beat you for concessions. The shameless ones try to take advantage in other ways.

How do we fight this vendor perception?

Remind Them Of Life Before “You”

An occasional story about what life was like before you entered their lives reminds them of the value you bring to the table. It reminds them why the needed you in the first place. Telling it through story allows you to say it without sounding pompous.

Try these simple writing prompts to create your own story:

  1. Why did they come to you in the first place?
  2. What was life like before they met you?
  3. How did their lives change after you helped them?
  4. What would they need to do to get the same benefits without your help?
  5. What opportunities opened up for them as a result of your service?

Think of the emotions they felt before and after. It makes the story more visceral. Did they go from stress and worry to content and relaxed?

When I was in the software biz we once had a client share an ideal story. Before they installed our software their day would end at 7:00 PM. After installing our software their day ended at 4:30 PM. A story like that reminds your customer of your value.

Keep in mind, your customers are human beings. Once you solve their problem they move onto the next one. You need to remind them of your greatness.

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How To Win New Customers By Breaking Them Out Of Bad Routines

How do you break someone out of a bad routine?

Humans love routines. The familiarity of routines comforts us. It gives us certainty. The comfort and certainty make routines hard to break.

As marketers, sales people or persuaders it presents a challenge. How do we get people to change when they resist change?

I Broke Free Of My Routine

On most afternoons, I walk into Starbucks and order a tall dark coffee. I drink it black. My routine became so predictable the barista’s stopped asking me what I wanted. Instead, they would just state, “one tall dark.” I would smile in agreement.

A few weeks ago I noticed something new on their menu. It looked interesting.

Coconut mocha macchiato

Instead of regular milk, they use coconut milk. How could it be bad? The mere combination of words “coconut + mocha + macchiato” sounds seductive.

It’s new and novel. New and novel can break us out of routines, at least for a while. As the saying goes, “novelty wears off quickly.”

I expected to try it once and then go back to my routine of ordering just a tall dark coffee.

When I ordered it for the first time I told the barista I wanted to try something new. I placed my order and waited for my drink.

I took my first sip.

“Wow! This is like drinking candy.”

A New Routine Takes Hold

Now, I’m hooked. I wish I could go back to ordering my tall dark coffee. It costs three dollars less than the macchiato.

Here’s the problem. I find the coconut mocha macchiato irresistible.

You see, new and novel can break us out of a routine. When that novelty wears off we go back to our old routine.

This time is different. Yes, the novelty faded. I now judge it only on my experience. It must have triggered an addiction. There’s no going back now.

New and Novel Plus Irresistible

That’s the key to not only winning customers from your competitors but keeping them.

You exploit the new and novel approach to coax people into trying your products and services. What happens when the novelty wears off? Will they stick with you or go back to their old routine?

To keep those new customers you need to deliver a superior result. When your “newness” loses its luster, your customer judges you only on their experience. Is she so happy with the new results, she breaks from her old routine for good? Or, does she go back to the comfort and certainty of her old routine?

New and novel bring them in. Creating an irresistible experience keeps them when the excitement fades.

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I Had To Give My “Angry Dad” Look… If Only It Worked On Prospects And Customers

I pulled into my driveway just like any other normal day. I did not realize it, but a surprise awaited me. As I inched down the driveway I saw my kids playing in the backyard. My younger son, four years old, pulled down his pants and started peeing on the grass.

My wife stood there shocked. Her mouth open, she could not believe what he did. It took about ten seconds for her to gather herself. She then reprimanded him.

This is one of those classic parenting moments. You put on a show of displeasure. We drive home the point that their behavior is unacceptable. Meanwhile, it takes every ounce of willpower to hold in that laugh.

I got out of the car and gave him the angry dad look. Once I felt sure he got the point, I slipped away to belt out a good laugh.

My son knows big boys don’t behave like that. He did it anyway. He’s four. You expect four-year-olds to do things like that. As parents, we do our best to correct their behavior.

Behaving in ways that are bad for us does not end when we become adults.

As salespeople or marketers, we deal with prospects who baffle us. They do things they know are not in their best interest.

The Trusted Advisor Paradox

As trusted advisors, we struggle to get them to change their ways. Getting them to change often means buying what we sell. That’s where the challenge comes. From their point of view, our advice seems self-serving.

“Of course you’re telling me not to do xyz. You just want me to buy your service.”

How do we get them to conclude that our solution solves their problem without sounding self-serving?

Acknowledge Your Selfishness

First, state the obvious. Acknowledge that their problem fits your solution. You profit from solving their problem. Acknowledging the obvious gives you credibility. So few go that far out of fear of sounding salesy.

You can soften your statement by stating something like:

“We may not be a fit. If that’s the case, I hope you appreciate the honesty and level of service we provide. If you should know of someone else who might benefit from our solution, please keep us in mind.”

That acknowledges that you may not be a fit and gives a subtle clue that you avoid pressuring prospects into a bad deal. It also puts you in a good light for a recommendation.

State Your Criteria Up Front

Have you ever come across sales material or a salesman that claims to serve every customer in any situation? Of course. Who hasn’t?

State emphatically, who your ideal client is. Also, state up front, who is not a fit for your business.  That tells your ideal client:

“Ah, their product fits my needs to the letter.”

This technique also allows you to create your messaging with pinpoint accuracy. For those who are not a fit, you can refer them to someone who does fit their needs.

These two strategies enhance your credibility. They also avoid that vulture on the telephone wire caricature that many prospects hold of salespeople and marketers.

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Multi-tasking seduces us. In the end, however, it disappoints us.

Let’s suppose you need to complete three tasks. You decide to multi-task. Like magic, you finish in one-third the time compared to working sequentially. If only it worked that way.

With three writing projects to finish, I thought I could carve out three times a day to work on each one. How did it work out?

I made no progress on any project. I never immersed myself enough to make a dent. Why did I think this time would be different?  Maybe I suffer from an addiction to shortcuts.

Now that I see the error of my ways I put two of my projects off to the side. Besides my morning writing exercises, I’m laser focused on delivering that one project. I expect to finish in one day. It’s amazing what the power of focusing on one thing does to your output.

The Power Of Single Focus

That idea of one overriding focus also helps you in your persuasion efforts. Writing about one single idea keeps your audience engaged. When you force your audience to multi-task you ask them to remember several different things. Remembering one big idea is easy. Remembering several small ideas confuses us. We need to keep track. It requires more mental processing than understanding just a single idea.

Always keep in mind your goal of persuasive writing:

Hold the attention of your audience long enough to heighten their emotions and compel them to act.

Presenting them with multiple ideas forces them to multi-task. In short, you’re testing their reading comprehension.

If your nonfiction work packs the drama of a Game Of Thrones episode then by all means, weave some intricate plot lines. For the rest of you, keep your pieces focused on a single theme. Even smart readers lack the patience to tie your various ideas together in a short essay.

Here’s the challenge:

Even when we plan on presenting one big idea, the urge to squeeze in a little extra creeps in. I struggle with this myself. In a recent analysis of one-hundred-thirty stories, I found that my best performers all zeroed in on one big idea.

How To Avoid Multi-Tasking Your Reader To Death

Before I edit, I write down my one big idea. I go through each paragraph and ask myself if it supports the one big idea of my story. I remove whatever fails that test. On a five-hundred word piece, it takes no more than five minutes.

The single biggest objection I get from other writers is this.

“What if I have something super important to add?”

I respond by asking what difference it makes if it only confuses your audience. By adding in that complexity you muddy both ideas and your reader loses the value of both.

If that extra info carries so much value, create a separate piece and make it your one big idea. Just like that, you write an extra piece of content without the burden of thinking up a new idea.

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How To Bond With Your Audience When You Share Nothing In Common

I poured myself a glass of wine and let it sit for a few minutes. Next, I put on some relaxing jazz music. Preparations set.  I could now start preparing dinner. I began with cutting up brussel sprouts. Once cut, I placed them in the pan for sauteing. Then I  moved on to the main course.

I don’t cook much anymore. My wife does most of the cooking these days. Yesterday afternoon she had other plans so I took over.

I often cooked before we had kids. There’s something soothing about cooking while listening to music and drinking red wine. It helps that the kids were occupied doing their own thing too.

Doing it again last night brought back that nostalgic feeling. It brought back memories of a life I once had. That’s the magic of nostalgia. We remember the good parts and forget the negative parts. I recall the freedom of doing what we wanted when we wanted. What were the downsides of all that freedom? I don’t recall. I don’t even want to try.

As many historians like to point out, life was unpleasant in the good ole days.

Nostalgia is one of the best kept secrets of copywriting and marketing. Use it as an instant bonding mechanism with your audience. The older your target audience, the more powerful the tool.

The Four Word “Bonding” Phrase

Asking your reader “do you remember when” brings them back to a time of fond memories. It also builds connection. It says to your reader I’m one of you.

Try asking someone who grew up in the 80’s:

Do you remember when MTV played nothing but music videos?

You are sure to get a smile in return.

The key to making this work is knowing your audience. Reminiscing about 1980’s MTV goes over the heads of anyone under forty years old.

An Alternate Approach

You can also take advantage of this approach when communicating to an audience of a different generation. Tell a story through the voice of a parent. Tell it through the voice of your child or someone close to you. Only your creative approach limits you. It may not be as powerful as a personal shared experience but it still works.

Here’s an example:

“When I was ten years old I remember how excited my dad was when they installed our first cable box. It had switches, buttons and a wire that connected it to our television. Do you remember those?… Now, as a thirty-six year old parent with a ten year old of my own…”

It reminds every  sixty-something instantly  of the 1980’s.

Nostalgia can serve as a powerful tool when you lack true shared experiences with your audience. It may not always fit but keep it as part of your arsenal.


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The Embarrassing Reason Why I Keep My Lawn Green

My lawn is in a sorry state. Patches of grass missing. Entire sections bare from recent construction hurt the curb appeal. It bothers me enough to bring in a landscaper. It’s not so much the state of the lawn that bothers me. It’s how it looks compared to other lawns on my block.

Green lawns make your property look nice. What makes us care so much? We just look at them. We don’t use them.

In fact, green lawns only became a “thing” in the 1940’s with the rise of suburbia. Now, it seems every guy keeps a watchful eye on lawns in the neighborhood. What matters to most of us is how our lawn looks in comparison with others in our neighborhood.

Since the value of our homes partially depends on how nice the neighborhood looks, we want all our neighbors to keep their lawns nice. Secretly, we want ours to look just a tiny bit nicer.

When I hired the lawn company a few years ago they asked me my goals for my lawn. Their choices were:

  1. Keep it respectable
  2. On par with other lawns on your street
  3. The greenest lawn on the block

So much for subtlety, right? This is one of those Keeping Up With The Jones’s examples.

The Comparison Factor

We evaluate our success in any area of life by comparing our state to those of our peers. We all fall victim to it. I put myself in that category too. My neighbors have nice lawns. Mine needs to look nice too.

Marketers and sales people use this in campaigns all the time. Exploiting this technique in your persuasive efforts comes with one small caveat.

This strategy only works when you compare your prospect to someone she sees as a peer.

What does this mean?

Don’t Billionaire Me

Sell me an investing technique and show me how hedge fund billionaires rake in millions.  It might raise a tinge of interest. But those guys are not my peers. I look at a campaign like that and think:

“That’s them. It’s not meant for someone like me. I don’t need to compete with them.”

Show me how my neighbors are making an extra ten thousand a year. Now, you win my undivided attention. Those are guys like me. My peer inches a notch above me on the food chain. That kind of appeal gets in our heads.

Admit it. Your neighbor pulls up in a brand new BMW. He just traded in his Honda. You no longer feel so good about your Toyota. It might even cause some uneasy feelings.

Yes, we can fight the urge to retain our pecking order but we often fail to do so.  More often, we take financial risk or other risk to keep treading water.

Keeping up with the Jones’s pumps a lot of money into our economy. Use ethically and wisely. When making the comparison, make sure you compare your prospect to a peer, someone he sees as an equal.

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A Shocking Discovery In My Bank Statement… And The Three Subtle Business Lessons It Reveals

I must  look at my bank statements more often. I looked at mine yesterday for the first time in a month. It revealed something startling. I spend way too much money at Starbucks.

My Starbucks reward card is setup to automatically deduct money from my account when the balance drops too low. I noticed for the month of March I spent $90 at Starbucks. That comes out to $3 per day.

Here’s the thing.

I drink my morning coffee at home. Plus, I only go to Starbucks on the weekends or when I work from home. That maxes out at four days per week. When I add in the money I spend on coffee beans, my coffee addiction costs $135 per month.

Is that a lot of money to spend on coffee? It sounds like it. I rarely get latte’s or anything fancy. It’s usually just straight coffee.

It got me thinking. I spend so much money on coffee. I never realized it until now. Why? How did the coffee gods trick me into spending so much cash without noticing?

Time to take a deep dive into the coffee biz and see what makes it such a winner. What lessons can we apply to our own business and lives?

Small Increments

Coffee spending comes in small increments. A few bucks here. A few bucks there. The spending is small enough that it fails to raise an eyebrow. Repeated spending patterns in small increments go unnoticed. That means we repeat it more often. That repeated spending creates something more important.


We all know coffee contains caffeine. It has that addictive component. For a second, I’ll assume you’re not selling a drug with an addictive chemical. If you sell a product or service that gets repeated every day, your customers get into the habit of using it. The stronger the habit, the harder it is to break the habit. Combine that with a cost that slips under the radar and it builds a vicious cycle.

Easy Access

Coffee leaves a footprint everywhere. Make your own.  Go to your favorite coffee shop. Every town in America claims at least one coffee shop. Plus, restaurants, delis and street vendors sell coffee. No matter where you are there is someone to sell you a cup. This morning I got some while shopping at Target.

Create an under the radar payment plan. Get your customers in the habit of using your product. Make sure they have easy access.  No slick persuasion tactics here. Just common sense strategies that take advantage of human tendencies.

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