Don’t you love a great book? It feels like it makes you smarter. Lightbulbs go off. You know you’re on to something. When you finish you can’t wait to recommend it to your friends, peers and family.

A week later, you’ve forgotten everything and you’re now on to your next book.

Everyone says most non-fiction books can be summed up in ten pages or less.

Sure, there’s a few outliers so full of insight you need to read them multiple times. Most books, even great ones, give you a handful of useful bits hidden among its three hundred or so pages.

Here’s a simple method I use to glean the most important teachings from books. Learning is only half the battle. Gaining knowledge is useless unless you put it into practice. Once I nail down those lessons, I integrate them into my personal or professional life.

These five steps accomplish both goals.

Step 1 – While reading

As you read your book keep a pen handy. You’ll use this to make notations in the margins. If you’re reading on Kindle, use the highlight feature. Whenever you come across one of those “A-Ha” moments make a small notation in the margin. I make a little “-“ by the important words. Sometimes I’ll use a large < symbol to denote an entire paragraph.

Be a bit judicious with your notations but don’t worry if you’re doing too much. You’ll filter later.

Step 2 – From Book To Paper

After you finish the book, go back to the beginning. Flip (or scroll) through each page and stop where you see a notation. Read the surrounding sentences and determine if it’s worth keeping. If so, write out the main point in your document in bullet form. Do this for the entire book. I find that half the stuff I notate does not make it into the document. Often, I find the ideas presented are redundant. Other times, the information loses importance with the benefit of reflection.

Do this for the entire book. I find that half the stuff I notate does not make it into the document. Many of the ideas presented are redundant. Other times, the information loses importance with the benefit of reflection.

For an average size non-fiction book, you’ll end up with two to five pages of bullets.

Step 3 – Edit Your Document

Take a second pass through your notes.  You’ll  find more redundancies. You’ll find bullets that lack real impact and others superseded by later examples. Filter out all that extra junk.

Tip: For each learning, I keep one example. Most non-fiction books pack several examples or stories for each lesson it teaches. This is part of the redundancy. You only need one example to see how each lesson works.

When you finish this process, you’ll end up with one to two pages of notes. For real in-depth books, you may end up with as much as five pages.

Step 4 – Put it into Action

Pick one lesson and put it into practice each day. If your book is on improving your writing, try out one lesson each day in your daily writing. If your book is about productivity, add in one lesson each day to improve your productivity.

Measure the results of your actions. If it works for you, then it’s a keeper. What if it fails? Maybe you need to practice it in order to see results. Make sure you followed the instructions. Give yourself a few opportunities to keep or reject each lesson. When you reject a lesson, delete it from your document. This streamlines it even more.

Step 5 – Reinforcement

Each month I look over documents from a particular category. One month I look at productivity. The next month I review my copywriting notes. Spend time reading through each document in a category and evaluate which lessons work. Eliminate the stuff that’s not working. Focus on the ones you have yet to try.

Bonus TipI also use this process with podcasts and interviews. It’s a great way to keep valuable teachings that otherwise disappear in the netherworld of your brain.

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A few weeks ago I wrote a story about all the books I’ve read at least twice. That story encouraged me to browse through my library (past and present) and search for other classics that deserve a second reading.

Many of the new books on the market become hot trends. We talk about them on social media, in our workplace or with our friends. Will today’s books stand the test of time?  Will they hold relevance fifty years later?

Books that last offer timeless advice. The wisdom survives changes in trends, tastes and technology.

A few of these books I read long ago. I found them useful at the time but forgot the valuable lessons with the passage of time. For others, I also read them long ago but perhaps I wasn’t ready to listen to the message. Maybe now I can benefit from the sage advice.

To qualify for this list, the first printing must be at least fifty years old.

Here Are My Five Classics

1. How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling by Frank Bettger, 1952 — You may find the language a bit dated. The lessons on sales are timeless. He covers everything from strategy to psychology. A mentor guaranteed my skills would improve if I followed its advice. Once I left the sales arena I tucked this book into a corner to collect dust. The minute I saw this book I knew it would be the first one on the list.

2. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker — Published in 1967. This is one of those books I read in my 20’s. I was too young to hear the message. I wish I went back to it years ago. Drucker focuses on getting the right things done, setting the right priorities and managing time. I need help in all three.

3. The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith, 1776 — It’s as old as our nation and still revered as a classic. Here’s the truth. I first got this book in College. I read it because I had to. My mind wasn’t in a place to gain anything from it. Now, I will read it by choice. Some of our leaders today can learn from his message “..the ability to self-regulate and to ensure maximum efficiency, however, is limited by externalities, monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other “privileges” extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others.

4. The Richest Man In Babylon by George Clason, 1926 — Sure, it’s not a typical business book. It’s super short and fictional. Here’s why I include it. For all the complex and nonsensical books on personal finance, this simple story provides practical advice that never goes out of style.

5. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, 1949 — I finally had some money to invest. I heard Warren Buffet recommend this book so I bought it. At the time day trading was all the rage. That was too much stress for me. I didn’t read this cover to cover but I’ve gone back to read portions of it every so often.

What are your favorite classics?

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The One FEAR Nobody Likes To Talk About

Each year, our town sets aside one week for a bulk pickup. Trucks come and pick up all the junk, old furniture and broken appliances for disposal.

It always starts with a tinge of excitement. We talk about it for weeks. It’s our once a year chance to reclaim much-needed space. We go through all the stuff that’s been lying around and make decisions on what to trash. When we finish, I always feel disappointed we’re not getting rid of more.

“I thought we’d have more junk to get rid of,” one of us says.

A few weeks after the pickup we regret not getting rid of more stuff.

It’s only a minor regret in the scheme of life. Still, I’ve noticed how that regret impacts decisions over the course of the year.

The Big Fear Nobody Talks About

We’ve decided against various purchases out of this fear of regret.

“We’ll never use it enough. It’ll just take up space until the next bulk pickup.”

It’s not the regret itself that impacts us, it’s the fear of regret.

You may not like to admit it, but fear of regret plays into many of our decisions, buying or otherwise.

“If I buy this unknown brand and it fails to perform…”

“If I buy this car, I’m stuck with a payment for sixty months. I’ll be kicking myself for committing to this.”

“If I support candidate “x” and he goes back on his word…”

These subconscious thoughts interfere with our decision-making process, sometimes for good reason. It may keep you from making a bad decision.

High Or Low Stakes

In a sales or marketing situation they get in the way of your success. It’s the size of the commitment that matters.

Let’s pretend you sell a $7 ebook. Fear of regret is not an issue. The stakes are not high enough. Few people break a sweat over $7.

Now, let’s suppose you sell a $2,000 course on marketing. The stakes run higher.

“What if it doesn’t work out? I will have wasted $2,000. I’ll never forgive myself.” 

That’s fear of regret rearing its head.

Lucky for us we have a tool to render fear of regret harmless.

The Justifiable Benefit

Let’s go back to our $2,000 course.

Your prospect thinks:

“What if it doesn’t work out? What if it doesn’t pay for itself in the next three months like he promised?”

We offer a justifiable benefit to address that fear.

Here’s an example:

What if you choose NOT to maximize its potential and rake in the extra $700 per month in sales? I don’t need to tell you this. This industry is changing fast. The info in this course guarantees you at least hold steady. Job security will be scarce for anyone who doesn’t make this part of their skill set. 

Now he thinks:

“At least now I can justify the investment no matter how it works out.”

That justifiable benefit provides your prospect an abstract benefit. This allows him to answer the regret fear swirling around in his head. Removing that fear of regret gets you past one more obstacle on your way to a sale.


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When The Kiddie Pool Closes For “Emergency Maintenance” – Yeah, You Know What That Really Means… And The Art Of Reading Between The Lines

The scorching temperature had us itching to get to the pool. After a mild start to the summer season, we finally have a pool day. Fifteen minutes after we dive in there’s an announcement.

Please Clear The Lower Pool For Emergency Maintenance.”

Emergency maintenance for our town pool means only one thing. A toddler pooped in the pool. Making a direct announcement would rouse every kid under the of thirteen. Instead, they opt for a “code” phrase.

When you see all the parents rush their kids out of the pool, you know there is no misunderstanding.

The pool management made use of our most powerful persuasion rule.

The First Commandment Of Persuasion

“People may accept your claims, but they will never doubt their own conclusions.”


You can use brute force to make a sale or win an argument. That’s what most people try.

You can lead people to conclude on your own that your product, idea or belief is the right move.

We call this the Mindleading.

Mindleading is a stronger form of persuasion than brute force. Your prospect or opponent believes he came to his decision on his own. When he does that, he owns it. When you use brute force, you convince your opponent until he gives in. He’ll credit you or blame you for convincing him. In either case, he doesn’t own the decision. That makes your victory tenuous.

There is a downside to Mindleading. He will never credit you for changing his mind. He’ll believe he did it all on his own. You get the win. He won’t give you any credit. Your ego needs to be okay with that.

Mindleading Versus Brute Force

Leading your prospect or opponent to conclude rather than convince is too complex to cover in one article. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Avoid fact based arguments.  If you’ve ever been in a political argument, you know proof doesn’t matter. Your opponent counters your facts with his own. If he can’t, he’ll attack the source of your facts.
  2. Instead of throwing facts and proof in his face, ask questions. Ask questions that position you as someone in search for answers.
  3. Connect-the-dots. Rather, connect some of the dots. Repeat a few of the points that lead to a favorable conclusion for you. Do not draw the conclusion on your own. This is harder than it sounds. Fighting the urge “to be right” takes self-control.
  4. Poke holes. Avoid the big bang approach. Go for tiny victories. Create the tiniest of doubts in each encounter. Let each little doubt churn in his head before your next encounter.
  5. Patience. In the brute force approach, you attack until submission. This method requires patience. You lead them down a path. You cannot force the pace.

Success comes later when he’s taking a shower or driving his car. All of the sudden, he connects the dots. He reaches a tipping point where his original belief begins to crumble. Don’t expect a phone call or email admitting your right. He’ll never know it was you.

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How A Single Word Turned A Polite Request Into An Smug Demand… And He Didn’t Even Know It

Finally, we broke through the chains holding up our project. It should be smooth sailing until we get to the finish line.

Hold on. One more email arrives. My partner on the project needs me to fill out a form.

One more email arrives. My partner on the project needs me to fill out a form.

No big deal.

“Hey Barry – Before we move forward we need this form filled out. Can you get it back to me this week?”

That wouldn’t make much of a story. That’s what he could have written.

Here is the real text.

“Hello – Before we move forward, I need this form completed in its entirety. Please provide this by close of business Friday. Your complete cooperation is appreciated.

Sure, the unnecessary formality is off-putting. We’ve known each other almost three years. No need to sound corporate anymore.

He Takes A Dig At Me

That’s not what bothered me. Did you catch the real snub? It’s a single word in the last sentence.

If you were speaking to someone would you ask for complete cooperation?  He took a pot shot at me. In the actual email, he underlined the word “complete.”

It’s code for:

I don’t trust you to do a thorough job unless I stress complete cooperation.

I’ve assumed my entire life when someone asks for my cooperation, they don’t mean partial cooperation.

Yes, if I had a history of unreliable work then his phrasing is justified. We’ve always worked well together. 

After some reflection, I figured it out.

This guy can be smug at times. That’s just the way he is. I realized it was just his natural personality coming through. Combined with his formal tone, it made him sound smug and snobby.

Words Get In The Way Of Meaning

I don’t thnk he intended to dig into to me. This is what happens when you try to sound formal. He doesn’t speak that way in normal conversation. That made it hard for him to judge how I’d interpret his message.

How do we avoid this? How do we ensure our audience interprets our words as we intend them?

Conversational Writing

Write like you talk. Write like you’re having a conversation with one person. You know how people interpret your everyday conversation. It’s natural. It’s unnatural to talk in a formal tone. That makes it harder to judge how our audience interprets it.

This is what the best writers do. They make you feel like they’re talking to only you.

Writing in your natural voice (that voice inside your head) also helps your creative thought flow.

When you convert your natural voice into a formal voice you occupy your brain with extra effort.  Write like you speak and you free up brainpower for creative thought.

Try conversational writing and you’ll sound more like a friend than an automated voice barking orders.

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What Happens When Your Lock Won’t Open At The Gym… And A Lesson In Humiliation Marketing

I finished up a quick workout at the gym and ran to the locker room. I had ten minutes to get home. It was just enough time to grab my stuff and bolt out of there.

I turned the dial on my lock to the correct combination and pulled.

Nothing. It didn’t open.

I tried a second time. I tried a third time. Still nothing. I had the combination saved in my phone. I double checked. It was the right combination.

What now?

I tried again and it still failed to open.

I noticed a few guys in the locker room peeking at me. One of them flashed a subtle smirk. I could feel beads of sweat form above my brow.

Embarrassment swept over me. I knew what they were all thinking.

“Look at this loser. He can’t open his lock.”

I tried to play it off. I pretended I just put my stuff away, preparing for my workout. It was a shameful attempt.

I strolled into the gym area, pulled out my phone and turned to Google for help.

I found a popular answer. To fix a stuck lock, turn it to the right a whole bunch of times. If that doesn’t work, you’re out of luck.

I went back to the locker room. A new crowd replaced my old friends. I turned it to the right at least seven or eight times.

Success. Whew!

The embarrassment of not opening my lock evaporated.

Plus, I avoided the potential embarrassment of admitting my problem to the teenager at the desk and asking for help.

The Double-Edged Sword

I like to think at my age I don’t embarrass as easily as I did twenty years ago. My skin may be a bit thicker but I still feel it. We all do. The triggers that set it off might be different for you. We all have our moments, right?

Let’s start with the obvious.

If you feel it, you want to eliminate it as fast as possible. Compared to other intense emotions, embarrassment provides no comfort, no positive spin.

That makes it a double edge sword for a marketer.

If your prospect suffers from something embarrassing, it lowers the bar for you. They’re desperate for a solution.

That’s the good. Here’s the bad.

They may not be willing to recognize they suffer from the problem in the first place.

It’s hard to predict who might shy away from your solution due to embarrassment. Plus, it’s hard to predict what triggers it.

Even something as mundane as coding, cooking or using spreadsheets can set it off.

Your prospect may represent himself as an expert coder. If he needs help, he may feel too embarrassed to admit it.

What do you do about it?

This Question Might Save You

Ask yourself what the potential embarrassments are for your product. Why would someone feel embarrassed to admit they need help?

Reassurance and discretion assuage their fears. Knowing that others suffer from the same pain softens the sting.

Show The End State

Once you gain their attention, you can turn it to your advantage. Connect how your product removes any chance of embarrassment or indignity.

Show them the end state. What will life be like when the threat is gone forever?

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Can You Really SMELL Desperation?

Can we really smell desperation? It may not hold a real scent. Still, we sense it when it’s there. Is it a learned skill or are we just born with it?

I don’t know the answer to that. Here’s what I find more fascinating.

How We Respond To Desperation

There are two universal responses to desperate people. We either exploit it or avoid it.

Pretend you’re at the store buying furniture. The salesman tells you he needs the sale to make his quota. Knowing he feels desperate, what do you do? You squeeze him for every last dime and benefit you can. Of course, you can take this too far. There are those who exploit others in their most desperate hour of need. I like to think that is a rare situation.

The most common response is to avoid the desperate ones. This happened to me yesterday.

The Desperate Gym Instructor

I stopped into the gym yesterday for a workout. Ahead of me were a few other gym-goers.

As they walked in, I heard one of the trainers ask in an anxious voice:

“Are you here for the 5:30 spin class?”


“Why don’t you join me for this class. It’s a great workout.”

“Uh… I would. I’ll try it next time. I’m in a rush today.” Just like our radar zeroes in on desperation, it spots fake excuses too.

Spotting the potential for discomfort, I ducked around the person in front of me and swiped my membership card. I darted out of the way towards the locker room. I did this trainer a favor. I spared her another denial of her spin class.

I did this trainer a favor. I spared her another denial of her spin class.

I took a peak in the spinning room fifteen minutes later. There were two people in the class. The room full of empty bikes looked sad. I felt bad for her.

Never Show Desperation

Desperate marketers make poor marketers As consumers we buy from people who exude confidence. Their time is valuable. That makes them more desirable.

Here’s where it may impact you.

We often display desperation in our writing, even when we’re not desperate. I include myself in this group too. I’m as guilty as everyone else.

Here are some common examples of what I call desperation marketing.

  1. Dumping “Buy Now” buttons every few lines in your email or sales letter.
  2. Setting a deadline for a deal and then giving a lame excuse for keeping it open – “Due to some technical issue we’re extending the deadline another 24 hours.” A follow up then appears 24 hours later. “Last chance. One more 24-hour extension due to [insert lame reason here].”
  3. Sheepish apologies. Don’t get me wrong. If you really do screw up or hurt someone you should apologize. What I’m talking about here is apologizing for doing what you do, apologizing for selling a product or sending an email. If you’re providing value that could help others, why apologize? It only makes you look like you’re doing something wrong.

The Privileged Mindset

Instead of the desperate approach, adopt the privileged mindset. You provide something that can help people improve their lives. It’s a privilege to buy from you or listen to you.

  1. Your time is valuable. Others should respect it.
  2. Offer your product or service. Do not beg.
  3. Avoid screaming in your writing. ALL CAPS = BAD. That goes double for excessive exclamation points.
  4. Never apologize for selling your product or service.
  5. Respect your own deadlines.
  6. If they don’t buy, it’s their loss, not yours.
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The Only Time It’s A Bad Idea To Sell. Really, It’s Next To Impossible

Just as I sat down to relax a text came in.

Pick up your damn phone. She stranded me here. Come pick me up.”

The ringer on my phone was off. I do that often. When I finally looked at it, I saw two missed calls, a voicemail and a text message.

My wife volunteered for an event. She planned on getting a ride home from a friend. There was a miscommunication. The friend left without her, leaving her stranded. She was upset with me for making her wait. I knew it was best not to argue.

Less than an hour later, my parent’s are waiting for the Uber driver. They have a flight to catch. Why did the wait until the last minute?

Of course, the Uber driver canceled. The next driver wouldn’t be there until a half hour later. That would cut it too close. They complained and complained some more. They worried about missing their flight. I put an end to that.

“Forget it. I’ll drive you to the airport.”

There’s one subtle point both these events have in common. The victims of both car-fails experienced heightened negative emotion.

There’s a footnote to sales and persuasion we overlook. It’s the one time you should NEVER attempt to persuade or sell.

If He Feels It, Then It’s True

Whenever someone feels anger, rage, love or any other strong emotion it’s impossible to change their minds. In fact, any attempt to persuade them in this state often strengthens their emotion.

It’s a universal quirk of human logic: If I feel it, it must be true.

This is why, in both cases, instead of trying to calm them down or defend myself, I simply took actions to reduce the tension.

Selling or persuading someone in a heightened emotion is like trying to quell a riot by whispering “Please remain calm.”

You’ll just fan the flames even more.

The Counter Punch

If you can’t persuade someone in this state of mind, then what do you do? Before you make any attempts to make your case, you need to get the other person into a neutral state of mind. In the midst of a heightened emotion they won’t listen.

You have three options to bring your prospect to a neutral state of mind.

  1. Wait –How’s that for a low-tech tactic?  Time eases the emotional impact. If a friend strands you at an event your anger level hits a 10. The next day it drops down to a 5, even if you haven’t forgiven her. Intense emotions take loads of energy to maintain. Time is your friend.
  2. Fall On The Sword – Does the other party see you as the source of their intense emotion? By admitting guilt, you starve the oxygen from their fire. Without that fuel, their emotions die down.
  3. Take A Mitigating Action – This is the action I took with the Uber fiasco. By making a quick decision to drive myself, I mitigated the impact of the Uber cancellation.
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How To Create “Fiction” To Get What You Desire

It’s one of those chance encounters that leads to revelations. It happened to me yesterday. It so enamored me, I felt compelled to share it with you.

I ran into an old friend yesterday. What’s the first thing you do after exchanging pleasantries? You share what’s good and what’s bad.

My friend got to telling me that he had to work Saturday and Sunday to meet demands of his “employer.” I put the word employer in quotes because he’s a contractor, not an employee.

“You’re a contractor, right? At least they pay you for the extra hours, ” I said.

“Ha. I wish. My contract stipulates payment for a ‘professional day’ not hours worked.”

“WTF is a professional day?”

It took a few seconds before I connected the dots.

A Piece Of Brilliant Fiction

A professional day means employers pay you by the day, no matter how many hours you work.

What a brilliant work of fiction.

Someone conjured up the idea of the professional day. Someone invented it to take advantage of contractors. Forget about the ethics of exploiting workers for a second.

Let’s look at the mechanics of this.

The employer has a question

How can we hire contractor’s and pay them only for an eight hour day but get them to put in as many hours we need?

Here’s the problem.

You cannot just state in a contract that you must work as many hours as we demand but only get paid for a set amount. Nobody would accept that verbiage.

How To Break The Rules

So what’s the crafty employer to do?

Create a label.

They call it the professional day.

The term professional tickles the ego of the victim. It implicitly states:

“You’re a professional. You fall under a higher standard than an ordinary worker.”

The label avoids the issue of hourly wages. Instead, they pay you for a professional day. That’s code for – “do whatever we need you to do. We pay you a flat fee.”

Keep in mind the whole idea of the professional day is a work of fiction. Someone invented it. Once it had a label, it became real. Now, we accept it as a “thing.”

Using fiction to persuade happens all the time. The ones who exploit this don’t think of it as fiction. The ones who fall for it fail to realize they’re falling an invented concept.

How To Create Your Own Fiction

My example above may push the borders of exploitation. But, you can use it for ethical purposes as well.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. What problem are you trying to solve?
  2. PWhat is the ideal solution? (How will it work)
  3. What label or name can you create that allows you to implement that solution without explicitly stating so?
  4. Ensure your label stokes the ego of your intended audience. Professional day stokes the ego of its audience by recognizing their professionalism, your label should create a similar effect.
  5. Use repetition so your label gains acceptance.

That’s all there is to it.

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What Weddings Teach Us About Setting The Stage For A Sales Pitch

There’s a moment during a wedding ceremony just before the couple exchanges their vows. It’s a moment of heightened anticipation. Everyone in attendance shares the same feelings. We feel excitement, anticipation and joy.

The wedding officiator announces the married couple for the first time. They kiss. Everyone cheers. It sets the mood for the rest of the night.

Wedding Magic

I’ve been to countless weddings. Some of those weddings cost $10K. One of them topped out at $500K. The six-figure weddings were certainly more extravagant. The food was superior. Despite the superior trimmings of the over-the-top weddings, the shoe-string weddings are just as much fun.

Why? Shouldn’t the quality of the food, band and venue make the experience more enjoyable? With most exchanges it does. Not so with weddings.

Here’s the difference.

Our mood and emotions set the stage for our enjoyment of the experience. That’s hard to picture.

This explains it with more clarity.

Imagine you just found out a friend of yours is sleeping with your significant other. What kind of emotion would you be feeling?

Now, pretend you learn of this just before the opening of a comedy show. Do you think you would find any of the jokes funny? No way. The comedian’s talent means little. Your emotional state won’t let you enjoy the jokes.

Setting The Stage

Weddings work in a similar way. The joy, excitement and pleasant feelings of the ceremony puts you in a state of mind.  In that state of mind, you’re going to enjoy yourself at a party. It doesn’t matter if it’s a party with cheese whiz and crackers or a party with sushi and filet mignon.

Here’s how you can use this technique in your own persuasive attempts.

Before you persuade, sell or tell a joke, your audience must be in the right state of mind.

You want your audience in the state of mind conducive to what you sell.

If you sell financial solutions to protect people from the collapse of the dollar, you set the stage by stoking fear. The emotion matches what you sell.

Of course, if you sell a self-help course, creating a feeling of hope would be a better match.

The Three “What” Questions

Here’s the simple process I go through before any sales piece. I ask these three questions.

  1. What am I trying to sell?
  2. What emotional state is conducive to selling this product? (The emotion you want them to feel before you lead into your sales pitch)
  3. What kind of story can I tell that would put my audience in that state? (Draw on your personal experience. You can use fiction too, as long as you don’t misrepresent).

Of course, coming up with such a story takes some effort. You can bet your competition doesn’t bother with such subtleties. Asking yourself these questions puts you in a better position of connecting with your audience before you get into sales mode.

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