Whose Experience Is It, Anyway?

One the reasons I’m a good teacher… is because I suck at being a good student.

I have to re-learn my lessons over and over… and over again. Painfully, sometimes. That’s good for anyone wanting to learn from me, because my repeated “take overs” mean I know the territory better than most… and I have “experimented” with the learning curve so much I understand every obstacle you will encounter trying to weld the most important principles and lessons to your brain.

I’m not stupid (in spite of what anyone else may have told you). And I love the learning process. My problem is being too generous — I’ve always had a “can do” attitude, and I really enjoy helping people. So, sometimes I let my enthusiasm for sharing and teaching overwhelm the “rules” I’ve developed over the decades that have been the foundation of my successful career.

Here’s a good example… one that I think holds a great overall lesson for all of us.

Here’s the story: The “marketing model” I use involves lots of straight-ahead “content”… meaning, I give out oodles of good, useable info and only occasionally (and gently) pitch anything. For years, my newsletter mailed out with just the newsletter — it was pure information, with no selling whatsoever.

This blog, too, is mostly info-dense. (I’ve been reminding people of the upcoming workshop because it’s such a rare event, and almost upon us.) People rely on me for delivering the goods, and I do my best to comply.

Part of the reason for this “lots of info, very little selling” model is because what I offer people is — there’s no other way to describe it — deep. It’s not paper-thin theory, and not surface-level crap ripped from other people’s experiences. What I share are the proven tactics, concepts and insider savvy from my many years in the front line trenches of the advertising world. This is what I do. This is how I earned my rep, project by project, over decades of success and trial and error.

A larger part of the reason for this model, however, is that I’m clearly not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not going to change my attitude, my teaching style or my quirks (especially not my quirks) in order to be “more accessible” to a bigger audience. Screw the “bigger audience” out there. I’m after hard-core marketers who are aggressively seeking major success, and come looking for just the kind of insider advice I offer.

I don’t want the many problems inherent in trying to appeal to “uninitiated” crowds. My refund rate for the “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets” course is so miniscule, it doesn’t even show up as a whole percentage point. If I were my own client, I’d advise myself that I’m not pushing hard enough — a good marketer should be getting around 7%-to-15% refunds. That’s normal, and from my experience, the average. Even with a super-killer product, some refunds are unavoidable.

But I’m not approaching my teaching gig as a normal marketer. This is a side project with me — my main gig is still as a freelance writer, and I still service a core group of clients who rely on me for that. The teaching is something I’m doing to, yes, earn extra money from… but more important, it’s my way of giving something back to the industry that has given me so much. Like the guy on “My Name Is Earl”, I learned long ago that karma is a very real component of the universe. Also, I enjoy the way I feel when I share my expertise with others.

Now, by avoiding the “hard sell” with my teaching gig, I seldom encounter anyone seeking private consultation who isn’t hip to what I’m about. Everyone I do critiques for is an Insider with me, well-schooled in the basics I teach, aware of my reasons for insisting on certain tactics and concepts, and willing to put their precious ego aside and learn.

Long ago, in fact, I made a rule with myself that I would avoid, at all costs, directly dealing with anyone who was not completely and thoroughly initiated to the ways I operate. (That’s why it’s so much more expensive to attend any event I have if you aren’t already at least a subscriber to the Rant newsletter.)

Because, as I said, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.

Every once in a while, I’ll speak at a someone’s seminar, and discover the crowd is packed with neophytes who refuse to believe that long copy works better than short copy… or that having a specific call to action is necessary for a sales pitch to succeed… or that Madison Avenue’s idea of ads (lots of irrelevant graphics, gratuitous ironic comedy, an embarrassed refusal to even attempt to sell) is just plain wrong, wrong, wrong.

And that almost always signals a major bummer for me. I don’t mind teaching the raw basics… but I know from brutal experience that just the building-block concept of long copy versus short copy is something that most businessmen have a very hard time believing. Even with proof. Even when the proof shows up in their bank account.

And when you can’t get past that basic concept, you’re really not gonna understand the advanced stuff.

Most of the marketing world will never “get” the basics of classic direct response salesmanship.

Which is fine. It’s also the reason I don’t push too hard to get people into my world. If you get hung up on the basics (which veterans know from long experience is as close to gospel as you get in business), then none of the advanced stuff I teach is going to make a difference to you.

Still, as I said, I have a glitch in my internal operating software that makes me violate my own rules over and over.

Yesterday, I did a phone consultation with someone who was not initiated into my teaching substance or style. I agreed to it, because one of my older clients insisted on it, and I’m a sucker for a heartfelt pitch.

And — no big surprise — the call went sideways from around minute number two.

Now, if you’ve done a phone consultation with me before, you know that I let you control the call however you want. You can interupt me, go off on any tangent you like, pepper me with questions or sit back and join me in a long, story-filled rant on whatever subject hits the table.

This works fine with almost everyone.

And the reason it works fine with almost everyone is that I normally refuse to do phone consultations with anyone not inititated.

The client who set this consultation up is a big fan of mine, and a terrific marketer. He unabashedly credits the single hour consultation he did with me a few years ago as launching his business — he received a massive payload of specific tactics, concepts and techniques during his call that immediately propelled him to the head of the class in his market.

And so, when his friend encountered a marketing dilemna, he urged this friend to do a consultation with me.

There’s a very important lesson here: When I teach salesmanship, I talk about “waking up your inner salesman” by doing something as simple as trying to convince a friend to go see a movie you know he’d enjoy (but wasn’t planning to go see).

I do this because of the incredible lesson in human behavioral psychology that occurs.

Try it. What you will encounter is the phenomenon of “resistance”. The more enthusiasm you show, and the more you insist your friend go to this movie… the more he will resist. This illuminates the basic mistake rookies make when trying to close a sale — believing that your enthusiasm will influence your prospect’s decision. It won’t. In fact, it can interfere.

This is why a world-class sales pitch is not a straight-on assault of bullying, but a nuanced progression of overcoming obstacles to the exchange of money. You must allow the prospect to make his own decision — and you do that by giving him reasons to do it. Not by insisting he do it, and not by trying to bowl him over with enthusiasm.

In fact, in the movie example… if you DO get him to go see the movie, guess what? He will very likely hate it. It’s very rare that he will have the same amazing experience you did. People do like to be led, but they don’t like to be forced to do anything.

That’s what happened with this botched consultation. The caller was pretty much just doing it to get my former client to shut up already about how much I’d helped him. He came to the call with a “I already know all this” attitude, had a totally unrealistic preconception of what to expect… and, as he anitcipated, had a bad time.

It wasn’t his fault. He had some notion built up in his head of how the call was going to go, and this notion was not based on knowing me, or knowing anything about what to expect from me. It was very much like going to a French restaurant wanting Mexican food, and being disappointed when you can’t get it. No matter how clear you are with the waiter about what you “want”, you’re not gonna get it if it ain’t on the menu.

I gave the guy a million dollars worth of advice, but it didn’t penetrate. Again, not his fault. The call should have never happened… at least until after he was initiated.

For you, and anyone else involved in marketing to humans, the lesson is the same. You cannot close the sale if you must rely on educating your prospect — to bring him up to a certain level of understanding, or to initiate him to a way of thinking. If what you offer involves education, you need to follow the marketing model of building a list with free or low-cost content, and nurturing it carefully so that when the major buying decision is made, it’s gonna stick.

I imagine I’ll have to keep relearning this lesson, too… because I’m kind of a soft touch when it comes to agreeing to help people. I set up rules both to protect my time, conserve my energy, and keep myself somewhat sane.

But I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t violate these rules once in a while.

And I wouldn’t be the teacher I am if I didn’t appreciate the opportunity to re-learn the lesson again, and incorporate the new input to refine it.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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