Basic Business Survival Skills Most Businesses Ignore

Couple of quick items I thought you’d find interesting.

First Interesting Item: The Wall Street Journal ran a great story the other day on the follies of MBA-powered mismanagement.

Well, I thought it was a great story, anyway. No one else seemed to pay much attention… probably because it doesn’t fit into the average person’s belief system that a Master’s in Business Administration is good for anything.

Seems that Harvard lost $350-million bucks in a hedge fund… run by guys with Harvard MBAs.

Let that idea roll around in your head for a moment.

If you have a stake in believing that MBAs rule, then it’s just an annoying news item. Move along. Nothing to see here.

However, if — like me — you enjoy these tidbits of proof that MBA actually stands for Massive Bullshit Acquisition, then the irony is truly delicious.

I’ve always maintained it is harder to teach people with too much education how to run small biz and entrepreneur shops, because the nonsense is piled so deep and thick in their skulls. An MBA is often a red flag that trouble lies ahead… like getting in a car with someone behind the wheel who learned how to drive solely from books.

A lot of the people who come to me for private consultation have MBAs. They can wax prolific on all sorts of business theory… but when it comes down to actually making sales, they’re like a babe in the woods. Helpless, clueless, and desperately trying to bluff their way through whatever disaster they’ve created.

Okay, there’s probably some worth in getting advanced degrees in biz. If you’re looking to nail down a soul-devouring gig in middle management at some faceless corporation, for example, it’s definitely the way to go.

And it will, at the very least, force you to read some books. I guess that’s a good thing, too.

But a vast number of the most frightingly successful entrepreneurs and small biz owners I know have zero college under their belt. Many dropped out of high school.

And yet you would consider them intellectually “inferior” at your peril. They’re usually smarter than the most “officially” educated guy in the room, and possess infinitely more real-world “pedal to the metal” savvy. The world of small biz doesn’t do so well using theory and grand concepts like “branding”. Entrepreneurs generally do better by breaking rules, and employing old-time classic salesmanship to deliver targeted product via killer pitches to hot markets.

All my mentors were self-educated. That generally means they were obsessive about reading. If rumor of any good book in any MBA program leaked out, they were on it. And because they filtered all incoming data through the real-world crucible of making sales happen, I would bet on their comprehension level being higher than any student’s.

But they never relied solely on books. Often, they would stop reading the latest bidniz best-seller half-way through, having quickly picked up the essential knowledge they could use. Books are tools.

It’s how the info works in the laboratory of everyday selling that counts.

I’m a broken record on this, because it’s important: Whatever happens to the economy (and things are, admittedly, getting scary)… whatever happens in your market (including the sudden threat of increased competition)… and whatever happens in your life in general… the one key survival skill will always and forever be raw, classic salesmanship.

Learn how to sell. Learn how to identify your best prospects, how to find them, how to nurture their innate desire for what you offer… and, most importantly, learn how to needle their emotional sweet spot to get them to act. To buy, to try your stuff out, and to allow you into their complex, fuzzy-focused lives as a “go to guy” provider of goods, services and content.

And remember — if the dudes teaching the MBA courses really knew their stuff, do you think they’d be grinding it out in academia?

The School of Hard Knocks remains the best university out there.

Second Interesting Item: Last night, I had dinner with a friend who also happens to be the top real estate broker in Northern Nevada.

Nevada, you may or may not know, went from being one of the top ten hottest real estate markets in the country… to being one of the top five worst. And we did it in a matter of shell-shocked months.

Most real estate-related businesses around here are in full panic mode, laying people off, closing up shop, fighting off bankruptcy, wringing their hands and hiding under the covers.

Ask your average agent how things are going, and he’s liable to burst into tears (and ask to borrow twenty bucks for lunch).

My friend, however, is doing just fine. He’s not matching his record-setting pace from the recent boom years, but he’s not far off, either.

And how, you ask, is he able to survive and thrive while others struggle and fail?

The answer is very simple, it turns out.

He ignores all the strategies other agents and brokers rely on.

And, instead, he uses old-time classic salesmanship to help his clients sell when no one else is selling, and buy when no one seems to be buying. Any good salesman would immediately recognize his skill-set as bonding, smart message-to-market targeting, and (most notably) working within the rules of the real world.

No theory. No tricks. No special magic at all.

Most agents simply do not know how to sell. They violate the most basic principles… like forgetting that it’s not all about them, but rather all about the prospect.

You never “sell” a house to anyone. You create the opportunity for a prospect to sell himself. And you do this by completely understanding his needs and desires, and genuinely matching him up with the right house. However you need to define it.

Most agents get all caught up in self-defeating conversations about “no one’s buying”, “the market’s in the tank”, “we’re in a recession” and all sorts of other nonsense. The glass is half empty, and leaking.

A great salesman assesses the situation, adjusts, and stays frosty.

And they get real. People are still buying and selling, even in the most dire market conditions. Sure, they’re harder to find, but they’re there. The housing industry is a fluid, moving parade of action. And there is always a way around a problem. Always. The reality of the solution may not thrill you, but there are endless choices and alternative paths.

The world may or may not be headed for some kind of economic Armeggedon. We may weather the coming crises just fine, or we may all be living in caves in a few years.

But however the reality plays out, one stark fact remains: Those who survive and thrive will be the ones with the most real-world experience, and the best salesmanship skills.

It has ever been thus.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

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  • John C. A. Manley says:

    I must admit I have a high school education.

    In my punitive country (Canada) we are forced to remain in school until the age of 16, or until we complete 12 grades (whichever comes first).

    I figured, since I was under this watered-down form of martial law, I might as well make the best of it. Though I felt the big benefits to school wore off sometime after learned how to read, write and do my times tables.

    My best education, since then, has cost me around $20-$30K in the art of making mistakes and learning from them. Paying for traffic, direct mail, etc., and watching the copy bomb or succeed or do lukewarm.

    I’m grateful to hear what you wrote here, and am glad to know I’m following the path trodden by such scholars in the art of real-world salesmanship.

    Thanks for the post,

    John M.

  • Greg Thompson says:

    Back when Gary passed, I got a bunch of e-mails saying something along the lines of:

    “In the coming months, much will be written about Gary Halbert”, etc etc

    So I was happy (even overjoyed) that it seemed like people were going to band together and write lots of tributes, collectives, stories, etc.

    But sadly none of that appears to have happened, aside from the little birthday page Bond set up back in June. And being that I regret very much not being able to make it to the memorial, I was one of the very first people to sign up for the DVD list.

    But even on that, I’ve still heard nothing.

    So my question is… what gives?

    I expected this time period to be a gusher of Halbertisms of all kinds and yet everywhere I look its all just business as usual.

    Isn’t somebody ever going to write a comprehensive biography of this amazing man’s life, at the very least?

    Gary Halbert was one of the most influential figures in DM history, yet when you type in his name in, you get nothing. (except a few excerpts from other people briefly talking about him in THEIR books) Heck, I never even saw a proper mention of his passing in DM News, Direct, OR Target for Christsakes.

    What gives? Honestly… what the heck is going on here?!

    John, I post this to your blog because I think you seem to be the only person out there who will really be able to understand and provide an intelligent answer.

  • john-carlton says:

    Hi Greg. Time is relative. I assure you that no one has “forgotten” about Gary. I’m in constant contact with his sons, Kevin and Bond (for whom the Boron Letters were written). The details of clearing away the thicket of urgent (and costly) legal matters presented by Gary’s sudden passing have kept them busy.

    However, they have big plans to re-establish Gary’s legacy, and his relevance in today’s marketing world. It’s their project first and foremost, and while many marketers (including myself) are offering help and support, we also have no intention of beating them to the punch with our own books.

    Bond has just sent me drafts of his first writings about his father, and they are securing copyrights and filling in some gaps in the videotaped history of his seminars.

    Patience. Screw DM News — the mainstream press in advertising never embraced Gary (to their eternal shame), and he never cared about being on any best-seller lists. He was not of the corporate world. He loved entrepreneurship above all.

    And don’t sweat the current lack of Amazon, et al, recognition. When I first discovered Claude Hopkins and the other geniuses from the early part of the century, most of their books were out of print. They literally had been forgotten by Madison Avenue. But quality wins the day, and I do not fear that Gary will end up in the dust bin of history.

    The shock of his passing is still fresh, you should know. Perhaps you’ve been fortunate enough not to experience the sudden, unexpected loss of a good friend. You don’t shake it off easily. You don’t rush the healing.

    Stay frosty, and your thirst for the “real” backstory to Gary’s famous life will be sated.


  • stephen richard levine says:

    George Bush has a Harvard MBA – ‘enuff said!

  • David Z says:

    Great post John. You know, as a rising senior at one of the nation’s top undergrad business schools I can’t help but keep thinking “wow, this stuff all sounds important but man…there’s NO practical application here”. The middle management picture that you painted is the one I fear most and just hope that my inner -entreprenuer beats down the external forces that are saying “get your degree and work in ‘Brand Management’ for General Mills!

    All The Best

  • Greg Thompson says:

    Thank you for the reply John.

    I’ve been following Gary for a very long time (have a lot of tapes of you guys from the 80’s and early 90’s heyday and love every bit of them) so I just wanted to get some insight into some of the things that no one else seemed to be talking about.

    I’ve got a lot of “little details” kind of questions so I’m looking forward to what comes out… and when it does, you can bet I’ll be right at the front of the line to get it! 🙂

  • Matt says:

    “But there’s two types of smarts: book smarts, which waved bye-bye to you long ago and there’s street smarts, the ability to read people. And you know how to do that.”

    -David Spade, “Tommy Boy”

  • Dean says:

    I feel he is one among the few to describe MBA as the least relevant subject in marketing and Branding as the subjective thing. Yes if we look at the real world situation, its only the Marketing trend that needs to be calculated and assessed to reach the targat audience. Good sales man is the only one who assess the situation and needs and aspirations of the customers and then create the create the marketing enviornment. But we cannot also ignore MBA’s in the business enviornments of this global world of today as small businessman with no proper strategies will always lack behind these big Giants.

  • Business is not just raw material, production, finance or marketing, its much more than that. CEO’s and MD’s or entrepreneurs ignore the value of manpower. The other employees should also be given credit and praised to make them feel that they are valued. Factories and companies do not run on their own but need men to do the jobs. So why not make them feel that they are the part of an organization in which they are

  • MBA has become the most valuable proposition for the world of today but I fully agree with the writer that a person without MBA also can be a very successful businessman. We can see many salesmen, who are not even educated, yet are very successful. In the business, it is the idea that sells and it’s the experience that teaches.

  • Jay Gaultieri says:

    It’s a year-and-a-half since this was posted. We now see the damage done by the narcissistic ego of the MBA. Collapsed investment houses. Auto industry bailouts. Horrific retail sales. Even firms that should be thriving these days (ebay) are dying a slow death. Why? Too many MBA and consultant oafs who made their bones in marketing and maybe finance but who know nothing about sales or operations. Guess they’ve set up their golden parachutes and don’t care about the havoc they’ve wreaked.

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