Martin Stellar - Coach & Consultant for ethical sales and business growth

Martin Stellar - Coach & Consultant for ethical sales and business growth

On Barbers, Clients, and Taking a Knee

It took a while to find the right barber in this town: everyone I tried did a good job, but not *my* job – they’d cut my hair the way they wanted, not what I asked for

(In one instance, I actually ended up with a Tintin haircut. Not what I had asked for).

And then I found Jose: super nice guy, talks too much (the way barbers apparently learn in barberschool) and: cuts my hair just how I want it.

I don’t blame the other barbers in town: what you buy there, is what they see as most suitable. It’s their art, their style, and good for them.

But what you buy at Jose’s, is what you asked for. Both options work, and both are valid.

And in fact, I respect the other barbers for their method.

The fact that I have a particular wish doesn’t’ mean it’s their job to execute on that – for that, I need a different barber – apparently, one named Jose.

Clients can often come up with requests that are reasonable enough, but that aren’t what you specialise in, or what you enjoy doing.

That doesn’t make them wrong, it just means that maybe you’re not the person to help them.

Often, we try to accommodate. To include the thing, because that way we get the sale – and it’s often a terrible idea to do that.

For one thing, you’ll end up doing something outside your expertise and that’s of little leverage, or something you don’t enjoy, or both.

But adjusting to requests when we shouldn’t also reduces the chance we’ll close the sale.

Wait, what? We’re giving people that extra thing they want – doesn’t that make them more eager to buy?

Maybe, for some people. But a savvy buyer will see that you’re taking a knee, and it will look desperate, and they’ll back away.

Instead, see if you can solve their need in another way. Help them find and select someone to do that job. Or introduce them to someone in your network. Or maybe there’s something else that you can do for the buyer, that gets them the same outcome, but in a different way.

But never do a haircut that you’re not comfortable doing, and expertly so.



If It’s Not Alright…

It reads like one of those fluffy, new-age inspired quotes that are so popular with the kids on social media:

“Everything will be alright in the end – and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end”.

It’s easy to think of situations where that doesn’t really apply – but there’s one situation where it very much does apply: Sales.

When you’re talking to a potential client, ‘alright in the end’ hopefully means ‘they bought your thing’.

But most people freak out when ‘in the end’ turns into ‘no sale’, and treat it as if it’s the end.

But it’s really just the start of a negotiation.

When a client says no, there’s no reason to act as if everything is ruined – not as long as you’re still conversing with them.

If someone is talking to you, part of them wants something that you have.

And unless it’s said outright, ‘no’ rarely means ‘no, go away’.

Instead, it means ‘not that, not like that, not right now’.

To which the perfect reply is: ‘then what, then how, then when?’



Shipwrecks and Optimism

We’re always building ships. Whether we’re an entrepreneur, an employee or a work-at-home-mom: at any given moment, we’re trying to create a ‘ship’ – a way, a method, a means: to get from here to there. From A to B.

And cultural theorist Paul Virilio had it right, when he said: “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck”.

And while I’m all for optimism, I do know that there are rocky shores out there, and you know, I’d really like to avoid them.

Which is why a pre-mortem is so handy.

Which is a review of plans and potential outcomes, from the point of view of ‘well at least we’re lucky we made it out alive’ or ‘wow, we never saw that one coming’.

This isn’t pessimism btw: it’s sanity.

Sure, you know it’s going to work out. Of course your plan is excellent, and your drive and wits and experience are more than sufficient. You totally got this.

Except if things unexpectedly turn complicated or overly complex – and you hadn’t considered, solved for, those possibilities.

If you would have taken the time to think about ‘IF it goes wrong, HOW will it go wrong?’, at least you’ll see trouble coming before its here, and you’ll have thought about what to do if it does come.

Note that I’m NOT advocating pessimism or spending the next week pre-analysing every possible worst-case scenario. Instead, I’m suggesting you consider the difference between crashing on a shore, or *thinking about* crashing on a shore.

Because the harsh truth is, optimism is a terrific way to not avoid easy-to-avoid disaster. Most of us would rather pretend nothing can go wrong than to think about the possibility, which has the uncanny side-effect of it becoming more likely that something might go wrong. Funny how that works.

If you’re building a ‘ship’ right now… what ‘shipwreck’ are you also building? In which ways could things go wrong – and how can you avoid that or remedy it if it happens?



Reverse Truth, Trust, Assumptions, Sales

Reverse truth is another way of saying ‘believing in your assumptions’ or ‘taking your hypotheses as verified’.

And… we all do that, all the time.

We observe, we interpret, we conclude. On and on.

In business, and in selling too, that’s deadly.

A client might say “I need help with XYZ’ and you might go “Oh, so they want exactly what I have!”

Do they though? They said they need help, your kind of help – but they didn’t say they *want it from you*.

You’ll only know that for a fact when the money is in or the contract signed.

And when a prospect says ‘yes’ to your offer, that might mean yes literally and the money is on its way – or it might be a false yes, or a way to buy time to think (you’ll have seen it happen, where a client confirms the project, and
then you wonder why they didn’t pay, sign, or indeed reply to your emails any longer).

Reverse truth means that you seek confirmation of what you want to believe or know, and bend that so that it makes sense.

“Well he agrees that he shouldn’t bring home icecream, so obviously that means he won’t. So then why is there a gallon of the stuff in my fridge, dammit?”

That statement can only be made by someone who created a reverse truth. To conclude that one thing means the thing that we want it to mean.

And until you have proof – there is no more icecream showing up in the house, the money is in, the spouse has actually stopped gambling – no assumption should ever be taken as true.

Especially when selling, because people need to trust you if they’re going to buy.

Now, you might think that as long as you’re truthful and operating out of integrity, you don’t damage trust.

But you’d be wrong.

Reverse truth is a terrific way to break trust.

When you seek confirmation where it doesn’t exist, when you take an interpretation as true, you’ll instantly disconnect your buyer from you.

Their reaction (usually subconsciously) will be “Wait, that’s not what I said. I didn’t mean that – this person is not getting me”.

That’s unsettling. ‘I’m not being heard, they don’t get me. Are they listening?”

Bam. Trust crashes.

Reverse truth is dangerous so it’s good to start looking at it.

In what ways, in your day-to-day, do you seek ‘evidence’ to ‘prove’ your assumptions?

Where do you do that in your sales process?



What Is It You Do For a Living?

Most people answer that question by not answering it:

“I’m an author” or “I’m a massage therapist” or “I’m owner of a design agency”.

Those are not answers, because they say what you *are*, not what you *do*.

And people are a lot more interested in the thing we *do* that makes us different, than in the label we put on ourselves. It’s why they asked the question, isn’t it?

Leave it up to Seth Godin to answer the question, and answer it right. In an interview he gave, he said:

“I notice things for a living, and then I try to point them out to people”.

Wonderful, isn’t it?

When people ask what you do, you need to know what message to convey, that has them see the change you make, in just a few words.

Elon Musk could say “I’m CEO of a couple of companies – Tesla, The Boring Company, SpaceX, amongst others”.

Or, he could say “I’m working on a multi-business plan to improve humanity’s conditions, and help ensure its survival”.

You’ll agree (whether or not you support his approach or not) that the latter sounds a lot sexier than the former.

My current best is “I learn people for a living, and then I try to come up with ideas that grow your business”.

Though admittedly, it’s wonky: It’s not learning people that earns me a living, but coming up with those business-growing ideas. In other words: my reply is still under construction.

But what about you?

What is it that you *do* for a living?

Not what you are, but what do you do, that someone else might value so much, they’d pay money for it?

What value do you create, what change do you make, what does your work for others?

Find the answer to that, and you’ll never have to lose another person’s interest again, when they ask what you do.

And the secret to finding the perfect reply?

Make sure that it answers the two most fundamental questions that literally everybody needs answered when dealing with a business:

‘So what?’ and:

‘What’s in it for me?’

Craft a reply that answers those two, and you’re set.

Oh and hey, let’s play a game!

Send me your best reply to the question “What do you *do* for a living?” and I’ll use my old copywriter-brain to help you turn it into a nice 1-sentence introduction for when people ask you.

Want to play?

Alright, here we go:

What is it that you *do* for a living?



Who Sells the Talk?

A couple of years ago, working with a number of artist clients, I was shocked to see a greedy trend in the gallery world: where artists used to be represented by a gallery, now increasingly galleries ask rent fees in order for an artist to hang their work.

Now, it appears that the same trick has appeared on the public speaking field.

Last week I had a meeting, to discuss my giving a talk at an upcoming local conference. Seemed like a nice organiser, the theme and other speakers fit my area of interest&operation, and hey: public speaking. Good for making connections&getting the word out.

And then she drew up a price list and started talking about the different price levels.

“Just a sec”, I said. “We’re talking about giving a talk – a speaking engagement, right? Not renting a stand?”

“Yes, a talk”.

“Ok, I’m just checking, because normally people pay me for giving public talks”.

She was quiet a bit, and then: “Erm… we sell talks”.


What she sells isn’t a talk, it’s floorspace and an audience. The speaker sells the talk.

“Ok, well why don’t you send in a proposal and a quote, and we’ll see if we can fit it in”.

In the end, I didn’t. It would probably be fun and useful, and paid, but:

Aside from the fact that I consider it wrong to charge an artist for wallspace or a speaker at a normal conference for floorspace, it’s a sign of bad business thinking.

The argument is ‘we need to cover our costs’ – but that cost should be covered from other things, such as ticket sales, revenue share on sales the speakers make, book sales, workshops… there’s a hundred ways to create revenue around a conference.

But if the organiser does it by charging the very people who bring life and value and content to the affair, there’s something wrong.

A gallery should be so confident in their ability to attract the right audience, that they’ll take their commission, but charge nothing.

And likewise, a conference organiser should have a marketing plan so well thought-out that they know they’ll cover their costs from ticket sales.

If they don’t have that in place, how do I have the confidence that there will be people in the room?

A paid speaking gig sounds like a nice opportunity, and it is – but only if I can develop it with people a) who share my values and b) with whom there’s alignment in the way we both see how things should be done.

Opportunities abound. Pick only the ones with the ‘right’ people, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and a lot of disappointment.




“Hey Martin, sorry to hear that the headset broke. But yeah, it’s beyond warranty, I can’t help that. Here’s a discount code though, for 20% off”.

A nice gesture, to be sure.

But as compensation for a fairly expensive headset that broke just as its warranty expired (and I was too late writing in – my bad), it’s not stellar treatment of a duped customer either. It’s good, but it doesn’t get a ‘wow’.

So, since I’ve been studying negotiation lately, I decided to practice a little. You know, have a little fun with the situation.

“I totally appreciate that, but given [reasons I described above] I think a 60% discount would be fair, don’t you agree? Especially that it’s the kind of thing that creates a lifelong customer :)”

He wouldn’t have it: “I can’t give you more than 20%”.

Fair enough, and kind enough.

But, a net loss for his company.

So far I’ve enjoyed buying from them – they’re very helpful and nice people.

And if he’d conceded to my (admittedly crazy) request, they would have become my go-to, don’t-care-about-others audio device provider, for as long as they’re in business. You give me 60% off? Hell yeah.

Which means I’d spend anywhere from 500 to, who knows, 5000, in the next 5 or 10 years. That’s a lot of revenue, and now they lost it because – and get this – I somehow don’t feel good about the situation.

It’s not because of anything they did wrong – it’s because they didn’t do what’s ‘right’, in order to make me feel in love with them.

They offered a gift, they treated me correctly – but they left me feeling not important to them, not wanted.

Which is kinda weird, but think about it:

It feels good to know that the provider we buy from wants us to stay, because it tells us that they’ll do their best work, in order to keep us around.

On a subconscious level, this is powerful stuff. It speaks of care, stewardship, commitment, long-term relationship… all the things that make for a healthy and surviving society, and therefore appeals enormously to the individual.

Giving discounts isn’t workable in all business models, but there’s always something you can do, some extra mile or half-mile, that you can go to surprise and delight people.

There’s always something you can do, or say, that tells people:

“I care about you, I’d love to treat you so well that you’ll be around forever”.



How to Not Look Needy When Selling

Ever noticed the way a hungry animal behaves? The way it walks, sniffs, looks at everything asking itself ‘is it food?’

Not a pretty look, right? Pretty desperate.

That’s pretty much how we look to potential buyers, if we allow neediness to show up in how we show up.

And I’m not talking about a hungry kitten – it makes us look more like predators, when neediness appears in a sales situation.

Yeah you need the sale, I know. Bills, payroll, suppliers, subscriptions… but you can’t afford, literally, to look needy. Just not.

And so, you need to dissasociate yourself from the outcome. Sale, no sale… be ok with either.

But that’s easier said than done, because: see above —> you need the sale.

And yet, you need to detach yourself from the outcome.


As always, by performing the one master move to make everything in life and business easier: make it about them.

You’re selling something, so by default what you need isn’t the point. It’s what your buyer needs, because that’s what people pay for: the things they need.

So the only question really, is ‘do they need this?’

And that’s it. Stay with that question, let your buyer answer it, and a) they’ll sell themselves if they really need it and b) you’ll not look needy.

Simple, right?



Good Deeds, Acceptable Costs, Thousands of Eyeballs

It’s always fun having visitors from abroad – never a dull moment.

“Martin I injured my knee, can you make an appointment with your fysiotherapist?”

I make the call, and: first option is ten days from now. Clearly not ideal, when someone is in pain, but that’s life.

“That’s a pity – could you recommend someone else, where we might be able to get an earlier appointment?”

She thinks for a moment, and I can almost hear the names going through her head coming out of my headset, and then she says: “Sorry, I couldn’t tell you”.

Which is fair enough, but it’s not how you create great relationships with your customers.

If she were to recommend a few people, I’d really appreciate that – and why wouldn’t she? It’s not like the clinic is empty, so… why not?

So far for good ideas on treating customers.

But if you want your people to have a stellar treatment?

Then you take their number, you call your friends and peers in the industry (whether you’re a fysio, coach or designer), and you set an appointment for the client.

Not only will the client love it, you’ll also have created a stronger bond with your peer, who will be more likely to refer work to you if ever they need to.

Does it require guts to do this?

Does it make people love you and talk about you?

Does it require a bit of faith in humanity?

Does it require that you choose wisely who to refer to? (givers and matchers only – there’s no point in giving to takers)

Yes to all the above.

Does it pay dividends over time?

You bet.

Doing things that make people talk about you is enormously profitable, even if there’s a cost or a client buys elsewhere.

Consider this story, where a bride called FedEx, because her wedding was the next day, but her wedding dress had not yet arrived.

Turned out, a routing error had landed the dress in a different city.

The FedEx operator arranged for a private plane to fly the dress in on time (literally going the extra mile), and guess what:

Not a single person at the wedding did not hear the story – easily 100 to 200 people, many of whom would relate the story to others afterwards.

And because it’s such an awesome story, it has real selling power in terms of having at least some of those people choose choose FedEx instead of a competitor, next time they want to send something.

Multiply by the lifetime value of a typical customer, and the cost of a private plane suddenly becomes very acceptable indeed. And you even get guys on the internet talking about it in articles.

One good deed. One cost. And thousands upon thousands of people who hear about it in articles, word of mouth, podcasts, mentions in books, and training materials.

Next time you have a chance to do something wildly loveable for a client, even if you’re concerned about the cost or loss of it, you might be well off doing it.



How Did I Miss That?

It’s staggering, the amount of information coming at us – and if we were able to perceive the right things and not the noise, we’d have super clarity all the time.

Your gut tells you whether you should turn left now, or at the next corner.

Your fridge contents tell you what might be for dinner.

Your list of todos is dying to tell you what’s most important and most urgent, right now.

Your list of potential customers to follow up with clearly tells you who’s the best person to connect with, today.

Each potential customer tells you, literally (though not always explicitly), why they would want to buy, why they wouldn’t want to buy, and what problems or objections they’re contemplating.

But in all the examples above, we don’t get it. Don’t see what’s there. Don’t hear the message that’s being sent.

Why? Because Heuristics. Wikipedia says heuristics is:

“…any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method, not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational, but instead sufficient for reaching an immediate goal”.

That practical method, in terms of the billions of signals and thoughts and emotions that we are present to throughout a day, works like this:

Your brain automatically, and blazing fast, filters through the multitude, and select a tiny tiny portion – that’s the bit that shows up in your conscious awareness, because the ‘immediate goal’ is called ‘keeping you alive’, and it can only do so if it makes fast decisions about people, things, feelings, thoughts, and events.

All the rest, the stuff that your subconscious guesses isn’t crucial, goes straight to the recycle bin, unnoticed and not leveraged or used.

That fast-filtering process is the heuristic technique we use to navigate a complex, confusing, and potentially dangerous world, and it works rather well for keeping us alive.

But it also has a cost, because between all the noise that your brain filters out and tosses in the trash, there’s also gems in there.

It’s the ‘god how did I miss that!’ stuff.

It’s when a client makes a passing comment about a secondary outcome they want, one that they think isn’t all that important or urgent, but would be nice to have at some point.

For example: maybe you build websites, and one of your add-on packages is SEO.

While talking, a potential buyer says they need a site now, and casually makes some half-finished comment about ‘some SEO in the future, after XYZ is done.

If you hear it, you have a chance to upsell.

If you miss it, you lose out on potential revenue – and don’t think this doesn’t happen.

You’d probably be the only person in the world who never said ‘how did I miss that’ or ‘man, I should have replied XYZ to that’.

Heuristics are handy, but don’t let the assumptions your subconscious makes about the world be taken for true and factual.

If you do, your mind will conclude ‘solved!’ and stop looking, and that’s how we get to be blind to the knowledge and insight that staring us right in the face, amidst the noise and clutter, 24/7.

What you need to know, decide, do or say is visible to you, right now.

If you don’t see it, it’s because

How to see it?

Well, you can get all philosophical about the nature of reality and the role our perception plays, but it can be easier and more fun (after all, trying to convince yourself (or others) that how you (or they) see the world is different from how the world really is, is a pretty pointless exercise. I’ve tried both).

Your subconscious might make incorrect assumptions about what’s important or not, but it’s also smart. If you ask yourself the right questions, it’ll answer them as the faithful servant it is.

The best question to ask, for bringing into view things that are important?

“What am I missing?”

No matter how sharp your vision, how astute your grasp on reality, you will, always be missing something. So ask yourself what that thing, the important or crucial missing bit, is.

“What are you missing?”



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