EP 299: How To Design Your Own Sales System

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Very few small business owners start out as confident sales people.

In fact, selling is quite often a new business owner’s #1 fear.

Many avoid selling. Some stumble through it. And still others look to leaders and sales trainers to learn their methods and duplicate their models.

In that process, they learn what works… but they often also learn that “what works” doesn’t necessarily work for them.

All this month, we’ve been examining sales and selling–asking “what works?” when it comes to asking someone to buy what we’re selling.

First, I talked with Autumn Witt Boyd who shared how she realized that she’d taken the trend toward sales automation a little too far–and has since developed a hybrid process that’s high touch without overwhelming her.

Then, I talked with Katie Hunt who shared how she had a fabulous new offer launch without spending tons of money on advertising or recruiting an army of affiliates.

Last week, I shared my conversation with Kate Strathmann where we both shared our reflections on building less harmful sales systems–systems that are less manipulative, less urgent, and more in line with our values.

This week, I’ve got 4 more stories to share with you from small business owners who have intentionally done things their own way when it comes to sales and selling. They’ve found what truly works for them–even if it bucks the prevailing wisdom or would make a bro marketing expert role his or her eyes.

Before we get there, though…

I wanted to share some questions you can use to examine your own sales process.

First, I want to say that I don’t think learning someone else’s sales system is a bad thing. And I don’t think every effective sales system being taught is inherently manipulative or harmful. Even if you plan to find your own version of what works, learning about effective sales systems can help you get creative with the way you do want to go about selling your offers.

When it goes wrong is when we don’t take the time to carefully examine and analyze what’s going on in a sales system that we’re learning and, instead, just naively follow the instructions.

So these questions–which I formulated from the conversations we’ve had this month–can help you take a closer look at a sales system that you’ve learned or one you’ve created and make sure that it’s creating the experience you want your customers to have.

The first question is:

Does this sales process mimic the experience I want customers to have after they buy?

Both Kate and Autumn talked about how they want to align what was special about the type of experience they offered with the way sales conversations actually went down.

For Autumn, that meant incorporating more personalized, human conversations into what had become a really automated experience. For Kate, it meant making sure that the collaborative, co-creative experience she was building also carried over into the content and conversations she was having around her program.

Before you decide on what your sales process should look like, it’s helpful to get really clear on what people love about what you’re selling and how they experience it. How much of that experience can you carry over into how you guide people through the sales process?

The second question is:

What values will I prioritize as I design this sales experience?

Katie knew that launching her new membership site even while many small businesses were reeling from lockdowns was the right thing. She wanted to be able to provide support that was easier to access when they needed it most.

But she wanted to make sure that the way she talked about the new program and guided people to buy was in line with her values, especially since there was already so much tension and anxiety in the air. She adjusted her sales messaging and even the price to make the offer stronger in the midst of uncertainty.

You don’t have to squeeze all of your personal or company values into a sales process–that can be really overwhleming. Which of your values do you want to prioritize? Maybe your value for collaboration inspires you to sell differently or your value for inclusion creates an opportunity to close the deal in a new way.

Choose one or two values that you really want to highlight and ask yourself how that particular value can play out in an effective sales system.

The third question is:

Am I giving potential customers more agency or less agency by design?

Kate called out that at the root of many harmful sales practices is a desire for control: control over communication, control over the buying process, and control over outcome.

Looking back at my conversation with Autumn, automating your sales process can be a form of control. It doesn’t have to be–but without intentionally designing the process to empower your customers and make sure they’re the ones choosing the next right move for them, an automated sales process can easily devolve into a process that chooses the prospects’ next move for them.

The fourth question I encourage you to ask as you examine your sales system is:

How can I use my sales process to build stronger relationships?

Sales systems are often designed in a way that turns a budding relationship into something much more transactional. What seemed authentic and organic–even at a distance–can turn into something that feels like a quid pro quo.

Kate shared that she approached her recent sales process with an eye for sharing her offer in a way that would encourage future sales by using the process to start building stronger relationships now. The content she created, the way she asked for the sale, and the process of actually inviting people into the program all reinforced this goal.

The final question I invite you to ask is:

How can I frame this conversation to reduce anxiety?

Let’s be frank: sales conversations often make people anxious. We get anxious as the sales people–will they buy? will they think I’m stupid? will hit my goal? will my they my price is too high? too low? And our potential buyers get anxious too: will this solve my problem? will I like it? will I use it? am I missing out on something really good if I don’t buy?

Unfortunately, many popular sales techniques are actually designed to increase anxiety. They’re designed to make people fear missing out. They’re designed to make people experience new problems or to step on old wounds.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that that’s just no good…

What I heard from Kate, Autumn, and Katie was a conscious decision to reduce the anxiety their potential customers felt–and in turn, they experienced less anxiety about sales and selling themselves.

Kate reduced anxiety by being really direct with her potential customers. She didn’t beat around the bush about what she was offering and she made it really easy to determine whether or not you wanted to buy.

Autumn reduced anxiety by having personal conversations with people who were considering her legal services so that they could both feel good about the next steps.

Katie reduced anxiety by creating content that showed exactly what a new customer would get when they bought and explained the best ways to use the product so that they could know what the experience would be like.

Consider what part of your sales process makes you anxious and why. And then consider how your customer could be feeling anxious, worried, or unsure too. Think about how you could alleviate anxiety throughout the sales process for both you and your customer.

Alright, let’s get into this week’s stories from business coach Ashley Gartland, marketing expert Amy Lippmann, designer Mel Richards, and work reinvention coach Lydia Lee.

Listen for how they incorporated these same considerations into finding their own unique sales systems. They designed their systems with personal values, strong relationships, reduced anxiety, and agency in mind.


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EP 298: Creating A Less Harmful Sales System with Wanderwell Founder Kate Strathmann

EP 298: Creating A Less Harmful Sales System with Wanderwell Founder Kate Strathmann

This show is called What Works for a reason.

Sometimes it’s a declaration: this is what worked for this small business. And often, it’s a question, “What works?”

Today’s episode is very much a question, many questions, really:

What works when it comes to selling when you want to avoid manipulative or exploitative practices?

What works when your values conflict with many of the best practices of selling online but you still want people to buy your stuff?

What works when it comes to sales in a business that is actively anti-racist and anti-capitalist?

And even more bluntly: Can you even sell things without causing harm or perpetuating harmful systems?

My friend Kate Strathmann is the founder of Wanderwell, a bookkeeping and consulting firm that grows thriving businesses while investigating new models for being in business.

Recently, Kate took a bit of a detour from how she’s used to building her business, which is 90% referral based and fueled by deep relationship- and community-building. She decided to offer a small group program called the Equitable Business Incubator as a way of exploring anti-capitalist business practices and how they apply to the small businesses we’re building.

To fill the program, Kate need to sell differently.

Which led her to asking the question: Can you even sell things as a anti-capitalist?

While that might not be your specific question, I have a feeling that you too have wondering how you can effectively sell your offers without causing harm, perpetuating harmful systems, or damaging relationships. And that’s why I knew Kate and I needed to explore this topic on the show.

This is a conversation about what a kinder, less harmful sales process could look like—and it probably contains more questions than answers. But I’m confident those questions can help you find the answers that are right for you and the sales system that you want to build to make your business stronger.

We start out by defining what we’re really talking about when we talk about capitalism and anti-capitalism. Then, Kate shares how the Equitable Business Incubator came to be and how she ended up selling it. And then we dig into what makes many of the sales formulas and best practices being taught today problematic—and how to think differently to create your own alternative practices.

Now, let’s take a look at what works for creating less harmful sales systems!

EP 297: Selling A New Program With Proof To Product Founder Katie Hunt

EP 297: Selling A New Program With Proof To Product Founder Katie Hunt

Today’s guest is Katie Hunt—who is a member of the former group and serves the latter group.

Katie is the founder of Proof To Product, which helps creative entrepreneurs run and grow thriving product-based businesses. She works with designers, illustrators, and artists to help them develop in-demand product lines and get them sold in stores all over the world.

Not long after the pandemic threw her business and the industry she serves for a major loop, Katie and her team launched Proof To Product Labs to provide a completely digital, ongoing support opportunity for business owners when they needed it most.

And that launch was a smash.

Katie and I get into all of the nuts and bolts of how she adjusted the offer to meet the moment and how she warmed up her audience before the campaign, as well as the exact mix of emails, podcast ads, and social media content she used to sell the offer when it went live. We also talk about how she sees the sales system evolving in the future and how the offer has been received now that people are using it!

Do You Assume People Don’t Want To Buy?

Do You Assume People Don’t Want To Buy?

A few weeks back, I shared that Sean and I went shopping for some kayaks. I was nervous about the purchase because I knew it was going to be a significant sum to drop all at once. But I really wanted to have the freedom of owning our own equipment and I was prepared...

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