Don't Like Selling? Try this...

Forget sales pitches. Use your natural ability for helping others to launch your business.

The talent is there.
The threat looms.
The real reason.
** Another way.
** The basics.
* Identifying needs.
You exist.
Some don't get it.
See the light.
Keep your cool.
Additional Reading

My Friends

The Talent is There

It's depressing to hear my friends' lack of enthusiasm for starting a business. Especially when it offers a safety net for the political and market shifts that can leave you out in the street.

Most of my friends are creative, smart people with all the skills needed to put together and run a small business. The talent is there. I have seem them come up with solutions to situations where a greased snake could not have gotten out. But 95% of them simply won't consider an entrepreneurial venture. As a result, they stay with the corporate job, and I can see their energy and spirit diminishing.

I must admit that some of their resistance is justified by their responsibilities: the mortgage, the kids in school, or the roof repairs. But this doesn't justify the absolute avoidance of an after-hours project. If the project takes off, then they can break away; if it doesn't, they can maintain their present situation.

The Threat Looms

The threat is real. Automation continues to eliminate the need for traditional positions. New technologies have rendered entire industries obsolete. The automated processes don't have a union nor do they need health insurance. Even mainstays like manufacturing, printing, and training are being replaced by computer aided processes.

And the knife does cut. Every time a company buys out another, new management expects to cut the fat and remove 20% of the overhead. Forget retraining, forget keeping the knowledge base in-house, forget the fact that there isn't 20% fat to cut. Instead, think downsizing, restructuring, and out-sourcing. And you're really in trouble if the stock market doesn't like your latest PE ratio. The new management team has their mandate...your fifteen years of effort can go down the drain in an afternoon.

The times require that you have a backup plan.

The Real Reason

Why don't my friends get their own businesses going? They are courageous in almost everything they do. What holds them back in this area?

Perplexed, I decided to ask them again. This time I prepared a list of low investment, part-time ventures that they could easily undertake. For those who didn't want to cover start-up cost, I would offer to fund their effort. I was determined to get to the real reasons.

Once we cut through the usual excuses, a theme surfaced:

"I like the idea, but I don't feel comfortable selling stuff like that."

"I'm not doing any selling!"

"I don't do well getting others to do things. People wouldn't even come to that fund raiser last year. I don't think I could do this."

"Getting people to buy anything is just too painful. Helping the kids sell magazine subscriptions was awful. We now subscribe to everything from FISHING TODAY to AVIATION NEWS. And we don't fish or have a plane."

Once I got over the urge to call them wimps, I tried to analyze the situation. The act of selling was the problem. It centered around people's tendency to discredit any sales pitch automatically.

It wasn't always like this. It seemed like there was a period when you could take on a product and start selling it door-to-door. Your success was only limited by your persistence. If you push enough door bells, you would get your business launched. I know, as I had sold magazines door-to-door in high school and early in my career cold-called businesses for management training programs.

These opportunities don't seem to exist today. The general public has had too much junk mail, too many calls during diner, and too many e-mail pitches. As a whole, no one will listen to a sales presentation.

In this light, I couldn't hold my friends reluctance against them, for they were right. They knew that if they had to give a sales presentation, their chance of success was negligible. At the same time, they knew that their business depended on their ability to pitch the product -- and no one would listen. They wanted to be independent, but if it depended on selling, they would fail. It would be too painful to even try.

They were right: the typical consumer is jaded -- customers don't believe anything, and they hate sales pitches.

It's a shame, for the life blood of a country is the small entrepreneur. As business owners, people walk taller, feel more secure, and don't have to put up with a nasty boss. Innovation and inventions flow from the freedom to explore. And you get your life back -- you can make it to the kids' ball game and not be a stranger in your own home. It's a shame to give this up just because the dynamics of selling has changed.

The Answer

Another Way

Is there another way? This had me stumped. Can a person start a business going without selling?

I went back to business basics: needs and solutions. As I replayed the most simple interactions, another theme surfaced. I believe it offers another way.

The theme removes the selling requirement. It enables you to get a business going without traditional selling. There are no sales pitches and no painful rejections. It's an approach where your effort and the strength of the product will determine your success. You are no longer bound to how well you can sell. With this approach, if you gut it out and put in the hours, you will get the business launched. Period.

The approach involves building relationships.

I will take you through each step in detail. If you follow the steps, you will be able to get a business going. At no point will you have to make a sales pitch. Sounds too easy? Well, as you will see, it isn't easy. It will require that you dig down and gut out the work required.

The first requirement is that you understand the approach thoroughly. Each phase will be spelled out in more detail than needed for a quick grasp of the concept, but the details are important. The better you understand each section, the better you'll be able to adapt it to your individual situation.

The Basics

Since we are going to redesign the traditional approach to launching a business, we need to start with the basics.

The basic elements of a free marketplace:

1. People have needs.

2. People are free to chose how they fill these needs.

3. People are willing to give something in return when those needs are met.

Let's look at a simple example.

You're walking down the street and notice you've gotten hungry. Not in the mood for a full meal, you look around for other options. Up ahead are three neon covered pizza shops. They all look about the same, so you stop in the first one and order a slice. It looks hot and smells good. You hand the clerk $1.50. The pizza tastes great and takes the edge off your hunger. Your need was filled for a reasonable price -- you're happy.

Looking at the pizzas elements:

1. The need -- you were hungry.

2. Choice -- you looked around for options.

3. Exchange -- you were satisfied and happy to give something in return.

The example illustrates a complete business model: there was a need, the shops let you know they could fulfill the need, and in return you addressed their need to take in money.

It also illustrates that business interactions can be easy. There was no high pressure selling, no arm twisting. It was easy and even pleasurable.

Two of these elements are so key that we can call them principles:

Principle 1. There must be a need. Without a pressing need no urge exists to give something in return.

Principle 2. The solution to the need must be visible. If the person with the need isn't aware of the solution, no exchange can happen.

In a less complex business climate, addressing these two principles would make you a successful business person. You'd present a solution to a need, and others would happily offer you money in return.


But things aren't simple -- especially if you're the lady running the second pizza shop. Everyday Pam could see people wandering into the shop next door. They could easily have come into her place, but people walking by seemed to consider for a second and then turn into the other shop. On especially quiet days, she gets an overwhelming urge to jump into the street yelling, "Don't go in there. Come in here, the pizza is the best." But she knew it wouldn't work, and it was too demeaning to really consider.

Pam notices, however, that she does have regular customers. They walk right past the other shops and into hers. Further, she realizes that she knows most of these people, and they all have some form of relationship with her. There's Eddie who owns the shop where she takes her laundry; there's Sue from her bank; and there's Tony from the youth league. It's feels like give and take: You help me, and I'll support you. In addition, they just come in. She doesn't have to sell them anything. It feels good knowing they are eating here to help her out -- makes her want to do even more in return. She makes sure they always get a hot slice and a friendly greeting.

Pam's pizza shop is a good example of having the solution right in front of you but not being able to see it. Proximity was driving the business of the other shop; her business was getting by because of relationships. Relationships which were based on give and take. This leads to the next principle:

Principle 3. Given a choice, people will support a give and take relationship.


The next day, a couple of little league kids came by asking for a uniform donation. They were pretty cute so Pam chipped in $10. Although it was not her intent, they started dropping in for a slice more regularly. This "give and take" thing started to hit her from every angle.

It seemed strange at first, but Pam kept at the push to give more. She gave to the local church group, the youth center, and was even nicer to the bearded guy running the paper stand. Business began to pick up. She recognized more of her customers and enjoyed their stopping in. Even though the contacts had started as part of a business plan, they had moved beyond that -- Pam felt she was sharing her life with these people. They were real relationships.

Is it manipulation?

The comment arises, "But I feel helping others in order to get more business is manipulative. It doesn't feel right." It may not feel right in the beginning, but it's difficult not to get pulled into the spirit of giving and having others give back. Even if your motivation begins as self-centered, how bad can it be to lend a helping hand to others?


Business went from losing money to steadily limping along. By now Pam was a full fledged believer in relationship building. The question was how could it expanded. There was an entire community around her, and she had only touched the surface.

Going back to the basics, Pam considered how she had built the relationships. She had identified others' needs and responded as best she could. If they needed time, she volunteered; if they needed money, she donated. Since her own need was visible (everyone knew she had the pizza shop), they then had the option to reciprocate and push some business her way.

"If only I could address the community's needs on a larger scale," she thought. Looking over the street, it struck her how dirty the street was. Litter was everywhere. "That's it. I'll clean up the neighborhood."

Pam could hardly contain herself, "I'm going to do this with flare...but inexpensively." She picked up a couple of red cotton blazers at the uniform shop. Next came big buttons declaring: COURTESY OF PAM'S PIZZERIA. She found trash clean-up tools at the used store. She then traded with several high school kids during the noon hour: $5 of pizza or a meatball sub for a half-hour of litter pick up.

People would stop and stare. The kids loved the deal. The red jackets added a carnival type atmosphere. As people read the buttons, they'd smile. This wasn't a government project -- it was a local merchant taking action. They'd look around trying to remember exactly where PAM'S was.

Needless to say, business took off. It seemed every person in the neighborhood stopped by to say thank you and have a slice. The place was full most of the day. Even the tourists came in. The local union leader put in a standing order for 10 pepperoni's every Tuesday night. Pam started thinking about expanding. The West Side was really dirty.

Pam's business took off without any sales pitches. She filled a need and others returned the favor, gladly. It was easy; it was fun. Building "give and take" relationships offers a very real approach to launching a business.

Reviewing the Basics

Each element in Pam's success was important. They were:

1. There was a genuine need: hunger.

2. A product filled that need: pizza.

3. The product was visible: store front neon signs.

4. People were willing to exchange value for the product: $1.50 a slice.

That's pretty traditional up to this point. The following are just as traditional but are used in a more creative manner.

5. There was a genuine need: a littered, dirty neighborhood.

6. A product/service filled that need: picking up the trash.

7. The product was visible: buttons with PAM'S PIZZERIA.

8. People were willing to exchange value for the product/service: they would frequent Pam's shop.

Interestingly, a need like the dirty neighborhood doesn't have to be closely tied to what you are offering. The idea is to establish a "give and take" relationship, not to push your product. For this to work you must fulfill a genuine need, and the recipient must know that you are connected to the product/service.

At this point you know enough to formulate your own strategy for building "give and take" relationships and launching your business. The following sections offer suggestions on customizing the principles to better fit your operation and style. Several common pitfalls are addressed.

The Next Level

Identifying Needs

To get a better sense of which needs to focus on, it helps to identify the customers you are looking to attract. Obviously, if your goodwill offering doesn't impact potential customers, your return will be much lower.


Leo wanted to attract dry cleaning customers, so he focused on the local neighborhood. No community needs stood out until he noticed an upswing in drunk drivers accidents and arrests. Avoiding the moral aspects, he set about solving the problem. He put together a card that read:


Let me get you a cab home.

No questions asked: just send me your cab receipt, and I'll reimburse you.

Leo's Cleaners

Somewhat concerned about cost, Leo passed out the cards at a few restaurants and taverns. After getting only two redemption's a month, he expanded to the entire area. Occasionally someone would mention that they took a cab fully intending for him to pay but felt too sheepish about it in the morning.

The tavern owners were especially appreciative -- it helped with one of their tougher problems.


Karen's travel agent customers spanned five Northeast states. Trying to identify a common issue while staying away from a service directly tied to her business, she identified these needs in her region: raising children, gardening, and the weather. Being somewhat of a equipment nut she decided to distribute advice on the newest and most advanced foul weather clothing. Once a month she sent her customers a postcard describing one effective piece of clothing for that season and where they could get it at a discount. She covered everything from wicking socks to silk scarves.

One more:

Bill's business community was on the Internet. He ran a Web News page that relied on number of hits to set advertising charges. He had trouble coming up with needs that weren't already addressed: how to find things on the net -- there were directories; a need to filter e-mail -- there were tools for that; development tips -- there were numerous news groups.

He tried to figure out what bothered him about the Internet: angry people on the newsgroups, too much e-mail, slow response times, inflated information pages... The list went on. Later that day Bill had a question answered by a very rude customer support rep. "That's it. I'll start a list of the worst technical support behavior and spread it around the News Groups. That'll be my service -- cleaning up customer support. At the least, support reps will think twice about that extra sarcasm."

Letting them know you exist

As you provide your service, it's important to let the recipients know that you are connected to a product. This is not the time to be shy or anonymous. You don't have to pitch your product, but they should come away knowing it exists. The next time they have a need for your product/service, you will stand a much better chance of being selected.

Examples of making the connection available:

When Eva offered bridge tips, she gave out her home number by listing it on the back of her business card.

Ted wore his logo shirt with TED'S BAKERY to the soccer practice.

Bill included a link to his page in his e-mail signature line.

Ed would use his most recent brochure as a prop and ask: "You're in manufacturing, what do you think of this layout?"

In fine print on the back of her note cards, Pat included: "Design by PB Watercolors."

Some people don't get it.

It's like a joke. You know it's funny, but some individuals don't get it. The same works for "give and take." You can shovel their walk, bring them cookies on the holidays, pick them up at the airport, but if you ask them to walk next door and feed the fish one weekend a year, they don't want to do it. They're perfect "give and take" without the "give."

Before you start explaining the joke to them in no uncertain terms, it's useful to look at the percentages. Responses often fall into these four categories:

1. Top 20% - most responsive. This group is sensitive to the give and take in relationships. When you do them a good turn, they will find a way to pay you back. In fact, most of the time you get more in return.

2. Next 40% - sensitive and good natured people. They are a pleasure to associate with, but they don't always pick up on "give and take" situations right away. Ironically, they are often in situations where they give most of the time and don't get much back. It's kind of sad. Sometimes this group need a nudge to see the "give and take" dynamic. We'll touch on suggestions for gracefully introducing the concept to them in the next section.

Once the good natured's see the "give and take" aspect, they contribute willingly. As customers and friends, they are a pleasure.

3. Bottom 30% - will give if it ensures take. Chances are these people were the product of hard times. They give nothing and expect nothing. In business dealings, they are very difficult to handle -- relationships have little meaning for them. Surprisingly, they can seem quite responsive to "give and take," but it's really a case of: "give to ensure take." Don't waste your energy on this group. You have little chance of breaking through.

4. Lowest 10% - with no one watching and no immediate benefits, these people would never give anything. 10% is probably a high estimate. These individuals are nasty. Take your shot, and if they aren't receptive, get out.

The final tally works out with about 60% of the population accessible for give and take relationships. I mention the lower 40% because you should be aware that this approach will not be successful every time. This is reality. The reasons why some individuals are not receptive have little to do with you. Focus on the top 60%, and you will have a successful and pleasurable group of relationships.

Leading the good natured's to see the light.

The top 20% will be easy. Fulfill one of their needs, and they will reciprocate gladly.

The good natured group may need an occasional nudge to see their part in the relationship. Take care not to turn a nudge into a sales pitch, for even this easy going group will resist a standard sales push. The key is not ask them for anything -- keep the nudge indirect. Remember, the goal is to get the relationship going and create a connection to your product, not to make the sale or close the deal.

To keep your nudge from becoming a push, you might try this viewpoint: Assume the person is already a customer. That way you have no reason to push. You will be able to energetically describe your efforts without the underlying sense that you're pushing a sale. The idea is to let them know you have an on-going operation that requires outside support.


"This venture I started last month is starting to take off. I know it's early, but I went out and looked at bikes yesterday."

"You wouldn't believe this nice guy I met when I dropped off a box of order forms."

"There's a great ACME convention coming up. I wish someone else around here was involved with the product."

"This girl was so nice. When I told her the project was for my trip to France, she signed up on the spot. I didn't even ask."

"It sounds silly, but each sale is important to me. Even one pencil set helps."

"You should check out this great article I came across on give and take in business."

Again, the goal is for them to see the connection between you and your product, not to make the sale or close the deal.

Keep your cool.

Some people have a difficult time giving. I hate to think what their experiences might have been to harden them in such a way. So when someone who owes you dozens of favors refuses to buy a magazine subscription from you, keep your cool. Try to show compassion and understanding.

I realize I didn't show much compassion when describing the lower "non-giving" groups -- I was pretty harsh. The fact is that I don't like dealing with people who never give back anything. But if I take a higher view and realize something pushed them into this stance, my attitude softens. Be careful that someone's problem with giving does not grow into a point of conflict with you. The situation is sad enough as is -- let it go.

Your business doesn't fit.

For some, building relationships is the perfect way to launch a business. It fits their style; they interact well; they have plenty of ideas on how to go about it; and they have reasons for getting a business going.

Sometimes, however, these motivated, energized individuals have nothing to market. They don't have a business, and for one reason or another their skills never led them into a commercial enterprise. They could be research mathematicians or historians. Or they might not have a formal education which can be shaped into a product line.

Good news: plenty of products already exist and are in need of marketing. In fact, most of the free market is built on brokering others' products. The grocery owner doesn't grow the vegetables or raise the beef, and book sellers don't write the books.

Since you're not limited to marketing your own product, you might as well pick something that is required by a majority of the population. Cosmetics, car products, phone service, grocery services, travel services are possibilities.


Peter wanted to write a mystery book, but even he could see the first few chapters were boring. He was determined to make it work, even if it took him 10 books to get it right. For extra cash Peter sold a college scholarship search service on the side. It wasn't glamorous, but it allowed him to keep writing.

Susan was going to be a dancer. No doubt about it. Rather than waitress for money like most of her friends, she sold newsletter subscriptions on Wall Street. She'd cold-call through the buildings from 7-11, three mornings a week. It paid the rent.

Ed was a business major. He listened to stories of graduates not landing positions because someone else had more experience. Ed wasn't going to let that happen to him -- he'd generate his own experience. He started brokering business services to businesses around the campus. Everything from donuts to color copies, he'd set it up for you. He made a little cash but began to understand what worked and what didn't. And favors...everybody owed him.

If your situation doesn't include a business, don't worry. There are plenty of solid products in need of someone to market them.

In review: launching your operation.

1. Get clear in your mind why you want the business to work. Everyone needs motivation.

2. Find something specific to market. It's origin doesn't matter, but you should be comfortable providing it.

3. Identify a location for your customer base. Are they on the net? If so, where would they hang out?

4. With that location in mind, find a need that effects everyone there.

5. Fill the need. Freely, happily.

6. Make sure they know you did it and that you have a business that needs support.

7. Nudge those who seem receptive; bypass those who resist.

8. Give more. Nudge a little.


Additional Reading

The 25 Sales Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople by Stephan Schiffman. Adams Media Corporation, 1994.

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