Experience versus Education

Evaluate If Recent College Grads Are Right for Your Company

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

When hiring a salesperson, you can seek someone with relevant experience or someone with related education. Sometimes a candidate has both. The opposite is when they have neither.

I’d been hiring salespeople who had varying degrees of selling experience, though sometimes it was minimal—as was the case when hiring Brandon, the waiter. Not satisfied with the results, I opted for a different approach. I targeted college graduates who had an interest in sales and some relevant education, even if tangential.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

The Marketing Major

Jessica was about to graduate from college with a degree in marketing. She applied for a sales job with us as her last semester of college wound down. I offered her the position, starting when she graduated. She was excited, and so was I.

Before long I welcomed her to our company and began her training. This involved educating her about our business, the services we offered, and our typical customers. She took it in with great enthusiasm. Before long she felt ready to begin work, and I turned her loose.

Since we worked in different offices, I checked in with her daily by phone and weekly in person. When her enthusiasm ebbed, I offered encouragement. She received it well and resolutely pushed forward. She made a couple of sales and was on track to become a successful salesperson for our company.

Imagine my surprise when, in her second month of employment, she resigned. She decided she didn’t like sales after all and felt customer service was a better fit. She’d already found that position with a different company.

Disappointed for myself, I was also disappointed for her. She had spent four years in college pursuing a marketing degree with an expectation to go into sales. Yet within two months of graduating, she abandoned her career in sales and switched tracks to pursue customer service, a career independent of her marketing degree.

The Liberal Arts Graduate

Lauren arrived soon after Jessica. She had recently graduated from a well-respected, highly ranked liberal arts college. In addition to being professional and intelligent, she carried herself well, was articulate, and had an engaging personality. Not to diminish others I’d interviewed or our existing staff, but Lauren was a step above them. She was that good.

Interestingly, she worked part-time at a high scale restaurant, the kind where one table could generate a $100 tip or more. Her weekly tips roughly equated to the base pay I was prepared to offer her. As I gently probed into her motivation, I learned that she wanted full-time, business-hours work in a professional environment. She wanted to move beyond part-time, evening and weekend restaurant work.

I was excited to have someone of her caliber on our team, offered her a position, and she accepted. She started right away. Training went well and quickly. Soon she was working on her own and closing sales. As with Jessica, I checked in with her daily by phone and weekly in person. Since the two worked in different offices, I introduced them to each other so they could encourage and support one another. But at about that time, Jessica left.

A few months into her employment with us, Lauren also realized a disconnect. All her college classes had stressed collaboration, group exercises, and working in teams. They did this because that’s what employers said they needed.

Yet her role with our company required her to work independently. Though other people worked in her same office, they weren’t in sales. And I was off-site.

In short, she wasn’t part of a group. She wasn’t on a team, something four years of education had trained her for. She tried to adapt to working independently—and by my assessment had done so successfully—but it wasn’t an environment she wanted to remain in. She needed regular interaction with others. With reluctance, she gave me her two weeks’ notice.

Training and Support Is Key

These aren’t cautionary tales to avoid hiring recent college grads. Instead, it’s a call to evaluate your company’s management and training of salespeople. With the proper infrastructure in place, many companies strategically target recent grads and successfully bring them into their company.

There are several reasons why this is a good approach.

One is that since they’re new in the workforce (at least as a full-time employee in a professional environment) they have no negative habits for you to counteract or retraining to do. You start fresh. As a bonus, they’re used to learning.

Another is that they’re more apt to have youthful enthusiasm for their work. Also, since this is their first real job, they want to succeed. And, although a healthy work-life balance is important to them, they also have certain lifestyle expectations they want to meet. Having a job with open-ended sales potential can do just that for them.

The key to making this work is having a well-honed onboarding process and management structure in place to supply daily support, encouragement, and oversight.

I did not have that to offer Jessica and Lauren. I wasn’t a sales manager. Instead, sales management was one more task I tried to squeeze into an already too-busy workload. And it wasn’t a priority for me. Other aspects of my job held more interest. Sales got whatever I had left. Sometimes that was enough; sometimes it wasn’t.

Also, since we seldom hired salespeople—averaging about one per year—we had no structured training program in place. It was more of an ad hoc approach. This worked for some people, and it didn’t work for others.

Sales Management Success Tip Examine the sales management and onboarding structure you have in place. Then target applicants that align with it. Alternately, restructure your training and support processes to better match the applicants you receive.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


Not All Sales Experience Applies

Successful Selling in One Area Does Not Universally Apply to All Others

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Frank had a successful sales career in one industry, but his desired career path wasn’t an option at that company. To pursue his dream, he needed to change employers. He soon landed a job as a sales manager, the next step in his career path.

Frank looked to apply the selling paradigms he learned—and successfully applied—at his prior job to his charges at his new job. When he told me his plan, I was skeptical. It struck me as impractical and unworkable at his new company—even though it had served him well in his prior sales position.

The strategy was simple. End one day by setting appointments for the next day. Since the contacts occurred over the phone, the goal was one appointment per hour, resulting in eight appointments each day. This provided eight opportunities to close a sale every workday. Then, after the final appointment of the day, begin setting appointments for the next.

Since he didn’t ask my opinion, I didn’t give him one—even though I really wanted to.

As I understand it, his sales team wasn’t impressed when he presented his grand idea. They gave him a half-hearted assent and made some effort to set appointments, but no one came close to the goal of eight per day.

After a month of him trying to hold them accountable, he abandoned his strategy. Notably, there was no overall measurable sales increase for the month, one person even sold less, and none of them were happy.

Not All Strategies Transfer

At Frank’s prior job he sold manufactured products to an identifiable niche market. Each existing customer in his territory would make ongoing purchases throughout the year. And each prospect in his territory needed what he sold. The question was whether they would buy from him or his competitors. Most ended up choosing him.

To meet with his customer base, he would visit them in their offices. Because of travel time, he could only set two or three appointments a day. It was easy for him to do because these meetings were with people who wanted to talk with him. In many cases they already knew what they would order when he showed up.

His goal was to build a rapport with each customer, supply the information they wanted, and offer strategic advice as needed. Then he would take their orders. Frank was professional, personable, and reliable. This allowed him to achieve success and earn a nice income.

Frank’s new company, however, didn’t sell a product. They sold a service. And each sale was a one-off; there were no chances to make repeat sales. Though there were occasional opportunities for later upsells, the more likely scenario was a customer scaling back to save money.

Setting appointments in this industry was also a challenge. Prospects were entrepreneurs or small business owners. They were busy, often out of the office, and hard to reach by phone. They’d call when it worked best for their schedule. That meant sales staff functioned primarily in a reactive mode. Prospects would call, and the salespeople would react. If they weren’t available when the call came, they might not get a second chance. For them, availability was the key to success.

Frank soon realized his sales training, experience, and success didn’t transfer to his new employer’s industry. He needed to revamp his strategy to better align with what his company sold and how its prospects functioned.

Key Differences to Consider

Product versus Service: Selling a product is different than selling a service. A product is tangible; a service is not.

A customer can look at a picture of a product or hold it in their hands. With their senses they can assess its functionality. A prospect can’t look at a picture of a service or touch it. They can only imagine how it might function and if it’ll produce the desired outcomes.

It’s much easier to sell a product than a service. Success in the first area does not guarantee success in the other.

Repeat Sales versus One-Time Purchases: Making a new sale to an existing customer is much easier than making a first-time close. Repeat customers understand the product’s utility and know your company. They’ve already made the buying decision once, so making a later purchase is an easy decision.

Successful salespeople are often effective because they can make recurring sales to existing customers. It’s much harder to find success when each sale is to a new prospect.

High-Ticket Items versus Low-Cost Purchases: The price of the product or service has two ramifications.

The first is the amount of commission. Ten percent of a hundred-thousand-dollar sale is much more significant than ten percent of a ten-dollar sale.

The second is the amount of work needed to make the sale. High-cost items may need several people at the prospect’s organization to sign off on the purchase or multiple rounds of approval. It may mean adding the cost to next year’s budget, which will delay the purchase for a year or more. Inexpensive items or services are open to spontaneous purchase and easier to sell.

Differentiated versus Commodity: If your product or service is different from what your competition offers, even unique, prospects who need it will eventually buy from you. All that’s needed is patience—which is a good reminder to never write off a prospect who doesn’t buy right away.

A commodity product or service, however, is available from multiple providers. This includes you and your competition—all of them. Prospects can buy from you, or they can buy from somebody else. It may come down to price, availability, or how well you connect with the prospect.

Sales Management Success Tip Recognize that sales skills that worked well in one job or industry may not readily transfer to another. Therefore, build on what you know to create an approach that fits each situation.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


Earning Expectations

Sales Compensation Requires Careful Consideration

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Our company had multiple offices. Those in larger cities called for having full-time salespeople. At one of those offices, one with a larger geographic workforce to draw from, my ads always received a response. Yet not all respondents were good fits.

For one applicant, Jennifer, our in-person interview was going quite well. She currently worked in retail sales and wanted to move her sales skills into the business-to-business environment. Professionally attired, she conducted herself well, having an engaging personality and a suitable level of enthusiasm—coming across as neither desperate nor aloof.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

The 24-Hour Rule

As our interview wound down, I wanted to hire her. Though I had never offered an applicant a job at the end of the first interview, I expected I would eventually do so. As a rule, I always make myself wait at least twenty-four hours to process my interaction with the applicant more fully to make sure I hadn’t overlooked something.

One time, however, I came close to breaking that rule, but fortunately I did not. Because the applicant came from out of town for her interview, I asked my operations manager to take part in the interview process. The applicant enthralled me but not my operations manager. Her apprehension over the candidate gave me a needed pause.

Fortunately, I resisted the urge to offer the woman a position on the spot. Instead, I told her I’d be in touch. In the hours after the interview, I considered her conduct. I realized I’d focused on her many good points and brushed aside the multiple red flags that went with them.

The next day it was clear she wasn’t a good match for our company. Hiring her was bound to produce conflict throughout her employment. She would be a high-maintenance salesperson. And, despite her confidence to the contrary, I doubted she could produce the sales results she promised.

I wisely decided to pass. This experience confirmed the importance of waiting at least a day before offering a salesperson a job.

How Much Do You Want to Make?

I had one last question to ask Jennifer before we wrapped up our interview. I asked, “How much do you want to make in this position?”

She had her answer ready and flashed a confident smile. Her response, however, shocked me.

Even though I had told her this was a salaried position with commission, she gave her answer in terms of an hourly rate. This revealed a disconnect between the entry-level job mentality of where she was at and the professional sales opportunity she applied for. Her perspective of hourly pay was misaligned with my salaried compensation paradigms.

More telling, however, was the low number she gave me. It was about twice minimum wage. Though I hadn’t given our salary range, what I planned to offer far exceeded that amount.

I knew she would be completely satisfied to earn our base pay. As a result, she’d have little incentive to work hard to close sales and earn a commission. This is because she’d already be making more than she wanted to.

Though I could’ve offered her a much lower salary—one slightly less than the amount she wanted to make—and thereby motivated her to sell, it wouldn’t be fair. And I wouldn’t feel right about it.

I wrapped up the interview and thanked her for her time.

Too Much

Though Jennifer disqualified herself by having low expectations, I’ve more often experienced the opposite extreme. These people cruised through their interviews but then ruled themselves out with their lofty compensation goals.

By design, I expected a successful salesperson to earn commissions equal to 35 to 50 percent of their base pay. In doing so, they could earn a good living.

Though they could surpass that amount and earn higher commissions, it seldom occurred—and never on a regular basis. No one ever earned a sales bonus that approached their base pay. It was the nature of what we sold, the amount of a typical sale, and the number of hours in a workweek.

One cocky applicant insisted upon a nice six-figure base pay. He claimed he was worth it. Regardless of if he was, I knew from experience that he’d never come close to making enough sales to justify such a lofty salary. It simply wasn’t achievable. Even if he accepted my offer of a much lower base, he wouldn’t stick around and would leave as soon as a better opportunity came along.

For him, I smiled and segued into my 100-percent-commission ploy. He backpedaled quickly. His overconfident demeanor disappeared, yet he held fast to his need for a high base salary.

Another slick-talking interviewee waved off my offer of commission. “I don’t need an incentive to motivate me. I’ll be more successful than anyone you’ve ever hired.” Of course, he wanted an astronomical salary as well. Our ensuing discussion about why I wasn’t open to his request became quite terse. The interview didn’t last much longer.

These are examples of why I always guard against sales candidates who try to convince me to do something I don’t normally do or doesn’t feel realistic.

Just as Jennifer set her sights too low and didn’t get the job, these two applicants—along with others like them—missed out because their expectations were unrealistically high for our industry.

Sales Management Success Tip

Never offer a sales applicant a job on their first interview. Always give yourself time to fully process how well they align with your company and goals. And never allow an applicant to sell you on the need to offer them a compensation plan that’s unrealistic for your organization.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


An Unconventional Hiring Approach

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Her words surprised me.

“I can’t run this ad!”

The rep’s response caught me off guard, but it wasn’t completely unexpected either. “I agree that it’s a bit unorthodox.”

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

“I might get fired if I publish this.” She fumbled for words. “Or we might get sued.”

“It’s just a classified help wanted ad,” I said. “What are your concerns?”

“Well . . . to start with, I doubt it complies with EOE requirements. And then there’s truth in advertising too.”

“I worked hard to write an ad that is both legal and ethical. I feel I’ve done that and see no reason the ad can’t run.”

She paused and let out a deep sigh. “Let me check with legal.”

I doubted their small operation had a legal department or even legal counsel, but it sounded better than her saying she was going to check with her boss. Though I’m sure that’s just what she did.

She agreed to call me back with the decision.

I waited.

As I did, I contemplated what plan B would be. Yet this was plan B, and there was no plan C. I only resorted to my unconventional ad because I was desperate to hire someone to handle our sales.

The office in question was in a resort town. We served area businesses and needed a salesperson if we were to grow and realize the market’s potential.

Currently, the operations manager was handling sales in addition to her other duties, but she already had too much to do. Responding to a sales inquiry was one more distraction from her primary role. And if she closed the sale that meant even more work for her and her team.

She had no incentive to handle sales inquiries and even less interest in closing a sale.

That’s why I needed to hire someone for sales. I’d been trying the usual approaches for months and had come up empty. That’s when I stumbled onto plan B.

Waitstaff and Salespeople

My idea was to target restaurant waiters. Here’s why a waiter would make a good salesperson.

First, a successful waiter knows how to interact with a wide range of people with different temperaments and expectations. They know who they can banter with, who wants to establish a rapport, and who wishes to keep a professional distance. The same skills are critical for sales.

Second, a successful waiter knows how to read people. Waiters not only listen to what the customers say, but they also tune into the tone of voice and are careful observers of body language. They’ve honed all three aspects of effective communication: words, tone, and nonverbal. They excel in each area. Sales staff must do the same.

Third, successful waiters receive generous tips. The expectation of a financial payoff from each patron motivates them to do whatever they can to maximize their tip. The same principle applies to sales. Commissioned salespeople want to maximize their commissions. Though waitstaff receive tips and salespeople receive commissions, both have a financial incentive to do their job with excellence.

But why would a successful waiter want to exit the restaurant industry to work for a 9-to-5 business? There are several good reasons.

The Benefits

The first reason is better hours. Restaurants schedule staff to work when people want to eat. This seldom fits working eight-hour shifts. It requires short shifts, long shifts, split shifts, and even double shifts.

The second benefit is a more consistent schedule. The work schedule for most restaurant employees varies from one week to the next. There’s a constant juggling of shifts and trading hours. This is ideal for a person who likes variety and is okay with their plans being flexible. Some people can build their life around an ever-changing work schedule, but few people can do so for the long-term.

Third is full-time employment. The nature of restaurants, with most of their activity happening around mealtimes, not only makes an eight hour shift unlikely, but it also requires a lot of part-time staff. But most people want full-time work—because they want full-time pay.

Fourth is protecting evenings and weekends. Though it’s not absolute, many restaurants—especially the upscale ones—do most of their work in the evenings and on weekends. Again, this is ideal for some people but not for most—and not for the long-term.

Working in business sales is a full-time, daytime, weekday job. It smartly addresses the downsides of working at a restaurant.

The Ad

A few days later, my ad contact called me back. “I can’t believe it,” she said, “but they approved your ad!”

It ran that weekend and for the next seven days. I waited for the calls to roll in. Five people answered the ad. Though I’d hoped for more, five responses were more than the none I had been getting.

Of the five, three were interested, two scheduled interviews, and one showed up.

Brandon, however, was not who I envisioned. He fell short of expectations. Yet he responded to my ad for exactly the reasons I theorized. He was tired of the restaurant schedule and wanted full-time, business-hours work.

He was the best candidate I interviewed, but he was also the worst. I hired him anyway. This wasn’t because he was a great match for the position but because I was desperate to hire someone.

The Results

We went through a few days of training, and I turned Brandon loose to work on his own. Brandon, I soon learned, needed on-site supervision, but I was seldom on site. For a while I checked in with him daily by phone, and he told me what I wanted to hear (his waiter skills coming through). But I doubted his veracity.

His results disappointed me as well, with his sales numbers only slightly surpassing the results of the office manager.

Because I was desperate, I worked with him to improve his sales, but the outcome didn’t change. He quit before I could fire him.

The Mismatch

I think my logic in targeting waiters was sound. The failure was that it didn’t apply to our company’s situation. We needed an employee who was self-motivated and needed minimal daily accountability. Had I been running a retail operation, with on-site management and day-to-day oversight, I suspect Brandon would have excelled.

Sales Management Success Tip

Never hire someone because you’re desperate. Better to be short-staffed than stuck with the wrong salesperson. [In case you’re wondering what the ad said, I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember. But I can assure you it was a wonderful one.]

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


Commission Plan Failure

Ill-Conceived Incentive Programs Can Actually Hurt Sales

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

John was a salesperson who periodically visited our business. His company supplied specialized equipment to our industry, and we regularly bought from him.

He cultivated relationships with many people in the company, including me, even though at the time I was scarcely an influencer—let alone a decision-maker. Yet John paid attention to me, and I looked forward to his visits and the cordial friendship we shared.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

John once told me that his company provided a decent base pay along with a commission. The base pay was enough to live on, but to go beyond that the commission was essential. When my company made a significant purchase from John, I assumed he would be ecstatic.

He was not. He was quite nonchalant about his significant sale.

“Won’t you get a nice commission?” I asked him in private.

He shook his head.

I gave him a quizzical look.

“I only get a commission if my sales exceed last year’s. And last year was a banner year for me, three times what I’ve ever sold in one year. I was the top salesman of the company and ranked high on the all-time list.

“I won’t be able to match that this year, not even close. That means no commissions.”

I considered what John said. “Does that mean you need to try to alternate between good years and bad years so you can at least earn a commission every other year?”

John again shook his head. “Last year’s sales number is my target going forward to earn any commission. And since my base pay is fixed, if I want to earn more, I’ll need to change jobs.”

John continued his affable interaction with our business, but he seemed to have lost his enthusiasm. His company’s commission plan had disincentivized their top salesman, serving to push him away.

Much later in my career, the company owner presented me with an intriguing incentive plan of my own. Though it wasn’t sales related, he intended it to motivate me to produce even greater results.

As he explained the criteria to calculate my bonus—which could double my already nice base pay—I planned what I’d do to maximize my bonus.

My eagerness didn’t last long, however, when he got to the last provision of the plan, a caveat. It said that the payout was contingent on company profits. That meant I could meet every objective and receive no bonus if the company had a bad year.

He never asked me what I thought about the plan.

If he had, I’d have told him that to work all year for a bonus but then not receive it would be the biggest demotivating factor I could face. As far as my long-term employment with the company was concerned, it would be in my best interest to not pursue the bonus, even though that’s how I was wired.

I ignored the goals of the incentive plan and continued to do what I thought was in the best interest of the business. Even so, by year end I did earn a couple thousand dollars bonus. But I didn’t care. I didn’t get my hopes up because I knew that each year was contingent on the company’s profitability.

My indifference toward the bonus surely perplexed my boss, but he never asked why the plan failed to motivate me.

My employer no doubt put that last provision in place because of a negative experience that another company owner had encountered. She had put her operations manager on an incentive plan that rewarded her for growth, effectively for sales and customer retention. The manager responded with diligence to the incentive and the company grew under her direction. She earned nice annual bonuses.

A few years in, the owner realized the operations manager would make more than she would—much more. The owner paid the agreed upon amount and dropped the plan. The operations manager soon left.

Sales Management Success Tip

The purpose of a commission or bonus is to motivate salespeople. Evaluate your plan from their perspective to ensure that it does, in fact, incentivize them. Make sure there are no provisions that would cause them to not do their best or that might provoke them to leave.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


Sales and Marketing

Promote a Product, Service, or Idea to Achieve a Desired Outcome

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Every business or organization has a sales and marketing function. It’s only the details that vary. They may have an existing department, or two, to address this need. Or the sales and marketing functions may fall under the purview of an individual, manager, or department. Regardless of whether it’s structured or ad hoc, every group has a promotional element integral to it.

Some businesses sell a tangible product. It’s something that customers can see and touch. It displays nicely on brochures and in ads. Buyers can hold it in their hands or try it. It’s real.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Other businesses sell a service. A service is intangible. Buyers can’t perceive it with their five senses. They realize benefits only after using the service. To sell service requires painting a picture of what life will be like once they’ve used the service. This is a harder sell because there’s a delay between making the purchase and realizing the desired outcome. Amid this uncertainty, it’s easy for the hesitant buyer to say no.

Some organizations—especially nonprofits—sell ideas. They promote concepts. Often their promotion efforts revolve around asking for donations. They use these contributions to cover overhead, fuel more sales and marketing initiatives, and address the needs of their target audience. They may even use a form of sales and marketing to find and reach out to their clientele, the population they seek to serve.

Beyond businesses and nonprofits, however, individuals must also use these tactics throughout their life. Whether it’s finding a job, promoting a cause, or successfully interacting with family and friends, each interaction has some degree of sales and marketing—even if we don’t call it that.

We must be able to successfully promote ourselves (sales and marketing) to land a job. The same applies if we’re advocating for a cause or pitching an idea. And many interactions with family and friends involve a degree of negotiation—from “Pick up your room,” to “I think we should buy this car,” to “Which restaurant do you want to go to?”

If we don’t fairly present our perspective, we lessen the chance of realizing the outcome we want or find acceptable. At the root of this idea of influencing others to achieve a desired outcome is sales and marketing.

That’s why this book is important. Everyone’s involved in sales and marketing to one degree or another. It’s just that most people who don’t carry a sales-and-marketing related title don’t realize this truth. Whatever your position or situation, it’s important to master effective sales and marketing. This book will get you started. It will be up to you to apply these principles.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


Promoting Customer Churn

Disrespecting Customers Is the Fastest Way to Lose Them

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Though not as frequent as our biennial cell phone migration from one carrier to another, my family and I have all too often found ourselves forced to change entertainment providers due to escalating charges.

These companies have the same mentality as the phone carriers. They offer attractive incentives to gain new business and then jack up the rates, forcing customers to seek low-cost alternatives from their competition.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

For several years we enjoyed bundled internet and television service from one provider. They offered attractive pricing for both services, which we were happy to pay.

Committing to two years with them, they committed to two years of no price increases. After our 24-month contract ended, we continued with them on a month-to-month basis.

Then the price increases began.

Escalating Rates

They first increased their fees on our television package. Every six months or so they raised prices to provide us with the same level of entertainment. Each time my wife would see what she could do to lower our bill.

Sometimes this required another commitment and other times we needed to scale back our options. Even then, the net result was often a price increase. And every time she did this required multiple phone calls and too much wasted time.

Though not as aggressive, they also inched up the rate for internet access. Over time they increased our bill 50 percent. Yet, as the only choice for a stable, high-speed connection, we had to accept it.

This wasn’t the case with entertainment. We had options. At the point when our television package nearly tripled from the original amount, and even after scaling back the number of channels, my wife had enough. She was ready to switch.

Several companies offered more for less. Our new entertainment provider charged 20 percent less than our initial bill from our existing provider. As a bonus, the new provider offered more channels, superior recording options, and better technology.

Their Best Wasn’t Good Enough

Before we switched, however, my wife made a final plea to our existing provider. She begged them for their best deal. They refused to budge. They didn’t seem to care about customer churn.

She even told them what both they and we knew would happen. “Once we cancel, you’ll offer us a great deal to come back. Can’t you just give us that deal now?”

“No. You’re already getting the best deal we can offer to an existing customer.”

She canceled service, and we switched entertainment providers. The side effect was that, without being bundled, our internet access rate went up. Even so, we still saved money. And we loved the service from our new entertainment provider.

The Marketing Onslaught

As expected, our internet service provider began trying to get us to return and buy our entertainment package from them too. Several years later, they’re still trying.

They are most aggressive. Each month they mail us at least two promotions to entice us to return. They also include a one-page ad in each invoice. In addition, they send several emails each month.

Though it shouldn’t be a surprise, the deal they offer has the same rates we had when we first signed up several years before. But we can only get it now because of customer churn.

More recently, they’ve given up offering to bundle internet and entertainment. Now they’re offering to bundle internet and cell phones.

The email frequency has increased, too. It seems like I get something at least once a week. I now no longer even glance at their messages and just delete them. This means that if they send me a truly important email, I’ll never read it.

In addition, each marketing initiative serves as a painful reminder of how poorly they treated me as a customer. Why would I want to buy more services from them and repeat the process?

Marketing Management Success Tip

If customer churn is part of your business, strive to reverse the trend. Empower your staff to keep existing customers instead of trying to win them back once you’ve chased them away.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


Marketing Options

Know Your Options to Craft an Informed Promotion Strategy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We’ve never had more marketing options available to us than we do now. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer. It’s also a confusing time. There are so many options it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Each channel provides an opportunity to promote yourself, your products, or your services. We’ll divide these into traditional marketing and newer online marketing options.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing options include retail, direct mail, print media, the telephone, broadcast media, and even books.

Retail: Perhaps the oldest marketing option is retail, dating back thousands of years to a farmer or craftsman selling their wares in the town’s marketplace. Physical retail outlets still exist today, though they now face pressure from online retailers.

The goal in retail is simple. Get the prospect into your store and make the sale. Other forms of marketing feed the retail channel to draw people to the store, be it physical or online.

Direct mail: For as long as we’ve had the opportunity to send content to others via mail, we’ve been able to use it for marketing. In its most basic form, direct mail can blanket a geographic area.

More sophisticated direct mail efforts target people by demographic or socio-economic data. And specific mail communication can go to existing customers and prospects.

Print media: The marketing channel of print media includes magazines and newspapers. Though neither has the reach and impact they once had as a marketing tool, we shouldn’t overlook them. This is especially true with magazines, where niche productions that target specific subcategories have replaced general-purpose publications.

For any industry or interest group, there’s assuredly a publication that addresses them. Though most of these are online, some still print and mail their content. Many consumers value and read a tangible product they can hold in their hands and doesn’t force them to go online to access content through their computer or portable device.

Brochures and sales literature: Unlike print media, which goes to an entire subscriber base, brochures and sales literature allow for specific targeting on a direct, one-to-one basis.

Telephone: The phone is another marketing opportunity. Due to rampant misuse in the past, laws now limit how marketers can use the telephone. But it’s still a workable marketing channel.

Marketing by telephone, sometimes called telemarketing, exists in two forms. Inbound telemarketing is when people call you. Outbound telemarketing is where you call customers and prospects.

We further divide outbound telemarketing into calling businesses (business-to-business or B2B marketing) and calling consumers (business-to-consumer or B2C marketing). Both face legal restrictions, especially B2C, that marketers must carefully adhere to or face significant fines.

Businesses can handle both inbound and outbound telephone calls in-house, or they can outsource the work to a call center—called a teleservice company—that specializes in telephone communication.

Though businesses can outsource telephone calls to a company in another country, called offshoring, most outsourcing occurs within the same country. This effectively negates cultural differences and language barriers.

Broadcast media: Next comes broadcast media, such as radio and television. Both options have seen significant changes in the last couple of decades, yet they still are a workable marketing tool to place advertising messages that will blanket an entire audience.

Trade shows: Over the years I’ve been to many trade shows, sometimes as an exhibitor and other times as an attendee. Trade shows provide a wonderful opportunity for in-person networking, as well as to learn more and gain valuable industry insights.

When you go to a trade show—either as an exhibitor or as an attendee—go with a plan and work your plan. Make the most of every minute. Don’t skip sessions or leave early. Stay throughout the entire event and linger if there’s a chance for meaningful interaction with customers or prospects.

Books: You may be surprised to see books on this list of marketing opportunities. This is the most recent development and has two primary applications.

The first use of books as a means of marketing is for a consultant. They publish a book about their area of expertise to position themselves as a subject-matter expert. The book becomes a marketing vehicle and can serve as a most effective business card when given to a prospect.

The other use of books is by CEOs and other high-profile leaders of corporations and nonprofits. Though this can also be of the subject-matter-expert variety, these books more often take the form of a biography or autobiography. By promoting the CEO or leader, the book subtly—and most effectively—highlights the company or organization.

Other traditional marketing: Many other forms of traditional marketing exist. These include networking, referrals, billboards and signs, spotlights and loudspeakers, door-to-door selling, making cold calls, passing out flyers, and so forth.

When use wrongly, the buying public views these as a nuisance, which creates a negative marketing outcome. Yet when used appropriately and smartly, they can produce positive results.

Online Marketing

A newer form of marketing exists online. In general, the impact of online marketing is easier to measure, with the results quantifiable. As such, online marketing is attractive to many.

Here are some forms of online marketing:

Websites: Having an online presence is essential for any business or organization. The ideal solution is a website. When done correctly, you own and control your website. No one (aside from a totalitarian regime) can limit the number of customers and prospects who visit your website.

Use your website to tell others about your organization and its offerings. In addition to company and product information, a website can have an online store or be an entry point into your sales funnel. From your website, collect email addresses for follow-up and ethical email marketing campaigns.

You can tap other forms of traditional and online marketing to drive traffic to your website.

Content marketing: Content marketing is an indirect form of promotion that gives valuable content to your audience. The goal is producing usable information, not selling. By supplying resources that address the needs of prospects, you indirectly promote your organization as a subject-matter expert. This positively predisposes the people who read your content into later doing business with you.

The best place for content marketing is your own website in the form of a professional blog. You can also arrange to post on other sites or even on social media (though I don’t advocate social for this application).

Content marketing also has its place in niche print publications. We’ll cover this in more detail in the “Part 4: Marketing Tactics” section.

Social media:Though some advocate using social media for an online presence, doing so is risky. A social media platform limits its users’ messaging to the very audience who wants to hear from them. The solution to reach this audience is paid advertising.

While social media has its place, consider it as the spokes of a marketing wheel, with your website being its hub.

Social media advertising: As we mentioned, most social media platforms limit your ability to reach your audience. The solution is to advertise on those platforms. These ads can be in the form of text, graphics, or videos.

Currently, the leading social media advertising platforms are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Other options include Reddit, Snapchat, Nextdoor, and Quora.

To find out more about advertising on social media, just search for the platform’s name along with the word advertising. But don’t try to advertise on every platform that offers the option.

Pick the ones where your target audience is, establish a presence there, and understand how the platform works. Then explore advertising on it. Once you’ve mastered that platform, then consider a second one.

Online advertising: Online advertising exists in two forms.

The most common online marketing option is going to ad platforms, such as running Google ads or Microsoft ads.

The second option is placing custom banner ads on curated websites whose traffic demographics align with your target market. Because this is a one-to-one placement effort, this is a time-consuming consideration, yet for the right site it is most cost-effective.

Email marketing: Sending marketing messages by email can be a cost-effective way to reach your prospects and upsell your customers, providing you do it correctly and legally.

Never buy an email list or scrape contact information from the internet. Aside from existing customers, only contact prospects who want to hear from you and have given their permission for you to contact them through email.

When emailing, don’t send the same message to everyone. Segment your list based on their interest level, their status as a customer or prospect, and where they fit in your sales funnel. Make sure every message moves them forward on the customer journey or toward buying from you.

Don’t email too often. And do give readers the option to self-select what messages they want to receive and when.


Consider this list of marketing channels when developing your strategy and designing a well-rounded promotional plan. We’ll expand on some of these options in upcoming chapters.

Marketing Management Success Tip

All these promotion opportunities offer a wide array of marketing channels for you to consider in getting the word out about your company and offerings. Select them with care and use them responsibly to achieve the best results.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


How to Deal with Difficult Customers

A Personal Note to Frontline Customer Service Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Anyone who’s worked in a support role knows how difficult it can be. Yes, some customers—hopefully most—are easy to work with and appreciative of your responses. They may even thank you for your help. Celebrate each one of these wins and use them to shape your outlook for the day.

Yet other customers, hopefully a minority, are challenging. They’re agitated before they even reach you, and if you don’t provide the answers they seek, their ire escalates. Even though you aren’t the cause of the problem that prompted them to contact you, they dump their frustration on you anyway, sometimes erupting into a personal attack. This isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But it happens.

First, know that everyone who contacts you makes a choice in how they treat you. They can choose to interact with you in a respectful and humane way. Or they can choose to let their emotions control the words they say and how they speak to you. This is on them, not you. This explanation doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it helps us better understand it.

Next, your responses to these difficult customers can defuse the situation or worsen it. Just as their decision of how to treat you is within their control, your reaction to them is within yours. 

Here are some tips to defuse difficult customer service situations.

Remain Calm

It’s hard to maintain your composure amid confrontation. Yet this is key to successfully dealing with challenging people. Don’t mirror their unruly behavior and reflect their negativity. Instead, counter their inappropriate conduct with an appropriate response.

If your interaction is over the phone, don’t forget to breathe. This will help you relax. It also releases tension. Remember to smile. A smile on your face will ease helpful words out of your mouth. Some reps place a small mirror on their desk to remind them to smile. Callers will hear your smile. Also be professional, treating them as you would want them to treat you. 

Though not as critical when you’re not on the phone, these tips to breathe, smile, and be professional also apply to online interactions, such as text chat, email, and social media.


If you feel emotion building up inside of you that might cause you to say something that’s not helpful, pause. If you’re on the phone, you can ask them to hold while you “look something up.” The same applies to chat. You can also introduce a pause into email and social media support without the customer even knowing it. 

When receiving an emotion-filled email, I make myself wait an hour before responding, sometimes even waiting until the next day. My delayed communication is always more constructive than what I would have typed at first.

Regardless of how you pause a customer interaction, the purpose is for you to refocus your attention on producing a positive outcome and to ensure you don’t respond negatively and escalate the situation.

End Positively

Regardless of the customer service outcome, make sure you conclude it positively. You can thank the customer for contacting you—even if you don’t want to say so. Or end by telling them to enjoy the rest of their day. 

This accomplishes two things. 

For the customer, it may cause them to rethink what just happened, hopefully putting their day on a different trajectory. 

For you, it helps set the tone for your next customer interaction. It signals to your mind and body that the difficult interaction is over, and it’s time to embrace the next one with a fresh outlook.

Take a Break

Sometimes after you complete a negative customer service interaction, you need time to move past it. This makes sure you don’t carry the unpleasant situation you just endured into your next call. 

You may need to take a break. 

Most employers understand this and allow their customer service reps the latitude to take this step as needed. This action, however, should be rare and not the norm. If your employer doesn’t allow this, then do what you can to interject a short pause into your workflow after a difficult call.

Customer Service Success Tip

Work to make every customer interaction produce a positive outcome. Celebrate your successes. Learn how to better deal with difficult customers. Don’t let one rude customer ruin your day.

Working in customer service has many rewarding moments. Don’t lose sight of them.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.


Frontline Customer Service Staff

Work to Make Your Support Staff’s Job Easier

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

A common thread throughout these posts is that a person—not a department or an organization—provides customer support. The two exceptions are self-service and automated bots, but even these often require—or, at least, should require—an actual person to back them up.

This means that your frontline employees are key to customer service success. You play a role in their work, their workload, and their associated attitude. Look for ways to make their jobs easier. Here are some actions you can take to better support them, to increase positive outcomes, and to improve their job outlook.

Review Policies

Look at your organization’s procedures and rules. Do these help your customer service staff do their job better or do these items make their work harder? Balance your policies between business acumen and customer service workload. Often, well-meaning business directives subject your staff to unnecessary customer complaints and workplace frustration. 

For example, one employer I worked for had an internal policy that all payments were net 45, instead of paying within the standard thirty days, which most every company expects. This caused me to spend way too much time fielding calls from frustrated vendors about delayed payments.

Empower Staff

Give your employees the authority to do the right thing for your customers. This is especially true in situations where managers have the latitude to make these decisions. Forcing customers to escalate their concerns causes more work for managers and diminishes the customer service personnel in the eyes of the caller.

Provide Supervisory Support

You can help customer service employees with wise supervision. This isn’t to monitor their behavior but to assist with difficult interactions. Sometimes a customer and an employee will not mesh, no matter how hard the employee tries. Doing a handoff to a supervisor (or even a seasoned coworker) can turn an ill-fated contact into a successful one.

Fix Problems First

How much of the customer service work that your staff does results from problems your company caused? This can result from an email sent too soon, a letter mailed to the wrong customers, or a website that contains misinformation. Avoid or fix these issues to keep customers from contacting support because of your company’s self-inflicted problems.

A confusing or hard-to-navigate website is another unnecessary source of customer service work. Even worse is a website that’s broken. I once tried for three days to update my credit card number on a vendor’s website, only to receive an error message each time. When I finally reached someone in support, she immediately understood the situation. “Sorry, but that section of our website isn’t working correctly.” I wonder how many needless chat sessions she, and her coworkers, endured because of this website problem.

Celebrate Their Work

Always do what you can to acknowledge the efforts of your customer service staff. Celebrate their positive outcomes and excellent work. Say, “Thank you.” 

This occurs directly with your words, both in person and written. Notes, emails, and memos of heart-felt appreciation go a long way to affirm the work of a too-often underacknowledged but essential part of your operation. Acknowledging their work also occurs tangibly with their paychecks and compensation packages. 

I once had a boss who combined these two elements. On Fridays he would deliver our checks. He’d walk into my office, hand me my paycheck, and say “thank you.” Then he’d leave to deliver the next one.

Never lose sight of the critical role you play in thanking your customer service staff for their work. This isn’t a once-and-done action, but an ongoing initiative.

Customer Service Success Tip

Make your support staff’s job easier by removing roadblocks that impede them from doing their job.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.