Most sales systems are designed for traditional sales people and a traditional sales force — not for freelancers or solopreneurs.
Too often, these systems are way too complex. They require you to memorize a myriad of “if/then” scenarios. Or they employ a one-size-fits-all approach that fails to account for differences in your industry, business or personality.
Trouble is, we tend to sound unnatural and uncomfortable when we apply these cookie-cutter sales approaches. And that only makes things worse!
In this training episode, motivational speaker, trainer and coach Jenn Lee discusses a different kind of sales technique — one she’s used successfully in her own solo business for over 15 years.
It's called "BOLT selling."
The BOLT approach allows freelancers and creative types to remain authentic to themselves while tailoring their sales messages to the needs and personalities of prospective clients.
What follows is a condensed transcript of my lively conversation with Jenn. If you prefer to listen to the full audio (31 minutes), you can listen to it or download it here:
Download MP3 (right click and choose "Save As")
Ed Gandia: Most traditional selling systems don’t work well for freelancers. Often, they’re too complicated, or they apply a cookie cutter approach that doesn’t take into account our personalities or the personalities of our clients. As creatives and solopreneurs, we don’t want to become sales robots or do things that don’t feel right. And when we feel uncomfortable or inauthentic, that feeling comes through to our prospective clients.
Jenn Lee: Yes, it’s really uncomfortable for the person you're talking to as well. They can tell you’re uncomfortable, especially if you’re talking to somebody on the phone. Often it comes across as, "If 'yes,' then flip the page and say this, if 'no,' then flip the page and say that." So, when working with clients, I say, authenticity and just being your most natural self is the best way to go. It’s the best way to create a foundation for you to have a conversation, which is what sales is really about.
Today I want to share a secret I've used for the last 15 years in selling. It makes it easy for anyone to connect with potential clients or engage in a conversation that’s going to take you somewhere.
Ed Gandia: Perfect. That’s exactly what we need. How do we persuade clients and prospects in a way that’s authentic, effective and natural?
Jenn Lee: First you have to recognize what selling is. You have a product or a service, and the person you’re selling to has a need. I always tell my clients: no one’s going to write you a check and pay for your services just because they feel like it’s the nice thing to do or the right thing to do. They're only going to say "yes" if you show them there’s a need you can fill with your product or service.
So, right off the bat, it’s not selling. It’s just having a really good engaging conversation. It’s not rocket science. And one of the things I recognized early in my selling career is that the ability to engage with someone quickly — and in a way that gets them to say, "Oh good! This person gets me, they understand me" — is key to the rest of the selling process. As soon as you show them, “I understand what’s important to you,” “I get your personality” or “I get what your needs are, and I’m here to fulfill them,” the rest of it's really just logistics.
So today, I’m going to talk about a system I’ve used that I learned many, many years ago. It makes it easy to figure out what this person about and what’s important to them.
Ed Gandia: I love that because you’re absolutely right. I won’t really listen to you, if we haven’t connected. I'm thinking about the people I’ve met in the last couple of weeks. If I didn’t connect with them in the first minute or two, it’s very hard to get back on track, even if what they have is amazing.
Jenn Lee: Right—and it all happens in less than the first minute. It's usually within the first 7-10 seconds. The first impression is a lasting impression. But no worries, by the end of this conversation, everyone's going to have the secret.
Ed Gandia: Perfect, so let's talk about this system.
Jenn Lee: When I was in new home sales, many, many years ago, there was a gentleman by the name of Charles Clark, and he created this system called BOLT. The letters stand for bulls, owls, lambs and tigers. Each animal represents a different personality type. We all have a little bit of each of them for the most part, but there's one that's more predominant. So, first off, you have to recognize which one you are, and then it’s easier to recognize which one somebody else is.
The bull is hard charging, direct — I always think of Donald Trump when I think of the bull. Everything he says is really short and to the point; he doesn't like a lot of sentences. He speaks in bullet points, and to bulls, prestige and one-of-a-kind and having the best and being the best is very important to them.
Have you ever noticed on The Apprentice, when Donald Trump introduces a task he’s always, “I’m here with the number one office retailer in the entire universe, OfficeMax.” He's never working with number two. It's always number one. It's always the best. That’s very important to the bull personality.
An owl personality is like your accountant, your engineer. I always think of Warren Buffett or maybe Bill Gates — people who are analytical. They've got their pencil and pen. For owls, details are important. They like saving money, saving time; they love lists. If you give an owl a 27-point spreadsheet on how you're going to deliver a service, they’ll be so excited, they'll kiss you.
Owls don't like to make mistakes, so they ask lots of questions. They want to make sure all their questions are answered before they make a decision. I'm married to an owl; he doesn't make a decision to purchase anything over $50 unless it's been rated on consumer reports. And I swear the reason it took him eight years to ask me to marry him is because I haven’t been rated on consumer reports!
The lamb is your caring person. They are the caretakers of the world. I always think of Gandhi or Mother Theresa. What’s important to them is other people's safety, other people's happiness. If you talk to them about your service and how it's going to change the world, you’re probably going to get the sale.
Trying to sell lambs on how you’re going to make them a lot of money is not going to work because that’s not important to them. But, if you tell them how it's going to make them a lot of money, which will in turn give them the finances they need build a shelter in a low-income housing area of the community, then that might work because it means something to them.
It’s important not to attack lambs. Bulls scare the heck out of them. Bulls are like, "Let's do it; let's make it happen," and lambs are like, "What are you talking about? You're going to hurt me." Does that make it more visual?
Ed Gandia: Oh, absolutely. I’m totally seeing this.
Tigers are like me, or like Tigger the Tiger. Tigers come bounding into the room. They’ve got bright shiny clothes on. They're distracted by shiny objects. They're usually very ADD. They're starting one conversation with you, finishing another conversation with somebody else, pointing out somebody’s handbag across the room and still able to keep it all together.
Tigers are excitable. They want you to present things to them where it's cool, it's funky, it's new, it's trendy, it's creative. “Nobody else is doing it, you'd be the first one.” But it's different than a bull who says, "Nobody else is doing it. I am the one." So, those are the four different personality traits that are out there.
Ed Gandia: I can totally see that, and you’re saying we all have characteristics of each of these, but there's one that's predominant.
Jenn Lee: The predominant one is the decision-making one. So, in sales, the first thing you have to recognize is, who am I? Which personality type is mine?
I’m going to use you, Ed, as an example. Which of the four do you think you have as your predominant personality?
Ed Gandia: This is hard because it all depends on the situation. But, I would say if I’m a buyer, I’m a bull. I want to get to the point. I make decisions quickly.
Jenn Lee: Right, and I can tell that about you from the way you communicate. You’ll send over details before we have our call together and it's clear, it's concise, it's to the point. It's never a long, lengthy, flowery email. It’s here it is, let's move. That tells me you're a bull.
So, when I’m trying to sell to you, I have to remember what's important to you. I have to be clear, concise and to the point. I don't have to fluff it up, and I better be on topic.
But first, I have to know what's important to you. I’ll ask you directly. I’ll say, "Tell me what's important to you in this process. Give me one or two things you're looking for in your freelancer, your next employee, your next service provider."
Ask, and make it very specific. They dig that. They’ll usually go, "Okay, great. This is what I want." You don't want to ask a bull, "Can you share with me the history of the company, and what you did when you were in elementary school and what led you to all of this?" Unless it really plays a role in you providing a service, they don't want to get into all that. Is that on target, Ed?
Ed Gandia: Yeah, definitely.
Jenn Lee: If a lamb came to you, and they wanted three phone calls before they’d tell you the price of a product, would you buy from them?
Ed Gandia: I’d probably shoot myself.
Jenn Lee: If you're naturally a lamb personality, one that’s a little more reserved and concerned with the bigger picture and how it affects everybody, and if you want to sell to a bull, you’ll have to prepare ahead of time. I don't want to scare all the lambs out there, but think about it. You’ll have to figure out what's going to be important to this person, and how can I quickly bottom line it for them? At this stage in the selling process, it's not about you and your personality. It's about you being able to connect in a way where they can say, "Great, they 'get' me."
In some cases, you might determine it's not a good fit for either of you. I always say is, "Sell to those you're going to have joy working with." You’ll make money, and you’ll enjoy the process because you’re not trying force fit something. If you're two polar opposites and you're not able to adjust while maintaining your creativity and intensity and authenticity, then it's not a good fit. And that's okay.
Ed Gandia: That's a good point. If this is the person you're going to be working with for a few months, you’ve got to make sure you're okay with that.
Jenn Lee: Right.
Ed Gandia: How do you make a quick determination when you’re on the phone with this person and you're not sure what type they are?
Jenn Lee: A lot of times you can tell from their voice mail. Sometimes you can tell by how they answer the phone. If they say, "Hey, it's Jim, Jim here," that's probably a bull personality. If it's, "Hi, thank you so much for calling, this is Jennifer, how may I be of service to you?" that’s probably a lamb.
If it's an owl, you’ll probably get voice mail because they’re screening their calls. They want to write things down and be prepared before they call you back. If it's a tiger, they've picked up the phone and dropped it before you even get any word out or they're, "Hang on a second, I’m talking to Jim over at...." That’s not to pigeonhole people, but it gives you an insight.
Also, the positions they hold can give you some insight. If you're looking at their website and the owner’s bio is all about their family or the mission or the vision, you know they have some lamb tendencies. There are clues everywhere.
Even when you're just chatting with someone, listen for clues. Bulls will rush you. They'll say, "Okay, mm-hmm, mm-hmm." They'll interrupt you a lot. Tigers will also interrupt, but it's because they're excited. “Tell me more about this, or how would that work, or what do you mean? Okay, this sounds really cool." An owl will ask lots of questions or want you to send them a detailed proposal.
I usually can tell personality types within the first 30 seconds or so. It takes some practice.
Ed Gandia: When I was in sales, we used to call the owls "Seymores." That's a term we learned from Selling To Vito, a famous sales book from a long time ago. He called them "Seymores" because they always want to "see more." You’d be in the fifth meeting, and they’d be like, “Show me this other thing. And I need to see this again, and I need to see three more references," it would never end.
Jenn Lee: Do you know how you overcome that and get through the sales process quicker?
Ed Gandia: How?
Jenn Lee: You just say "Tell me more, tell me more. What else? What else? What else?" You just keep saying "What else?" You might have a seven-hour meeting, but that's better than five two-hour meetings, right?
Ed Gandia: Let’s look at some specific situations. We could start with something generic, so it’s not specifically related to freelancing.
Jenn Lee: Sure. Can I sell you a pen? Or can I tell you a little bit about a pen?
Ed Gandia: Okay, let’s use a pen as an example. How would you sell a pen?
Jenn Lee: For a bull I’d say, "It's exquisite, it's one of a kind, it just came off the assembly line, nobody else has it," or, "Hey, I’m one of the exclusive distributors of this pen so not a lot of people are going to be sporting the same pen.”
To an owl, I would say, "The great news about this pen is that it's extremely efficient, because of the roller ball technology, you can use less ink which will save you money."
To the lamb I can continue with that and say, "By using less ink, it's better for the environment. We have a clicker on this pen, so what that means to you, is that you're able to shut the pen so it doesn't mess up the inside of your purse, or inside of your coat jacket, and we also use stamp-based technology with our ink."
As I’m talking to the tiger, I would say, "It comes in five different colors. This pen is like the best pen to ever hit the face of the earth, and you're going to be the one to have it."
That's the way to describe the same pen to four different personality types. The key is to identify the personality quickly so you can adjust your verbiage. For each personality type there are key words that are important to them and will work in every scenario.
Ed Gandia: For many people, most of the selling occurs in that first phone call. There's been some email exchanges and now you agreed to talk about a project, or your services. They're trying to feel you out; you're trying to feel them out.
As an example, say they're looking for a web designer, and you're a web designer. They contact you to discuss the project and to learn more about you, your fees, the services you provide, etc. How would you approach this first conversation using the BOLT system?
Jenn Lee: I’m assuming you’ve already done your homework, so you have their marketing materials and know what business they’re in. When you’re on the call, start the conversation with, "Tell me what's important to you in this project."
A bull is going to tell you, "I want it on time, I want it to be creative, unique, and I want to make a 35% conversion ratio for the number of people hitting my site, and the number that are walking through my door.”
An owl is going to tell you, "Well, I have this list of things that I’d like it to do." And they'll start going through the list. And then the lamb will say, "I'm just trying to really reach as many people as possible, and help the world." And then the tiger is just like, "I want it to be cute. Bright colors. It’s got to show my personality."
By asking that question, you’ll reveal their personality right off the bat. It’s a great way to start the conversation, because you're telling them right then and there, this is not about me telling you what I can do, this is about me finding out what's important to you, and how I can fulfill that need.
Ed Gandia: I love that. You do two things right away: you're getting a read on them, and you're getting valuable information. You're getting great data and feedback quickly and adjusting how you communicate based on what personality type you think they are.
Jenn Lee: A lot of people think sales is about knowing all the answers before they make the call. I hear that all the time. “I don't feel qualified to make that call. What if they ask me this question?” Well, you don't know if they're going to ask you that question, so why don't you just find out what's important to them. A lot of people think it's this big mystery. You don't know what they want? Fabulous! Ask them, they'll tell you. They’re not trying to see how well you can read their crystal ball, they just want a website.
Ed Gandia: If you come across as if you already know everything about them and what they want and need, you're probably going to turn them off. They want to work with someone who's listening and responding, right?
Jenn Lee: Exactly. Our businesses are our babies. You don’t want to come across as knowing someone’s baby better than they do. It’s true even if they’re working for someone else. That position, that responsibility, that project is their baby.
So do a bit of homework ahead of time. Understand who you’re talking to and have some idea of their potential needs or pains, then ask the question: “What’s important to you in this project? Give me the two things you want to make sure we accomplish."
Ed Gandia: There are two points I’d like to emphasize: First, by asking these questions and getting that information, you can now really be yourself and answer legitimately and with authenticity. It takes a big weight off your shoulders. You don’t have to have this perfect script and say all the right things. Second, I like your idea of using imagery for each personality type. I started by using the animals themselves, but now I’m thinking of people I know. That works a little better for me.
Jenn Lee: I completely agree. When I do presentations I have pictures of Donald Trump, Mother Theresa, Warren Buffett and Tigger the Tiger because we can replace them with people you know.
Understanding the four personality types can help with any kind of conflict resolution, even in your personal life. Start by asking what's important to them. If your spouse is a lamb personality, it's going to be hard to get him or her to take the day off and go jump out of an airplane.
Ed Gandia: One question before we close, and I’m going to play devil's advocate here: What would you say to someone who feels they're being inauthentic or manipulative by using this system?
Jenn Lee: This is not about you trying to sell people on something. This is about you engaging with people in a way that helps them feel comfortable enough to hear the rest of what you have to say. If you went to China and wanted to communicate with people who didn’t speak English, would you get out your Chinese-English translation dictionary? Would you try to speak Chinese so you could communicate?
Chances are you would. Are you changing your personality? No. Are you trying to trick them into something? No. You're just trying to connect with them. So, that's all this is; it's just another tool you can use to connect.
You could say, “Oh I’m an owl and I only want to do business with others with owl-like personalities. That's my comfort zone.” But, there are those of us who say, “I’ve got something special to share, and I want to share it with a wide variety of people,” then you have to sometimes understand their personalities and needs so they’re comfortable enough to accept the conversation.
What I deliver does not change. But my delivery method may change. When I’m talking to somebody who is a lamb, and it's a coaching environment, I have to lower my voice. I’ve got a loud voice and I can be somewhat overwhelming, but, let me tell you, everything I have to say is the exact same. It's just the delivery method that changes.
Ed Gandia: That's a key point. It's not your authenticity or content that’s changing, it's the way you deliver it so you can actually communicate effectively with the other person.
So where can listeners learn more about you? You've got this awesome weekly Mo“GO”vation newsletter. Tell us about that, because I’ve been really enjoying it lately.
Jenn Lee: Oh, thank you. The best place to connect with me is my website, which is coachjennlee.com. You can sign up for the midweek Mo“GO”vation in the upper right hand corner. I send it out once a week, sometimes every other week. It’s has tips and tricks and techniques on getting through the week, getting through life, whether it be your personal or business life. I love doing that.
Ed Gandia: This has been fantastic as usual, thanks for sharing this advice.
Jenn Lee: Thanks, Ed.
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