For the 81st episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob talk with copywriter and marketing specialist, Mike Saul, about copywriting, sales, marketing, and a lot more. Kira first met Mike at a lunch-time gathering of copywriters in New York City and after talking for a little while, realized Mike had a lot of great advice to share with our listeners. In this podcast we talked about:
• how a 13-year-old’s newspaper route led to a career in sales and copywriting
• the book that he used to help a client go from a $500K monthly loss in $1 million in monthly revenue
• how his sales experience informs what he does today
• what he learned from selling burglar alarms—price is not the most important thing
• the relationship between sales and marketing in what copywriters do
• how to write an “air tight” argument for your solution
• how to overcome objections on your sales page
• the checklist he uses when he writes sales pages for his clients
• why sales people in California have to leave the house after
• the list of people he has learned sales and copywriting skills from
• credibility versus believability and which one really matters
Lots of good stuff in this episode. To hear it all, click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Staton Island Advance
The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy
Glen Garry Glen Ross
Clayton Makepeace’s Checklist
Dr. Robert LaPenna
Better Call Saul
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 81 as we talk with marketing strategist and copywriter Mike Saul about how a newspaper route launched his copywriting career, how preconceived notions affect your success, credibility vs. believability, what baby bottles, Santa Clause, and getting a first date have in common, and the learning resources he likes most.
Kira: Hey Mike, welcome to the show!
Rob: Mike, we’re glad to have you!
Mike: Thank you for having me, guys.
Kira: So, we want to start with your story, Mike. How did you end up in marketing and direct response copywriting?
Mike: It probably goes back to when I was 12 or 13 years old. I grew up on Staten Island, which is one of the five boroughs of New York City, so about 13 I started playing guitar. And my parents decided that they weren’t going to buy me a really nice guitar so I had to get a job at thirteen and we perish the thought these days, with all these entitled children, including my three. So anyway, I started delivering the newspaper, The Staten Island Advance. And I actually split a route with two brothers. The two brothers each had a route each but they were too big, so the mother split each of their routes and made a third route. It was kind a rent deed route, it wasn’t officially recognized by the Staten Island Advance. So that route got cycled through the neighborhood kids; most of the kids couldn’t do it so I said alright, I’m going to give it a shot. I had twenty one stops on my route. And I started delivering the paper and anybody I wasn’t delivering to on my route, I would knock on the door, ask if they wanted it, and I started selling.
So, I built the route up to 41 people from 21. Now, why 41? Because I was warned by my friend’s mom, that, if you add one more house, we’re going to split the route again, so I said okay, well, that’s great… really good for getting rewarded for all my efforts, right? And at that point, I really knew what bureaucracy was all about so that’s how I got started in selling. I was just knocking on doors and trying to sell the Staten Island Advance on delivery.
From there, I went to a high end guitar shop, which close about a year ago, year and a half ago, when the founder actually passed away and I was selling high end guitars on Staten Island at a place called Mandolin Brothers when I was 14 and 15 years old. And when the owner and the head sales guy would go to the NAM show, in California, I was actually running the showroom by myself. So, that’s how I got my chops in sales. Now, how does that move into marketing? Well, a lot of times you’ll hear people say, okay, you know, copywriting is salesmanship in print. Now, I don’t agree with that. I take Todd Brown’s approach, which is “copywriting is really marketing in print”.
Like what you see? Download the transcript!
To download a free PDF transcript of this interview with Mike Saul and get notified about our latest interviews with successful copywriters, you know what to do...
So anyway, fast forward a while, I had some sales jobs, I sold alarm systems, I sold mausoleums, people were just dying to get in, I liked to say; I sold life-alert, the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” guys, which was in-home sales, which is just amazing. Talk about immersing yourself in the training and then actually having to sit and talk to somebody for two hours at a time and compel them to move forward by showing them the benefits and everything. And then from there, I started working online. So that came about 1999. You know, there were other stories.
When I started selling alarms for ADT I went in there and they didn’t know what to do with me because everybody was just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring and I was doing my own marketing at that time and I had no idea what I was doing, but I was knocking on doors, I was sending out letters to new businesses that were opening, I was a commercial sales rep, I was going through existing customers and asking them if they wanted burglar alarms in their home; I had no idea what I was doing.
So then fastforward to the online world, I started out with a financial advisory service. Not a licensed one, so for lack of a better one, a stock-pick service. That’s the best way to put it. And the guy I was working for, he was very aggressive with his marketing; he had turned a little bit of money into a lot a bit of money, so he was telling everybody how he could do it. He decided you know what? I want to do an infomercial. He wound up spending a ton of money on an infomercial and was getting destroyed. He was on a pace to be completely destroyed – to lost millions of dollars. So, we sat down one day, he asked me if I could help. “You did sales for a long time, could you help?” and I said okay, you know, sure. And I sat down and I got The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy who was my first copywriting mentor, I guess we could call it, with that book, and I read through it and I said geez, a lot of this looks familiar in the ways I learn how to sell. People like Bryan Tracy and Zig Zigler, those are the people I learned how to sell from. And I sat down with the infomercial script and we rewrote it. I wasn’t a great writer, I’m still not a great writer by any means. We rewrote it, I put in the pieces of persuasion that I feel would help, and we turned it around. We went from losing about $500,000 a month to eventually doing over a million dollars a month. And it wasn’t all profit, of course, there was a big media spend in there and a lot of that money came on the back-end. So I was not a partner in that business, which was stupid of me, I had an option of being a partner. Who knows if he would’ve really came through with giving me what I was supposed to get anyway… but that’s another story for another podcast, right? The Bitter Resentment Podcast, right? Not The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: That’s the next one we’re going to start. The Resentment Podcast is on the list, for sure. (laughs)
Mike: So, I don’t know, but instead, I continued to be an employee there. I did a couple more things there, that relationship ended, and then I really immersed myself into marketing. And becoming a copywriter. And really focusing on three niches. The quote on quote stock pick-niche, I don’t like to call it the advisory niche because you know, real advisers are licensed and it’s much different; that copy is much different; there’s a lot of heavy regulations there. I know there are a lot of regulations in all copy to follow, so it’s more like the stock pick niche or the financial market niche whether it’s binary options or forex or futures or whatever it is, so not just stocks. And then I got into the B2B niche, specifically with software and services. And that was another big pivot for me, because when you’re marketing B2B, even though I believe marketing is marketing is marketing, there are definitely some idiosyncrasies and some quirks with the B2B market.
Rob: Mike, tons to unpack there; I’ve got pictures of you sitting in a boiler room, I’ve got pictures of you sitting on your bike, you know, going house to house. So, let’s talk about sales for a minute, because I think a lot of people jumping into copywriting without a sales background have to learn how to do that through copy or whatever. You were doing this at thirteen! Is there something about your personality that made you naturally gifted at sales, or did you have to learn the skill and starting out that young, what are some of the first lessons that you learned as you were going door to door selling newspapers?
Mike: Well, motivation is a big thing, right? I wanted a Gibson guitar, or a Fender guitar. I wound up getting both: a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson SG, because you know you have to have both. And if you don’t play guitar, you have no idea what that is. But, that was my motivation back then; all I cared about was my mother bought me a guitar. It was a starter guitar, and I wanted something better, and she was like, “Yeah, I’m not buying you a $400 guitar. Now granted, for those of you who are playing guitar now or just starting to play guitar, you’ll wish you could’ve gotten a Gibson SG for only $400 right? But that was the low-line Gibson back then. It was like a 70’s used SG, and she was like… You know, $400 back in—I don’t know, when I was thirteen, boy, was ‘82, ‘83, so—she was like, “Yeah, there’s no way I’m buying you a $400 guitar; you’ve only been playing a year, and you know, I know eventually you’re going to be good and you can afford to buy a guitar,” which is her nice way of saying, “You suck right now, I’m not buying you a $400 guitar.” Which I did, and I played for fifteen years; when I stopped playing, I still sucked, so I mean you know, it’s fine.
But anyway… But I owned a lot of guitars for the years. So I think that, at thirteen years old, and I think the lesson, if you want the lesson, is I think I didn’t know not to do it. I didn’t know not to go knock on doors and ask people if they would like a subscription to the Staten Island Advance since I’m walking by their house anyway, everyday delivering it. And I mean everyday; I mean they printed 360—well, almost 365—so I’m always walking by your house anyway, why not drop a paper there? And I think that translates into basically everything in life, right? Or, especially in sales in marketing.
Like, what really hinders new marketers, new copywriters, new salesman, whatever, is the experience of others. It hinders them, because they tell you, “Well you can’t do that,” or “You can’t write that; you can’t send a letter without a headline.” Or, “Wait a minute, whoa, whoa, whoa, what is this? You know, what is this structure? Where is the big promise? Where is the big idea?” And I’m not against all that, right? I’m not against the big idea, I’m not against the big promise—I’m not against all that, right? But it’s like, “Oh, well you can’t do that,” or, “Oh no, the leads are horrible here,” right? Just watch Glengary Glen Ross the other night for like the 800th time, right? A great salesman. “Oh, the leads are terrible; the leads are terrible.” Okay, it’s the leads, right? It’s not you, it’s not the fact that, you know, you have preconceived notions, or any of that, right? Which is exactly what it is, right? It’s never the leads, it’s you; it’s you and it’s you getting influenced by other people.
For example, the place that I have just ended my contract with—I’ve been there for three years—and when I get there, I was brought in as a sales and marketing consultant. So I went in there and I talked to one of the guys about, you know, how he gets into the decision makers, how he calls these people and, his big answer was, “You know, I don’t even call anymore, because even the voicemails now are saying don’t leave a message and, you know, I don’t even bother calling anymore; I don’t even bother calling anymore.” And that’s great. And, about a month later, they hired a salesman who has technology experience; he’s not a total rube; he’s, I think he’s in his fifties, I don’t know.
But anyway, he’s had some success in the past. They brought him in, and they found out that the biggest merger in history was going on. And this guy was like, okay, I need to get into this account. And he sat there everyday, and called, and called, and called, and called, and called, and called, and called, and wrote emails, and invited them to webinars, and guess what? He got the deal; the biggest deal in the company’s history. The biggest merger in corporate history? Why? Because he wasn’t—I mean, he had to be biased, because he obviously had experience, and I’m not saying the other guy was a jerk for saying “I can’t make calls” or anything. It was just his preconceived notion. This guy was like, “Yeah, I’m just going to keep calling ‘til I get somebody.” And he did.
Now that’s a positive preconceived notion, right, that I’m just going to keep calling ‘til I find somebody, but if instead he had listened to the “Oh col- calling doesn’t work and you can’t call people anymore because they don’t even have their voicemails on,” and “Nobody reads email and it goes right to spam,” that’s what gets you in the most trouble. So that’s, in my opinion, the biggest lesson, and every single day, I have to struggle with it, everybody in my opinion has to struggle with this, with the preconceived notions, with experience, with experience from what other people tell you. It’s very, very difficult, and you have to sometimes move straight forward and not care what anyone else is saying, or throwing your preconceived notions to the wayside. I don’t know. That’s, in my opinion, the biggest thing, and the biggest thing when I’m thirteen, which is nobody told me not to do, until they told me to stop, right? Which…another story, but anyway.
Kira: Laughs. So I want to skip backwards a little bit, and ask you about selling burglar alarms.
Kira: What did you learn from that experience, a business lesson that you took away from that experience?
Mike: Well, I didn’t just sell burglar; when I worked for ADT, I started selling just burglar. The little $99 package. And then I wound up selling access control and cameras—CCTV. And this was back when you still used these VCRS, which… Kira, I think I know how old you are, I don’t know how old you are Rob, but, I…
Rob: I’m much older than Kira, much much older. I remember VCRs really well.
Mike: Okay, so you know what a VCR is.
Kira: I remember VCRs! I remember VCRs.
Mike: Right, so you used to use video cameras with VCRs, not with all the digital stuff now, but anyways. So, the biggest lesson that I learned is that price is not the only factor in making a decision, because we were definitely not the low-price solution, okay? Slowman’s was fairly new at the time; they came out and they were giving it away for free. We were not giving it away for free. Every time we tried to do a promotion to give it away for free, our sales actually went down. So, they stopped giving it away for free. So I think the biggest lesson is, it’s not always determined on how much it costs, right? You have to make sure that you’re argument on why someone should choose you over anyone else, including the option of no one at all, because a lot of times they’d go in and they’d say, “Well I don’t really need an alarm,” you have to make sure that argument is air-tight, alright?
Like Todd Brown likes to say—and I know I’m going back to the well with him, because he’s one of my biggest influences, but you know, you have to be like a prosecutor: you have to have an air-tight argument. And “arguments” are also a bad word, you never want to argue with a customer or anything like that, but you just have to show them the immense value that you have, and how you would basically be… it’s a no-brainer, right? “I just can’t believe you don’t see the value in this.” And I’ll never forget: I was out in California, working with the top Life Alert guy out there. Again, the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” guy, right? And, the guy who ran that company—I think he still runs it, his name’s Issac—he was a door-to-door salesman, he started in Israel; he says that he’s knocked on every door in Israel seven times, right? And he came up through direct marketing. He did the Craftmatic Bed, he did the Contour Chair, and all that, and then he found the Life Alert.
Anyway, so the top guy out there is a former, I don’t know if he’s still there, but he’s a former Israeli air force pilot, and I’ll never forget, I went out with him. I wanted to do some sits with him, because I wanted to see what his techniques were. And he sat there, and you know, he gave his pitch, and when the prospect would say “no”, he would look at them say go, “Why?” like it was the most confusing thing he’s ever heard, that they told him no, right? And he was asking why like, basically saying, “Are you crazy not to go ahead with this?” And that was really eye-opening for me. That kind of changed my entire way of selling, and I went right from Life Alert to ADT, and like I said, they didn’t know what to do with me. I came in and broke all records; they weren’t giving me leads in the beginning. I was generating all my leads and they just couldn’t understand how I was doing it.
Now of course, the other big lesson, the other big business lesson is as soon as I got put into lead rotation, what happened? I got complacent; I got comfortable; and I kind of just glided through, because I was closing probably…at one streak, I remember, for at least three months every appointment I went out on, I closed. But remember, these were people who were calling in. They already knew what we offered, so I’m not bragging like I’m such a high-end closer to do that, right? Most of these people knew what they were getting, so it’s a lot easier when they know what they’re getting. So that’s my biggest business lesson, and you know now, I’m forty-nine—I’m going to be forty-nine years old in eleven days—so, you know, looking back on those days when I was younger, didn’t have a family, I didn’t have any real responsibilities, it’s a lot easier to be aggressive and just not give a crap, right? The more the responsibilities weigh on you, the more you have to be responsible for other peoples, right? You have to support other people. It tends to be a lot harder to stay that hungry, and that aggressive, in my opinion. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. I’ve been wrong a few times in my life.
Rob: I want to sort of follow that train of thought, you know when you’re talking about the airtight argument as to why somebody should choose you. I’ve heard a lot of copywriters say—and this seems to be getting more common, maybe it’s been more common all along—that a product should be good enough to sale itself, and that sales techniques are old-fashioned, or maybe we should be doing less of making those kinds of arguments and building that into the product. What do you say to that kind of argument? Did you agree? Disagree?
Mike: Yeah, I absolutely agree. Again, you know, got to give Todd Brown the credit for this, but he’s the one who first opened my eyes about it, but marketing has to be the main focus, right? Sales is just the obvious end to a strong marketing sequence, right? So, what it is is, I have to talk about you. I have to talk about your problems. I have to talk about how much they hurt, and how much they’re going to get worse, and how you’ve tried other things, and it just doesn’t work. And, I finally found something that is going to work, and here it is. And you shouldn’t have to sell that hard or in the case of like a B2B sales, and I was marketing high-end stuff, like high-end software licenses, talking in the, you know, between software services in the multiple seven and sometimes eight figures, okay? So, there has to be a sale there, alright?
You can’t just go in to somebody and say “Hey, you know, you’re having problems moving your data from one ERP to the other, and if you don’t do it, you’re not going to be able to get your reports on time.” “Okay, where do I sign the three million dollar contract?” It doesn’t work that way, okay? So, yeah, there is a big part of that is marketing, and showing them that, you know, their staff is not going to be able to handle it, you know. And I’m just using B2B as an example; it’s with everything, right? But, there still has to be a selling component of why your product is the solution. And that’s the airtight argument, is, “Okay, I understand my problem. I understand that you understand my problem,” which is extremely important, right, because, if…what’s the famous saying….if you can describe their problem better than they can, they believe that you have the solution. Okay?
But there’s still the next part of that, which is, okay you have the solution, this is the product; you still have to tell me why this product is going to be different than every other thing I have tried. Or, that I’m thinking of trying, right? That’s another thing. Some people haven’t tried anything yet, and they’re just going to make a first decision. So I hope that answers your question Rob. I don’t know if it does, but…
Rob: It definitely does. I like the idea, and especially the idea of marketing in print, as opposed to salesmanship in print, and as all this translate into copywriting, I’m through, okay, yeah; you got to be able to communicate this stuff really concisely in a really smart way on a sales page because there’s no back and forth conversation. And so, it becomes even more critical that you nail that kind of stuff in order to work as a copywriter.
Mike: Right, I mean because with sales, it’s okay, you know, get your objection book ready, and get ready to count all of the objections: “I want to think about it”, “I want to talk to the dog-walker”, “I want to….”, you know, “I can’t afford it”, and you know, “I’ll get back to you” and all that stuff. That’s great, but, what do you do if all you’re giving them is a video-sales letter or a sales page and there’s—-like you said—there’s no back and forth? You really have to overcome those objections right there, and the way you do that, right—so a lot of people say, “Just write out all the objections, and then weave them into your copy.” I mean, I don’t know how you weave in “I have to ask my wife about it.” Right?
What Twain said, right, is: “There’s two reasons somebody buys something. The real reason, and the reason they tell their wife.” Right? So with B2B, I always said it’s two reasons that people buy it: the real reason, and the reason they tell their board of directors, right? So, it’s the same thing; that’s their wife, right? Or their spouse I should said. And that’s the truth, right? People buy things and then they have to say things and justify why they bought it, so when their wife says why did you just spend $1,000 on a new laptop, or why did you do this, you know, you bought because it has the new 5.1 Bluetooth—which is a dumb reason to spend $1,000 on a laptop—but, you know, you have to tell your wife: “It’s because, you know, this is going to get me more jobs,” or whatever it is. So, there has to be the logical part in the sales copy as well as the emotional part, right?
A lot of people just say, just focus on the emotions, focus on the emotions. And when you get a guy like Chris Haddad, right? He’s just all emotion. And, very tough to argue with his results; very tough to argue with his awesomeness, right? But he’s all emotional. Like, you watch his stuff, and it’s all emotional stuff right? Maybe there’s a bit of logic in there, but most of the time, it’s just emotional. Maybe he’s so good that he weaves the logic in but you don’t even notice it. But for most other people, there has to be a logical argument as well, right? It has to be emotional and then it has to be the logical part of it also that they feel good about themselves. And that’s what brings down buyer’s remorse, right?
In sales, we call it the button-up. So after you sale something, and you close them, and you get them to put their name on the paper, you have to now button-up the sale. You have to reinforce so that it was a great decision; everything that you see a lot of the top copywriters do, right after they buy, you know: “You’ve made a great decision”, “welcome to the family”, “welcome to the club”, whatever it is—“this is what you can expect”, all that stuff—that transfer very well from sales into copywriting and intro marketing.
Kira: So, I’m wondering…I’m working on a sales page now, and I’m trying to build my own argument, and overcome objections. Do you have a resource of a checklist, or something you’ve created or someone else has created that you run through before you feel like, completed, like, it’s good, it’s a rock-solid argument, you can hand over to a client?
Mike: Yeah, that’s a really great question. And I used Clayton Makepeace’s checklist…
Mike: I got in one of his courses. I don’t know if you know who Clayton is, he’s kind of like a new guy. He’s a new guy on the scene.
Rob: Laughs. Yeah.
Mike: I think he’s been doing it forty days? Oh no, forty years. That’s it, it’s forty years, not forty days. But anyways, I use Clayton’s checklist, and I have a couple others, and one of them I’m embarrassed to say I don’t even know who wrote, but it was a pretty good checklist, and I like to go through it. As far as the objection handling and the argument handling, I like to do a process that Joe Schiefer has taught some people called copyboarding. Have you heard of it? Have you had Joe on the podcast yet?
Kira: Yeah! He’s come on.
Rob: Yeah, yep. We actually didn’t talk in depth with Joe about copyboarding, although he did talk about that process of objection handling. But yeah, we’ve had him on the podcast. Super smart guy.
Mike: Right. And again now, I’m not taking anything away from him because he is awesome, but, as far as listing out all the objections, I mean that’s something I’ve been doing for years. He just has a really great process to do it. So I’m—please, I’m not saying, “Hey that’s no big deal”. I mean, you know, let’s be honest, okay? Nothing—as much as people want to say it is, right?—nothing is new here, okay? Everything has been done: scientific advertising; my life in advertising; and even before that, the people like Joe Kennedy and all these other old copywriters, I mean, it’s all just gotten faster and more technology-savvy, but in the end, the principles are still the principles, right?
The first thing I always did was list out every single reason why they were going to say no, and what you had to say to counter that. Mostly, face-to-face, right? I used to do that with sales more than not, and I was trained that way. I would love to sit there and say, “Well I invented this, and…” well of course I didn’t. I was trained by some really hardcore salesman, you know, face-to-face door-to-door people that sold everything from, like I said, mausoleums and… I’ll never forget the guy that, when I worked at the mausoleum space, he sat there and, his—like I said, motivation is a really strong thing, right?—and he said he came in, and the owner of the mausoleum, he had him over his house, and he had a beautiful, gorgeous house, with beautiful marble floors, yay you know, whatever it—anyway. And, the guy looked at him right in the eye and said, “The script I’m going to give you built this house.”
Okay, meaning that the script—just follow the script. Go sit with people, and sell them, and this is what built this house. I didn’t get lucky, I wasn’t left money, blah blah blah. I had a piece of land at Woodbridge, New Jersey, and we turned it into a cemetery, and built some mausoleums, and this script is what sells the spaces in there. And, you know, that’s what it really comes down to, is just following what works. And, one of the things that I was taught, was, this is what they’re going to say. You know, we know they’re going to say this. This is how you have to counter it.
Same thing for Life Alert too, right? It was the same thing with—and, Life Alert was, when you left the house, you were done, right? If you left the house and the next day they called up and said, “Oh, that Mike, he’s such a nice guy, I want to buy the unit from him, can you send him back?” The would say, “No, we’ll take your order over the phone”, and you did not get the credit. If you were left the house, you were done. It was a real one-call close, okay? So, you had to do everything you could before you left that house to get that sale, or you just wasted a couple of hours. And I think I told you that story Kira, right, of how Life Alert is the reason why you’re limited to how long you can stay in a house in California? So I’ll tell you Rob, just the quick story and for everybody else.
Kira: Good story. Yeah.
Mike: So, there is a limit on how long you can sit in a consumer’s house. At least in California—it may be across the country, but this was in the ‘90’s that this happened. So anyway, what happened is some guy goes onto an appointment, and he spends six hours with an elderly woman, selling her on Life Alert. And by the way, I don’t think Life Alert is a scam in any way, alright? I think Life Alert has saved more lives and helped more people than the small fees that it costs helped, right? So, but Carlton or whatever one of the…another guy you may not have heard of, John Carlton, but I’ll educate you on him too—somebody I believe said that if you really believe your product can help somebody, you should do whatever you can to get them to buy it, right? But anyway, so, the guy spends six hours in the house with the woman, sells the unit. A couple of days later, whatever happens, happens. They call up, and it turns out the woman’s son is like a state attorney general, in California, and was like, “Wait, what happened? He was here for how long?” So they actually put in regulation that you could only stay in the house for a certain amount of time, because you know, they didn’t want the elderly or anybody to be taken advantage of. But whatever, that’s the story. Anyway.
Rob: So, you’ve mentioned a bunch of people, you’ve even called a couple of them mentors: Dan Kennedy, Clayton Makepeace, you’ve mentioned John Calton, Todd Brown…so, you’re getting a pretty good list of people you’ve learned from. Are there others who have been mentors to you that we should be adding to our lists, and maybe even a few in the sales space, where can learn more about proper selling techniques, influence as opposed to manipulative sales techniques, those kinds of things that you’ve relied on in your life?
Mike: Yeah, I mean, it all starts with Kennedy. I love him; he is my all-time favorite. Dan Kennedy, that is. I think he’s the be-all-end-all. I think he’s great, I love his writing style, and I love the way he communicates his message. I think it’s great. And Todd Brown is a very close number two, and again, I like the way he communicates, and I like the way he gets the messaging across. And when I’m talking about the messaging, I’m not only talking about the sales message; I’m also talking about the message of actually showing you what to do, right?
And, so those are my two big ones. Clayton is…I mean I own a bunch of his courses. He’s great. And, the people that you probably should be listening to that you’re not, I mean, Chris Haddad is ridiculous. You can go on Youtube and look up the Mindvalley talk he gave, it’s two parts. He’s really good. And, there’s just so many others. I mean, as far as people under the radar, like I like Bob Bly; he’s certainly not under the radar, right? But Bob Bly is another one. And he just…the way he writes is so… “simple” is not the right word, and “basic” is not the right word, because he’s a really good copywriter, but it just, when you read it, it seems like he’s writing simple, you know what I mean?
So that in my opinion is the true art that you’re a skilled writer, but the way you write is so simple that anyone can understand it. Like, one of my knocks on Kennedy is, I know I have to have a dictionary handy when I read one of his books, because he’ll throw a couple of words in that I will have no idea what they mean. And I’m wondering, does he really use those words, or is he just doing it to show off, or is he just having fun with the thesaurus, you know—is he just having fun with it? Or, does he really use these words in daily life? And the answer is, of course, he doesn’t use some of the words he uses in daily life, right? Bob Bly, when you read his stuff, it’s just like wow. And Carl is kind of like that too: like, sometimes he’ll throw words, and I’m like, all right. You know, and I read his stuff, and I keep reading it, because there’s plenty of gold in there and I’m sure I’m missing most of it, but then I’m like, alright, got to look up what this means, and maybe I’m just a dummy. Maybe everybody else will know what the words mean, but I just….I don’t know. Anyway.
Kira: Mike, I want to shift gears a little bit, and ask you kind of an open-ended question, but I’m curious to hear what you feel like is the missed opportunities for copywriters today.
Mike: The missed opportunities for copywriters is absolutely in the B2B market. I think that there is a lot of software technology, solutions, consulting… these people are woefully underserved. They have a “my thing is awesome and everybody needs it”. So, it’s going to sell, right? And everybody—I think it’s Schwartz that said, you don’t want to build a better mousetrap; you have to build bigger mice. Right? And, that’s so important in B2B because, what I like to say whenever I sit in front of a client for the first time is, I get it. I know you’re software is the greatest software that does whatever it does…the world has ever seen, right? But here are millions of this type of software, and these types of products, in patent offices all around the world, that died a horrible death, right, that never got off the ground. That nobody ever saw. That nobody ever got to experience. So, these…they’re just a woefully underserved niche, and they’re a little tougher to deal with than I guess the consumer-driven…but, I guess it’s all up to the client, right?
I guess everybody’s tough or easy. I don’t want to give any predisposed notions or anything like that, because that’s the one thing like I said earlier which what hurts most people but you know, you have to go in; you have to, you know, really explain to them and compel them to, okay, let’s give this marketing a shot. because a lot of times you’ll hear, “well we don’t need to do that.” Yeah you do…yeah you do need to do that, because otherwise, they’re not going to understand it. It’s just one more piece of software and yep, yours is the greatest offer; you have the greatest consultants; you’re the most experienced, you’re the this—a lot of people, like…
One of the big things that I wanted to talk about that I was thinking of before I got your prep-work in email was the difference between credibility and believability. And, most B2B, they really work on the credibility factor, okay? They don’t work on the believability factor. You know: “We’ve been in business x number of years”; “this was designed by these types of engineers”, or whatever it is, and it just doesn’t matter. All right; in the end, value is all that matters. Are you…you’re exchanging money, even if it’s not your money, even if it’s the company’s money, but you still… It’s… And don’t kid yourself, a lot of these big companies, and some of the biggest in the world? These procurement directors and these people in accounts payable? They treat it like it’s their money, okay? We’re talking about millions of dollars and you’d be surprised how they’re like,”Well, I mean, one…” Again, I’m not going to give away the client, because that would kind of not be cool but, one client I remember, and there were—I don’t know, nine, got to be, let’s see. Eight figures is ten million, right, so they’re…they’re in the nine-figure area right? And, they were arguing over $150,000. Right? So that’s like, a rounding error to them. And, they were arguing! I mean, it’s crazy. They spend more than that on, probably, bottled water, right, for one of their plants! Right? So I mean it’s….and so, you have to really compel the people to make a move. It’s more than just listing a bunch of features and telling everybody how great they are. There has to be believability, right?
Nobody likes to be a guinea pig; nobody likes to be a pioneer, right? What happens to pioneers? They wind up with arrows in their back. So when you’re dealing with these companies, they don’t want to be the first ones to do something. Even if you’re giving it to them for free. I was at a conference in September in Detroit, and I sat in at a round table. And one of the big moves in the ERP space now is going to SAPS for HANA. So it was a round table with a bunch of people that are struggling to get the assessment done to see if their company is, you know, what it would take their company to get to S for HANA. And a lot of these people, one of these guys in particular I remember, he did a lot of talking. He was like, “Well I’ve gotten quotes for assessment for everything from $65,000 to $485,000.” And he said, “And I’m not going with the $65,000 choice, because you get what you pay for. But is 285 too much?” So, these kinds of arguments go on in B2B just like they go in with Kira and her husband right, like you know, should we buy the sofa for $1,800, or should we buy the sofa that has a bed in it so the in-laws can stay in, or whoever—when Mike comes over, he can stay on the sleeper sofa, or should we buy that for 2,100; it is really worth the $300 more, right? And, these are the same arguments that go on. Right—value is value.
So, back to the original question. B2B is an underserved niche, and if you’re really good at explaining how to show value, and how to compel people, and how to go up to the believability part rather than just the credibility part, okay, then you’re going to be successful in the B2B space. You’re going to help a lot of those companies do well.
Rob: Can we go a little deeper on that, Mike? How do you have that conversation with a potential client, when they have, you know, they have their list of features and they’re ready to go to market. How do you spell that out for them so that, you know, you’re really saying, “Look, you’re halfway there, but we got a lot of work to do”?
Mike: Right. And I use the Dan Kennedy line, which is, why should someone choose you over all the other options out there, including the option of not choosing anyone at all? I want you to give me your argument. I want you to tell me. And, you have to talk advantages to me, and you have to talk benefits to me. Every time you mention a feature, I’m going to hit the buzzer. And I don’t have a real buzzer, but I usually go, “ERRHHH”. Which is… sounds twenty times more obnoxious coming out of me than a real buzzer would.
Mike: I want you to tell me why I should use you. And most people, once they do that exercise, and… yeah, “Oh, it’s oh—that’s so basic.” Yeah, that’s right! because that’s exactly what you need, right? Everybody’s looking for the “secret sauce” and, no, no, no. It’s the basics. It’s the blocking and tackling of marketing that is what gets you to the next step. It’s your messaging. It’s what are you saying, right? And, you know, prove it to me. Okay, so now, we’re getting there. You’re showing me the benefit of what your software can do. Okay, prove it to me. Who’s used it that has seen this benefit? Or, is this just a benefit that you’re making up? And one of the things that you will be surprised at when you talk to software and solutions based businesses who are full of engineers, is they think that marketing is just guessing, right? Like, you’ve heard a lot of people say, “Well, I hate selling and I hate marketing.” Well, okay. That’s just a preconceived notion right, because you’ve been selling your entire life, right?
You know, at a couple months old, you started crying, so your mom gave you a bottle. Right? That’s a sale, okay? It’s a very abrupt, aggressive sale, but it’s still a sale, and you’ve sold yourself all the way up. Yeah, no—“I’ve been a good boy, I really do deserve this whole list from Santa.” Right? More sales. “No, I’ve been a good boy—I’ve help my brother, and I do my homework on time.” That’s sales, too. And then going up and talking that first girl or boy out on a date, you know? Sales is your entire life! And no business gets done without a sale taking place. I mean that’s just the way it is.
So, it’s in you, and when I go to these B2B firms or these technology firms, and you’re talking to engineers and they’re like, “Well, you know, we don’t like to market.” And I’m like, “Well, do you like eating?” Because, how are you going to eat then? How are people going under—and it’s not all the chicanery and tricks and all that. It’s just getting your message out there in a way that somebody says, “Oh wow!” You know?
My biggest thing, what I like to tell people, is the first reaction somebody should say is, “Wait, what? Wait, wait, what is it you say you can do? Wait you can do that? Okay, tell me more!” Right? Invite the conversation. And it’s just amazing. I went to a few trade shows over my years with this last company, and I walk around and see these other people—they don’t even talk to you! They just stand there and wait for you to come up to their booth and say, “Gee, what do you do?” Like they just think people are just packing their bags, getting ready to go to these shows, and going, “Gasp, I can’t wait to go up to all the booths and ask them what they do!” It’s not going to happen! Right? It’s not going to happen.
A lot of these people, right, they think that they’re just going to tackle them for the pen to sign the SOW, right? The Statement of Work, whatever it is, the quote. Okay? That’s what people think! People think that, you know, “Well, we offer the best result in the field, so people should be flocking to us!” That’s not how it works. If they don’t understand what you do, and they don’t understand the value that you bring, well then what’s the point? You know, one of the best lessons—and I forgot who it was, it’s got to be one of them, it’s got to be Makepiece of one of them—but with writing a lot of bullets, because you never know what bullet is going to trigger. Right? You just think, okay, well, you know, just make it three bullets. Nobody likes to read long copy. Well, says who? That’s another big one with B2B—“Well you got to make it shorter. Nobody’s going to sit here and take the time.” And, I always prove them wrong. I always show them no, no, no. If you’re interested, you will continue to read. And I always give them an example, you know I ask them a couple of questions about their life. And, I then can easily find a way to give them an example of how you’ve actually read long copy in your life, right? Maybe not a long sales letter, but maybe research on a medical condition that a loved one has.
Well, guess what? It took you three house to get through it but, it met something to you. And you read it! So, make sure the marketing means something to the person reading, and they’ll continue to read. Anyway, so that’s the conversation I tend to have with them. What’s the value in going—why should I go with you, right? And when they start talking credibility stuff, I start thinking, “Yeah, you know I don’t want to hear how long you been in business. I don’t want to hear it.” Like, I also do some small business marketing. Or, I did it more before I got into the B2B, but I would love going to a lawyer, and the lawyer’s saying, “Well you know, I have seventeen years’ experience in Middlesex County Court System.” I’m like, “Okay, great! So that means, based off what you just told me, all I have to do is find eighteen years or more, and they’re better than you.”
Mike: “Well, not-n-not necessarily!” I’m like, “No, no. That’s exactly what you just told me.” Now, I’m not saying credibility isn’t important, right? It’s important. It’s a part of it. But there’d better be believability first. That’s why a lot of the successful personal injury lawyers, what do they lead with? They lead with how much money they’ve recovered for clients. That’s believability! Okay? “I can do this, look at how much money I’ve gotten for clients.” Right? Another quick example: there’s a doctor on Staten Island, okay? His name is Dr. Robert LaPenna. And I will namedrop him because he’s one of my favorite doctors of all time. Okay? Now, now let’s just make some assumptions here, guys. Let’s make assumptions that we all belief in Western doctors, right? So forget about Eastern, like you know, we believe that a doctor is the be-all-end-all, right, we have to make that assumption.
So, when you go to his office, I would go and he would be triple-booked for appointments. Triple-booked. Okay? Not double-booked, not s—you know, like, you got a ten o’clock? There are three people waiting at ten o’clock. That’s how freakin’ popular and busy he was. Okay? Is. Still is, right? Alright. Now, he has credibility because he is an MD and if I am seeing a Western doctor, that’s all I need right? Okay. But he has believability because he’s so packed with patients. One day I’m fooling around with my insurance carrier and looking up all the doctors and all, so I come across him. And he gives you his education and all that stuff. Now, he was born in America, but he got his medical degree in Mexico. He went to a Mexican medical school. Now, I am not going to sit here and start arguing the difference between Mexican medical schools and American medical schools; I’m just talking about the perception of it, okay? The perception is if an American has to go to Mexico to get his medical degree, he is not as credible as Memet Ahz who got it from Harvard, or someone else who got it from an American university?
Rob: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s generally true.
Mike: Credibility-wise, right? Like, credibility-wise, there’s a hit there. But guess what? He’s triple-booked. Nobody gives a crap, because when they go there and he sits with you, he is an awesome doctor. And that’s all that matters. And at least he has an MD. That is my best example of credibility versus believability. Because yeah, he has the credibility, he’s an MD, but he went to a Mexican medical school, and I’m sorry—no disrespect to the Mexicans, but it’s looked like, you turn your nose down on it. It’s like getting an online law degree like Jimmy McGill, right, in Better Call Saul. So it’s the same way, right, it’s looked down upon. But, guess what? He’s licensed—well, it’s a TV show, but—he’s licensed to practice wherever he is, and Dr. LaPenna is licensed to practice in New York State, wherever else he holds a license, right? So that credibility—there’s enough credibility, but the believability that have so many people have been referred to him, but, “Oh you got to go see him, he’s the best doctor ever.” And they all go to him! And that’s the difference, and it overtakes the credibility part. I don’t know. I hope that explains it.
Kira: No, that’s incredible. Mike, we are out of time, and this has been fascinating; I’m scribbling notes, because again, I’m working on the sales page now, so I’m just like, I need to completely overhaul the page. I’m curious—do you provide any type of sales page reviews, or coaching services, or anything like that for copywriters?
Mike: Yes I do. I do sales page reviews, and I will sit down and break down copy with anyone who wants to go over it with me. But as you see, I kind of have diarrhea of the mouth, so…
Mike: …I like to, I like to talk a lot, and I’m extremely opinionated, and I am not shy about giving my opinion because the way I give reviews and the way I give feedback is the way I want to receive it. I’m not asking you to critique something of mine, if I don’t want you to be honest and brutal. So if people can stand that, it’s no problem. All you have to do is get in contact with me. I just have a regular gmail account. I’m putting a site together actually now, now that my contract has ended with this last company. I’m just deciding, do I want to go somewhere else, or do I want to start freelancing full-time, all the time. I’m still making that decision, but you can contact me at email@example.com.
Kira: And you didn’t say this part, but yes you are opinionated, but you are also extremely knowledgeable, and know your stuff, so I think this is a great service. I will send my sales pages to you, I would love for you to tear them apart. So thank you for your time today, and for sharing with us. It’s been a really fascinating interview.
Rob: Yeah thanks, Mike. It’s been a pleasure.
Mike: Okay. Thanks guys, for having me.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity, by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
Like what you've seen so far?
There's plenty more where that came from. Sign up for The Copywriter Club newsletter today and we'll send you the unpublished Doberman Dan interview (plus two other awesome resources) in addition to regular updates about what's going on in the club. You won't find this on iTunes, Stitcher or anywhere else. The only way to get this "secret" mp3 and transcript is to drop your email in the box and hit "gimme!".