I am a huge fan of Scott Adam’s theory of energy which he presents in his book “How to fail at anything and Still win big.” To paraphrase: “The filter you should use when deciding what to spend time on and what to avoid is energy. Focus on the things that give you energy, cut everything that drains your energy.” I could not agree more, especially when it comes to attempting to persuade people to do things.
Certain ways of selling things drain people’s energy, other ways of selling increase people’s energy. It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn: People are convinced by messages which give them energy and tune out of messages which drain their energy.
While this may sound obvious, every day, my inbox fills with people trying to sell me things in a way that evaporates my energy and gets their solicitations dragged directly into the trash. I call this selling strategy “Selling Small.”
Selling Small attempts to use a variety of indirect, ambiguous, open-ended, dishonest or time-wasting techniques to persuade someone to buy what you are selling. The net effect of this is almost always to drive people away by draining them of their energy.
Selling Big is at the opposite of Selling Small. Selling Big focuses on attempting to increase people’s energy by speaking in a direct, time-saving, ambitious, unambiguous way. Lets compare some examples.
Selling Small vs. Selling Big: A Case Study
A typical small seller writes me an email like this:
Dear Mr. St. John,
We specialize in services x,y,z and have been doing business for 10 years in various generic IT services which are ambiguous and undefined. Would you kindly commit to wasting an hour of your life on the phone with us during your busy week?
Here is a long list of other things we do and 50 of our clients (excluded for brevity).
Boring you to death and wasting your time, some random people.
Can’t you just feel the skin crawling on the back of your neck when you read this email? If you are like me, you immediately terminate messages like this from your inbox. Humans instinctively hate small sellers. This message is particularly horrible because of how open ended it is – You have no idea what to expect when having a future interaction with this person.
Now lets compare to a big seller:
Dear Mr. St. John,
Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water? Come with me if you want to change the world.
Steve Job’s email below fills me with energy. I am genuinely curious to follow up with an email like that because of how ridiculously motivating and aspirational it is. Steve isn’t really selling any particular service or product here, he is selling energy.
If you are human, you gravitate towards energy and want to be close to it. If your sales messages drain people’s energy, forget about selling them anything.
- Use deception
- Are ambiguous about what they want to sell you
- May not even know what they want to sell you
- Are energy vampires
- Seem like they will waste your time
- Breed distrust
- Sell sheepishly
- Are completely direct
- Do not hide anything (that you know of)
- Ask for exactly what they want
- Paint a giant picture
- Outline precisely what they are selling
- Deliver an energy bump
- Sell aspirationally