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The Ultimate Sales Machine - critical summary review

The Ultimate Sales Machine Critical summary review
Marketing & Sales and Management & Leadership

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Critical summary review

Most people think that mastery is the upshot of talent and knowledge. Even as a kid studying karate, Chet Holmes found out that it is actually “a direct result of pigheaded discipline and determination.” More precisely, he realized that “becoming a master of karate was not about learning 4,000 moves but about doing just a handful of moves 4,000 times.” Well, why should business be any different? Indeed, just like earning a black belt, building a successful company is never about doing 4,000 things, but about doing several things 4,000 times each. In “The Ultimate Sales Machine,” Holmes goes over 12 such things that, in his opinion, should get you all the tools you need to become a master of three crucial areas in business: marketing, management, and sales. So, get ready to learn how to “outsell, outmarket, and outmanage your competition” in 12 simple strategies! 

No. 1. Time management: how to maximize your productivity

Do you have too many of those “five-minute” meetings which take a lot longer to even begin? Well, it’s time to put an end to them! And it’s time you started each and every one of your days by already knowing what you want and need to do for the day. This is just the outline of “the six fundamental steps to great time management.” Here they are in order:

  1. Touch it once. Make instant decisions when choices first appear. Don’t revisit them. In Holmes words, “If you spend just 15 minutes per day to revisit, readdress, or reread documents or emails, you will waste 97 hours per year where no action is taken.” In the majority of cases, even a bad action is better than no action at all.
  2. Make lists. If you don’t keep lists to keep yourself organized, chances are you are a very reactive person. The problem with reactive people is that they are, by definition, not focused. And success is all about laser-sharp focus. That’s where to-do lists help. However, the key to being productive is to stick to only the six most important things you need to get done in a day. So, don’t make long lists – they will only distract you.
  3. Plan how much time you will allocate to each task. Rather than thinking about when you’ll do each of your tasks, determine how much time it will take you. Be realistic. Then try to work within your self-determined limit.
  4. Plan the day. Now that you know what are the six most important things for the day and how much time each should take you, it’s time to translate that into a definite schedule. Bear in mind that your plan shouldn’t include just the six items on your list, but also miscellaneous things (such as checking email) and “got-a-minute meetings.” The goal, however, is to allocate a time slot for everything and to stick to your schedule no matter what.
  5. Prioritize. According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of your results are being driven by 20% of your efforts. So, don’t be a “busy person” like George Constanza in that famous Seinfeld episode. Instead, start dropping activities that contribute little to your main objective while consuming a lot of your time. Remember, the goal is not to be busy, that is to say, to be productive.
  6. Ask yourself, “Will it hurt me to throw this away?” How do you prioritize best? By asking yourself what’s the consequence of eliminating something. By doing this, not only will you reduce information clutter, but you will also increase your focus and concentration.

No. 2: Consistent training: how to preprogram your organization

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, only 10% of the population has what it’s called “a learning mindset.” Otherwise put, 9 out of 10 of your employees will probably never get interested into improving their skills unless that is part of their job requirement. Would you want to be operated upon by a surgeon who hasn’t looked at a medical text in 20 years? Then, why would you allow your company to be run by people who aren’t required to get better by the day?

Rather than being an interference, training is essential. According to Holmes, developing a regular and consistent training program will enable you to effectively and systematically accomplish at least the following three things. First of all, it will make all of your new employees feel far more comfortable from the very first day. Secondly, it will help your existing employees be more in sync with each other, thereby eliminating misunderstandings and all related issues. Finally, training makes everything more efficient, by helping everyone do whatever they are doing better, smarter and faster. 

“With consistent training every week in every area of your company,” writes Holmes, “you can put higher and higher standards into place and raise the bar of performance for your entire staff. If you really want to become the Ultimate Sales Machine, training is an absolute must at every level, no matter how large or how small you might be.” To round things off with a memorable adage by Holmes, “either train or feel the pain.”

No. 3: Effective meetings: how to become a finely tuned machine

Every company has meetings but very few companies have productive meetings. However, if you want to grow your business into the Ultimate Sales Machine, you must find a way to hold “regular, highly productive, workshop-style meetings” involving every relevant employee at every stage, and fully dedicated to improving every aspect of your business. 

The goal of an effective meeting is to turn plans into procedures and procedures into policies. These three Ps – plans, procedures, policies – are the three essential tools of great management, because they create the right conditions for the streamlining and automatization of processes. Put otherwise, when there are “carved-in-stone” company policies, every person on your staff knows what to do in every situation, thereby turning your company into a well-oiled machine.

There are a variety of training methods and tools you can use during these workshop-styled meetings. They can come in a lecture format, or in the form of demonstrations, group discussions, or role playing. Either way, the goal is to include everyone and to encourage “questions, jokes, insights, participation, and humor.” Remember, progress is only possible in the presence of regulated freedom. 

No. 4: Brilliant strategies: getting up to nine times more impact

There are two ways to sell things: tactically and strategically. To understand either, you first must understand the difference between two words that are often used interchangeably: “tactic” and “strategy.” So, let’s explain them first. To use Holmes’ definitions, a tactic is “a method or technique used to achieve an immediate or short-term gain,” whereas a strategy is “a carefully defined and detailed plan to achieve a long-term goal.” So, a strategy is pretty much a series of tactics that share a similar objective. Or, even better, tactics are the specific steps you undertake to accomplish your long-term strategy.

Now, most executives (say, 90 out of 100) are tactical executives. In other words, they do little more than instructing their salespeople to do anything in their power to earn them money as soon as possible. So, the salespeople send direct mail pieces to get leads, go on sales calls to make sales or attend trade shows to meet with potential buyers. The problem is these are all just haphazard tactics. Strategic executives, which are no more than 9 in 100, know better. Rather than thinking only in terms of making the sale for today, they think of developing a high-level strategy that may help them make a sale each day for the next few months. Hence, they disregard tactics altogether and spend a lot of time creating concepts and ideas. Unfortunately, rarely do they know how to implement them.

Which brings us to the top 1% of executives. These are the most effective of the bunch, because they can both think and plan like strategists and implement like great tacticians. In Holmes’ experience, one of the most strategic things these executives do is finding market data that makes their product or service more important. In other words, the best of the best executives see selling as something more than just selling – that is to say, as a subcategory of education. Hence, if you want to build the Ultimate Sales Machine, you must stop seeing your company as a money-generating endeavor, and start thinking of yourself as an educator, a mentor, an authority.

No. 5: Hiring superstars: building the ultimate sales team 

If you want to have the Ultimate Sales Machine, you need to have the ultimate salespeople as well. Holmes calls these people superstars and describes them as “those you can put in a bad situation with poor tools, no training, and bad resources and still, within a few months, they will begin to outperform your best people or build your company in ways you never dreamed possible.” How do you hire them?

According to Holmes, it’s not about luck, but about “understanding the personality characteristics that fit the job for which you are hiring and having the tools to identify the candidates that possess those characteristics.” Hence, personality profiling is the key to finding superstars. The best method to do it is the DISC personality test, which examines the relations between four aspects of one’s personality: dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. 

Depending on the position you’re hiring for, you’ll need to be aware of different combinations between these traits, but as far as salespeople are concerned, it’s best to hunt for highly assertive people who combine high influence with high dominance. They are the only ones who can simultaneously keep selling even after a rejection, while bonding like crazy with the buyer. 

How to hire such a superstar seller? It’s not that difficult really! Just integrate rejections and challenges in the hiring process. Only a superstar seller, fixed in their goals and determinant in their objectives, will be able to face rejection after rejection and keep trying again and again and again. To draw out the superstars, use a three-part interview structure: relax, probe, and finally attack. Whoever survives, wins.

No. 6: The Dream 100: one strategy to rule them all

When American billionaire investor Charlie Munger put Holmes in charge of ad sales for one of his magazines, the magazine had a database of 2,200 potential advertisers. After doing a bit of market analysis, Holmes realized that 95% of the advertising in the top four magazines in the niche were bought by 167 advertisers. To his dismay, he next found out that none of these advertisers were in Munger’s magazine. Hence, it wasn’t difficult for him to understand why the magazine’s market share was considerably smaller than that of its rivals and, moreover, continuously dwindling. 

By focusing intently on those 167 buyers, Holmes was able to get a few of them and, in his first year, he managed to double the advertising sales of the magazine. He repeated this feat the following year. By the end of the third year, he had brought in most of these 167 buyers. “Are you sure we're not lying, cheating, and stealing?” Munger asked Holmes. “After all, in all my years, I've never seen anybody double sales three years in a row.” Naturally, Holmes replied that he wasn’t doing any such thing. He was just using a better strategy to market and sell. He calls this strategy “the Dream 100.”

The Dream 100 is deeply rooted in the Pareto Principle. If some buyers buy more, faster and more often than other buyers, then aren’t they worth that much more the effort? Of course they are! In numbers, if 20% of the buyers buy 80% of the products in your niche, then you can do no wrong if you spend 100% of your time and effort to get them. That’s what the Dream 100 is all about. The goal of the strategy, in Holmes’ explanation, is “to take your ideal buyers from ‘I’ve never heard of this company’ to ‘What is this company I keep hearing about?’ to ‘I think I've heard of that company’ to ‘Yes, I've heard of that company’ to ‘Yes, I do business with that company.’” How do you do that? We'll get to it in a few minutes.

No. 7: Marketing properly: the seven musts of marketing

Every company that wants to be number one in its industry must employ the following seven weapons of marketing:

  • Advertising. There are four rules for creating high-response-generating advertising. First of all, it must be distinctive. Secondly, it must capture attention with a screaming headline. Third, the body of your copy must focus on your prospect, not on you. Finally, your copy must include a call to action.
  • Direct mail. Direct mails will only work if you are regular and consistent. If you decide to use them, try to use color as much as possible to make your message more attractive. Even more importantly, try putting your main message on the envelope. Finally, make that message benefit-oriented and focused on the prospect. 
  • Corporate literature. Under corporate literature, Holmes includes brochures and all kinds of promotional pieces. To use them to their maximum potential, once again, means to align them with your prospect’s deepest needs and expectations. So, don’t use brochures to say just who you are. Use them to say why you are a solution to the problems your prospects have.
  • Public relations. Public relations include everything from press releases to show parties, from getting articles written by or about you to building relationships with journalists and community groups. Needless to add, the last one is the most important: in the 21st century, networking isn’t just a tool for opening doors, it’s also a way to do business.
  • Personal contact. According to Holmes, personal contact is “the most potent form of marketing.” In his words, “None of your marketing efforts will have as much impact on your client as personal contact with your salespeople or customer service reps.”
  • Market education. Market education is all about trade shows, speaking engagements, and education-based marketing. Done properly, they can take you from obscurity to the top in a single event. There are only three rules to preparing a great trade show: get noticed, drive traffic, and capture leads. 
  • Internet. In 1995, only 5 million people used the Internet. By the end of the second millennium, the number jumped to about 100 million people. Nowadays, virtually everyone uses the internet for everything. Hence, there are many more specialized books on the subject, but in Holmes’ opinion they all boil down to the following “five-pronged approach”: capture leads, build a relationship, interact as much as possible, offer a webinar, convert traffic to sales. Everything else is an unnecessary complication. 

No. 8: Visuals and presentations: attract and close more buyers

Leonardo da Vinci believed that the “eye embraces the beauty of the whole world.” Indeed, 85% of the information taken into the brain enters through the eyes. Moreover, humans remember only 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and over 50% of what they both hear and see. Use these factoids to prepare the presentation of your prospects’ dreams. A simple graph may relate thousands of sentences in a single second. A PowerPoint presentation is more effective than a whiteboard, but a few short and funny clips can do an even better job. Use a lot of color and different, lively fonts. Use a lot of images as well. Photos of people are particularly effective. Finally, when presenting, follow these four rules:

  1. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid. Whatever the topic, your presentation must be easy to follow and understand. Just think of all those TED talks on quantum mechanics. Do you really think the presenters know as little as their presentations relay? Of course not! But they know they must keep it simple for their listeners.
  2. K.I.F.P. Keep it fast paced. It’s the 21st century, so everybody has the attention span of a goldfish. Spend too much time on one page and prospects will get too bored. As a rule of thumb, try covering two to three panels a minute.
  3. Use “wow” facts and stats. Factual information – especially at the beginning of a presentation – creates a sense of credibility. “Wow” facts create something even better: a sense of amazement. They keep people interested and give them something to remember. So, your goal should be to literally make your client say, “Wow! I never knew that!”
  4. Build in opportunities for stories. Much better than facts, people remember stories. Stats say that well-told stories can increase recall by a whopping 26%. More importantly, stories make things much more interesting. Especially if they are interesting themselves!
  5. Your presentation should be curiosity-driven. As we already remarked, education goes before selling. Just as well, facts go before explanations. Arouse the curiosity in your prospects by telling them the “wow” detail first and then following it with a clarification. Keep your audience in constant anticipation.
  6. Think of each headline as valuable real estate. Don’t use general headers. Be as specific as possible. Work to make every headline work hard for you.
  7. Be confident, but not obnoxious. It is often confidence that determines success, but too much of it is a recipe for failure. So, tread your ground carefully. You don’t want to sound like a pretentious person. Nobody likes them.
  8. Focus on them, not on you. We all live our lives surrounded by mirrors. Becoming a good presenter, salesperson, trainer, or even a leader is about turning all of your mirrors into windows. The best way to learn your clients’ needs is by listening to them, and by asking them the right questions. Use your presentation to do that. 

No. 9: Revisiting the Dream 100: the nitty-gritty of getting the best buyers

As we already mentioned in Step No. 6 the Dream 100 effort is your plan of attack to penetrate your best buyers. In the words of Holmes, “This is the fastest way to becoming the Ultimate Sales Machine because these dream clients are the people or businesses that will buy your product or service faster, in greater quantities, and more frequently than any other buyers. Landing just a handful of these dream clients can have a seismic impact on your bottom line.” 

The reason why Holmes decided to separate the nitty-gritty of getting those best buyers from the theoretical explanation of who they are is because he believed that marketing and presenting are an essential part of the Dream 100 process. The process itself can be broken down to the following six steps: 1) Choose your Dream 100; 2) Choose the gifts; 3) Create your Dream 100 letters; 4) Create your Dream 100 calendar; 5) Conduct Dream 100 follow-up phone calls; and 6) Present the executive briefing. Let’s see what they mean in practice.

The Dream 100 process begins with a market analysis. That’s the only way you’re going to find your ideal buyer. Next, you must wait for an opportunity – a national holiday, say – to surprise them with a small gift. Be aware that the gift must clearly express your care and interest, but should never qualify as a bribe. A Rubik’s Cube or a paddleball are great gift ideas of this kind. Whatever the gift, however, it must always be accompanied with a short, captivating letter, tying the gift in some clever way. Just as in everything else, put strategy before tactics even when penning your letter.

Follow your gift with a friendly phone call. When the time’s appropriate – say, a few phone calls later – ask if you may do a presentation for the buyer. Do some research to discover what their biggest issue is and use this knowledge to prepare the primarily informative presentation. At the crucial moment, reveal your “smoking gun,” that is to say the piece of evidence that proves you can solve your buyer’s main problem better than your competitors. Your goal, at first, should be to get just one ideal buyer. This should make it easier for you to get the next one. It wouldn’t be long before you manage to double and triple your sales!

No. 10: Selling skills: training your sellers

Most companies leave too much of the sales process up to their individual salespeople. But would a conductor ever leave that much of the performance to the abilities of his first violinist or his main pianist? Without proper training, even superstar sellers will seem average when their mood or attitude isn’t at the level expected from them. As entrepreneur James Clear once remarked, nobody rises to the level of their goals – we all fall to the level of our systems. In other words, rather than just superstar sellers, you also need a selling system. To establish it, try implementing these few steps:

  1. Establish rapport. Don’t see your buyers as sources of your income only – see them as friends as well. If you are friends with your clients, other salespeople will have a more difficult time to take them away from you. To establish rapport, provide information that helps your client. Ask questions. Be funny and empathetic, and even more importantly, be a good supportive ear. Find a common ground.
  2. Qualify the buyer. Qualifying buyers means “finding out what they are looking for in your product or service and what factors will influence them to buy.” Use questions to go as deep as possible.
  3. Build value. Once you know your customers’ buying criteria, it will be a lot easier to build value around your product or service. For now, be just informative and educational, not persuasive or persistent.
  4. Create desire. Make your client want your product right now. Lead them through a series of questions and stories that will intensify their sense of need for your products and services. Present killer data and “wow” facts. Feign scarcity and urgency.
  5. Overcome objections. Don’t ever take “no” for an answer. For a superstar seller, an objection is never a setback, but an opportunity to close. So, try isolating your client’s objection by asking them questions of this kind: “Is money the only thing standing between you and this product? If you could afford it, would you buy it?” If the answer is “yes,” this is a great moment to mention a one-of-a-kind discount offer.
  6. Close the sale. By isolating your client’s objections one by one, you should be able to present the sale as a logical outcome. At this point, stop selling. Help your prospect make the decision. Hand him the pen.
  7. Follow up. The final step is following up. Staying close to your customers is so important that Holmes’ penultimate strategy for building the Ultimate Sales Machine is precisely about it. So, that’s where we’re heading next! 

No. 11: Following up: how to keep clients forever

Follow-up is not just the seventh step of every sale, but it is also the most important one when it comes to recurring revenue. That’s why you must consider your follow-up during every step of the sales process. As a rule, your follow-up will only be as good as your first six steps are. After closing the sale, these are the 10 steps you should follow to keep your client forever:

  1. Send the first follow-up letter. Send a letter to your client within an hour or two of your meeting. Make them feel happy that they’ve bought from you.
  2. Make the first follow-up call. Not that long after sending the first follow-up letter, make the first follow-up call. Don’t make this call about you and your company, but about your client, and his problems and challenges.
  3. Share something amusing. Selling, as we already said, isn’t just about getting the money, but about establishing rapport with your client as well. So, after you’ve closed a sale with an ideal buyer, start communicating properly with them. Send them a meme from time to time. Or something of personal interest. Once again, “don’t sell, just schmooze.”
  4. Throw a party, share a meal, and bond like crazy. Throwing a party is probably the best way to bond with your client. If that’s financially draining, try to ease into your client's life by inviting them to a meal. Breakfast and lunch spell “good rapport,” but dinner spells “lifetime customer.”
  5. Send another email/letter/card. You must always be at the top of your customer’s mind. And once you get there, you must never let go. So, send something to your client not just after a sale, but also after your shared meal. Make it short and interesting.
  6. Plan something fun (that can include the family). Try inviting your clients to join you in fun activities such as boating, tennis, hot air ballooning, or scuba diving. The more experiences you share with them, the less likely it is that they will ever leave you.
  7. Offer something to help their business. Friendship is about giving much more than it is about getting. So, once you’ve established a bond with your client, start treating them as you would a friend. Tell them things that might be helpful to them. They will appreciate it and will certainly pay you back.
  8. Send another email/letter/card. Keep sending follow-up notes and jokes. To be permanently bonded, your client needs to hear from you often.
  9. Offer more help. By this step, you will have already become a trusted confidant to your clients. Hence, they will probably ask you to help them on an occasion or two. Don’t decline it.
  10. Invite them to your home. When a client comes to your house – or invites you to theirs – we’re talking about an unbreakable bond. Needless to say, this is the ultimate follow-up.

No. 12: All systems go: setting goals and measuring effectiveness

As Peter Drucker, the godfather of management, remarked once famously, “What gets measured, gets managed – even when it's pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organization to do so.” In other words, tracking the numbers is not just important, but also vital. Without it, you won’t know how well you’re doing. However, even with it you won’t know how far you’ve come unless there are benchmarks, that is, objectives which must be met. For this reason, goal setting and measuring effectiveness is the twelfth and last core skill area of the Ultimate Sales Machine. It’s the one that “soups up all 11 that come before it.”

Setting goals, in Holmes’ explanation, “is not simply about writing them down periodically – although that is a part of it – but about mastering your focus so that achieving those goals happens quickly and automatically.” Without goals, strategies don’t exist, and without them, even when your tactics work, they may work for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong directions. In Holmes’ opinion, to master the art of setting goals, you must first master the art of positive thinking. There are many self-help books that may help you achieve this, but the essence is that you can change your behaviors by merely changing your mindset. Well, the same holds true for every member of your company, and your company itself.

So, organize a goal-writing workshop. Ask every one of your employees to write down their lifetime and their annual goals, in addition to the desired annual outcome for the next five years. May they also write three things they will do each month to improve their life, their performance, their department – and the company in general. Post each of these lists at an appropriate location so that everyone could see them often. Turn them into checklists, so that you turn the realization of your dreams and the dreams of your employees into a friendly competition. Trust us, there will probably be no losers from the contest. Challenge your employees to be their best selves – and they won’t disappoint you!

Final notes

“The Ultimate Sales Machine” has been often lauded as one of the ultimate sales books ever. Even though some of it feels a bit outdated – nobody sends letters anymore, let alone faxes – there are indeed only a few books in the category that are as systematic and thorough as Chet Holmes’ classic. Recommended.

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Who wrote the book?

Chet Holmes was a much-admired corporate trainer, described by Brian Tracy as “one of the greatest teachers of marketing, sales and business success in the world.” In 1995, he founded Chet Holmes International, a world-ren... (Read more)