10 ways to turn your inexperience into an asset

You’re starting a business. But you lack experience.

You’re worried that people won’t take you seriously or that they will question the level of value you can provide. You’ve heard the “fake it ’til you make it” motto, which is easy to say but difficult to live out authentically.

Good news: I’ve been there. So has every other business owner. Ever. Don’t let your inexperience keep you from moving forward and even succeeding in your new business. If you feel that you lack the experience necessary to be successful, here are some ways to turn your lack of experience into an asset:

  1. Become a “newbie-expert” — someone who soaks up the lessons of the existing industry experts and distills it down in a way that other inexperienced people understand. Don’t try to be the peer of the expert. Instead, become an expert to the people who are just like you. You’ll have the advantage because you’re speaking their language!
  2. Become an innovator. You don’t have to have experience if you break new ground in an industry. You can enter this new industry and break the rules that industry insiders think are unbreakable.
  3. Research the gurus in your market right now and find the common things that they are all saying… then say the opposite. Become the contrarian in your niche.
  4. If someone calls you out on your lack of experience, point out that you aren’t shackled by the preconceptions held by most of the others in your industry.
  5. In industries where prospects put a lot of trust into you as an individual (i.e. if you’re a financial advisor), sell your “hunger” and “hustle” as the real reasons people should hire you. Lots of people like someone with hustle compared to an experienced and successful person who is complacent.
  6. As a new person in an industry, you’ll be able to clearly see problems and gaps that the more experienced people have ignored and worked around. Solve THOSE problems and fill THOSE gaps and you’ll carve out a unique place in an existing industry!
  7. If you’re moving from one industry to another, don’t discard everything you learned from your previous industry. Leverage your previous industry experience by finding ways to weave it into your current work. I know a real estate investor who used to be a cop. Two different industries. But he is very good at weaving his law enforcement background into the due diligence and mentoring he does as a real estate investor. Find ways to bring best practices from your old industry into your new industry.
  8. Even though there might be industry differences, some things don’t change from one industry to the next. For example: Prospects with problems buy products or services that provide a valuable solution. That’s the same no matter where you go. So instead of getting specific about your experience, generalize your previous-industry experience to make it relevant to your current-industry.
  9. Start a blog and write about your foray into a new industry. That becomes part of your story. You’ll quickly gain experience AND respect as people see you learn. Keep the blog going as a journal of your experience. It will become invaluable to you and to others.
  10. If it’s business experience you lack, don’t try to start something on your own. Partner with someone else (perhaps someone who possesses business experience but not industry experience!) and put your individual expertise together.

6 sales funnel tips for real estate professionals

Getting and keeping clients in your real estate practice can be so challenging: There’s a lot of competition and customers only buy once every 5 to 7 years. You have to fight for every Lead and nurture that Lead into a Customer.

To help you succeed in the intense real estate profession, here are 6 sales funnel tips that you can use to grow your practice:

  1. Differentiate. There are so many real estate professionals out there and they’re all promising the exact same thing. As a result, Customers don’t know or care who they go to, to buy or sell a home, because they don’t perceive a difference. Don’t be a real estate pro that’s just like everyone other real estate pro! Set yourself apart! Last year, I wrote a series called “5 marketing tactics Realtors commonly use that can hurt their business” and I talked about differentiating the following situations: Offering free home valuations, promising to give great service, using schtick (like a chicken costume) to capture attention, guaranteeing a home sale, calling yourself a “city expert”.
  2. Ramp up the emotional quotient of your marketing. Buying or selling a house might be commonplace for you but it’s thrilling and scary for everyone else. Lots of real estate professionals do a good job of trying to portray confidence and success in their marketing, to assure Customers that they know what they are doing. Customers want to feel that. But they also want to know that you understand and empathize with their extreme feelings. Unfortunately, not very many professionals empathize with the emotions that their potential buyers or sellers are experiencing. Take another look at your marketing content and see if you can take the emotional level up a notch. For example, buying a house for a growing family isn’t just about proximity to schools and parks. It’s about giving children a safe place to play with friends and learn so they can grow up to be whatever they want to be. Or, selling a house for empty-nesters isn’t just about downsizing now that the kids are gone. It’s about an indulgent reward for the years of sacrificial parenting (while also sensibly preparing for the joys of grandparenting).
  3. Define the stages and steps in your funnel. Most real estate professionals work hard to acquire Leads, but too many pros use the “shotgun” approach: They get names, follow up with some of them, and maybe convert a small few. That’s because there isn’t a clear sense of the journey that these potential buyers or sellers are on. When you know what steps your sales funnel contacts typically take, you’ll be able to sort your Leads better. This results in better communication and faster sales (because you’re prioritizing your contacts). Check out this blog post about how to identify the steps in your sales funnel.
  4. Segment your list. As you meet new potential buyers or sellers, learn more about them and use that information to segment them. By doing this, you’ll see which ones are the most profitable and you’ll be able tailor your services to them. Use this list of 55 target market questions to help you understand who your Customers are and how you can help them the most. That doesn’t mean you won’t help anyone else, but it does mean that you can become an expert in some aspect of real estate that will attract your most profitable Customers.
  5. Stay in closer contact. When I bought my (current) house about 7 years ago, my real estate agent was really helpful. Until the day we got the keys. I never heard from him again after that. No calendar. No fridge magnet. No Christmas card. I know he’s still a real estate agent because I bumped into him not that long ago. But before the rest of the real estate industry pats on the back for distributing calendars each year, consider this: I get tons of calendars from real estate professionals. So do my neighbors and friends. The next real estate agent I call to sell my house and help me buy a new one won’t be one of the calendar-givers who think they are staying in touch with me (but don’t know me from a hole in the ground). Rather, I’ll list my house and buy a new one with with someone I’ve built a relationship with. And a calendar isn’t a relationship. Get closer to your customers. Show up in their lives from time to time. Get onto their speed dial. Get invited to their kid’s soccer game.
  6. Get referrals. Since most people move every 5-7 years, staying connected with your customers is important to get that sale every 5 to 7 years. But what will you do for the interim 5-7 years? Remember that they have friends and those friends will also need a real estate professional. Get people talking about your business. Differentiation helps, so does remaining in close contact with your customers; however, the most effective way to grow your real estate practice profitably is to create an army of Evangelists. Check out the Evangelist Equation to learn how to get more of your Customers filling your sales funnel for you.

What Hollywood can teach you about creating a successful sales funnel

I’m looking forward to two movies this summer — The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides. (Feel free to draw your own conclusions about me based on that confession). Although I PVR everything and tend to fast forward through the commercials, I’ll usually stop fast forwarding and play previews for these movies.

These two movies (and movies like them), my wife and I call them “theater movies” because we’ll happily go and pay to watch them in the theater (as opposed to “renters” that we’ll watch on Netflix).

Hollywood, of course, wants lots of theater-goers and so, as summer approaches, we are all being drawn in to Hollywood’s sales funnels.

Yes, Hollywood has sales funnels. Every business has a sales funnel and the studios that make movies each have their own sales funnels.

This “Hollywood sales funnel” works well (hey, many of them make a ton of money) and it can teach business owners a thing or two about how to create a successful sales funnel.

THE HOLLYWOOD SALES FUNNEL

The Hollywood sales funnel goes something like this:

The Audience stage: You and I are sitting there, on the couch, eating Doritos and watching the latest episode of The Chicago Code or Grey’s Anatomy. We’re drawn into the story. Clearly, we want to be entertained (or, at the very least, we have nothing better to do), which makes us the perfect candidate for… commercials! Including a movie trailer.

A movie trailer is a teaser. A movie trailer tends to follow a classic format and its ultimate purpose is to capture our attention and make us want more! It’s meant to win over audiences that aren’t paying attention or even thinking about the summer right now. It’s meant to force us to ask questions and wonder how the hero/heroine got themselves into this predicament and how they’ll get out of it.

What’s noticeable is that it isn’t meant to tell the whole story. Only just enough to capture our interest. For people who don’t like movies about hangovers or pirates, then trailers for The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides aren’t going to capture their attention. But for people who can relate (because they’ve had hangovers) or for people who aspire (to be pirates or at least to a life of vicarious adventure), these trailers will capture their attention. (Note: Just in case it’s not obvious, this is the case for every trailer. People might relate to an underdog and want to watch a movie where an unlikely hero is drawn into threatening circumstances; or people might aspire to true love and want to watch a movie where a boy meets a girl then loses the girl then woos her and they live happily ever after).

Movie trailers act as a “sorting mechanism”, enticing Audience members who are likely to become customers while being ignored by those who won’t likely become customers.

The Lead stage: We’ve just seen a trailer for a movie that seemed interesting. We pause to think about it. We ask the questions (“how did the hero get in that situation?”). We think ahead to the summer. That’s all that Hollywood wants us to do at this stage in the sales funnel. Just think a little further about the movie. Not much, just a bit. We turn to the person sitting on the couch and we say something like “that might be interesting to watch” or “I’d love to see Ian McShane as Blackbeard”.

From time to time, we see branded messages that triggers the same feelings of relation or aspiration: Maybe it’s a billboard of the movie or a newspaper ad that says “in theaters soon” or we see the trailer again or we visit the website or we hear a review or we spot the movie poster. Whatever.

Although the message is very similar to the message presented in the Audience stage, it allows us to go deeper. We see new trailers or we think about the old trailers a little more. We catch nuances we missed the first time. We ask new questions. We’re presented with the message over and over. That message is: “I want to see this movie because [whatever].”

Then…

The Prospect stage:It’s a summer weekend. It’s humid. We’ve worked all week and deserve a break. We’re wondering what to do on a Friday night. One person says “how about dinner and a movie?”

Dinner’s the easy part. Someone suggests a favorite restaurant and no one disagrees. But a movie — you check the listings and, what do you know, YOUR movie is playing! The one you’ve been thinking about. The one that looked really good. It’s settled then.

The Customer stage: You drive to the theater. You buy tickets and popcorn and soda and licorice… and you love the movie.

The Evangelist stage: The movie is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that you want to immediately tell your friends. After all, they love hangovers and pirates just as much as you do, so the thinking is: If you liked it, they will love it. You call, text, blog, tweet, or somehow share your excitement about the movie to your friends and they go to the theater the next week and watch.

And THAT is the Hollywood sales funnel.

WHAT THE HOLLYWOOD SALES FUNNEL CAN TEACH YOU

This sales funnel works. Studios and actors make billions of dollars a year because of this sales funnel. Here’s what your business can learn from the Hollywood sales funnel.

The Audience stage is about finding the right audience — a target market who is in a receptive state — and tease them. Give them something to think about/talk about/question. It could be a headline or a compelling AdWords ad. It could be a strange graphic or a controversial tweet. Something that captures your Audience’s attention and makes them want more.

The Lead stage is about presenting a consistent branded message again and again that helps your Lead go deeper. It’s still enticing them (like the Audience stage did), but it gives some answers and raises more questions. Ultimately, the Lead should be left wondering “this sounds interesting… I want to know more.”

The Prospect stage is about finding the intersection between the contact’s need (“I want to watch that movie” or “I want to warm my food” or “I need a reliable car”) and the opportunity to buy (“It’s Friday and the movie is in the theater!” or “here’s a microwave and it happens to be on sale!” or “with financing, I can buy a red one!”).

That’s when they become a Customer.

The Customer stage is fulfilling on the promise. Some businesses stop there but smart businesses fulfill on the promise made in such a way that the Customer feels they received value and it compels them to move on to…

The Evangelist stage. This is where the Evangelist is so excited about your product or service that they call, text, blog, tweet, or somehow share their excitement about your product or service with their friends… and then those friends buy the same thing.

Hollywood’s movies are great moments of excitement and entertainment and escape. But their sales funnels are based on years of successful strategy and measurement and they work. As you develop your sales funnel, ask yourself this: “If my business were a movie, would this part of my sales funnel entice the sales funnel contact to want to come to the theater and pay to watch?

Just read: ‘Bobby Flay Interview: How a Famous Foodie Got His Start’ at Wall Street Journal

I don’t usually watch a lot of TV — too many other things vie for my attention. But I have one big weakness: The Food Network channel. My wife and I love to try new foods and cook and entertain, so it’s a channel we both love to watch.

Recently, we noticed that Bobby Flay appeared in 3 1-hour shows on the Food Network — his own show, a special tour-of-Ireland show, and as an Iron Chef in Iron Chef America. This guy has a huge share of air time on the Food Network!

This article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention — it describes Bobby Flay’s rise to fame from being a high school dropout to running a massive cooking empire. It’s sort of a rags-to-riches story, which is always enjoyable to read about.

But take note: Flay started gaining some success in his mid-20’s but he started cooking at 17. His really significant success came around age 26. And right now his success is truly peaking and he’s 46. So this is a rags-to-riches story but it’s not an overnight success story.

Bobby Flay Interview: How a Famous Foodie Got His Start – WSJ.com.

After you’ve read this article, think about your own business aspirations and goals. What is going well and where are you struggling? How long have you been in business? Are you working hard toward that “someday” success or are you impatiently wondering why you haven’t struck gold yet? This is a huge struggle for entrepreneurs because they place a big bet on their business and they want a big, fast pay-off. When that doesn’t happen, they can become discouraged.

If you want to be truly successful as an entrepreneur, take note of the hard-working, persistent Bobby Flay, and be sure to read my blog post: The entrepreneur’s silver bullet.

How one company is stealing customers from its competitor’s sales funnel

Thanks to my friend Ken Symes for letting me know about this great sales funnel story.

Okay, before I can tell you about this story, I need to give you a bit of context because many of you are from around the world. Here’s something you need to know about Canada:

Tim Hortons is a coffee shop but it might as well be Canada’s religion. There are other coffee shops in Canada, of course (there are at least 3 Starbucks within a five minute drive from my house). There are also regional coffee shops like a company called Country Style, who are building a presence in Ontario and trying to win out against the Canadian’s default choice: Tim Hortons.

Think of it this way: Tim Hortons is the McDonalds of Canadian coffee. And Country Style is like Wisconsin Burger — serving the good people of just one state and battling against the juggernaut.

Now on to my blog post…

On a regular basis (annually? Maybe more frequently), Tim Hortons has a promotion called “Roll Up the Rim to Win”. You buy a coffee, drink it, and then roll up the rim to reveal if you’ve won a prize. You might win a car, a donut, or all kinds of other stuff. Of course there are lots and lots of “try again” rims. Tim Hortons is already INSANELY popular when they’re not running the promotion but they become even crazier during their Roll Up the Rim contest.

So how do smaller companies like Country Style win out against Tim Hortons? They aren’t national so they don’t have the the same reach as Tim Hortons. They don’t have the same fanatical consumer base as Tim Hortons. As a result of those two things, they don’t have nearly the budget to market a similar promotion or offer prizes on the scale of Tim Hortons.

But they don’t have to. Instead, Country Style did something quite clever: They are creating their own buzz and stealing customers from Tim Hortons’ sales funnel.

They’re doing this with a promotion called “Sorry Try Again” and basically it works like this: If you bring a Tim Hortons rim to a Country Style location, you get a free coffee.

This can, at first, sound like a backwards promotion: Customers are paying Tim Hortons and then they’re getting a free coffee at Country Style. However, if Country Style wants to win marketshare away from Tim Hortons, this is a good way to do it: That first free coffee becomes a loss leader with the hopes that the customer will taste it and say “oh, this is as good as Tim Hortons coffee… maybe I’ll avoid the crazy lineups every morning and stop at Country Style instead.”

As well, Country Style knows that few people buy ONLY a coffee. They probably buy a coffee for themselves and their friend. Or they buy a coffee and a donut. Which makes this promotion a good way to increase non-coffee sales or to mitigate losses from their loss leader.

It is a risky move: They could give away tons of free coffee and not gain anything from it. And they currently don’t have a chance of gaining significant marketshare from Tim Hortons. However, they should be able to at least present themselves to some people as a viable alternative… and that could be the foot in the door they need.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU
If you are the scrappy underdog who is competing against a juggernaut of a competitor (who has a seemingly unending marketing budget), it’s time to steal their customers. If they run a promotion, don’t bother running a similar promotion. Instead, find a way to get into their promotion!