I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Maven, a hyper sales growth professional, who's case studies have been seen in Forbes, Inc, Business Insider, SUCCESS, Fortune, USA Today, HuffPost and more.
1. How did you get you start in the sales and marketing world?
In 2001 I was seeing software for sale on eBay. I bought the top 5 programs, combined all their features, added my own and sold the best software in this category. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell.
I was confused as to why because I knew for a fact I had the best product. I stumbled across a ‘how to write sales copy’ pdf file once, and my sales took off. I was making a full time salary working 1 hour a day sending out purchases manually via email and replying to questions I’d received. That led me into a further path of learning marketing and understanding the psychology of sales, and that never stopped.
2. What was the best piece of advice you were given early on in your career?
If you focus on any end goal, and are persistent, you will get what you want.
Unfortunately, I didn’t discover how important it was to have clarity around that end goal until a lot later in life. If you’re ultra-clear on what you want to achieve and can articulate it with a diamond finish, you are more than 50% of the way to achieving it already.
You can’t fly a plane to an end destination without knowing the precise exact co-ordinates of that location.
3. In one of your Forbes articles you talk about how 80% of people live their lives following an emotional micro path. “When they feel like eating junk food, they eat junk food. They get fat, have low energy and overall low quality of life.” Do you think business owners and businesses fall into the same patterns that can slow the growth of their business down?
Can you speak to specific examples?
Yes, that applies to people in general so it applies to business owners and businesses because both are people, or are run by people.
The overall point is that people don’t think about their actions, they just spend their lives reacting emotionally most of the time.
A common occurrence is that a business owner may have a specific skillset, and build a business around that skillset. Say for example they are a good marketer, so they start a firm helping clients with their marketing.
At this point, they may spend 90% of their day actually running marketing campaigns for their clients, and doing what they do best, getting results.
But soon, the company grows, and their day is filled with emails from clients, meetings and other nonsense tasks that always make their way to the person at the top. They now spend 60% of their day on putting out fires that another team member could easily be doing. Now, only 40% of their day is spent in their key skill which is marketing for their clients. There is no way you can grow like this, but it’s a very common situation.
The sad thing is whilst doing this, they’re getting more stressed, which leads them to eat crap to make them feel better, which actually makes them fat and gives them even less energy to focus on their business that now needs more of their energy and attention. It’s a mess, but happens all the time.
It’s the exact same behaviour that screws them over in business, health and life. Most people don’t even realize this is happening to them.
4. You also talk about “ROAR thinking” - where the top 1% live their lives, in Ratio of Accurate Results Thinking. This is the notion you want to achieve excellence, by maximizing your impact from every action taken. You give the example, if a business had 1 in every 10 visitors buy, the ROAR thinker would investigate, learn how to make 2 in 10 visitors buy. Then 3.
The Roar thinker is always working on “out-thinking the competition, busting their gut trying to increase that ratio and get people in the store.
With your popular example of the true story of “Moneyball” and Billy Beane trying to build a winning baseball team with a very limited budget. Do you think we are going to start to see a lot more smaller Saas/tech companies competing with larger more backed VC companies in the next 5-10 years? Do you currently think prices of larger VC backed companies reflect the true market value of the product or a result of a total need for growth and return of venture capital?
Why or why not?
We don’t need to wait, small companies are already killing larger companies. Google was unknown and working away in someone’s garage while Yahoo and Microsoft were having a search engine war. Look where Google is now.
Airbnb is killing the hotel industry today. Nexflix killed Blockbuster when Blockbuster should have totally owned streaming video today. Facebook killed Google+ and Hi5 and MySpace.
The fact is that company size means nothing, people just think it does. Those companies are proof.
You need to solve a problem, do it faster and more conveniently than anyone else and know how to get that word out so you can get users onboard. Whoever does that most efficiently in the market will win.
In fact, it’s often harder for larger companies to do this because they’re so big and constipated when it comes to doing what is necessary to succeed. They’re tied to legacy and generally have no one looking at the current landscape and what needs to be done to win today. It’s stuff like that which made Nokia laugh at the original iPhone.
Traditional companies play the game according to the market that used to exist. They drive forward looking backwards. Just look at the traditional travel agent vs companies like Expedia. Exact same market, but very different approaches.
While the new companies are out being dynamic and solving problems, big companies get stuck playing the short term Q1 Q2 game that they need to play in order to please investors. There is a long list of reasons this happens that vary by industry, and it’s not always about selling the most product.
It’s been a broken model for ages. The only difference is now the technology has evened out the playing field and those who continue to play according to old rules like that are going to get their asses handed to them. Look at Toys R Us.
As for accurate prices of investor/VC backed companies vary across the board. Some are underpriced, some are correctly priced and some are grossly overvalued. Look at the mess with Theranos and you’ll see how it can all go wrong.
5. What do you think the top local businesses will leverage to gain a competitive advantage in the next 2-3 years? Regardless if you’re a dentist, chiropractor, restaurant owner etc?
Overall customer/patient experience, convenience in delivery/consumption for the buyer and individual company story/product positioning.
It depends on your market, but companies can do a lot of different things to gain a real advantage over the competition. The trick is talking to your market to understand the pain points and reasons that they buy products and then build those into your product and service.
Knowing how to do this properly, asking the right questions and truly immersing yourself into understanding your buyers’ lives is the path forward, but no one wants to do this because they really don’t know how important it is, and it takes real work.
It’s literally the reason our clients see such gains and kill everyone else, because if you get it right, you can increase your efficiency and outspend everyone else to acquire new customers and patients and still make a killing. Meanwhile your competition is sitting there wondering how they can lower their Cost Per Acquisition instead of profitably increasing it to dominate their market - that’s a big mistake.
6. Your website says that “Hyper competition in todays’ faster market, brings more revenue challenges. Standing out in the crowd is tough. You need to be the 'obvious choice' to your buyer.” How does this apply to local businesses, and what are some strategies they can implement to stand out?
You need to know what’s important to your buyer and capture that mindshare. It’s learning about their pain points, common issues and objections they have when they use services like yours and then installing things they really want to see when they visit a business like yours.
Someone who has this right 100% is a sandwich chain called Pret. They position themselves as fresh handmade food, readymade in small batches. Their artwork is clever, so they might make a peacock out of an avocado etc.
It all screams fresh and healthy. The truth is that you can get a fresher sandwich at a deli (where it’s made fresh to order). Also, the amount of calories in a sandwich can be very high with lots of carbs and sugar. They say their ingredients have no air miles but they still come via boat, which still uses fuel.
So the truth is that they’re not that different to other sandwich chains but they are positioned like they are. Last time I look I think they were doing £700m+ in annual revenue, and that’s UK pounds sterling. Not bad for a sandwich chain.
My team actually did an analysis of exactly how Pret do this, the touch-points they use to push their message, took secret pictures in various stores, how they position themselves, the lot. We use it as part of the process we use to help position our client’s businesses.
We haven’t released this info publicly but we may do in the future. It’s killer info, and any business on Earth can position themselves like this if you know how to do it.
6. What do you think the biggest reason business owners don’t understand why marketing is the most important and often ignored for many small businesses?
Businesses disrespect marketing because they think product is king. They fall in love with the process of building and developing a product.
They spend so much time on this then realize that product quality alone doesn’t sell products. It might have done once in 1884 when you lived in a small town and there were only two mousetrap sellers, but not in today’s world where we have so much competition and noise.
It’s not fair, but it is true. The quality of your product alone will not help you become the market leader.
It’s also similar for revenue generation. The company that sells the most product, doesn’t always make the most revenue.
For example, I wrote a Forbes article that showed Samsung and Apple both sold similar numbers of phone units in Q4 of 2017. But when it comes to revenue, Samsung made $19 billion on handset sales, and Apple made $61 billion on handset sales.
Just the facts alone should tell you product is not king, if you’re trying to maximize revenue. Things like this take place because of marketing, positioning, pricing and a mixture of product quality too, but it is definitely not product quality alone.
That is why so many people build ‘high quality’ products that people don’t want to buy.
The truth is that marketing and innovation is the only thing that drives revenue. Everything else in a business is cost. Peter Drucker once said that and if you think about it, you have to respect marketing.
That’s why I got into marketing. It’s the only thing you can put money into and really leverage in order to get a 2X, 3X, 4X or even higher return.
7. What’s your biggest business failure, and how can others learn from it?
With my first business, a novelty products store, I discovered I was just in love with my own idea, because I like weird geeky stuff. Looking at monthly figures, there wasn’t much interest after I introduced the product to the market. Although I was surprised (because surely my own idea was the greatest thing ever), I couldn’t deny the truth staring me in the face.
With my second, a design service, I discovered I wasn’t really offering a perceived difference with my product. I was just one of a thousand other me-too businesses offering a service that already existed, at least in the customers’ minds.
In both of these cases, no amount of passion or determination would have saved the business. I was eventually forced to pay attention to the numbers and remain objective, even though it was painful to admit I was failing.
So you really need to have a grip on reality and make sure you are solving a market problem with your business and have a different perceived edge that people want.
8. In your opinion, what are some of the best marketing channels in 2019 for any brick and motor businesses?
It all depends on what you can spend to bring someone in. I know companies who still use direct mail profitably. Print ads still work, especially if you go into niches.
You have to think of the passion index. If someone is reading a small magazine/newsletter on some obscure topic, they will read every word and related ads will work well.
However, if you advertise in Vogue for more than $30 CPM (a base level I like to start with) then you’re going to have a tough time making that ad work, and will need a super offer to bring people in.
At this point you can turn the ad into a two-step lead gen offer, but even then you have to be skillful with a wide appeal type of health/wealth/personal development offer.
More recently, you can use Instagram stories and FB ads too, and it can work to bring people in. If you’re looking to spend smart, run interesting videos to your target market cold, then run a second ad targeting those who watched 50% or more of your video, and hit them with an offer now that they’re warm.
9. What’s your favourite marketing book of all time?
It’s tough to pick one, but I like old stuff that just covers the basic cornerstones of human psychology and selling. Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins and Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz are good but may be tough to find, I think BA was recently reissued actually.
More currently, try Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes for overall strategy and tactics and for higher priced sales try the Challenger Sale Dixson/Adamson. Positioning by Ries/Trout is another good one.
I know you said book as a singular, but there is never one of anything, success is always a recipe and never comes down to a single thing but as humans our minds are geared to focus on one thing at a time so ‘what is the one thing’ is always a popular question.
There’s never just one single ingredient that makes a good cake. To be honest, I read a lot, I could sit here all day naming books!
10. Who are currently following in the marketing and advertising world?
For marketing that actually sells product, all roads lead back to uncle Dan Kennedy, and I’m not even joking. I follow a lot more, but that is the resource you need if you’re serious about growing sales.
If you’re hiring for a marketing role, ask them who they follow and if DK is mentioned, you’re probably in good hands, haha.