I enjoyed The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes because it was very self-aware.
As Chet himself notes in the earlier chapters, the advice he gives is stuff EVERYONE has heard before. But what makes the difference in this book is how Chet gives you practical examples so you can “see” them in action.
Here’s the 8 biggest takeaways from the book.
A Summary of The ultimate Sales Machine
You might be asking …
Dave, is this really a summary? It’s 4,000+ words!
First off, I just really enjoy writing summaries of books for marketers.
Secondly, writing this book summary was really tough — since there’s so many juicy stories in the book!
But then I realized … the stories are precisely why The Ultimate Sales Machine is constantly recommended by top marketers and salespeople. Without them, the book is just a collection of generic advice that you wouldn’t remember.
So I just included as many stories as I could without driving myself crazy, or spoiling the book too much.
Here we go:
1. REFRAME THE CONCEPT OF “SALES” — IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT GETTING SOMEONE TO GIVE YOU MONEY. INSTEAD, ADD VALUE. EVERYTHING ELSE WILL FALL INTO PLACE.
Superstar salespeople play a longer game than average joes.
They start from a mindset where they genuinely seek to make people’s lives more enjoyable. When they become a trusted resource, even a friend, and the sales will inevitably follow.
Chet puts this into action with content marketing and drip campaigns, and tells several anecdotes of successful examples throughout the book:
“WE NEED YOU TO BE SUCCESSFUL”
Chet was once hired by a hardware supplier who was struggling to get more sales from a certain set of manufacturing companies. So he commissioned research on the manufacturing industry, then organized a seminar highlighting key insights from the research.
He then cold-called senior executives in those firms, hitting them with something like:
…As you know, our business relies on manufacturers to be successful. So we commissioned a study that talks about the most serious problems that manufacturing companies have. Whether you ever do business with us or not, you should know some of this data we’ve gathered on being successful in your marketplace.
In the eyes of execs, this positioned him as a valuable, trustworthy resource, which made it much easier to sell them things later on.
“IF I JUST SENT IT TO YOU, YOU’D NEVER READ IT.”
In another case, he did a direct mail campaign where the call to action was to call for a free industry report.
Chet needed a bit of maneuvering here, since his end goal was to get an invitation to the prospect’s office and meet the decision makers.
Here’s how he turned a call for a report into a face to face meeting:
…Oh, it’s not just a PDF we send you with data. It’s much better than that. If we just sent you a report with raw data, you wouldn’t get the most out of it. To go the extra mile, we made it an awesome orientation that we present live in your office. Most of our competitors have already seen it or they’re scheduled to see it.
It takes about 38 minutes to show. We can do it over your lunch break, we’ll even buy the food. Why do we do this? For PR – we like building relationships and get to talk to people like you in person, and we get to share information that makes us all successful. Do you have your calendar handy?
WHEN FREELOADERS ARE WORTH IT
The value-first-sell-later approach also works in consumer sales.
Chet was hired to help a business struggling with selling their inventory of boats. He found that they were too focused on selling only to people who were already in the market for boats.
He realized that they would be more successful if they increased the number of total number of people who want boats.
So, using his value-first approach, he mass-mailed people who lived in an upscale area:
For a limited time, and only to people in your position, we are offering a boat day. We’ll take your family out for a day of boating!
This approach worked because the average price of one sale justified all the freeloaders who had no intention of buying. At the very least, he was able to put himself in the company of wealthy people, which gave him insights that would help him close someone who was interested in buying.
By reframing the entire sales process as a way to add value, he was not only able to consistently get access to decision makers, he also got them to view him as a trustworthy resource.
2. IDENTIFY YOUR BEST POSSIBLE CUSTOMERS, THEN GO AFTER THEM. ASSUME IT WILL BE HARD TO GET THEM, BUT BELIEVE YOU’LL EVENTUALLY GET THEM.
One of the great things about The Ultimate Sales Machine is that you really get a sense of how Chet’s confidence leads to his success. His confidence insulates him from any obstacles and setbacks, as he simply believes that success is inevitable.
This confidence is key for his strategy of going after the “best” clients, the 20% of clients that will drive 80% of results. A few stories from some big wins:
A LETTER EVERY WEEK FOR TWO YEARS
Chet wanted to partner with Jay Abraham, a famous marketing consultant and author. Creating a partnership with Jay would be huge for Chet. He committed to calling Jay or sending a letter every week for as long as it took to get on his radar. Eventually — after two years — Jay’s business manager called Chet and invited him to have lunch with Jay, and they eventually created a lucrative partnership.
This is kinda like how Noah Kagan sent a magazine subscription to one of his sales targets.
DARE TO GO AFTER BIG FISH
Don’t be afraid to ask. Dare to go after big fish, it’s easier than you think. Chet wanted Wells Fargo as a client, so he cold-called the CEO. He was expecting the usual 3 to 6 months of rejections before he got access to him, but to his surprise, he got a call back right away and he was able to sign him as a client. The lesson: just because it seems impossible doesn’t mean it will be. Always try.
BUILD FAILURE INTO YOUR PROCESS
Don’t always assume that you will get that meeting or close the sale after 1 pitch. Expect to be rejected. Expect to have to work and put in more effort. Chet says that it takes “8.4 rejections” to get to a meeting, so don’t give up after the first “no”. He trains his salespeople to contact a prospect 12 times, and tells them to expect to hear “no” at least 8 times. Doing this helps you guard against the demoralizing feeling like you are a failure, giving you the confidence to keep going.
THEY’RE LUCKY THAT YOU’RE GIVING THEM YOUR TIME
This is an important mindset shift that ties into the first lesson. Just because you’re expecting rejection doesn’t mean you are subordinate.
Never apologize for taking up time. Doing so sub-communicates that you are extracting value rather than adding value. In fact, your clients should feel lucky to be meeting with you, because your presence has a positive effect on them, by virtue of you being so useful / entertaining / smart / funny.
When you’re wooing your dream customers, make sure you’re using various methods of staying in touch with them. And always add value every time. For B2B or enterprise clients, invite them to boat trips, meet them at trade show parties, and so on. For B2C, throw parties. Invite them to webinars, seminars or provide free resources.
3. HAVE BIGGER GOALS THAN JUST GETTING THEIR MONEY. BUILD TRUST. GET REFERRALS. SEED FUTURE PURCHASES.
For a book about sales, Chet doesn’t actually talk that much about sales tactics, per se. Instead, he spends a lot of time talking about differentiation that separates you from your competition. That includes your approach to every customer interaction. Don’t think of them as one-offs, think of them as opportunities to build a customer for life.
Smart salespeople don’t just think of prospect meetings as avenues to close a sale. It should also be a time to build trust. To seed future referrals. To pre-emptively defend against competitors. To seed urgency. Don’t just close the sale, think of the long game.
A couple of great anecdotes from the book:
THE FURNITURE STORE
You walk in to a furniture store looking to buy a couch.
If you are served by a crappy salesperson, all he’ll try to do is sell you a couch, talking about how good the couch is and how good of a price he can get you.
If you are served by a great salesperson, he’ll sell you the STORE — so by the time you get to talking about the couch, you trust the store so much that the couch becomes less of a factor in the overall sale. While walking over to look at couches, the salesman will tell you about the history of the store, their process for making sure customers love the couch, the passion of the ownership, their supply chain, any relevant story that will build trust and loyalty.
HOW DO YOU MAKE CARPET CLEANING SEXY?
When Chet was hired by a carpet cleaning company that was struggling with sales growth. The first thing he noticed was that every company in the industry was treating their product like a commodity: “we clean X square feet of carpeting for Y dollars.”
Chet wanted to differentiate the company, not only in their sales tactics but also their overall positioning. Instead of competing along well-worn battle lines, Chet made them think more like a health and safety thought leader, changing their pitch to something like:
The carpet in your home has so many germs; when you come home, your shoes bring in so much dirt and bacteria from outside. Those get tracked all over your home, and can pose a health risk to your family. Hire us, we’ll help keep your family safe by cleaning your carpet.”
While the rest of the industry treats their services like straight up transactions, Chet’s client becomes more like a trusted advisor, someone you’d want to keep returning to year after year.
4. MAKE YOUR CASE WITH MARKET DATA
When you’re trying to build credibility with prospects, the conversation typically shifts to data about the product or the market.
Product data is internally focused, saying things like “our product is 20% faster than the industry” or “we can process 50 widgets per second.” Useful when you’re at the bottom of the funnel and the prospect is actively evaluating the competition.
Market data is externally focused, saying things like “40% of companies in this industry fail because of reason X” or “one of the biggest health risks facing office workers today is Y.” Useful for educating prospects, arming your team with information, and most importantly, for highlighting a pain that your product can solve.
Many of the companies he consulted with were stuck because they only focused on optimizing and refining their bottom-of-the-funnel product data pitch, which meant they were getting better at closing the leads they had, but not at increasing the total number of leads.
Instead, increase sales by increasing the size of the pie.
Market data helps you be the first to bring awareness to a problem, giving you credibility while positioning yourself as the natural solution to that problem:
BUILD CREDIBILITY AND TRUST BY EDUCATING PEOPLE
Chet commissions market research for his client’s industry, then sets up seminars where he delivers the information to senior executives. He contacts decision makers, then invites them to a seminar where he gets valuable face-time with them, building trust and a personal connection. Thus making them easier to close down the road.
As an aside, this tactic should be familiar if you’ve ever done any sort of webinar, podcast or online presentation to promote to an audience. It’s a well-worn strategy today with clearly defined steps. Neil Patel does this all the time.
Chet’s situation is a little different from doing mass webinars, as he was trying to get decision makers in big organizations to come to a real-world seminar. That’s a bit harder. The friction in getting high status people to drive somewhere to see you is much higher than getting someone to click-through to a webinar.
So how did he keep conversion rate high for his IRL seminar?
By triggering urgency through social proof. He used something like this in his correspondence:
…We’ll present some very relevant, actionable market data. By the way, we’re already talking to Competitors X, Y and Z about attending this seminar, so we thought you’d want to attend as well.
The heart of this trick is having and using awesome market data to make your case. It puts you in a position to educate and add value rather than just sell.
SETTING MARKET BUYING CRITERIA
In most buying situations, the average buyer is not an expert on what they are buying. They haven’t made up their mind because they don’t have sufficient context to make a decision. This gives you an opportunity to set the buying criteria for their eventual purchase decision.
Meaning, if you build sufficient credibility and trust, you can set up their buying criteria to favor your product. Market data gives you angles and perspectives that your customers — and your competitors — may not be seeing.
THE SHOE STORE
Chet tells the story of a shoe store whose sales have stagnated. So he decided to use his strategy of using market data to improve sales performance, convincing the owner to do a study on feet, fashion and footwear.
In the study, they learned that there are 214,000 nerve endings in your feet, each of them connected to every part of your body. They also found that feet sweat about a cup of moisture per day.
Chet briefed the store’s sales team with this market data, which they used to educate shoppers on how the quality of your shoes affects your well-being. They were also able to make a reasonable argument that quality shoes leads to healthier families:
… The quality of your shoes dictate how much of that moisture will escape, or how much of it will build up bacteria, which you’ll spread all over your home once you take your shoes off.
Instead of being just another shoe store, they now became a trustworthy resource that looked after the health of its customers.
HOW TO SELL ART TO HOSPITALS
Say you’re in charge of buying the art for a hospital. Pretty simple job, right? Just buy a bunch of stuff that looks nice, not too daring, maybe lots of paintings of flowers and gentle landscapes.
According to one of Chet’s clients, there’s more to it than that.
They conduct webinars with their prospects on “5 Dangerous Trends Facing Hospitals”, showing that there’s plenty of ways that hospitals can be improved, from speeding up patients’ recovery and keeping staff happy.
Turns out that ensuring nice design is important in achieving those goals: some research suggests that certain types of art helps patients recover faster. Your staff is also affected by the design and art choices you make, as they have to be in the hospital for a large part of their day.
With this information, Chet’s client can go to hospitals and say that hospital art is not just about nice paintings — it’s about ensuring patient health and the well-being of your staff. And they have the data to prove it.
CASE STUDY: CALIFORNIA LAWYER
Chet was hired to head up sales for a magazine called California Lawyer. When he came aboard, they were struggling. Nobody wanted to buy ads in the magazine. Why?
They were only reaching 1 profession. Why advertise to lawyers only when you can hit doctors, lawyers, dentists, marketers all over the country?
They were only reaching 1 region. And why advertise in California only? If you wanted to reach those people, why would you target just one region?
So why would any big company want to put their money there?
To solve this, Chet had to go higher in the funnel. He had to educate the market first. He had to find a justification So he got market data.
And he found it: he found research showing that California “leads the nation” — it has the latest cutting-edge legal initiatives and newest thinking; more precedents are set in California than any other state.
Further data showed that if you want to make it in the legal market, you must have a strong position in California. There were more lawyers in California than anywhere else. One-third of the nation’s largest corporations base their legal teams in California.
In order to make California Lawyer a success, he first had to educate the market that lawyers in California were a market worth caring about. Once he made this case, the rest fell into place.
5. USE THE POWER OF CHEAP GIFTS TO CUT THROUGH CLUTTER
Chet sends prospects cheap gifts.
He basically sets them up on a drip campaign with cheap — but charming — gifts like Rubik’s cubes or calculators. They’re thematically tied to an accompanying letter, which says something like “Stop being puzzled by your marketing efforts” or “Calculate the ROI of your employee training.”
GIFTS AS LONG-RANGE BOMBING
Chet’s cheap gift strategy works well as a way to build awareness and familiarity, so when he eventually makes personal contact, the prospect will already have heard of him in some way and be more receptive to an approach.
It’s like long-range bombing before you send in the troops.
It’s part of a commitment to break through the clutter and win their attention. It’s a campaign, not just a one-off. What you’re waiting for is an opportunity, so the gifts are a way to stay top of mind until that opportunity happens: maybe their current supplier screws up. Maybe their budget changed and they now need to consider new vendors. Maybe they changed leadership, and the leadership is open to new ideas.
6. STAY IN CONTROL WHEN COMMUNICATING WITH PROSPECTS: IT WILL MAKE CLOSING EASIER
The above advice isn’t groundbreaking, but the specifics in The Ultimate Sales Machine are so good that I had to make note of them.
NO INTERRUPTIONS ALLOWED
Let’s say you’re doing a formal presentation for a prospect, and they ask you a question while you’re in the middle of a sentence.
DO NOT stop everything you are doing and answer it right then. Chet is pretty adamant about this. Why?
Allowing interruptions subtly signals that you are there to be a subordinate that is seeking approval. In fact, you are offering to help them solve a problem. Therefore, they should respect you equally, and you must make equal demands of them as partners. That means that you should not cede control of your interactions. Not allowing interruptions will increase your credibility, build trust, which will help you when you’re further down the funnel.
HOW TO GET PAST GATEKEEPRS
How do you get access to a VIP that’s behind a gatekeeper?
Sound like a VIP yourself.
Okay, simple advice, but tactically, how do you pull this off?
Assume access. Don’t try to charm the assistant. Don’t ask “how are you today?” and make small talk. Control the flow of the conversation. Ask questions and give requests, don’t answer questions and comply. Lead the conversation.
Here’s a bad example:
You: “Hi, how are you today?”
Gatekeeper: Good, thanks
You: Is Mr Smith in?
Gatekeeper: Who’s calling?
You: This is Bill Johnston
Gatekeeper: What is this regarding?
You: I’m calling to talk about my product
Gatekeeper: I see. Let me take a message.
Instead, assume access and control the conversation flow.
Do this by giving the gatekeeper tiny bits of information this time, so she has to come back and ask you for more:
You: Hi, this is Bill Johnston. I’m calling for Carl. Is he in?
Gatekeeper: What is this regarding?
You: Just tell him it’s Bill Johnston.
(Assistant then goes to check with boss, who gets sent back)
Gatekeeper: Can you tell me what this is in reference to?
You: Did you tell him it’s Bill Johnston?
Gatekeeper: Yeah, he didn’t recognize the name.
You: Hmm. Tell him I’m from XYZ company, that will jog his memory.
(This is the first test of your frame of being a VIP. Keep it focused. Assume access, control conversation flow.
Assistant should go to check with boss again, and get sent back again)
Gatekeeper: Mr Johnston, can you tell me what this is in reference to?
You: Who am I speaking with?
Gatekeeper: This is his assistant
You: Are you his regular assistant?
You: What’s your name?
You: Shirley, if you tell Carl that I’m following up on some correspondence sent to him, that should be enough.
If the interaction goes as planned, the VIP should ‘rescue’ his assistant and take your call. But at this point, he will be impatient, so you have to be ready with an awesome pitch ready to go.
Most importantly, keep your frame. Don’t try to charm them, or suddenly be salesy – stay ‘in character’ and maintain control of the conversation.
7. MAKE CLOSING EASIER BY ISOLATING THEN REMOVING OBSTACLES
Chet tells a few stories that show this principle in action:
“WOULD THAT SEEM FAIR?”
Chet was selling coaching seminars and had sales reps take phone orders from callers. When the reps detected that the caller was hesitant, they would try to isolate the objection, which was usually related to the $199 price tag for the seminar.
They would then launch into a script that removed the obstacle and helped them close the sale. Here’s what the end of that script looked like:
Rep: …What could you gain from this information?
Caller: Ideas on how to close big companies…potential million-dollar clients.
Rep: Is $199 worth it for a breakthrough that will help you get there?
Caller: Hmm, I’m not sure.
Rep: Okay, well, what if you could learn the lesson, then decide if it was worth the money? Would that seem fair? Let’s look at some dates. Do you have your calendar handy?
“I HAVE TO CHECK WITH MY DAD FIRST”
Chet has a great example of dealing with objections from his days in real estate:
Chet: …So what do you guys think of this house?
Buyer: It’s great, yard is big, rooms are nice, it looks good
Chet: Well, let’s get an offer in, then. You can’t believe how many times I’ve seen a house get taken right out from under you. Let’s fill in the offer sheet.
Buyer: Well, my Dad is the one who has to put in the down payment, so I need to check with him first.
Chet: Is that the only thing standing between you and buying this house?
Buyer: It really depends what my Dad thinks.
Chet: Great. So we can make that a contingency: if he doesn’t like it, you don’t have to buy it. How does that sound? Let’s fill in the offer sheet.
There’s several things at play here. He’s isolated the objection (Dad approval) and removed that as an obstacle (we’ll void it if he doesn’t like it). Some other psychological things at work: he’s gotten them to commit by using a foot-in-the-door technique (just sign this offer sheet), which will eventually lead to them getting attached to the house as time passes. Which means the buyer will end up pitching the house to the Dad, as they’re already picturing themselves in the house.
8. WHEN IMPROVING YOUR TEAM’S SALES SKILLS, THINK LIKE A COACH
Chet believes that the right training can completely change a sales organization. He notes that most organizations that hire him have poor sales because their team isn’t adequately prepared, not because they are inherently crappy salespeople.
WHEN LEADING A TEAM, THINK LIKE A COACH
Chet makes an analogy to a basketball coach: in order for a coach to improve his team, he needs to ensure that they’ve got the basics down. This means repetition drills in order to build a foundation from which to build higher-order skills.
For salespeople, this means breaking down the sales process into chunks and drilling for specific parts. What are the team’s main problems? Prospecting? Closing? Building rapport? It’s easier to improve those parts in isolation rather than just looking at the entire process and trying to fix everything at once.
A coach also runs scrimmage and practice games in order to see these skills in play. For the leader of a sales team, the equivalent is engaging in roleplaying activities. Pretend to be a customer and have the whole team watch and critique the performance. Through practice and coaching, the team improves together.
SHARPEN THE SAW
Chet tells the story of two woodcutters:
Woodcutter A chops relentlessly for 8 hours, non stop.
Woodcutter B chops for 2 hours, sits down for another 2, chops for 2, sits down for another 2.
A chopped 25 trees that day. B chopped 50. How?
B took breaks to sharpen his saw.
This reinforces the idea of coaching and training to stay fresh and course-correct.
FINAL THOUGHT: HOW TO ACHIEVE MASTERY
I’ll close with an awesome message that Chet reinforces throughout The Ultimate Sales Machine:
Mastery isn’t about learning 4,000 moves. Mastery is about doing a handful of moves 4,000 times.
That applies to everything from karate to cooking to sales to marketing.