Sales Training

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Phone Book Doublethink

In George Orwell's classic book '1984', the inhabitants of his future world were encouraged to ignore the more glaring of their leaders' mistakes by the practice of actively training themselves to believe things that they knew were false. He created a term for this ability to hold two contradictory points of view at the same time; he called it 'doublethink'.

Of course great works of art, literature or music become classics because we know them to be honest reflections of ourselves. Orwell knew well that 'doublethink' was not something he invented, but a trait that all humans practice all the time, while telling ourselves that we don't - which is doublethink example number one! How many of us say we're trying to lose weight while drinking our third beer? Or call a friend on the phone while driving to say we won't take the airplane because it's too dangerous? Or complain about the price of gas while driving a Hummer a quarter mile to fetch a quart of milk?

We all do this stuff all the time. And if that means all of us, that means your clients as well. Perhaps the greatest example of client doublethink is the phone book. The following is a conversation I had with the owners of a refrigeration company not three weeks ago:

Me: "Are you currently advertising?"
Them: "No - we can't really afford to."
Me: "Are you in the phone book?"
Them: "Oh yes, of course. We get a lot of business from that."
Me: "Is it expensive?"
Them: [with grimace and sucking in of air between teeth] "Oh yes, very. And each year there are more books."
Me: "So, why do you stay in them, then?"
Them: "Because if we didn't, no-one would know about us."
Me: "Why not?"
Them: "Because we can't afford to advertise."

Or, how about this conversation I had with a plumber;

Him: "Don't tell me the phone book is no good. I get all my business through there."
Me: "That's nice. Do you advertise anywhere else?"
Him: "No. Nowhere."
Me: "Do you think that might explain why all your leads come through the phone book then?"
Him: [silence and narrowing of eyes]

Time after time after time, the independent business owners I meet are pouring their cash resources into the phone book, believing that unless they do their businesses will go under. To give credit where it's due, the phone book companies have managed to pull off quite an amazing example of doublethink; they have promoted a simple phone book as the small businessperson's ultimate advertising medium, while maintaining their customers' belief that they can't afford to advertise!

Simultaneously, they have positioned themselves both as an advertising medium (so that you can promote your business) and a simple phone book (in case you can't afford to "advertise"). It's a work of genius really.

But the truth is that it cannot be both. The phone book simply cannot be both a 'phone book' and an 'advertising medium' akin to print, radio or TV. One is for finding things you already know you want; the other is for introducing you to things you might want and making you want them more and only from your company.

Please don't misunderstand me. If you're in business, it's useful to have your name and number in the phone book. You might even throw caution to the winds and put a box around it. But a full page? With pictures and lists of products and opening hours and fax numbers? For literally thousands of dollars a month? While putting nothing into regular, ongoing broadcast or print advertising?

This is the kind of doublethink that will seriously damage your health. This is "I'm young enough to smoke" kind of thinking. There are literally thousands of small-to medium-sized businesses out there with plenty of money, who are pouring it down the drain each and every month in this way. This makes me mad, not just because it could be going into radio, but because this money was hard-earned and these are good people who want their businesses to grow and I believe they have been sold a crock.

Remember these simple facts and repeat them often:
1) The phone book is for finding businesses you can't think of without looking in the phone book.
2) The reason you can't think of them, is that they don't advertise.
3) They don't advertise because they spend all their money in the phone book.

Scary, isn't it? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go out and stop the madness.

Matt Hackett

Sales Training