Sydney Biddle Barrows is a speaker, consultant, writer and sales professional. Her first book was a take on her life story that ended up on the Fortune Top Ten Best Business Books of the Year list, and it eventually found its way onto a couple of reading lists for classes at Harvard University. From there her fame grew.
See, she already had notoriety, owing to the business she took from so-so to top-shelf. Oh, did I fail to mention her first book was called Mayflower Madam: The Secret Life of Sydney Biddle Barrows? That's right, Barrows is a former madam. The Mayflower Madam to be precise. She took the sales strategies she learned in high-end retail and applied them to her business in what she calls a sub-niche market. Those strategies were further honed and refined over the years and now fuel her various endeavors, including her latest book, Uncensored Sales Strategies: A Radical New Approach to Selling Your Customers What they Really Want--No Matter What Business You're In. Her biggest discovery was knowing what business she was in, really.
Barrows discovered that her call-girl service wasn't in the sex business; it was in the fantasy business. Men of means were willing to pay for the entire experience of an evening with a beautiful woman. It was that fresh perspective that allowed Barrows to elevate her business, and it is precisely that "fresh eyes" concept--the ability to pick out "incongruencies between the image a business is trying to project and the reality a customer actually encounters"--that drives her consulting business today. She sees things others miss.
Entrepreneur.com: Marketing and sales guru Dan Kennedy says you've addressed the hidden, overlooked, neglected aspects of selling. What are a couple of those big aspects and how do they end up falling through the cracks?
Sydney Biddle Barrows: I think that most people get caught up running the business. Fareed Zakaria, a couple of [months] ago in an article, said, "It's all too easy for the urgent to drive out the important." He's talking about politics, but I think that can be equally attributed to business. People are so busy with the day-to-day administrative stuff, putting out the fires, keeping everything together, that they neglect doing the things that could help their business grow, could improve the way their customers perceive their business. In Chapter 2, I talk about the broken bridge--that's actually an analogy that Dan came up with. And it's true, there are gaps. With the sales bridge, the customer is on one side and he has to traverse that bridge to get to the other side before you get his money. And there are so many broken slats and gaps in the bridge that the customer could fall through on his journey. A lot of people don't know what they are or they just don't pay any attention or they don't know how to fix them.
So you want a good sturdy bridge.
Yes. And the first thing is to understand what business you're really in. That's the first thing.
Why do so many business owners not know what they really offer or what business they're really in?
Well, they know what they offer but they don't know what business they are in. For instance, a [woman] came up to me and said, "I am an insurance broker. I sell homeowners' insurance and that kind of thing. What business am I really in?" And I thought about it for a minute and I said, "You are in the 'peace of mind' business, you are in the asset protection business and you are in the 'preserve my family heirlooms so I can pass them on to my children' business."
She thought about it and realized that's the business she's really in. She's not in the insurance business; those are the three businesses that she's really in. Now that she knows that, she can target her marketing to resonate with people who might not know it but that's the real reason that they're buying insurance. So instead of just pitching them, "Buy an insurance policy," she's saying to them, "Your home is an asset. The things in your home are an asset. Let us help you protect that. You know the things you want to pass along, they're very precious to you. Let us help you do that."
So you can't really target your marketing or get your marketing message right until you know what business you're truly in.
How can business owners figure that out?
They have to sit down and just think, "Why are my customers really buying whatever it is I'm selling?" A lot of times you can get it just from talking to them. Ask them, "What is it that you really want out of this service? What is your main goal? When you buy this product, what is it that you're hoping it will do for you or that you can do with it?" Listen to what they say. Or just ask yourself that question. A lot of times you can just ask yourself, which is hard. So ask your friends, "When you buy such and such a product, what do you hope to get from it? What do you hope it will do for you? What do you want to do with it?"
Do you find that too many business owners don't do that, don't partake in that self-analysis to come to those conclusions?
No, they don't. They're so busy doing what they do that they don't even sit down and think about it. There are a lot of people who get up in the morning and they turn on the TV, or they get in their car to go somewhere and they've got the radio on, and even if they go out running they've got their iPod with them. Their mind is constantly being assaulted by outside and extraneous noise. Even if it's great information, it's still noise. And people don't give themselves the time to think.
The common refrain is, "I'm too busy."
What business owners might want to consider doing is taking just an hour a week to sit down in a room where there is no phone--where there is no distraction at all--and just sit there and think about different aspects of their business.
Mike Werling, the managing editor of Sea Magazine, has written for Entrepreneur.com, Senior Market Advisor, Boomer Market Advisor and Broadmoor magazines.