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Learn to Break the Sales Mold A great lie reveals 3 even greater truths about selling.

By Mark Stevens

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So there I was, just a grade school kid, watching a bizarre TV show called The Greatest Lie.

The premise was simple enough: One after another, a group of men would take a turn at a microphone to tell an obvious lie--some form of grand fish tale--and the one deemed to have moved the Richter Scale with the audacity of his tale would be crowned the winner.

I would listen intently to each of the tall tales and decide who I would favor as the winner. In virtually every case, my choice would align with the TV judges. The tale of the most heroic--albeit preposterous--proportions would walk away the winner.

Then one day I learned an invaluable lesson about selling and about life and about how the two are inexorably linked.

On that pivotal day, one of the contestants took the mike, and instead of the usual long-winded lie about swallowing a whale and spitting it out just for laughs, he offered up a single sentence:

"Once there was a man who understood women."

Raves, cheers and hoorays all erupted from the studio audience. At age eight, I was dumbfounded when this man won. Years later, I came to see that there was much to be learned from that otherwise sophomoric TV show--lessons with important implications for those who would be heat-seeking sales machines.

Here are just a few things you can learn from the man I came to think of as The Father of All Liars:

  1. When selling anything, drive 180 degrees from where everyone else is driving. The TV show winner that day defied everyone's expectations that he would simply tell a he-man tale, as was the custom on the program. By making a single sentence statement--one that no one expected--he commanded attention in a powerful and compelling way.

    So many salespeople fail to close--worse yet, to even capture the attention of their prospects--because they launch into a long-winded cliché of a presentation that has "Willy Loman sales pitch" written all over it. Until I wrote Your Marketing Sucks, everyone in marketing was waxing poetic about aesthetics. Because I went in the opposite direction toward generating return on investment regardless of the aesthetics, my book became a best-seller and my business soared.
  2. Say something so different and surprising that it stops people in their tracks. Recently, I went on a sales call with a client who sells financial services, mostly a systemized approach for managing money. He also advised a high-net-worth client that he needed to buy a substantial life insurance policy. When the client balked and refused to even consider the life purchase, my client told him, "You are making a mistake and doing an injustice to your family. If you don't purchase the insurance, I, respectfully, will not manage your money."

    The client recognized a rare determination to do the right thing, and he bought the insurance. My client didn't issue his ultimatum as a sales tactic, but he was selling by stopping the individual in his tracks with intelligent and forceful advice, just as the game show winner totally surprised and intrigued the studio audience.
  3. Forget the long-winded sales pitch; less is more. About a year ago, before the housing crisis hit home, I witnessed a developer trying to convince a prospect to purchase a home from him. Instead of running down a long list of features built into the home, he simply said, "If you are not completely happy with this beautiful home at any time in the next six months, I will buy it back from you for the full price you paid. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose."

Case closed. Sale made. The pitch was original and prudent. It was a short, sweet and powerful offer few would think to make.

You never want to lie. You just want to be the one everyone remembers because of the striking originality of your ideas.

Mark Stevens is the CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm based in New York, and the author of Your Marketing Sucks and God Is a Salesman. He's a regular media commentator on business matters including marketing, management and sales. He's also the author of the marketing blog, Unconventional Thinking.

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