Overview of Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling

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What is Little Red Book of Selling about? What is the secret to sales success, according to its author Jeffery Gitomer?

In the Little Red Book of Selling, sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer presents 13 principles of selling and numerous practical tips and techniques. The principles in the book will help you build on customers’ buying reasons to create an atmosphere conducive to buying—for example, by building a strong relationship and addressing customers’ needs for profit and productivity.

Below is a brief overview of Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness.

Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness

It’s a fact of human nature that everyone likes to buy, but no one likes being sold. Rather than selling (pushing the customer to buy what you have), your job as a salesperson is capitalizing on the desire to buy—that is, making the customer want to buy your product. 

The top reasons people buy are:

  • They like the salesperson. They trust, believe in, have confidence in, and feel comfortable with them.
  • They view the salesperson and company as different from competitors.
  • They see value in the product or service they’re buying; they believe it will increase their productivity and profit.
  • The product or service fits their needs.
  • They view the price as fair in exchange for the value, although it may not be the lowest available.

In his 2004 book Little Red Book of Selling, Jeffrey Gitomer presents 13 principles of successful selling. The principles fall into three categories: practicing success habits, preparing for success, and selling effectively.

Below is a brief overview of Gitomer’s selling principles.

Principles 1-3: Practice Success Habits

The first three principles of selling involve adopting a mindset and habits that set you up for success.

Principle #1: Motivate Yourself

You can’t sell if you don’t constantly push yourself—no one will do this for you because no one else is as invested as you are in whether you succeed. Here are some signs you lack motivation and need to push yourself: 

  • You’re in a sales slump and feel that you can’t do anything to get out of it—so you don’t act. 
  • People aren’t calling you back; blaming them for your lack of sales is an excuse to do nothing. 
  • You complain that your company isn’t providing you with training, so you can’t improve. 

In each case, you feel helpless and unmotivated to change your circumstances. 

These are all common complaints and behaviors among salespeople—but you (not your circumstances) are the key to your success: 

  • Instead of complaining that prospects won’t return your calls, learn to leave effective voicemail messages that prompt return calls. 
  • Instead of using the excuse that you’re in a “sales slump,” work harder and smarter, make a new plan, get a mentor’s or colleague’s assessment of your approach, listen to positive tapes and use positive self-talk, and focus on sales fundamentals.
  • Instead of bemoaning a lack of company training, train yourself: Spend your spare time reading books on selling, presentation skills, positivity, and creativity. 

Principle #2: Mind Your Own Business

The second selling principle, minding your own business, is essential to successfully implementing the other selling principles.

It’s easy to get caught up in others’ drama at work, whether it involves bosses, colleagues, customers, or vendors. But besides wasting your finite time, by getting involved, you risk:

  • Perpetuating a pity party or negative attitudes
  • Giving bad advice
  • Making others angry at you by taking sides or saying the wrong thing

Worse, when you engage in drama, you rob time from creating your own success. Convert the time you spend on others’ problems to focusing on self-development and your career.

Principle #3: Be Alert to Opportunities

Avoiding other people’s dramas and focusing on self-development doesn’t mean being oblivious to everything going on around you. The third selling principle—being alert to sales opportunities—requires paying attention to your surroundings and to potential customers and networking contacts around you. 

People often focus inwardly—for example, on how they look, what others are thinking about them, something they’re worried about, or something they need to do later. But when you’re focused inwardly, the world and its opportunities are out of focus to you.

Instead of focusing inwardly, imagine yourself wearing antennas that constantly scan your surroundings for opportunities. In every situation, activate your antennas—useful new contacts or sales leads can pop up while you’re waiting in line at airports, restaurants, lobbies, and elevators, or while you’re attending a child’s school event.

Principles 4-7: Prepare for Success

The next four selling principles involve preparing for sales success by branding and networking and by learning to use humor and creativity in the sales process. 

Principle #4: Develop Your Brand

Branding is increasing people’s awareness of you and your strengths. It encompasses putting your name on everything you do, with the goals of establishing yourself as an expert and leader and creating demand indirectly for your product or service. 

In selling, who knows you is as important as who you know. When you have a strong brand, customers are loyal to you, prospects call you, you get appointments with higher-ups more easily, and you get more “yeses” to meetings and sales than your competitors do. You attract sales success.

The author built his brand as a sales expert and resource in part through networking activities such as:

  • Offering himself as a frequent speaker to business, trade, and civic groups
  • Joining community boards and organizations in leadership positions
  • Building his network by identifying those who could help him, then offering them something of value (for example, tips, expert advice, or introductions to useful contacts) before seeking their support. The next section goes into networking in more detail. 

Besides networking, the author’s branding efforts included:

  • Registering his name, gitomer.com, online.
  • Writing a regular newspaper column of sales advice, which expanded to 90 markets
  • Creating a brief verbal pitch about what he does and how he can help
  • Dedicating time to brand-building

Principle #5: Network

As previously noted, the fifth principle of selling—networking—works hand in hand with branding. Both are about becoming known. Networking (building relationships and making new connections) is an essential business function for salespeople and entrepreneurs that takes place outside of regular business hours. With networking, you can strengthen your relationships with your customers, and they can introduce you to prospects like themselves, who are likely to be interested in what you offer.

Where to Network

The first rule of networking is to go to events and places where your customers and prospects are likely to be. Tried-and-true networking venues include:

  • Chamber of Commerce events
  • Civic organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis (become a leader, not just a member, to increase your exposure to more people)
  • Cultural events like concerts and theater performances
  • Charity events
  • Trade shows and conferences (be a presenter—again, to increase your exposure)
How to Network

Be ready to network when you arrive at the event. Preparation is 90% of success, so be willing to put in the time to first do your homework.

  • Figure out who’s likely to be at the event you’re targeting and what you can offer them. 
  • Have a 30-second pitch about what you offer that’s tailored to your audience.
  • When you’re talking to someone, pay attention to them. Looking around while you’re talking to them is rude.
  • When you’re free, tune in to your surroundings and further opportunities (apply principle #3, being alert). 
  • Spend two-thirds of your time talking with people you don’t know.

Principle #6: Learn to Use Humor

Making people laugh relaxes them and creates an atmosphere conducive to buying. Laughing together is a form of agreement or approval, and agreement is a step toward selling. Besides helping you make the sale, humor builds customer relationships by facilitating friendship and respect.

To improve your humor, study humor, especially if you aren’t naturally funny. Here are some ways to learn to be funnier:

  • Pay attention to what happens to you so you can reference funny events in jokes.
  • Watch comedians on TV. Study their delivery and the audience’s reaction.
  • Read joke books.
  • Listen to children, who are naturally funny.
  • Practice jokes with family and friends.

Safe topics to joke about include things kids say and do, traffic, and lines from television shows. In general, pick something that’s:

  • Funny to you, so your joke is natural rather than forced.
  • Personal: Poke fun at one of your personal qualities or features, but never make fun of others.
  • Clean: Never make crude, ethnic, or gender jokes.

Principle #7: Practice Creativity

Along with humor, creativity will make you and your sales pitch stand out and be remembered. Here are four ways in which creativity can get a client’s attention:

1) At the start of a sales call, ask a smart, unexpected question instead of blathering on about your company and product. For example, ask: “How much does a lost hour of productivity cost your company?” or “How would you know whether you were overpaying for printing?”

2) Identify your customer contact points and change them so they’re distinctive—including the voicemails you leave, your cover letter, your phone greeting or voicemail message, your business cards, and so on. Fixing your voicemail message is the most important task because it can help you get new customers and act as word-of-mouth advertising (if you have a unique message, people tell others about it). Here are some ways to create a memorable message:

  • Use a thought-provoking quote (change it daily)
  • Record a message from one of your kids (“Hi, I’m Josh. Dad is out earning my college tuition…”)
  • Make a joke. (“You’ve reached Tom at Premier Pest Control. Please tell us what’s bugging you…”)
  • Record a testimonial from a customer. (“I’m Dave. I’ve been pain-free for five years, thanks to Wilson Chiropractic—I hope you’ll let them help you too.”)

3) Use creative follow-up methods to stay in front of the customer after a meeting—for instance, email a weekly tip, share useful information and testimonials, or send a newsletter.

4) Respond creatively to buyer objections. For example, when a prospect tells you she’s satisfied with her current supplier or product, you might respond: “Prospective clients often claim they’re satisfied with what they have—however, our customers tell us they’re thrilled with our product. Wouldn’t you rather be thrilled than just satisfied?”

How to Cultivate Creativity

You can develop creativity by studying and practicing it. Here are some ways to do this: 

  • Write down ideas: Creative ideas pop into your head quickly, then just as quickly vanish. So anytime you get an idea, write it down, and try to elaborate on it while it’s fresh.
  • Find creative mentors who support and inspire your creativity.
  • Read creative writers and books about how others have developed creativity. 
  • Be willing to risk failure: Failure is part of the creative process—it teaches you how to improve your ideas.

Principles 8-10: Sell Effectively—Get the Customer’s Attention

The next three principles focus on selling effectively by getting the customer’s attention, so she’ll be willing to listen to your pitch.

Principle #8: Prepare to Sell 

Too many salespeople walk into sales calls without having researched the prospect’s business. Then they ask the prospect, “Tell me about your business,” which irritates her and wastes her time. They follow up with, “Let me tell you about my business,” which the client couldn’t care less about. Then, when they fail to sell their product or service, salespeople complain about the challenges of selling.

Instead of complaining, do your research on the prospect’s business by:

  • Searching the internet and business databases for news and information about the company
  • Studying the company’s website and literature
  • Talking to the company’s customers, vendors, and competitors
  • Consulting with people in your network who know the company

Serious preparation takes time and effort but impresses the client by demonstrating your diligence and interest in her company.

Principle #9: Meet With the Top Decision-Maker 

After you’ve prepared, the next selling principle is getting a high-level meeting. You need a face-to-face appointment with the real decision-maker. Most salespeople deal with lower-level people. But underlings, who need to get additional approvals, won’t prioritize your case or present it as effectively as you do, so any time you spend with them is wasted. 

As explained in principles 4-5, branding and networking can help you get past gatekeepers—if the CEO has met or heard of you, she’s more likely to take your call. But when your call goes through, you still need to sell the prospect on agreeing to a face-to-face meeting with you.

The first thing you must do is engage with the prospect—that is, get her attention by piquing her interest. Statements everyone uses that don’t engage include:

  • How are you today?
  • Have you ever heard of us?
  • May I have five minutes of your time?
  • Would you like to save money on X?

Prospects don’t want to hear about you or be educated by you. Instead, address your prospect’s greatest interests: profit and productivity. Tell the prospect you want to discuss how you can increase her profitability, and she’ll see value in meeting with you. 

Principle #10: Give Value

After getting in front of the person who can say “yes,” the next principle of selling is twofold: Be valuable and give value. 

Most salespeople have the wrong idea about value. They think of value as a small extra that’s added to the product—for example, a discount or something free. But your competitors can match these things, so they don’t increase your chances of making a sale. They’re promotions, not value. Value is something you give that’s meaningful to the customer.

First, give value personally—it generates goodwill that can translate later into sales. The author gives value through the business-building tips he provides through public speaking and writing a newspaper column, by connecting people who can help each other, and so on. 

Second, in the selling process, address the customer’s chief interest, which is the value of your product to them. Value that’s meaningful to customers includes increased productivity, profit, and sales; more customers; a better image; and so on. Have a strong value proposition and present it in a compelling way. Instead of price, focus on the use and value of the product over its lifetime. Get the prospect to think about how much better her life will be after buying the product.

Principles 11-13: Sell Effectively—Clinch the Deal 

The remaining three selling principles address techniques and responses that will help you close the deal. 

Principle #11: Help the Buyer Convince Herself to Buy

The 11th selling principle—helping the buyer convince herself to buy—requires a key sales skill: asking the right questions.

Most salespeople ask the wrong questions and therefore don’t get the answer they want (a “yes” to the sale). Usually, they’re questions aimed at getting the buyer to switch from a current supplier to your company. They encourage a focus on price rather than value. For example:

  • How much are you currently paying for delivery? If I could save you some money, would you switch…?
  • What would it take for me to earn your business?

In contrast, the right questions help the buyer think about your product or service in terms of how it solves her problems or achieves her goals. They’re specific questions that uncover her frustrations, concerns, and needs, so you can show how your product will make her life easier—and she’ll conclude that she needs it.

Develop a dozen basic questions that you can adapt to uncover each customer’s needs, concerns, and frustrations. Some useful introductory phrases include:

  • What do you look for in choosing a…?
  • How do you determine…?
  • What’s been your experience with…?
  • What would you change…?
  • What’s your biggest hurdle to…?
  • What frustrates you the most about…?

You’ll differentiate yourself by getting your prospect to think in new ways. A sign of success is when the customer remarks that no one ever asked her that question before—and her answer convinces her to buy.

Principle #12: Eliminate the Buyer’s Risk

The biggest hurdle to a sale is the risk the customer believes he’d take in buying your product. You must eliminate the risk to get the customer to buy.

A risk is anything that makes a customer hesitate to buy. It can be difficult to identify the risk standing in the way of a sale because what seems risky to the customer may seem trivial to the salesperson. Common concerns or risks to the customer are:

  • Am I making a mistake and not getting my money’s worth?
  • Will I look bad or get into trouble for making a poor decision?
  • Do I really need it? I might regret buying it.
  • Can I get it cheaper elsewhere or get something better?
  • Will it work? What if it doesn’t? Will it soon become obsolete?

These concerns indicate the customer lacks confidence in the product, company, salesperson, or their own judgment. Here are some ways to effectively counter customer concerns:

1) Prepare for risk hurdles by identifying the customer’s potential risks—for example, by considering how the customer has reacted to your sales pitch in the past or how other customers have reacted. Prepare responses or preemptive statements that eliminate these risks. Practice the responses until you master them.

2) Determine the customer’s risk tolerance—ask about previous purchases they’ve made and how those turned out. What were their concerns prior to those purchases and how did they overcome them? Then, address those risks.

3) Ask the customer, “What’s the risk of buying?” Then ask, “What’s the reward?” Then help her see how the reward outweighs the concern and the value more than meets the need. When the risk is low and the reward is high, customers will buy. When the risk is price, counter it with the reward of value.

4) Suggest a few concerns that might be bothering the customer and answer them—for example: “If you’re concerned that it might not work for you, remember that you can always return it.” 

Principle #13: Let Your Customers Speak for You

The final selling principle—use customer testimonials to help you sell—is powerful but underused. Customer testimonials are effective because:

  • They’re believable. When you talk about your offerings, it’s bragging, but when customers give testimonials, it’s proof of value.
  • Done correctly, testimonials prompt people to buy. To prompt action, testimonials must make specific statements (“I improved my skills 100%”), not general ones (“The people at company X are wonderful. We’ve been doing business with them for years.”).

To be effective, whether in written or video form, a testimonial should:

  • Highlight a benefit of your product or service: “I doubled my profits.”
  • Address an objection: “I thought the price was too high until I tried the product and realized the value.”
  • Make a call to action: “I used to use another brand but was dissatisfied until I switched … and you should too.”
  • Provide a happy ending: “My family loves it.”

Video testimonials, when shown at the end of a sales call, are an effective way to dispel doubts, reduce risk, and confirm the value of your product. However, while the video reinforces the sales message, the salesperson still must close the deal.

Overview of Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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