Ep005: Margo Aaron Interviews Me

Want to know more about me than you already do? You’re in luck! Margo Aaron interviews me about my journey and how a rap career and building computers as a 12 year contributed to the Liston you know and love.

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​Hello there. Once again it is Liston with the liston.io show I am so happy you are here because I have something it's a little bit different. It may not ever be repeated on this podcast. And I think you're going to enjoy it. And that is I recently sat down with a friend named Margo Erin. She runs a company called the Arena. You can check it out at arenavirtualcoworking.com where she helps remote an independent business owners get into a virtual co-working space they get to interact with each other meet each other and they also get informational content, and so Margo sat down to interview me. Yes, she's interviewing me. I'm not interviewing Margo so that she could share this conversation with her audience at the arena. And I asked her if she'd be so kind to let me record it so that I could share it with you. And so in this conversation, the reason I wanted to share this with you is I thought you would get something out of where I come from why I'm doing what I'm doing now. My thoughts on selling and why I think sales is broken and maybe most importantly why the heck I'm doing this in the first place. What's in this for me what keeps me motivated. What gets me up in the morning to continue to deliver value to you dear listener on this podcast. So once again the interviewer's name is Margo Aaron a good friend. She has a Web site.

It's called arenavirtualcoworking.com. If you want a virtual coworking kind of cohort and group of people to work with I highly recommend you go check it out. Tell her I sent you. And before we get into the interview I just want to give you the heads up once again to go check out my video course it's www.salesin30.com Where I give you 10 absolutely free video lessons about how to sell your expertise as a consultant. Once again that's www.salesin30.com and now without further ado. My conversation with Margo. Hi. Hi there. Good to see you. Oh my goodness. I'm so excited for this conversation because you are one of the few people who can articulate about sales that we're all thinking and feeling, but you seem to make them make sense in a framework that is helpful. Well, I appreciate you saying that. Thank you. Our audience has a little bit of familiarity with you but I don't think they know that much about your journal and you actually started an environmental science. I understand this correctly. I did yeah this is like the Marvel origin story right. My superhero journey. Well where I really started was more in technology so I grew up I think this is an important part of the story. I grew up in a very entrepreneurial home. So my dad and my stepmom started something like seven or eight or nine businesses. I lost count. I'm sure they did too.

And two of them did well and the rest of them were horrible failures mostly lost a lot of money on some of those businesses but they had two that worked. And what I always find funny when I share that is people say or I should say entrepreneurs say well that's pretty good. Two out of nine. Not bad. And so just to kind of set the context here. So one of the things that my dad did was he started building custom computers for people in 1984. So he was building a computer with a 20-megabyte hard drive. I don't know how much of a tech geek you are but your phone now has hundreds of times more storage than that and that hard drive was like 500 bucks. So started really early and I built my first computer when I was about 12. And so technology has been a really big part of my story for a long time and I'm sure I'm older than you Margot's so this is like pre-internet days right before maybe there was dial-up but I was building computers before like we were really using the Internet in a meaningful way. And so I've always loved technology and being involved in family businesses was a big part of I think what drove me to ultimately start my own. But you did mention environmental science so I went to grad school for that. I have a master's degree in Environmental Science and Management. And my first job out of grad school was to work as the director of marketing and business development at a company called W.. And what w our aid does is biological studies.

So whenever a company or a government wants to go develop a big project and they're going to have an impact on the environment they need to say what the impact is and they have to potentially reorganize the project in order to get their permits. That's what we did as we help them understand what their impacts were while there my job partially was not just to go out and sell one to one but also to do digital marketing so redid the Web site had an e-mail newsletter program which they never had which in retrospect I'm like oh my God all that stuff was so easy and obvious but it was all new to me at the time. And so one thing that really got me super interested in digital marketing is after we put together the Web site we bought HubSpot which is marketing automation platform and it was like oh crap we better use this. Like what am I going to do with this? I don't know how to do anything that goes into this. So I thought I'll send out an e-mail newsletter. I did that and we got something like a 50000 dollar contract back as a result of it that are like I know. And I was like Oh interesting. Why don't we do more of this? And so I started looking into like well what is a good newsletter like I didn't know what I was doing and we got a contract out of it let's do a little bit more and see what happens.

And so I started studying copywriting and conversions and how does what does it mean to optimize and what are analytics and how does a human perceive like what is a psychological experience of someone reading a web page and what happens to us while we do that. And I just was like so fascinated by this whole thing. And so that eventually led me to the point of starting my own boutique marketing agency to go out and try this for new clients. OK so here is something important that Hinckley glossed over in that you have this degree master's in environmental science what your role was actually sales marketing. How does your mind that psychological gap like what you hear from a lot of people? Maybe you didn't have this gap. But my experience in academia and a lot of my colleagues in this space are on their high horse like oh I'm above sales and marketing. I need to be working in the environmental sciences. I need to be doing things that are directly relevant to my degree was that a challenge for you at all. No so I never wanted to do that. That wasn't why I went to grad school. My sort of stated goal when I went into grad school was to learn the science side and then have a stepping stone into the environmental industry and have some credibility for it. But I always wanted to be on the business or consulting side. I was more interested in how do we create solutions how do we scale solutions like how does it actually work and what are the logistical things. You know I think of business often is kind of a mechanical thing that needs to happen right. Execute the set of steps and you're more likely to get this result. I wanted to have the credibility to work in the environmental industry which I didn't have.

And I knew I needed to understand the politics the economics and the science behind it. And so that's why I went to grad school so it didn't feel like a gap to me because I now got to marry sort of my new degree and the information that I learned which was a lot. If you ever want to talk about why global warming is real I can talk your ear off. But I knew that I was going to apply that for business purposes. So that makes sense that you didn't have that barrier but still really cool how you made that transition. So take us now. They're walking us through and you started with digital agency and it's doing well. How did you navigate the pivot from that business learning and implementing everything you did to where you are now. That's a good question. I'm trying to formulate a smart answer but I don't have one. No no no it's fine. Let me take a step back. When I started thinking about doing consulting for people the way I looked at it was this will be my paid MBA I want to go learn how lots of different businesses work if I can learn how to market and sell effectively. And one of the hardest ways to sell as you know Margo is direct response when you're not there to answer when someone's like scratching their head and going. I don't really get what you're trying to tell me. Right.

Direct response is so difficult that was kind of the proving ground for me that's the way I looked at it is I get paid to learn how to do this stuff that I think my theory was I could apply to just about any business that I ever want to go into. That's why I started doing this in the first place. My goal wasn't to be a copywriter or a professional digital marketer. It was to learn as much as I possibly could about business while getting paid to do it. And I did. I've had in I guess it's been about four years ago. I think about this time I started consulting on the side and eventually broke out on my own. And during that time I've had, I'd say at least 50 direct consulting clients and I've coached or trained hundreds of people in that time and the amount that you can learn by doing that is just there's no replacement for doing versus just reading a book. Now I do plenty of that too. But how did I make the transition? What I started to see was a market eroding and changing. I was doing something that was around conversions and copying buyer psychology. And how do we sort of connect these automation pieces if someone does this? What should we say to them next? All that kind of stuff. And it became a little bit more of a commodity. It was really interesting that I saw in year three I was charging about the same as I was in year two. And I started to go huh. All right. I've hit the ceiling. If I want to work with these kinds of clients at the same time I just was not good at the client delivery part of it.

I was good at the work and I was good at dealing with people and I was good at the strategy. But I often found it hard to stay motivated to actually sit down and do the executional hands work that I was hired for. I didn't like that part. And so you know it became clear after I don't know four months of thinking about that, I was like I got to make a change here. And one thing that I really missed from my days selling is marketing can become very much about metrics views clicks conversions opens. You know this and I miss the human element of talking to people and actually working one on one with people to make some sort of change for them. And of course, sales is closer to the money. So I like that as well in terms of a business model and a service offering it's much easier to establish the value. You know I don't need to run an attribution model if I'm helping someone increase their sales. Whereas you do in marketing and so the way I made the transition was, I had a partner in my digital marketing business and I went to him and said I really want to change the direction of where this is going or where I'm going. Here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to give you our best clients. They're yours. You don't have to pay me anything and I'm going to keep the name on the Web site. And all the assets that I've built for the business and I'm going to go do something else. And it was totally amicable and he understood.

And he was in a much better position after we split ways than before because he was no longer having to split this revenue with me. Yeah, that's what I did. And there were many months of difficulty after that trying to kind of establish things and maybe next we can talk about what actually happened after that. Yeah, that was going to be my next question. How you found products founder. As with all of these exercises, there's this massive chicken or the egg problem and you're like I've got 1000 variables which one should I just assume I know the answer to that because you're going to have to make some assumptions right. So my assumption was lots of people out there probably need help selling services because I worked in back to WRGA I worked for this company that had I think 80 employees something like 10 shareholders or give or take. And they did over ten million dollars a year. And what stood out to me was the classic 80 20. Like two or three people brought in most of the business which is true of almost every consulting business. Often if you're a small business say 10 or less like a super small business 10 or less people it's usually one person who's surviving exclusively on their existing relationships. Nothing that they've done proactively since. So I thought that's got to be something and then I went out. I need a bridge plan also. I went out talked to some friends tried to kick up some dust and found a friend who needed help with sales.

And so immediately as soon as I did this transition I had a three-month contract in place to help them with their sales strategy. So that was nice. That softened the landing and then after that, I met someone else who was focused on this exact problem and I think we saw Idah eye on a lot of different ways that we thought sales literature and the way people talk about sales was all wrong because it's very much about like this. Zero-Sum I have to when I have my weapons and it's about winning and losing in like waging war in battle and I was like want to do any of that crap. I'll give you an example in marketing. I don't know who coined this term but someone coined this term tripwire for a seven dollar entry level product. And whenever I have a friend who uses that term I immediately correct them because I'm like. Do you know what a tripwire is? It was designed to like blow someone's limbs off in war. I don't want to do that to my customers like this does not apply. I don't want to have that kind of relationship in language with the people that I work with. I want to help. And so I wanted to look at things in a totally different way. So we worked together a bit. But as a friend of mine described our relationship in retrospect he goes oh so you had two drivers but only one wheel. And I was like yeah that's about right. So we started this training business together I think it became obvious pretty quickly that we both wanted to do it our way.

So yeah that was in December we did have one awesome client who I still talk to and work with. And that's often the landing again too. But basically early December I went out on my own for the first time and within we're recording this in mid-April I now have had in four months something like 15 or 20 paying clients for sales coaching and consulting. So it's been like amazing. It's happened much faster than I would have expected. How do you feel about the business model of coaching versus having executional client from the consulting model that you were on before. I prefer it when I reflected when I was in that business. The executional model when I was in that business I would reflect on were people getting the most from me and to me it was obvious that it wasn't the executional work it was. Let's talk about your business and what's working and where should you focus so here's a classic example of brain versus hands work. Hands work would be like hey we need to go put together this campaign. Brains work is why do you want to do that campaign. Maybe we should just hear that down and like that's the wrong approach entirely and that's just where I like to focus and live like I'm much better there and I can make a bigger impact for people. I'd say the biggest shift for me initially was, well how do I even talk about this like what do people get from me. Because it went from Oh alright you this Website are all put together this automation or whatever it was. Yeah. Yeah.

Well we talked twice a month and I'll give you the call recording and there's other stuff too. And you know it's more focused on like the transformation that the person wants to make. But that was a big shift for me mentally to think about how do I sell coaching. It's ironic too because you're talking about sales and here are encountering the same problem. So how are you putting yourself at that point like where did you find with the deliverables where and how did you navigate that sloppily? So first thing was as I went out and looked at will. Who else is offering coaching and what are they doing. Someone out there has figured out a package that makes sense to some people. What does that look like? So I kind of looked at that and like kept some things and I didn't want others to. For instance, I know a lot of coaches give slack access and I could pontificate for a long time about why Slack is so terrible. But I didn't want people to have this constant interruptions stream into my life. I didn't think that that was good for me or for them. Right. So I tweak that then there's a question of like how often do we meet. What do we cover? How do I structure those sessions? Should it be completely structured or should it be open-ended? All of these things and truthfully this is all a work in progress. And I tell that to my coaching clients I'm like hey I'm definitely figuring this out. If you agree with my message and by the time someone talks to me they've been exposed to a video course and webinars.

Like all this stuff like they already know who I am and what I can bring to the table if they want to get on the phone with me. So I haven't found it to be that much of a challenge especially as I have more content that people can interact with as a proof point and a point for them to understand what would it be like to work with me. Get massively important here that a lot of people do run which is you focused on the service packaging and treated your services like a product and I think that's a really important framework for people because a lot of times people who want to shift this one on one model from a maybe agency or a consulting model get really really stuck on their own worth all linked into whatever they're selling and not thinking of it as a package. What do you mean by their own worth being tied to it? So like what why half the. What will someone get out of working with me? Why would they hire me instead of going for the things the person can get out of. You get this much time. You get many hours you get access to these worksheets or whatever. But also thinking of it more as a business instead of a personal calling even if it is I think both are important in terms of the packaging what you're describing. I think the real importance of that in a sales conversation or however you market yourself is it starts to make it a little bit more real and it makes it easier for the buyer to buy. Right.

They can start to wrap their head around okay for x dollars a month I get Y number of calls and Z access to Liston. I know how that looks. I totally understand that. I find that people who offer high-end training or consulting have are way better buyers for me because they already know what it's like to sell expertise without having a deliverable attached to it. So early on my theory or my hypothesis was I'm going to sell to a bunch of freelancers and there are a couple problems with that but I think the biggest one is freelancers are very used to trading their time and a certain number of deliverables for a wage. And that's not how I operate right. I say here's the value I think I can bring to your business and if you want it I'd love to work with you. And if not I have all this free stuff that you can consume. I don't want you to go away. I still want to help you but I just can't do it in a one on one setting. Yeah. So I think the calling is important. The why. Like why do I get up and do this everyday like why was I posting a video to linked in before this call and then recording this call for an hour and then I'm going to work again and then I'm going to record my podcast with Philip Morgan and then I'm going to do a web our deck after that and like it's a lot of work. Right. But the way I want to change the way the modern workforce sells themselves and sells their expertise. That matters.

Absolutely that matters and people who interact with me know that it's real. Yes, I definitely pick the five minutes with you. It's been remarkable to watch how you transform people's perception and how you can take these preconceived notions of sales and get people to understand. It's a paradigm shift really of how they think about it. And you're right that the why matters. I only meant it in so much as people get tripped up when they can't articulate it the way you just said Yeah get stuck on that and then feel like they're selling their self-worth. They're selling themselves instead of a product and feel arsenal. Can I say something about the wreath? Please write that down. The key thing to getting paid more having a more successful business attracting more clients is to solve bigger problems for a more focused group of people. Now I'm not saying go find a market of eight people don't do that. It's too focused. You need a big enough pool of prospects in order for your business to continue to grow and thrive. But let's say thousands but not millions or not some people are like I talked to someone the other day and I said Who's your customer and they said well really anybody who owns a business or works at a business and I was like How do I go find that person. Just stand out on the corner and just stop the next person who walks by. Oh no that's not what I mean. So what your intrinsic value is.

I think that's what you're implying is like am I a hundred thousand dollar a year person or am I a million dollar person or am I a 10000 dollar person. And then I'm going to set my prices in accordance with that. Well, I would say don't do that. The big question is what value can you deliver for people. What is the value equation? And I think it's a combination of essentially what is the dollars earned or saved that you can deliver to someone times the risk that they would incur for the project. Right. So if there's a very high likelihood of success and a very high value you are getting paid tons of money. Right. But if you think you can bring someone a million dollars in value but there's only a tenth of a percent chance of success not so much this is going to be a harder business to run. You need to find something that delivers something a little bit more routinely and predictably so rather than looking at what do I consider for myself. I think the question is What can I do to help others and what is that worth to them and inevitably someone watching this says. But wait a minute I do graphic designer I design logos to which I would say that's not what people are buying. People are buying a better version of the future right. Today if I change nothing. I know tomorrow is going to look a lot like today. The reason I want to make a change is I want tomorrow to be better than today. Well, how would they observe that? How would they know if it's better or not? What does that look like?

And that's when we start to get to our value. Oh, I love that. I love that people are never buying what you think they're buying. And that's the key piece of it. We're so focused on trying to get at we are so focused sometimes on what is my value what is my worth and it's the wrong question. The question is What does solving this problem worth to someone else and knowing what problem you solve is key which is why you need that specificity and focus like what you were saying and also not devaluing the little things like as you're saying that Loga thing. All I could think was someone who does it on time somebody who resigns smells like all things that have nothing to do with the logo but that is arguably worth having such a premium for. Totally not a waste of time in my business because what does a busy person need the most. They need stuff done right. Absolutely. That's actually what you're delivering. It's not just a logo you're getting something done moving something forward. It's not just the version of the future though it is you're selling them that dream but you're also making their life easier giving their time back. Absolutely. I mean I'll give you an example I was talking to a guy I spoke at a freelancer's union event here on negotiation recently and I was speaking to a guy afterward and he said well how do I know what my value is and I said well what do you do. He says I'm a video DP. And I was like OK so what. Right. Why does someone need that will they need a video.

Why do they need a video? Well, I guess to raise awareness. Why do they want to raise awareness? Oh well I mean they've been around for 20 years and they're going into a new market. Why are they going into a new market because their existing markets are stale? OK, so they want a video to expand into a new market and establish credibility where they've never had it before. Yeah, I was like OK so do you see your value now. That's very different then we need someone to produce a video for us. That's not what they need. No one sitting there thinking that the example I love to give is a roundup. Nobody wants chemicals to kill weeds on their lawn. They don't even really want to kill weeds on their lawn. What they want is social capital. They want their neighbors to walk by and go damn that house. Man, they got it together right. They want to be the envy of the block. They don't care about the chemicals that's not what they're buying they're buying the psychic rewards of it. And the easier you can make it for them to do that to your point that increases your value as well. So I was talking to a friend and we're talking about this idea of like writing a book and just calling it to charge more which I'm considering like how that would actually come together. But the key thing is it's not just about raising your price.

It's also about if I raise my price what is the expectation of a person who's willing to pay that and how do I deliver more seamlessly and be better to work with the client and more responsive and all of these other things that you talk about that also are aspects of doing business with you and get communicated in the sales and marketing process. Does this person have their stuff together? Right. This is something we're going to have to answer over and over again when we do client services. All I want in life is someone who does love a save up to you. They're hard to find, are they? That's why they're valuable. You realize that I don't care what your degree is for. It's really important to reframe that I think is helpful in how we talk about sales. What has been most surprising to you as you've worked with all these clients in people's biggest resistance? Q This paradigm shift I think originally I thought it was going to be primarily a confidence issue. So like the tagline on my site is I helped consult and sell their expertise with confidence and I still think that that's a big challenge. Right. So this really comes down to a simple question Why me. Well who the hell am I. Why should so-and-so buy from me and not from someone else? And like why should I be able to charge X dollars an hour. When the market bears out a lower price. So I think that that's part of it this me. QUESTION But I think what's been more surprising is there's this book by the Heath brothers called decisive. Are you aware of it? I haven't read it. I love you. OK. Yeah yeah. So made to stick.

Obviously a classic marketing book but indecisive. What they talk about is one of the key problems in the way we make decisions is that we limit the options set we artificially and often people will create a false dichotomy. So like in a sale the way that would look is oh they don't want to pay my nice either have to lower my price or lose the deal. Well no that's not actually the choice. Right. I think a lot of people are missing that sort of keeping them into Hey wait let's take a step back. There are all these other things that go into the way people make a decision about how they buy other than price. Let's focus on those right. Let's not lower our price ever. That's another option too. You could just say no I'm not going to do that. Right. So I think what's been most surprising to me and maybe it's not a resistance but it's a lack of knowledge about what is possible and what can work. You can say no and people will still buy from you. People are like oh my god really I think that's been the most surprising thing is just the limited options set that most people are working with. That's fascinating. It also stands in opposition to our conventional marketing wisdom which is like knowledge doesn't change behavior like information doesn't change stuff which obviously context matters right. Like how you deliver this information within the context of someone who wants to make a change or is angry for knowledge and is having their eyes opened by this.

You're not just going around beating them over the head with it. Tell me about this information doesn't or knowledge doesn't change behavior. Oh, so one of the main like. Where did it start? Some of the more famous earliest decision clients have talked about how you could give people the right answer and it doesn't change anything. Otherwise, we'd all have six-pack abs and be millionaires. We know how to do what we need to do but we're not doing it because we're not addressing the core problem. Yeah, it has to do with the science. Behavior change. Like why we aren't getting the outcomes that we want. One example is like campaigns for reducing drug use or teen pregnancy. Like a lot of times we give people information about all the reasons why it's bad for you. It's not going to be effective. But if you tell a 14-year-old she's going to get fat and suddenly she's not really interested in having a kid. Yeah. Getting those drivers I'd say carte blanche just giving people more information or knowledge isn't the only lever you need to pull to change behavior. However, to your example I've got two examples to share with you so you can't just go out and teach health studies in junior highs or high schools and expect teen pregnancy to drop although it does. As opposed to teaching abstinence so that's a counterpoint number one for you. Number two is if you teach them if you wear a condom or your partner wears a condom when you have sex you're way less likely to get pregnant and if you give them condoms teenage pregnancy drops dramatically. Right.

Similar to that for example back to this knowledge thing. They found that at McDonald's when they started posting the number of calories each item had on the menu people consumed less calories because they knew the impact of their choices. Now whether or not they ate so few calories that they were gaining weight as a result of that meal. I don't know. That's a different thing. Now with that decision architecture right they frame the choice so it's not just that they're giving them information on calories they've actually now said it's this versus this. So you're choosing based on something else. Correct. But the statement knowledge doesn't change behavior I think can be a little bit misleading so I'm needling you on this. Margo No I'm not taking credit for what they say. Yeah. No, but if I've been context always matters I think this is such a good example of how that works. You can't just deal with the confidence or the self-doubt or that he's like you have to have both and probably what you're doing as well by giving them this knowledge and education and what they didn't know. It's consequently building up their confidence because now it's not just Aqualung like my skills as a salesperson with a silver tongue. It's like no no I've reframed how I think about sales. It's not just a conversation I'm in pressing you. It's a conversation about value. It's a conversation of problems solution you shifted the framework from which they're operating entirely. That's right. And it takes work.

And the truth is in terms of building confidence I mean there's sort of intrinsic confidence like some people are just more aggressive than others which most of us interpret to be confidence. But some of us spend a lot of time learning things. Some of us spend a lot of time assimilating knowledge and applying it. And those are the things that build confidence. So one of my pet peeves is people are like oh you're such a natural when you talk. So like for instance during this conversation I've referenced several blog posts that I've written over the last six months and I published a 174 blog post over that time right. Like it didn't just come to me. There was work that went into it. So it's a combination of the skills and the practice and the knowledge and they all play together in the sort of building the plane while it's in the air and you just hope that you're building it fast enough that you keep going. It's the results of hard work. Right. All coming together. I love that building the plane in the. Well that is a perfect point to end this on I want to keep talking but we are up on time with them. Thank you so much. There is a lot of richness in this conversation. I think a lot of people can have about sales and about transitioning in your journey and finding what works for you. So how can people reach you if they want to reach you? So two things they can e-mail me directly liston@liston.io, and if you go to my website you can just sign up for my free sales course ten videos or if you want to add me on LinkedIn.

I'm pretty active there. Just go to LinkedIn and type in my name Liston Witherill. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

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Liston Witherill

Hi, I’m Liston. I help freelancers and consultants sell with confidence. My vision is for every freelancer, consultant, and agency owner to sell with confidence.