The number one obstacle to success as a writer in 2015 is obscurity. If a bear tweets in the woods in a flash of brilliance, will a publisher give him an advance making him an overnight sensation? There are 2 million blogs put out every day - you do the math - how on Earth will your content stick out?
I share this wisdom from Michael Hyatt's book Platform: "Two respected agents have told me they loved my book and proposal and are willing to represent it, but not until I have social media followers numbering in the thousands. I find this bewildering: Doesn't a good book stand on its own anymore? Are writers now doomed to spend the bulk of our workdays trawling for blog subscribers?
The answer to the first question is no. A good product does not stand on its own anymore. It is foundational but it is not enough. The answer to the second question is yes. You will need to be proactive about creating the who part of the equation. In order for you to be successful in today's business environment, you need two things: a compelling product and a significant platform."
Your platform trumps your content. Period. You can now build that crucial audience directly on LinkedIn where the network effects are the greatest (especially as a business author.)
Michael Hyatt's book, Platform encourages bringing a massively engaged 'follower audience' of tens of thousands to Publishers. This approach has already generated lucrative speaking gigs and book sales for me as a byproduct. I'm following Hyatt's blueprint advice to a tee in order to build this tribe of true fans so I can break into the US and European markets with a "built audience."
Content alone is folly as everyone has it, I'm focused on that foundational step of audience. Content is King but audience is Ace and in order to position RSVPselling alongside SPIN, Challenger and Cracking the Sales Management Code, (as I humbly believe it holds up in the field having road tested it on deals above $100 million), it will require building power bases in the publishing industry, the sales thought leader intelligentsia and the end users: front-line sales managers, sales people and those CXOs interested in growing profitable revenue in their business.
The topic of Leadership (my next book) is an even more competitive field with the likes of Jim Collins, I can only hope to enter the fray with engagement statistics that justify the investment for the publisher. A major inspiration for this book has been my mentorAnthony Howard and his lighthouse principles of Human-Centred Leadership.
I very deliberately don't take people to my website or do short posts with links to long version articles behind a form where people must provide their details. That's what I think causes people to click away and I'm not interested in spamming or e-mail blasting people.
I had a call from America last week. It was with a potential publishing agent for my next book. She believes in what I'm all about but it's a crowded market and she asked me a straight-forward question - I'm embarrassed to confess I stumbled.
Five simple words: 'What Really Makes You Different?'
In every company I've run, in every sales team I've led, in every sales role I've held - I've had a solid response to that question. When I ran a CRM company, the answer was: "We help you improve revenue and reduce customer churn by providing a system that puts customers at the heart of everything you do. What's makes us different is our approach, our people, our ability to deliver the results you need and manage implementation risk." When I ran an Enterprise Content Management (document management) company, the answer was: "We reduce the costs and risks associated with all of your unstructured content - all those sensitive files on people's hard drives, uncontrolled and unsecure. Our software is great but what really makes us different is our people, our project methodology, and the experience we bring from doing this for others just like you."
Two years ago I left the corporate world and went out on my own with what I regard as the world's best sales methodology which I'd developed and honed to win hundreds of millions of dollars of business selling to large corporations and government at all levels. But I quickly learned that the world does not need another sales methodology; most companies already have a few - they're not looking for yet another one. And they're right - it doesn't really matter what the methodology is; just use something well. There are so many great approaches to selling out there and here are ten of the best frameworksand methodologies ever constructed. Full disclosure, after 30 years of success in the field working with teams, I humbly list RSVP in there alongside SPIN, TAS, Challenger, Solution, Strategic, etc.
So what was my answer for the literary agent? She was patient and gracious and I eventually arrived at this: "I'm everything that needs to happen before and after Rackham's SPIN - everything else is a fad. What makes me unique is that I've been doing it in the real world for thirty years and I've embraced social - old school meets new school, digital and physical, tactical and strategic." It wasn't a great answer and I shouldn't have been negative about others.
But it was beyond being 'not great'; it was plain crap because it failed to address the needs of my audience - book publishers. Book publishing has changed, the industry is in turmoil, bookshops are going broke, publishers are being forced to redefine their business models. There's a new set of rules and great content is no longer enough if you're an author - you must bring the publisher an audience! Unless you've got a solid following, it just represents too much risk for a publisher to gamble on you being a surprise hit.
Here is a statistic that may shock you and it was told to me by a past Australian regional manager for a major publisher. He confided that only 3% of books published in the world sell more than 500 copies - and it's impossible to make money from a book unless you sell at least that many copies. Less than 1% of authors make any real money from their published work. If you're in the publishing industry and can point me to other statistics or provide additional insight, please comment on this post.
Making enough money to earn a good living from writing is the same as being a musician - there are very few Bonos and JK Rowlings out there. We live in a world where there are a thousand channels and no-one is listening. Browsing, clicking, liking, cursory comments - but very few truly engage. They merely do the gardening online a few times a week, just enough to maintain the hedge and stop weeds taking hold - dipping-in and paddling around in social, just enough not to be left behind.
In a year in which we celebrate Martin Luther King with a new brilliant movie, we should think about what made him a world-changer. In my mind, the answer is clear - he had purpose and passion in his vision, mission and values.
MLK articulated The Joshua Principle: Although our actions and behaviors define us; it's who we become that determines the real value of everything we pursue.
This video by Ruckus is brilliant in its humor and clarity. They obviously understand that transferring belief in what you offer is the key to influencing someone in their buying decision! Ruckus has no problem in explaining how they're different and why it matters.
How I wish we all had this passion and ability to create cut-through in our message but here is a confession. For my entire career I've been able to differentiate and link to business value in my conversations. But now out on my own with no brand to hide behind, just me and my ideas, it's been a challenge. In the age of social selling 3.0 we all sell naked because LinkedIn reveals social proximity and relevance. LinkedIn Publisher also reveals whether we have any insights, and the exact number of followers and their level of engagement - you can't fake a persona on this platform. I say it regularly: The way we sell is more important than what we sell; and the way you engage on LinkedIn and within other social media platforms is more important than retweets and 'likes'.
In Australia I've found two kindred spirits, John Smibert who runs the brilliantly engaging Strategic Selling Group and Bernadette McClelland who provides endless engagement and support. Anthony Iannarino is another from the USA and he's been incredibly generous in his support of me; also Gerhard from Selling Power. These people are social ninjas with generosity of spirit and all are committed to making professional selling everything it needs to be. Genuine goodwill, the kind that promotes you with no expectation for anything in return, goes a very long way in a cynical world.
I want you to ask yourself a question that will change the way you sell: "Why you; and what really makes you different from all the other voices out there?" When I was asked this question about myself and my ideas in the context of book publishing, I wasn't ready - I deserved to be shot! I've carved a career being able to answer that questions but there I was - deer in the headlights.
One of my clients in the professional services industry is someone I respect greatly. His name is Ian Sharpe and he helped my find clarity. I had previously shared these questions with him and he was a mirror in playing the questions back to me in my quest to improve the way I position myself in the world, especially on LinkedIn. In addition to the big question in the paragraph above, here are the three questions we used to help each other and they can help you transform your message to attract the opportunities you deserve. If you can answer these questions in the form of your story, you'll knock it right out the park and stand out for all the right reasons:
- What's the most important problem I solve for people?
- Why is it important?
- How can I help them and what should they do about it?
But back to what I should have said when I was asked the question by the publishing agent. My first book is a bestseller in Australia and is in its 6th printing; and I'm rapidly building a strong LinkedIn following. I've achieved this by being committed to publishing quality content daily. It's been a huge challenge on many levels and a commitment that could not be possible without the support of my wife as I disappear every night to write. I've had only one 'rock-thrower' in that time but luckily he scampered back under his rock. The huge level of support I've received and the results I've achieved have astounded me. There's a reason I'm doing it and it's not narcissism; it's the need to build a following for my next books. This is what I later sent in an e-mail to salvage and refocus our dialogue:
I've been thinking about your question: "What really makes you different." The answer is that I'm a proven writer with an existing best seller and I can bring the publisher an audience. I've had 300,000 reads of my blog posts in just 8 weeks and among my thousands of LinkedIn connections they rank me #5, in front of the legendary Koka Sexton and Jill Rowley, and right behind Brian Tracy. But I'm not naïve enough to think that unique visitor page views equates to readership engagement - I know the publisher needs someone who can generate sales due to the following they've earned. For me, everyone who is a potential buyer of my books lives in LinkedIn. I'm obsessively and diligently earning a following that the publisher will be able to leverage. The new rules say quality content is king, queen, prime minister and Pope; but I know that audience is Ace - it trumps everything else. Both together is what brings the most possible value to a publisher. That's what really makes me different.
Your family, your community, your church or club, your employer - they all need you to lead. I had a later conversation with Ian Sharpe about why he thought leadership mattered and why there is such an absence of it. Here is what he wrote back to me:
Leaders change things for the better and we live in a world in dire need of change. No one is born to lead - they learned it. Almost two thirds of Executive respondents identified leadership development as their number one concern - yet only 43 percent of CEOs are confident that their training investments in leadership will bear fruit (McKinsey 2014). The reason is that they're focusing on the wrong developmental actions for leaders - which must be attitudinal and experience-based, and not just skills-based. A lack of leadership stunts company and career growth. There are no technical failures...they are all ultimately people failures; leading people is therefore crucial for avoiding disasters. Thriving in the 21st Century requires effective leadership, otherwise time, attention and money will continue to be wasted. Leadership is required for sustainable change and growth, it is the key competitive differentiator.
I've been doing my best to improve my LinkedIn profile for some time now and I think I'm close but I would welcome your feedback. Now it's over to you. What makes a great LinkedIn profile and what questions do you ask to sharpen your focus on the why, rather than the who, what and how? If you've recently had success as a publisher, could you please share insight into effective strategies that have helped you cut through?
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: CollegeDegrees360
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