Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO podcast, I’m your host Steve Gordon.
Today, we’ve got a great interview for you. If you are in any kind of service business and you’ve ever felt like selling, was something that made you feel a little bit uncomfortable and maybe got you out of the position of being a trusted advisor. Then, you want to pull the car over right now, pull out a notepad, and take some notes, because I’m talking with Brian J. Greenberg.
Brian, he’s got one of the most interesting financial services businesses I have ever seen and we work with a lot of folks in that industry, so that’s saying something.
He’s generated over $50 million dollars in revenue from his businesses, collected over 10,000 reviews. Stop for a second and think about that. 10,000 reviews from customers and he’s been one of the most creative people in financial services, and he’s been called the salesman who doesn’t sell, and he has a book by that title, and we’re gonna dive into all of that today.
So Brian, welcome to the Unstoppable CEO.
Oh, thank you so much for having me Steve.
I’m excited about this, I love talking about sales in the context of professional services, because I really think it’s a little bit of a different animal, and I’m excited to dive into that.
But, before we do, can you give everybody a little bit of background so they understand how you got to this stage of your career?
Of course, I started promoting businesses on the internet, back in 2004. What really interested me was the marketing. I loved ranking organically in Google and Yahoo, and running the business that way.
Now, the other thing I really loved about internet based businesses is that I can run them passively. So, I spend a very long time learning how to sell somebody strictly without talking to them. Some people in the insurance business call me the salesman who doesn’t sell. I love that title. I pride myself on being able to sale somebody and build up their trust and close a sale, while I sleep.
In the past, I’ve owned an internet organic marketing company, I sold it back in 2012. I decided to focus on my own businesses. And I’ve just been having a lot of fun and you’re right, my main business right now is a life insurance website that I sell insurance directed consumers in all 50 states.
So, you’ve been in a lot of businesses, why life insurance? Why did you settle there?
The insurance market online, is one of the most competitive niches that you can get into. Besides that, it’s one of the most profitable. I think insurance is definitely one of the top four most difficult niches, it also has the highest paper click values.
So, all the insurance keywords, if you were gonna buy them in Google AdWords, it’ll cost you $30, up to $50 a click.
So, what I found is I’m able to rank in Google for pretty much anything, and if I want to play the long game, and compete against the big guys in Google, I’d might as well pick the most profitable niche.
So, I’m able to bring in close to $600,000 worth of organic traffic value every month, and for the amount of work that I’m able to do and put into it, and the amount of employees I have, it’s a profitable business, so that’s why I chose it, and I like it, I feel like we’re serving people.
That’s awesome. I’ve often said that life insurance is the most difficult thing to sell on the planet because you’re selling something that and collecting the money today the benefit and I know the clients we have in this business correct me on this all the time, you can use some of the benefit while you’re still alive, but for the most part, your prospects believe they’re gonna give you money and there’s no hope of them getting any benefit until they’re gone.
And so, that’s a pretty hard bargain. You’ve entered a difficult industry and I can’t imagine that given the competition that you’re up against, that building this machine online to where you’re ranking for these high value keywords, that couldn’t have been an easy thing to do.
I’m sure it didn’t happen over night, I’m sure there were times when you thought, “God, are we ever gonna get there?”
How did you deal with some of the bumps along the way and the challenges as you built the business?
The Question You Must Ask Yourself When Making Any Decision
You know, I think as entrepreneurs we get a little bit too focused on the profits, on a quarterly basis, on a daily basis. The one thing I always like to go back to, is that the number one responsibility I have as the CEO of the company is to serve the customer.
So, any decision I make, I always want to go back to, does it serve the customer? If you focus on that, it’s the best way. I love the quote that says, “The best way to become a billionaire is to serve a billion people.”
So, as the CEO and I run a smaller company, I don’t have to worry too much about shareholders, or quarterly profits. I play the long game. And the long game I know that the good guys usually win, I hope that they always win, and that there’s a piece of karma in business.
So, if I stay honest, ethical, and I run business the right way, I’ll get satisfied customers and that actually kind of spins that whole marketing wheel and I have customers coming to me. Which is important.
Now, see real quick, life insurance. Many people say, life insurance is always sold. Right, you always have to convince people to buy insurance. I kind of took the opposite view. I think insurance should be bought. So I like to get people when they actually want to buy insurance and I get them to choose me as their agent.
So, most of the time, I’m able to sell them and we’re able to start a good relationship and I can avoid all the negativity that’s involved with other people that are pushy that sell life insurance.
I think that’s really key, and it’s prevalent in the insurance industry just because of the way that new agents are brought into the business and taught.
Build your list of 100 people that you know and then go chase them. And you’ve clearly taken a different approach.
I’ll tell you, the thing that you just said that I think is most important is, I think is missing in a lot of the business media today is the idea of the long view.
Even in small business, I used to be big business, you know you’re on Wall Street, and you’ve got to deal with the quarterly, or earnings report and that kind of drives everything. I feel like with all the chatter of social media and all the craziness of the marketing gurus and all that, that are out there that tell you if you put a dollar into Facebook, tomorrow you’re gonna be a millionaire … millionaire by Friday, you know.
It gives us this perception of instant reward, instant result, and I don’t think that, that’s really the way a strong solid business is ever built. How hard has it been to push back against the world and stay focused on the long view?
How to Do Business Ethically and Transparently – and Leverage It
It is difficult, it is a challenge. I think an important word that always kind of rings around with me is relentless. From a young age, I’ve always been relentless. I know Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, he prides himself very strongly on being relentless.
And if you actually go to relentless.com it redirects to Amazon. He bought that domain a long time ago. As far as playing the long game, yeah, I mean that’s what you need. You need to have faith that if you do business the right way, you’re gonna be the last guy standing.
So, look I’ve been online and I’ve been in business for a long time, and I’ve definitely seen the guys that run businesses unethically and just focused on getting that money, they don’t survive.
So part of it is if you just keep doing business the right way, you’re gonna be the last guy standing and my belief is that if you don’t quit, you can’t lose.
Yeah, it’s such a critical perspective to take. I often look at the growth line of a business. I mean most people look at it as a relatively straight line up into the right.
And I look at it a little bit differently. If you’ve ever looked at an exponential curve, where it’s almost imperceptibly going up at the beginning, but you get to a tipping point where then it just rockets off and I’ve seen that happen in both of our businesses and they were times so frustrating because you felt like you were making no progress at all, but the progress just wasn’t visible yet.
I would imagine for you in building out what you’ve done, knowing what it takes to do all of this online with organic traffic, I mean have you experienced that in the current business as you’ve built it out?
You mean as far as being able to stay focused on the long term, Steve?
Yeah, and have you had times where the growth was maybe almost imperceptible but you know you’ve got this choice. Do I stay the course, or do I try something else?
You know, look in organic SEO, you have ups and downs and it’s not necessarily your doing. Google and the search engines come out with new algorithm changes all the time.
So, back in 2012, just to go back a little bit on the history of organic search. People that were kind of scamming the system to rank organically, they got all wiped out.
Wil Reynolds the owner of SEER Interactive, he did this great speech and it really hit home with me, he says, “Look, from now on you have to do real company stuff.” He used profanities, real company, real company stuff. So do stuff that real companies do and only do it.
So don’t pay somebody overseas to build private blog networks. So I guess some of it has to do with faith that if I’m doing it the right way, and I’m doing it per the guidelines and I’m doing everything that real companies do. That every time Google comes out with an algorithm update, my sites do better. Hey knock on wood, but that’s how it’s gone.
It does take patience, right. I think that it’s important to grow as your business grows. To keep everything, I don’t have any investors. Some of my competitors have $50 million dollars of investments and they just burn through money, and that’s a lot of stress.
I’ve run my business and invested off profits, so I’ve grown slowly. That’s the kind of trade-off. So it’s just about faith that if you’re doing everything right, that you’re gonna get paid in the end. It’s very much business karma.
Yeah, I think you’ve got a really great philosophy and what I’d like to do is we’re gonna come back in just a second. We’re gonna dive into Brian’s strategies all around selling without having to sell.
Brian, I’m looking forward to getting into that and going deep. We’re gonna be right back with more from Brian Greenberg.
Hi this is Steve, I hope you’re enjoying this interview, we’ve got more to come in a minute, but what I’d love for you to do right now is rate this podcast. Leave us a review, rate us on iTunes, it’ll really help others discover the podcast, and help us, help other CEOs, other business leaders become unstoppable.
So, if you go to Unstoppableceo.net/iTunes, you can find instructions there and links that will take you right to where you need to go to review the podcast. Thanks so much.
Now back to the interview.
Welcome back, this is Steve Gordon, and I’m here with Brian Greenberg.
Brian, you’ve got a new book, and the book is by the title that I guess you’ve been called in the industry, The Salesman Who Doesn’t Sell.
I’d love to hear your approach to sales and how you think it differs from what’s common out there in industry today.
You know the thing that I love the most about how things are going, especially online and in how people choose the businesses that they choose to do business with is reviews.
So a big part of my book is I preach very strongly that you should do business honestly, ethically, and transparently. But then, the question is, how to leverage that?
So if you focus on customer satisfaction and you know how to leverage it, you’re gonna grow your business faster than anybody. There’s been studies that companies of the highest net promoter score.
Steve, I don’t know if you see this on a lot of the software you buy, they’ll say on a score of 1 to 10, how do you like the software? Would you recommend it to somebody? That’s net promoter score.
Now, the companies that have the highest net promoter score are the ones that experiences the quickest and the most revenue growth. Now we’re talking about Zappos, and Amazon, and USAA, Nordstrom’s.
So what I like to teach people how to leverage it. If you focus on reviews, my goodness Steve, reviews are so persuasive. Reviews are like the new references. If you’re gonna choose a service provider, well give me three references, right? You don’t have to do that anymore, you can show them 100 references, and they’re sold right then and there. People go onto Yelp and they see somebody has 15 five star reviews, it’s a done deal.
So, part of what I like to teach people is to focus on reviews, if you focus on reviews, you’re gonna be focusing on doing business the right way and focusing on the customer, and what I’ve experienced is exponential growth myself, the more reviews I get. More social proof I can show any potential customer.
Yeah, and you’ve got an insane number of reviews on your website. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on a site. Particularly on a site that’s selling a high-end service.
So, how would if a business owner is listening to this, how would they begin to focus on reviews? What should they start doing to collect the reviews. What are some of the things that they can begin doing right away?
The first thing is the mindset, I think that so many CEOs don’t know the value of the reviews. That’s why they don’t focus on it.
Now, I’d like to go ahead and put a value on reviews. I value a review I get on my own website that I control about $100 each. Now, besides that $100, every year I get about $25 dollars out of it. That just has to do with the increase and conversion rates.
If I get a review on a third party website, a website that I don’t control, like The Better Business Bureau, or Google Business, or Yelp, or TripAdvisor, depending on what you focus on. I value those reviews at $250 each, and $50 each year after that.
Now it’s not a science how to measure that. I just know that I close so many more sales, my conversion rate compared to my competitors is about 1000 times higher.
The Single Best Way to Secure the Right Reviews for Your Business
So, the first thing is focus on it. The next thing obviously ask for it. I think so many people don’t ask for it. The time to ask for it is when you finish the service and you ask the customer, “Are you happy?” And that’s the time to ask.
All you have to do is ask.
For folks who are in a service business. I mean you do a lot of what you do online, but for an attorney or an accountant, or somebody like that who is working in close counter proximity with their clients and has a really tight relationship with them. I know from talking to them that sometimes they feel a little bit uncomfortable asking for stuff like that.
What would you say to somebody like that in terms of A. How to have the mindset to get over it, and B. How would you approach that if you were in their shoes, how would you ask?
I like giving them a value to the reviews so they know it. You know it’s not just a favor, it’s something that they can do for you. Almost reciprocal, if you do a good job, they want to help you.
Please know that it is not a form of bragging. I think so many people think it’s bragging, it’s not. I almost think that it’s an ethical responsibility for the people that can get good reviews actually get them and display them.
That way it proliferates that the best businesses will get the business and that’s where I want to see everything go. I want to see more and more businesses focusing on the customers, being ethical and the way to display that is with the reviews.
Now, let’s say you have an attorney or an accountant, I know they’re not comfortable asking for reviews. You don’t necessarily have to verbally ask. I use email. Email is by far the best way to get reviews. I like to ask for a review first that I control. So I built a program, there’s tons of software out there. Just ask them for a review on five stars and a comment, you control.
If it’s a bad review, you don’t have to display it. If they give me a five start review, I send them another email with the exact comment that they gave me with a direct link to the exact URL on the Better Business Bureau where you submit a review.
Make it incredibly easy. Even on Google, I’ll give them the exact URL that’ll give them the popup and they’ll see the stars. Make it super simple. But, utilize email, and send it more than once. It’s so easy to automate, I send a review email in the 3rd, 7th, and 10th day. If they give me five stars, I’ll send them three more emails asking for reviews on those third party websites.
That’s fantastic, and I think that’s a great approach to do it.
Now, how important do you think, I mean certainly the traditional way of doing this particularly for the types of business we were just talking about is to get a review or get a testimonial. I mean in the old days, what used to get these things and stick them as letters-
In the three-ring binder, right, and the client would be the brag book that you have on your coffee table in the lobby. You’d hope they’d come through while they’re waiting.
So, it seems really natural if I’m in one of these service businesses to get it and put it on my website.
How important for these types of services do you think it is to have it out on third party sites?
I think it’s very important and I think people know if it’s on the company’s website that it can be manipulated, right? They’ll look at those reviews and they’ll decide how legitimate they look.
On a third party website the businesses have no control. If someone gives you a bad review, you can’t get it down. You can say, “Oh I’m gonna sue you, I’m gonna call Google, I’m gonna call Yelp.” You cannot get it down.
So, people trust those, and I think the more people use those services and fine that they work, they build up more and more trust for those services.
I also want to say how to organize your reviews, so they look legitimate, okay. Yes, somebody might send you an email saying how great you are, thank you so much. It’s not really usable on your website. Use the Amazon internet standard type of review to display. Now, for that you’re gonna need to the customer’s name, you’re gonna need the date of the review, you need stars. If there’s no stars, it doesn’t do it.
I like putting the city and the state of where the person was, because I do business in all 50 states. Then I get comments. I require somebody to put in 20 characters of a comment. Those are incredible reviews. People look at those they get the similarity affect because they can see where they are.
I even take a step further, Steve. I say what product they bought, so I say what company insurance policy they bought and whether they bought a 20 year term, or a 30 year term. The more details, the better.
Use the internet standard please. Those are the ones that are really gonna tip the scales for you.
What I like about all of the different details that you’re getting there, is that for the next customer whose trying to figure out what do I buy. For them to be able to see that there’s someone in my state or in my city who bought the same product and here’s what their experience was like.
Now, that gives me a lot of comfort, and-
One of the things that I believe as a fundamental product that ever business sells is confidence. You’re transferring confidence from your business or from the other customers in your business to the new customer so that they can feel good about this new little journey of trust that they’re going on. Because they’re taking some risk coming and doing business with you and obviously you can have guarantees and all that sort of stuff in place, but that risk is still there and I think … you see a lot of people do money back guarantee and all that stuff. That’s wonderful. That’s great.
But, I don’t think that removes nearly as much risk because they still have to trust that you’re gonna honor as 10 or 50 or 1000 or 10,000, like you have comments from other customers who have already had success it’s hard to ignore that.
I think that you’re exactly right. Those reviews build trust and they build confidence. If they do business with you, they’re gonna be one of those people that had a great experience.
One other thing that reviews are so important even when I’m choosing businesses, it’s very important for me to choose a business that has reviews because that business has accountability.
If something goes wrong as a customer, I know what to do. I’m gonna try to get them to fix it, if they don’t fix it, I’m gonna give them a bad review.
In my goodness that is an unbelievable negotiating tactic for anybody who’s a customer for any service. Now, I can put a negative review and then if they say, “oh”, that’ll get their attention.
Now, almost always they’ll fix the issue and then I’ll remove the review. And I’ve done, I’ve had people give me bad reviews although I’ve always had the opportunity to fix it and they’ll take it down.
So it’s very important, I don’t see that we haven’t touched on this yet, but what to do if you get a negative review. Don’t react, don’t fight it. Fix the problem immediately, apologize, play the victim. Please let them know that it hurts your business so substantially, give them a refund, be willing to take a loss on it.
A negative review, when I put a value to positive reviews, a negative review could cost you $10,000 plus. I’ve seen so many businesses have to close their doors and rename their business and start all over again.
Yeah, and the power cuts both ways.
We’ve talked about reviews and the approach that you’ve got really put your customers in the salesman’s position for you by letting them get out there and say, your future Mr. Customer, you’re in this position I was in, here’s the problem I faced, here’s what I did, and I got a really great results. So they’re doing all the selling for you, which is really, really powerful.
Beyond that, how have you over the course of building this business earned that moniker of the salesman who does sale, what are the other things that you’re doing?
You know I think you touched on them. So, I used something that I think that everyone should use. It’s user experience testing. So I like to use usertesting.com for $50 you could have someone go through your website, they usually almost about an hour, you can see their screen and they’re talking while they’re going through your website and what you want them to do is act like a normal customer.
From that, I can find out all the questions that I’m not answering from the customer. If the customer has to call you to ask a question. I basically caused a big problem for myself. So some companies don’t list prices, that’s a barrier, like you said a money back guarantee, a free trial, all these things to make things easier.
What is the return policy? What is the shipping? Tell them right up front, don’t make them ask. Because any questions that they have that don’t have an answer, they’re gonna leave your site. They’re gonna go to your competitor and if they’re doing it better, you’re gonna lose them.
So, I like to just address every complaint, and I ask my sales people too, what are the questions that you get most often? And then I will head them off through the sales process. I’ll answer those questions. If I answer every question, then you’ll get sales. Even for products that don’t normally sell without a sales process or a face to face interaction or a phone call. You’d be surprised that people will just go ahead and buy and put their credit card down or sign up just like that.
You know for most of us this is all about looking at something that we want or that we need. And really being enabled to make the purchase. I think for a lot of businesses we haven’t really thought through what it takes to allow somebody to enable that future client, to make that purchase. They’ve got all these questions and I know sometimes I talk to business owners, and it’s like they get a little bit offended when they’re asked the questions because they’re maybe not prepared to answer them. Or they don’t understand why the customer has that question.
When you can address all of those up-front ahead of time, you eliminate the need to sell in the way that most people go, “I don’t wanna be sold.” You’re now enabling that person to actually make the buy. They can come in and they can purchase, but doing that requires … it doesn’t happen overnight, it’s not like you sit down one day, I mean maybe you’ve got a better system for doing this than I do, but I’ve never been able to sit down one day and just think about all of the questions and they come up. They come up over time, they change over time.
It sounds like you’ve got some feedback loops there, when you get that, where does that go into the sales process? Does that plug into content on your website? Do you plug it into educational webinars or videos? How do you find the right place to put it in the sales process?
For my particular businesses, it’s kind of through the sales process on my website. So I’m kind of directing people, the process that I want them to go through.
So I’ll have them run a quote, I’ll give them all the reviews, I’ll let them choose, I’ll let them do all the research.
Webinars of course are a wonderful way to do it. The whole goal is to have them being sold and they want to do business with you without you having to sell them.
Now, I agree, if people keep asking me the same questions, especially why should I do business with you? Or why should I trust you? Yeah, those can get under the skin a little bit, that’s why I love answering them on my website, or like you said in a webinar, or however your sales process goes.
Sell them there. Take it off your plate. That’s my motivation really is the more questions I answer, the easier I make it on myself and my sales team and the less resources and time I need to put into it.
I ran, I still run a drop ship business and it was tracking information, what’s it like tracking? When is it gonna arrive? Well when I automated it and I sent them the tracking information automatically, it cut down like 30% of my customer service time.
Yeah, when they come up, please yeah do it knowledge based, make sure you answer it because then you don’t have to, answer it once on your website or in your sales process and then don’t do it again.
Yeah, going back to this idea of transferring confidence, if they see that you have thought through all of these things and you’ve been proactive about it and you’ve put the information out there. It elevates trust so much I think, they can now feel confident, okay these people have a process. They’ve thought through everything. They knew what all of my questions were.
I don’t know how much you’re on the phone in sales, it sounds like you’ve got a sales team who is probably on the phone with prospects. Do they ever have the experience where a customer is kind of quoting your stuff?
Oh and I read this and I read that, and so I think that we’re ready to go.
Like the sales people love it, right, because people will read the testimonials on all these places, more than you could even think. So a lot of times they’ll call and they’ll be speaking to my sales person Jenn, right. And they’ll say, “Jenn, I’m so happy I got you, I’m so happy you’re the sales person because I read all these beautiful reviews about you. That’s why I chose you guys.” They were just so impressed. This happens every day and that’s wonderful.
Now, another thing I wanted to bring up, these review sites, if you offer reviews, not only in your service but all the other products involved and all the different options. People want an opinion and that’s how they do their research.
Yelp, and Amazon, and TripAdvisor, they just have an unbelievable amount of traffic as search engines. People go there to do their research. So especially if you’re in a business that you have the ability to do that, I mean people come to my website to do the research, to find out what are the best companies to find out what most people are buying.
So, it is such a strong sales tactic that people really should be using if they’re not using it to its full capacity, just keep doing it. They’ve done studies where if people get 10 reviews on Yelp, and it could increase their business by 20%. It’s just so powerful.
Well and for a business that is local in scale, or even regional. I mean most of the time, you know I look for reviews all the time, and it’s often very difficult to find a business that has more than a couple of reviews. A lot of times what you’ll see in a local area is everybody’s got like one or two.
It’s their mother and their aunt, you know, Aunt Betsy came to the restaurant and left their review-
Those are good too.
Yeah, those are all great, but then there’s the one that’s got two dozen.
And I know that they get the lion share of the business but the good news there is they probably only got two dozen and it’s not that hard to get twice that many or four times that many over the course of a year or 18 months, and now you’re in the driver’s seat.
This is a tactic that really you don’t hear a lot of people talking about and I think there’s a big opportunity right now for the big brands are doing it already, but most businesses aren’t the big brands.
If you’ve got a business where you can kind of look around and see none of your competitors are paying any attention to this at all it is a really quick way to get ahead.
The Power of “Barnacle SEO” and the Best Way to Implement It
You know, these review websites. Yelp, TripAdvisor, is such an opportunity for local business, local services, everybody.
Now, it actually has a funny name, it’s called Barnacle SEO. Barnacle SEO is the process of attaching yourself to a larger entity that’s gonna bring you in the resources. If you’re a local service business and you have a lot of Yelp reviews or Google business reviews, I mean that is gonna bring you a tremendous amount of business. I think so many people would be surprised, people can build very large businesses from just bringing in traffic from these third party websites.
I mean, Amazon Merchant services, people just sell on Amazon or Etsy. But, definitely these local review sites are such an opportunity.
Wow, this is such a fascinating and refreshing approach and I appreciate you sharing it with us today. I know folks are gonna be curious about how to dive into the details of this.
So, for those who want to find your book and really start implementing things, where’s the best place for them to go?
You know what Steve, I’d like to give all your listener the free audio version of my book, The Salesman Who Doesn’t Sale: A Marketing Guide to Selling While You Sleep. I go into very much detail. I try to give away as much as possible and they can get it at Brianjgreenberg.com/unstoppableceo
That’s awesome, and we’re gonna do one additional thing. So if you’re listening to this and you go to Unstoppableceo.net and find this episode with Brian, for the best comment that’s left over the next two weeks after we launch the episode, we’re gonna go get five copies of the book and we’re gonna send it to the five best comments, up on the website, and so we’ll send a paperback copy.
You can get the audio book on Brian’s website.
Brian this has been fantastic and thanks for sharing the book, thanks for your generosity there and for sharing this approach I think it could be a real game changer for a lot of businesses.
Thanks so much for having me Steve, I have a lot of respect for you and your business as well. Thank you for having me on.