Getting Business By Telling Them What You CAN’T Do

I have learned a valuable selling tool as a motivational speaker, that seems contrary to the mantra of pitching yourself with confidence. A large part of my sales conversation involves explaining to them what I am NOT. I make it very clear what they are not getting with me. And I don't apologize for not being what I'm not – because I know it makes me better at what I am.

It's a risk, I know, because sometimes we want that job so badly that we are willing to be whatever they need. But not me. Because I have found that actually telling them what I'm not works to my advantage in a big way. Let me give you an example.

A potential client called me yesterday about speaking to the sales people of their organization. And it wasn't some fluffy-make-them-feel-good kind of need. He wanted my expertise in the area of storytelling. That kind of audience used to scare me because I am not a sales trainer. I have never achieved great awards of national sales merit. The only thing I've really sold is me, and I'm not so sure I'm even that good at that. But I knew there was a reason that I caught their attention. There was something about me they felt could bring value to their group.

First I listened to them – to really hear who they were, what they were about, what kind of event this was, and what made them think I might be a good fit. I always go into a sales call almost a little sceptical with them about whether I am truly the best person for the job. This also works in my favor, as they don't see me as someone ready to make a sale without giving it any thought. Showing them that I might not really want this opportunity somehow puts their mind at ease. And I don't look like the speaker trying to close the sale at any cost. I want them to hope I choose them. The very best sales calls are when the client sells ME on their event.

After listening to the client and repeating back what I heard him say and what I was reading between the lines, I began by telling him everything I wasn't. Here's what I said:

If you are looking for a sales trainer who is going to come in here and give you the latest greatest sales formula that can be put into place on Monday morning -based on numbers and templates and fill-in-the-blank questionnaires – I'm not the one for you. If you're looking for someone who is going to read you thirty-seven-hundred PowerPoint slides and tell you everything you could have read on the internet while you were at home in your slippers – I'm not the one for you. If you're looking for buttoned-up three-piece-suit shoes buffed and hair slicked – I'm not the one you want. In fact, if you're looking for much of what you've seen before delivered in the traditional way – then I recommend you go find one of them. There are hundreds out there with better handouts and more impressive resumes. That's not me. I'm a folksy storyteller who doesn't believe in behavior quadrants and personality profiles. I believe people are stories. I believe your company has a story, and your sales people have a story. And that if you find a way to marry your story with their story – that's where the magic happens. THAT's what I do well. I come in and help you sell the story. My approach is out there, and it's different. And so is my perspective. But it's not for everybody. And I'm happy to recommend other sales trainers who might be a better fit. Have you ever heard of NSA?

Does this frank honesty cost me business? Probably. But not really enough to notice.  It seems like every time I approach the conversation in this manner, they decide they want to try it my way – even when they were looking for the other way in the beginning. It's funny how by stating what you're not, you can make them see that they don't want that either. Or sometimes they do, and that's okay too.  I'm not sad about losing business I shouldn't be getting anyway.

If I kellystownlogowas a good fit for every job, I wouldn't be unique. I'd rather let go of those jobs I'm not meant to have. There are plenty who are waiting for someone exactly like me. They just might not know it yet.

So all you motivational speakers –  go out there and tell them what you're not. It just might be the thing that gets you the job.



Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson - called one of North Carolina's funniest women by Our State Magazine. Kelly lifts the spirits of audiences from coast-to-coast using humor, storytelling, and lives of the characters from Prides Hollow - Kelly's make believe small town. This unique approach to motivational speaking allows Kelly to break through communications barriers and connect directly to the audience's imagination.
Her powerful stories and wacky wit will make you laugh, remind you that you matter, show you how to see beyond your obstacles, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market.
To book motivational speaker Kelly Swanson:
Motivational speaker Kelly Swanson's website

Did you enjoy this post? Just jot down your email and we'll keep you up-to-date with all of our motivation and entertainment.

Delivered by FeedBurner


  1. What I love most about what you just shared is you're modeling exactly what you will teach. You simply married your story to their story. Yes, you also were beautifully clear about what you aren't (which some could view as the take-it-away close), but what you also did was differentiate yourself from the others which is exactly what creates value and desire. You are an incredible sales person because the truth is sales is simply finding out what people need and want and then giving it to them. Bravo.

  2. Such a great approach that I see you doing so well!  Instead of being all things to all clients it's much better to know exactly who you are in your message and style and then (possibly) fit your message to their needs.  I love the visual I get of a "3 piece suit, hair slicked" audience cracking up  and tearing up at your presentation!  Awesome perspective Kelly!

  3. Gosh, who said funny motivational speakers weren't BRILLIANT social scientists? Because YOU surely are, Kelly. And no, you surely wouldnt' call yourself that but I believe you are. A social scientist, who listens and pays attention and REALLY gets how people think, behave and are motivated.  You're all that – as well as a fabulous right-brained spoken word artist. You set a powerful example for about trusting. Oh, I think I'll blog about that… 

Speak Your Mind