I attended a Landmark Forum event this past week, and want to share a little bit from my experience.  The presenter drew a circle on a blackboard; and said, “imagine all of the knowledge in the entire universe is contained in this circle.”  Then he drew a slice out of this big circle and said, “this is all of the stuff that you know that you know.”  He went on to draw another small slice of the pie, and said, “this is all of the stuff that you know that you don’t know.”  He then commented that the rest of the circle contained stuff that we don’t know that we don’t know.  Clearly, this third area was the largest part of the circle.  He then asked, “can anyone tell me what is in this part of the circle for them?”  In a room full of over 200 people, no-one raised their hand.

You see, we cannot even know how to list the things “we don’t know that we don’t know”.

Business Owner Dilemma

When I approach small business owners with the prospect of hiring me as their business coach, I experience a challenge of educating my clients to expose the “I don’t know what I don’t know” stuff.  I have been in business for several decades.  But will admit I don’t know it all.  And yet, when I experience a small business owner struggling with the same problem I had 20-years ago, I feel like I want to help them avoid the hard-knocks I experienced with the same challenge.

I used to approach struggling small business owners and say, “How’d you like help with your problem?” Their response is often, “How much does your help cost?”. When I tell them they will get a return on their investment and then give them my price, they respond, “I can’t afford your help.” In some cases, I feel sorry for them, and offer some free advice; or try to help them reason through their problem.

Here’s the challenge for us marketing and sales types…”How can you convince a prospective client to hire you before they know they need your help?

How do you get from “Not Knowing What You Don’t Know” to “Knowing That You Don’t Know” then to “Knowing What You Need to Know”

Here’s what you need to do if you are in sales or marketing and you need someone to hire you to educate them on something.  You first need to educate them in a fashion that at least highlights the fact that “what they don’t know” is needed for them to succeed in whatever they are trying to accomplish.  The second task is to convince them that you can educate them in this area of expertise to a point that they will be able to use this new-found knowledge to advance their business.

Here’s what this now looks like when I talk to a prospective business owner client. I ask, “Would you like to generate more leads for your business?” The answer to this question is almost always YES. I then say, “What if I could show you how you can generate more leads in your business? Their answer to this question is, “How much will it cost?” At this point, I say, “It will cost you nothing.” Since almost everyone will agree to listen to free advice, they engage me in conversation. I have a systematic way that I carry on this initial discussion. In this free conversation, I find my prospective business owner client $10,000 in additional revenue they can earn within a single year, if they follow my advice.

You may be thinking, “How can you have a profitable business, Jeff, if you simply give away free advice?” Here’s the thing… when you open the door to knowledge that your customers now know that they need, they will want more. While my free meetings always enlighten my prospective clients, these meetings also shine a light on all of the other knowledge they are lacking; and my clients now “know what they don’t know”. They also understand by learning more, they will become much more successful business owners. When my clients are convinced that I will make them a lot more money than whatever they are paying me; they gladly hire me.

The Most Common Marketing/Sales Failure

If sales and marketing is so straight forward, why do so many fail at selling and marketing their service or product?  Lazy sales and marketing people will talk about the features of their product and simply assume that their prospective customer will understand how such features will benefit them if they were to buy it.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s say that you are a representative for a healthcare company that makes a great probiotic. You go to your friends and family and say, I’ve got this great probiotic, do you want to buy it from me?  Your friends and family make some excuse as to why they don’t need your product and hope you stop asking.  Now, what if you took a different approach?  What if you said, “Wow!  I used to feel so bloated after meals.  At first, I thought I had something stuck in my stomach.  But I don’t have that problem any more.”  Then your prospective customers ask, “Say, I have a bloated feeling.  How did you get rid of it?”  You respond, “I use this amazing pill a few times a day, and no more bloat. It’s called a probiotic and it has a lot of great bacteria that helps your digestion.  If you’re interested I can get you a trial bottle.”

Let me debrief what happened in our example.  Your first method was an attempt to convince someone they needed your product without a bit of education as to what your product does.  The second method communicated a real benefit without mentioning a product.  Your prospective customer was compelled to want to know more.  After they knew more, they would most likely be willing to give your product a try.


Just remember that an educated buyer is a good buyer. If you provide a product or service that will genuinely help someone, then you should have no problem educating that buyer to a point they understand why they should give up their hard-earned money in exchange for your product or service.  If you need help crafting winning sales and/or marketing techniques for your company, you can reach me at jeff@schustercoaching.com.  I’d love to hear from you.

Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster.  I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”.  I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace.  I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013.  I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.

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