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Mark Zinder: “We are debilitated by choice, not liberated by it”

We are all salespeople. Nothing happens in America until someone sells something to someone else. Even if don’t have a “sales” title, it is estimated you will spend roughly 40% of your business day selling something. During this time, even though you may not see yourself as a salesperson or as “pushy,” you are trying […]

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We are all salespeople. Nothing happens in America until someone sells something to someone else. Even if don’t have a “sales” title, it is estimated you will spend roughly 40% of your business day selling something. During this time, even though you may not see yourself as a salesperson or as “pushy,” you are trying to convince someone else to see a particular point your specific way. The way you influence, the knowledge you use, the persuasive method you apply — all of these are sales techniques.


As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Zinder.

Mark Zinder is a leading financial expert, trend forecaster, and seasoned keynote speaker.

He has traveled the globe delivering more than 2,000 presentations to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He is also a regular guest on Fox Business and CNBC, sharing his expertise and positive outlook while tackling tough questions on the economy.

Mark’s extensive background spans 39 years and includes being the National Spokesman for Franklin Templeton. During that time, he worked side-by-side with Sir John Templeton, Dr. Mark Mobius, and Mr. Michael Price to hone his ability to spot trends before they become obvious.

Mark has a unique gift for simplifying complicated concepts and shares those insights and many more that are key to being successful in today’s constantly changing word. He has engaged audiences both small and large, including financial institutions, universities, insurance agencies, and NASA, with his breadth of content and motivational style.


Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

While studying chemistry in eighth grade, my lab partner would perform bits of magic, but not with any of the surrounding chemistry tests we were instructed to complete; he would perform real magic, making things disappear and re-appear. His older brother was employed at the local magic shop and was teaching Gary how to astonish his friends. The art of magic, as it has been said, is just science we don’t understand yet. The science of misdirection and sleight of hand intrigued me more than making a few chemicals fizzle in a test tube. Gary shared the secrets, and with steadfast determination, I too learned to perform feats of magic.

Soon, small stages became large stages and I discovered that I really enjoyed performing. Since magic and comedy fit hand-in-hand, I began studying the art of stand-up, listening to the same comedy albums over and over. Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Johnny Carson were early entries but then, as luck would have it, Steve Martin and Robin Williams burst onto the stage and the art of comedy was forever changed, as was I. In 1975 I enrolled in college and majored in Speech Communications and minored in Theater. When I graduated, my father said, “Congratulations, son, now what are you going to do with that?” I knew what. I just wasn’t sure how.

After a few years of chasing dreams in New York and Houston, I discovered that performing wasn’t difficult. However, getting paid for it was. I responded to an advertisement on the radio: Dean Witter Reynolds was looking to hire entry-level stockbrokers. I took the battery of exams, passed them, and was offered an office job, desk and all. I quickly learned that in the field of finance, there was a need for speakers. In my early days as a broker, I would watch other speakers try to explain complicated theories and investment techniques, but they often did so poorly. I thought, “I can do better than that,” and within a couple of months, I was doing it — back on stage, but this time, teaching finance. I had learned that after a 15-minute presentation, people quickly forget 50% of what they heard. But they can retain seven times more information if they are laughing while they are learning. If I make them laugh, I thought, I can help them understand a complicated investment idea and hopefully, they will remember it. Throw in a little magic, and I would be golden. That is, until one audience participant asked, “Are you going to make my money disappear?” Magic was out, but the “schtick” remained.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

In the early 1980s, while still trying my hand in the entertainment business, I had the opportunity to meet the actress, TV personality, and stand-up comic Phyllis Diller. Ms. Diller was known for her outlandish make-up, quirky wardrobe, and that signature cackle. We quickly became friends, and I attended many of her shows, meeting with her backstage beforehand and watching her prepare for the upcoming performance with notes scattered across the floor. It was intriguing to watch a real pro prepare.

She invited me to her California home to attend one of those famous Hollywood parties. During the party, she approached me and said, “Don’t leave. There are a few of us that are going to hang out afterward.” A couple of hours later, a handful of us were sitting around her fireplace, drinking and enjoying the evening while Ms. Diller happily entertained us with her off-color jokes. Eventually, I asked her how she walks around town or even through airports without getting noticed. Surely, anyone with that hairstyle and excessive make-up would certainly be the draw of everyone’s attention. She stood up and headed to her wardrobe closet, saying, “I’ll be right back.” When she returned, she had removed all of her make-up and was now wearing a nun’s habit! She even had the head covering on, conjuring up images of Sally Fields in The Flying Nun. We laughed at the ridiculous sight of it all, but Ms. Diller sat back down in front of the fireplace, headdress and robe still on, poured herself another glass of champagne, and continued where she had left off, telling off-color jokes, drink in hand, cackling like she did so often on the Tonight Show. I remember telling my friends that it seemed wrong on so many levels, but still, I was delighted to be a part of it.

Lesson learned: things aren’t always what they seem.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In our early days, we travel many roads. One road I took led me to Frank Abagnale, a speaker I worked with in the early ’80s. While still in the entertainment industry, I represented Mr. Abagnale as his agent, booking him on college campuses across the country. Most of you probably don’t recognize his name, but you might know him as the con man and imposter portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You Can. If you haven’t seen the movie, read the book, attended the Broadway play, or aren’t one of the more than 8 million people that have viewed the YouTube video of him telling his life story on the Google Campus, then let me give you a quick re-cap. Frank claimed to have impersonated an airline pilot, a doctor, a college professor, and a lawyer working in the attorney general’s office in Baton Rouge. Reportedly, he cashed over $2.5 million in bad checks and was wanted in 26 countries and all 50 states. A fascinating story — if it were true.

About a year ago, I received a phone call from Alan Logan, a writer investigating Abagnale’s claims. When Mr. Logan explained who he was and what he was researching, I replied, “I’ve been waiting for this call for over 30 years!” I knew that Franks Abagnale’s story was fabricated but after receiving a personal threat from the imposter in 1983, I had been laying low. Over the past year, Mr. Logan has tirelessly explored Frank Abagnale’s numerous claims, arriving at the same conclusion I did — Frank was a fraud. The tell-all book, regaling both my story and the larger story, has recently been released. If you are a fan of Catch Me If You Can, then I encourage you to read The Greatest Hoax on Earth, Catching Truth While We Can.

We are currently living in the age of misinformation. Even the World Health Organization recently dubbed the confusion caused by misinformation an “infodemic.” Whether it is politics, the media, or dining room conversation, I believe — like the author Alan Logan — that the time has come for all of us to see things as they really are and to stop falling victims to the scams, cons, and the multitude of untruths that fill our airwaves and our inboxes every day.

Lesson learned: believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

By the early ’90s, I found myself working for famed money manager and humanitarian Sir John Templeton. Mr. Abagnale, as discussed above, achieved success through lying and cheating; Sir John (as many of us called him) did so with humility, integrity, and morality. After working for Mr. Templeton in his sales department for two years, encouraging investment advisors to advocate Templeton Funds versus the competition, I was promoted to serve as Mr. Templeton’s national spokesman. My job was to learn from Sir John and then travel the world and speak on his behalf.

I remember meeting with him for the first time in his office in Nassau, hoping to spend at least 30 minutes with him. Hours later, I was still in his office, learning. Not only was he the go-to authority on finance at the time, but also the author of 13 books, and one of the top money managers of the 20th century. While in his office, he made me feel as if I was the most important person in the room, giving me his undivided attention. As his spokesman, I was immediately thrust onto the world’s stage, sometimes speaking to as few as 100 people, but many times speaking to crowds of 500 to 5,000, and even once to an audience of more than 10,000. The credibility of working for him was just the shot I needed to begin a career as a professional speaker. Did luck play a role in it, or was it the preparation? As discussed, I had been “on stage” since I was 15 and when the opportunity arose, I was ready.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

When I was 16, two years into my stint as a performing magician, I found myself at the library, supposedly doing homework, but I wandered into the section that housed the books on magic. On this October day, I remember strolling to the back of the library, standing in front of a bookshelf, about to pick up another book on magic, and I noticed, just to the right, the books Think and Grow Rich and Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. That was the day my journey began. I went back to the library week after week and devoured the books in the self-help section. I applied the principles, graduated Most Outstanding Senior Student, and was later listed in Who’s Who in America’s Colleges and Universities. What I learned in those books were not sales techniques, but techniques on how to sell myself.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Reportedly, in 1913 Henry Ford said, “The biggest problem with my customers is they can only extrapolate the present, they can’t see into the future.” He went on the say, “If I asked my customers what they wanted from Ford Motor Company, they would have said a faster horse!” Whether he actually uttered those very words is up for debate, but the sentiment is not. It is human nature. We extrapolate the present — we have a hard time peering around the corner to see what may lie ahead.

I am currently writing a new presentation that I will deliver once the pandemic is over. Like many, I have researched the bubonic plague that occurred in Europe from 1347 to 1352, where as many as 50% of the European people perished. This part of history is well known. My focus, however, is not on the multitudes of death during the plague, but what happened when it was over — that period after the plague. What was that like? Some have referred to it as The Golden Age of Labor. It is one of just three times in world history that there was actually a reduction in income inequality, the other two being world wars. When the plague was over, workers (the serfs and peasants) now had the upper hand when it came to bargaining power because there were fewer people to work the land. Peasants could demand more money and better working conditions, and they did. Because they were earning more, peasants could now afford to become landowners, thus creating wealth. As horrible as the plague was, the aftermath was a positive event for laborers.

I am not suggesting that income inequality will follow the same path now as it did during the middle ages. Today we see many companies focusing more on their employees. Home Depot plans to spend an additional $1 billion a year to increase employee wages and Starbucks has pledged to give nearly all of its current employees a 10% wage increase. Walmart, IKEA, Costco, Target, T.J. Maxx, and Amazon, to name a few, are also joining in to improve the wage scale of their workers. Citibank has announced that they will start offering 12-week sabbaticals (at 25% pay) to any of their North America employees who has been with the firm for more than five years to do whatever they want. The bank is also offering a month of fully paid leave for anyone who wants to work pro bono for a charity. Manulife recently informed every single one of their 35,000 employees worldwide that they will receive extra money to “perform an act of kindness in their community.”

The labor movement that started in Europe in 1352 continued for 100 years, and it is inspiring to see that a similar effort is underway today. It has been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We are beginning to witness the first steps.

Pandemics are ugly; loved ones have died. However, when it is over, the world will become a better place. Living through it is tough. But we cannot extrapolate the present — we must be able to see what lies ahead.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?

Sales techniques are in a constant state of flux and are probably best left outside of our education system. I can assure you that a technique that was learned years or decades ago would work against you today. For example, I recently purchased a new heating and cooling system for my garage. While discussing the merits of his product over his competitor’s, the poorly trained salesman started with an opening price point of $6,800. It only took minutes to access the information online and determine the price was too high. While Andy was selling me on the features and benefits of his particular system, I was online checking the price of the same product from his competitors. When he quoted $500 to add a remote that would allow me to control the system with my phone, I showed him that I found the same remote for $225 on Amazon. The playing field has been leveled: I now have access to the same information that he does. Twenty years ago, Andy had more information about HVAC systems than the buyer did. Today, that information is at my fingertips. Andy probably took a sales class years ago and was still employing the same old tired techniques; he had failed to keep up.

Lesson learned: information is at the consumer’s fingertips, and the best salespeople need to be able to separate accurate information, from misinformation.

This discussion, entitled, “How to Be Great at Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

We are all salespeople. Nothing happens in America until someone sells something to someone else. Even if don’t have a “sales” title, it is estimated you will spend roughly 40% of your business day selling something. During this time, even though you may not see yourself as a salesperson or as “pushy,” you are trying to convince someone else to see a particular point your specific way. The way you influence, the knowledge you use, the persuasive method you apply — all of these are sales techniques.

When a salesperson feels like they have lost the sale, they may fire one final shot across the bow. This is sometimes referred to as “FUD,” an acronym that stands for “fear, uncertainty, and doubt.” The salesperson, pushing one final time, is, in reality, doing nothing more than applying one last sales technique. I am willing to bet that many of you reading this article have applied this very technique in your lifetime, mostly when trying to get a child to go to bed on Christmas Eve!

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

The presentation. When it comes to sales, we’re told the answer is in the “asking.” But the real answer is in “the listening.”

Ask, ask, ask, and LISTEN TO THE ANSWER! When the prospect asks you a question, respond with, “Why do you ask?” You might be surprised to learn that they will tell you why they are asking. The “secret sauce” is then to respond, “Because you told me that, I recommend you do this.”

Back in my earlier years in sales as a stockbroker, I was gathering information on a new client: late 40’s, a wife, a mortgage, two car payments, and three children, one still in college. He also told me that he had had two heart attacks. I asked more about it and he told me that heart disease ran in his family. I said, “How so?” and he went on to explain that everyone in his family — brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, even his cousins — had all had heart attacks in their 30’s and 40’s. He went on to tell me that they had actually done a study on his family. “What did they discover?” I asked. They all had a common trait: they all had low HDL, the good cholesterol. After gathering enough information, it was my turn to speak…to close. I remember saying, “Because you told me you have heart disease in your family, and because you told me that you have three children, I recommend we secure life insurance for your children as well as you. Right now, we can get life insurance for you, but it’s going to be very expensive. Your children, however, have not had heart attacks and it would be cheaper to insure them now than after they have an episode.” That day, instead of selling one insurance policy, I sold four.

Indeed, the is an answer in the asking. But the more important answer is in the listening.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously, every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

I have always followed the rule, “Be so good they have to like you.” For me, that means delivering a speech that is so good that those in the audience are thinking to themselves, “He would be a great speaker at this other event I am attending.” Every speech I deliver is actually an audition for the next speech. Whether you are selling yourself or selling a product, be so good that your clients pass your name on to their friends and family. You know what I mean — in a casual conversation you might mention that you are considering remodeling your house and immediately, a friend says, “Oh you should call Tom, he did a great job on our house!” In this example, Tom was so good that his next job came because he did the previous job extremely well. Remember: a happy customer will tell three people; an unhappy one will tell between 9 and 15 people.

Also, consider becoming a “thought leader.” Write a blog or speak at trade shows. Sign up for HARO — which stands for Help A Reporter Out. It is a twice-daily email where writers and journalists are looking for someone to comment on a particular subject. After you get quoted in the publication, repost it on your social media accounts and website. It is my experience that nothing gets the job done better than word-of-mouth.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

Handling objections is so hard for most people because they haven’t discovered what the real objection is. We often conclude that it is associated with price. The best way to find the real objection is to act like a 4-year-old and ask why. When they respond, ask why again, and then again. You will eventually get to the real issue. At this point, become a consultant, and not a salesperson. By asking why, it is possible to get to the real root of the problem. When you discover what that is, it becomes easier to find a solution. For example, let’s say that your prospect tells you “no” and you ask why. She might say, “Because I don’t think my husband will like it.” And you ask, “Why do you think your husband won’t like it?” And she says, “Well, he doesn’t like red and this particular item only comes in red.” Then ask, “Why doesn’t your husband like red?” And she might say, “Well, he’s color blind and he always says to me that red looks muddy to him.” Now you have gotten to the root of the problem. Then you can say, “I can call the manufacturer and see if they can get it in blue. Would that work?”

That is a sophomoric example, but I think you can see where I am going with it. Many times, salespeople think the first objection is the real objection when usually it is not.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

I am going to provide three — the three that are my gold standard. When I train other salespeople, these are the three I hammer home.

#1. When the prospect has expressed interest in your product, STOP SELLING. I have seen so many salespeople talk their way out of a sale.

A story I like to share is the one about young Thomas Edison. He was 23 years old and was trying to sell an invention — an improvement on the stock ticker tape machine. It was 1870, and while demonstrating it, the prospect interrupted him and asked him how much he wanted for it. As a salesman, his job was now done: he had an interested party. He had planned to ask $5,000 — a lot of money in 1870 — but said nothing. He stopped selling and now employed the art of listening. The prospect said, “I’ll give you $25,000 for it.” Edison didn’t say anything. “I’ll give you $30,000 for it,” the prospect said. Edison didn’t say anything. “I’ll give you $35,000 for it.” Again, Edison said nothing. “I’ll give you $40,000 for it and that is my final offer!” Edison said, “I’ll take it!” The prospect was writing out the check and was about to hand it to young Thomas Edison when he said, “I was prepared to give you $50,000!” Edison took the check and replied, “Oh yeah? I was prepared to take $5,000!”

#2. We are debilitated by choice, not liberated by it.

Many salespeople think that having multiple options will help close the sale. They may be thinking, “Well, if they don’t like this one, they might like that one.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Today, the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s sales per square foot are almost double that of Whole Foods. Why? Because Trader Joe’s limits your choices. You may only have one or two choices of a particular product at Trader Joe’s while Whole Foods may present six. Let’s say that your prospect is considering one of three products. Start by saying, “Which of these two do you like best?” After they have picked one, now introduce the third choice. “Between these two, which is you favorite?” When they tell you, simply say, “So this is the one you want to purchase, is that correct?” Help them narrow down their choices. Don’t confuse the prospect by offering too many choices.

#3. Close with a story. I have found that facts tell, but stories sell. Storytelling is fun, and stories are relatable.

I sell a product that is designed to help people get their personal house in order. It is a file folder kit that goes into a fireproof safe. It has 27 folders to organize and collect all of your important documents in one place. When I end my presentation on the kit, I tell a personal story about the day I had a heart attack and my son drove me to the hospital, just seven minutes away. Before he got in the car, thinking clearly, he ran to my bedroom, looked in my closet for the safe, and grabbed the red folders, the ones that read, “In case of emergency.” Only five minutes into our journey, I was thinking I wasn’t going to make it; I was dying — I really was. Starting to panic, Drew picks up the speed and arrives at the emergency entrance, where I literally open the door and fall out of the car. An orderly, watching this, runs over, scoops me up and into a wheelchair, and brings me to the emergency room. A nurse, also outside, sees the panic in my son’s eyes and approaches to help. He said, “Here, I have these,” and hands her the files with everything the hospital needs: a list of current medications, prior medical procedures, blood type, powers of attorney, medical directives, and emergency contacts. The nurse says, “This is good. This is good.” At that point Drew knew that he had done all he could do. But he also knew that I was in good hands and that the doctors had all they needed. The point I make is that you don’t know that you need this stuff — until you need this stuff. And that is the worst time to be looking for it.

After I tell the story, I don’t need to say anything else. It’s on the table. The client is thinking that something like I just described could possibly happen to them or a loved one. The story did the selling. Facts tell but stories sell!

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

I was training a salesperson recently and this very question came up — he was afraid to call a non-responsive prospect back for fear of being too pushy. I asked him why the prospect hadn’t returned his call and the salesman said he didn’t know. Was he busy, was he in an accident, was he on vacation? What was the reason? The average salesperson is going to default to: “I don’t want to appear too pushy.” And they don’t call back, and the once-warm lead gets colder as every day passes. My mother once told me, “You won’t know unless you ask.” I instructed him to call the prospect back and ask. It turned out that his son had been sick. The salesman expressed his apologies and the prospect told him that he was still interested and to keep him abreast. Not only did the prospect become a client, but now the salesman was no longer afraid to call and ask.

If you don’t ask, you won’t know. The worst they can say is no.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

As I write this, most of us are still homebound due to Covid. Many salesperson’s options are two: phone or video. In my opinion, one is not better than another. But I would add: when using a video call, please understand that you are no longer just a voice but also a face and a location. I personally prefer the video because I see the video camera as an art form, and I have practiced to make it work in my favor. Not only do I pay attention to how I relate to the camera — leaning in when trying to emphasize a point, having props like books that I can hold up and refer to — but also how my room is set up. I have a specific area that is clean and well-lit with professional photography umbrella lights; I have placed a plant in the background; I wear a jacket but no tie. I want my room to look good, but I want myself to look good too. Maybe you think I am going a little far, but the point I am making is that people notice when things look bad and it can reflect poorly on you. You don’t want them thinking, even subconsciously, “If this is bad, what else is bad?” My arrangement is to make sure things look good — not over-the-top good, but what many would consider normal. Don’t let your surroundings on your video call become a deterrent.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The sales process, like so many other things, is a continuously moving target, and ongoing education is absolutely necessary. Today, with information at our fingertips, we are no longer salespeople, but curators. We all know that when we are finished showing our prospects our product, the prospect is going to go online to do their own research. We know this. To be a 21st-century salesperson, our job includes helping the potential buyer curate this mountain of information. By doing so, we become a partner in the buyer’s decision-making instead of simply being an advisor. You might help by pointing the prospect in the right direction and telling them which websites to visit and which to ignore. You might also tell them that you are available to help them look through the information and help them curate the trusted websites. You might offer to go through product reviews and explain why this particular one is correct but this one is not.

Because of the internet, I believe we have seen more changes in the sales process in the past ten years than we have in the previous 100. Embrace the change and become a student of the game.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MarkZinder.com

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