How I made $2.1 Million in sales by shutting up

Updated to Business on January 23, 2023.

It was a life or death situation. I was flying to Copenhagen to pitch a new client and if I didn’t land the deal it could mean the death of our start-up.

With two unprofitable seasons under our belt, flying mountain climbers and adventurers onto the Antarctic continent, we were now going for the big fish – contracts to provide expedition support.

Unlike selling an individual climber a seat to get to Vinson Massif (the highest peak on the continent) we wanted to provide air and ground crew support for sponsored expeditions.

The team I was meeting with were planning to ski to the South Pole, a la Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton. The logistics were complicated and (hopefully) would include hiring us to get them on the continent and pick them up once they reached the pole.

I’d been preparing for weeks – nailing down my pitch, researching distances, calculating fuel burn, listing contingencies and reworking budgets. Heck, I could talk for hours about logistics. I’d only missed one small detail.

They didn’t speak English.

Well, that’s not completely accurate. They certainly spoke better English than I spoke Danish (which isn’t saying much).

By the second round of coffee I was losing ground. Every time I went to share another detail about flight plans, ground crew, or back-up it had to be translated, then I waited for their reply to be translated – it was, to say the least, awkward.

So, I shut up and listened.

A week later a $200,000 deposit arrived by courier. Their final bill was north of $800,000 US.

A month later, in Léon, France (where, again we used a translator), I closed on $1.3 million.

Now, I’m not saying spouting off less about the features (to use a marketing term) of your offer and being an active listener always means more sales. What I am saying is that sometimes we are the biggest reason a sale doesn’t go through. And that with a little planning your success with skyrocket.

Now, dear reader, let’s leave the frozen shores of Antarctica so I can share 5 simple lessons about making a sale. Whether you’re pitching from the stage, or in a meeting to one prospect – these 5 strategies have served me well as they will you – maybe even for a Million dollar sale.

We start (ironically) by warming them up.

1. Warm Them Up

Before a prospect buys they have to buy you. Sales trainer and author, Jeffrey Gitomer puts it bluntly: “The first sale that’s made is the salesperson.”

People buy from people like them and people they trust.

When I’ve giving a speech I arrive early, sit with delegates (not the VIP table, thank you very much), ask a ridiculous number of questions and get comfortable with the people I’m there to sell.

And make no mistake: when you speak on stage you’re still selling (you’re selling a solution), just to lots of people at once.

You can also “warm them up”, by researching their company, using a pre-meeting survey, learning names and discovering their needs and wants.

Now that they know you’ve invested in them, you need to get your pitch organized with a template.

2. 35/50/15 Template

One of the biggest mistake sales people make is starting too slow (“I’m excited to be here today”, blah, blah) and ending too fast (“Okay, I see we have 5 minutes left, let’s talk about you.”)

It’s crazy-making!

You go to all the trouble to get the meeting, prepare, travel, prepare some more, and then waste their time talking about the weather. Aaaaarg! (read about 15 common mistakes in this post).

Using a template to organize your presentation is essential for building your agreements, proposing your solutions and building demand. I’ve written about my 35/50/15 template in this post. Here’s how it works.

I organize every speech and sales presentations into 3 parts:

35% is the opening, establishing the problem I’m there to address and why I’m an authority (worth listening to).

50% is the heart of the content: the main benefits (see SLAP, below).

You can use the 35/50/15 Template for a speech, sales presentation, blog post (like this one).

15% is for the summary, removing any resistance and clarifying next steps.

Break your presentation (again, this can be your speech or sales presentation) into these three parts, note the time you need to move on to the next section and you’ll never go wrong.

And here’s the trick: if you start late, get distracted with questions, or add one more example that burns up time – skip ahead to stay on time. DO NOT start talking faster, rush through slides, or go overtime. That’s what amateurs do and you’re not an amateur.

Now it’s time to promote a problem.

3. Promote a Problem

Bottom line, you’re there to solve a problem.

And the better you promote that problem the more motivated they are to buy.

All great stories follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey—they start with a problem.

Think about Hollywood classics, like: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, and, of course, Ace Ventura Pet Detective. They all start with a problem.

You might not be after the Ark of the Covenant or driving a Plutonium-powered DeLorean back to the future, but you are solving a problem. Start by promoting it.

In a speech you can use statistics, rhetorical question (please: no show of hands), a story or simply state the problem. Better still, get the prospect to describe the problem.

You can ask open-ended questions, like “What have you tried so far to lose weight?” or get them to self-rate themselves.

Ask them (better yet, get them to write this down): “On a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is consistently successful, how satisfied are you with your exercise routine?”

Now that you’ve taken them on the Hero’s Journey in real time, it’s time to slap them!

4. SLAP them

When it comes to sales, you need to promote the ‘why’ and sell the ‘how’ – right? Each one of those ‘why’s’ (like: save time, less money, faster results, no worries) is a benefit they need to make their problem go away. And each one needs to be delivered with gravitas – you need it to slap their problem in the face.

I created the SLAP model to help aspiring speakers deliver their lessons better. In a sales presentation, each benefit you SLAP will have more impact and be more memorable.

Use the SLAP Formula to make your lessons, or the benefit of your product/service, stronger and more memorable.

Here’s how it works:

STORY – start with a short, sweet and completely relevant story, statistic (“Did you know the average author sells fewer than 500 books?”), or example of how this solution has worked for someone else.

LESSON – deliver one benefit, or part of your solution (“I coordinate a team of experts to help you complete your book).

APPLICATION – how will this impact their life? (“My process takes the mystery out of publishing and gives you more time to focus on writing, not promoting”)

PARTICIPATION – involve them: ask a question, have them fill in a form, invite them to talk among themselves, but don’t run off to your next solution, until you make this one point real for them. (“Here’s a list of publishing options, check the ones most important to you”).

You’ve warmed them up, promoted a problem and slapped them with benefits. Now it’s time to move them to action.

5. Move to Action

Unless you’re selling chocolate bars, your customer always has some reservations about moving ahead – the bigger the sale the bigger the reservations. Your job is to remove each reservation until the sale becomes the best choice.

Sometimes I’ll propose a question they might have and then answer it for them. It sounds like: “Sometimes, people ask me…”, or “Common questions we get asked are…”

This works very well on webinars, when you can’t talk with each person individually.

Other times I’ll position the solution as if they already have it. It sounds like: “If you were to go ahead and invest in this program – how do you think that would help your business?”

Of course, there’s all the usual actors, like: sale price, bonus offer, and limited supply.

At the end of a good sales meeting there’s a little reciprocity in play: you’ve done something for them and they’ll feel some obligation to return the favour. It could be a sale, a next meeting, or a follow up phone call. Your job is to ask for what you need.

Here’s a quick summary of the 5 steps:

  1. Warm Them Up – first build trust and empathy
  2. 35/50/15 Template – organize your time and stick to your plan
  3. Promote a Problem – before you pitch solutions, make the problem obvious
  4. SLAP Them – deliver each benefit with maximum impact
  5. Move to Action – you’ve done the work, now help them take action

I’m not good at sales

Final thought.

Asking for a sale might give you hives. In fact, you might be thinking “That’s great for you, but I’m not good at sales.”


When you have a great solution to a burning problem it’s not about sales. It’s more about not screwing it up.

Trust me on this one. Follow these 5 steps and you’ll have more confidence, appear organized and, most importantly, you’ll help your customer make a decision.

Whatever problems you help solve, people are already buying some kind of solution – it might as well be from you.