Barry Maher first made his mark as a world-class salesperson, manager and executive, then as a sales and management consultant, helping clients improve their productivity, often dramatically. Selling Power magazine declared, “To his powerful and famous clients, Barry Maher is simply the best sales trainer in the business.”
It soon became apparent that the strategies that were so effective in helping salespeople and managers succeed, worked every bit as well with the issues all of us face in business. And whether as a speaker or a consultant, Barry is hired to get results: to improve productivity and attitude and ultimately, the bottom line. To make his clients money.
Those clients include organizations like ABC, the American Management Association, AT&T, Canon, Cessna, Colgate-Palmolive, Fuji, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Lufthansa Airlines, the National Lottery of Ireland, the Small Business Administration, TIME/Warner, the U.S. Army, Verizon and Wells Fargo.
Barry’s book, Filling the Glass has been cited as “[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books” by Today’s Librarian magazine. His latest book, No Lie: Truth Is the Ultimate Sales Tool, has been translated around the world. His other books include The Prentice Hall Marketing Yearbook and, strangely enough, the fantasy cult classic, Legend.
You may have seen Barry on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and CNBC. And he’s frequently featured in publications like USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and, what he insists is his person favorite, Funeral Services Insider.
How did you get started? What inspired you to start this business?
Shortly after my first book came out, I was asked to speak at a convention. I’d never done anything like that but for the kind of fee they were offering, I couldn’t refuse. I rehearsed to the point of exhaustion and as I was introduced I was so nervous, sweat was running down my back. But then the audience laughed at my first line and seemed to hang on every word of my opening story. And I realized that the business I wanted to be in from that point on was speaking.
How do you make money?
My presentations are based on a lifetime of business experience:
- building my own company from scratch;
- succeeding in the corporate world, as a salesperson, then as a manager and executive;
- the huge amount of research that goes into my books and presentations;
- consulting and speaking for the most successful companies in virtually every imaginable industry.
Every presentation requires all the experience and expertise I can muster. Because my clients require (as well as deserve) sessions that are content-rich yet highly motivating and entertaining and completely and thoroughly tailored and customized for the needs of their particular group.
If I can do all that, organizations are more than happy to not just pay for the results that that type of presentation generates, but to recommend me to their clients and associates.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Operating on a shoestring, if sometimes a broken one, my business was profitable from the very beginning. Still, it wasn’t until year three when client recommendations and referrals generated the kind of critical mass that allowed me to consistently surpass the kind of income I was making in the corporate world.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I always doubted it would work. Always. Twenty years later, maybe in the back of my mind I’m still expecting it to go away. That’s probably what makes me work so hard: to make sure that it doesn’t disappear.
Then too, in the speaking business you have to start from scratch again with every new audience, most of whom have never heard of you. And all the rave reviews and all the testimonials you’ve gotten before can’t keep you from falling on your face if you don’t deliver.
How did you get your first customer?
Dalton took out a large display ad for one of my books in the Wall Street Journal. A group that was planning a huge convention saw it. They called me up and asked me if I wanted to speak. Since it was a couple of months away and they were offering a nice fee, I said yes, never realizing how nervous speaking in front of 1,200 would make me. Or how much I would love it.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Getting established as a speaker, I followed the same model as everyone else: sending out expensive press kits full of fancy materials and video demos, costly one sheets and marketing brochures, getting this stuff into the hands of as many potential clients and speakers bureaus as I could. Then one year, sweating over my taxes, I realized just how much I’d spent that year on generating business.
On a whim, and to give myself a break from the taxes, I picked up a calculator and figured out how great a percentage of each speaking fee that my total marketing costs amounted to.
Then I went through every client I’d had that year and was amazed to discover just how many of them were referrals and repeat business, business that had cost us virtually nothing to generate. In one sense, it was business I was actually getting paid to generate.
I’d always prided myself on giving the best possible sessions for each customer, that’s why I was getting so many referrals and so much repeat business. It dawned on me that it wasn’t fair to charge these people for the marketing it took to generate other business. It was a revelation.
I was more than a bit nervous about doing it, but I was determined to try a new strategy: to position myself as the most affordable speaker of my caliber and credentials available. So we stopped sending out expensive materials, cut back the advertising, kept our website functional rather than constantly upgrading it to make it gee-whiz, etc. etc. I cut my marketing costs to almost nothing and passed on the savings to all my clients, repeat, referrals and otherwise. And all the time I saved on marketing allowed me to concentrate even more on giving the best presentations I possibly could.
And business took off, even more than before.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Since we position me to be so affordable, clients sometimes can’t relate to my fees. A new client recently called us up and requested a fee for having me to do the same presentation three different times at three different locations around the county. My assistant quoted them the fee. They agreed and sent us a check. For three times the fee! Because though we’d quoted them the total fee for all three presentations, they’d assumed that it was the cost per session.
It wasn’t really a difficult decision but I can’t say I enjoyed sending them back their check.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Hard work. And the determination to make absolutely sure that each presentation not only does exactly what the client needs it to do but that the audience finds it stimulating and highly entertaining. The greatest content in the world is worthless if people don’t listen to it.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
It was probably right after that first presentation I did, when I realized how well it had gone over with the audience and the client who hired me. The reason I knock myself out putting together every single presentation is to make sure I have that same feeling after each session.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I’ve got the kind of job that many people only dream of having: traveling all over the country, all over the world, staying at great locations, meeting fascinating people, and, the most rewarding part, connecting with the audience: everyone from the smiling woman who couldn’t wait for the presentation to start to the guy in the back row with his arms crossed who was planning to slip out the door the minute the session lagged.
Of course, it’s not all five star resorts and standing ovations. And even beyond the frazzled meeting planners and the nights stranded in various airports, there was the client who discovered his competition was in the audience and told me to speak about nothing for the next three hours; the audience at the opening keynote in New Orleans at 8 AM after the first night of Mardi Gras; the friendly audience member in the Middle East right after 9/11 who casually mentioned how much he admired Osama Bin Laden; the Colonel in the Sultan’s army who accidentally stranded us out in the desert 75 miles from the nearest town; etc. etc.
What I’m excited about and looking forward to is more of all of it!