The Business Growth Formula – An Interview with Robert Stover

Robert Stover
The Business Growth Formula – An Interview with Robert Stover

Robert Stover is the author of Strategy Matters and the creator of GrowthMap, a step by step formula which explains how any struggling company can turn things around and experience massive growth.

Robert is also the creator of The Copywriting Master Formula. In this interview we cover a variety of topics including copywriting, marketing strategy and business growth but every insight Robert shares boils down to one thing… A more profitable business for you.

He reveals…

  • The Copywriting Master Formula (and why the "Betty Crocker" approach to copy is flawed)
  • The ITAP formula to help you identify your next (and easiest to achieve) breakthrough
  • Exactly how to come up with game changing ideas that lead to huge business growth
  • And much more. You can listen to the entire recording or read the full transcript below...
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Joseph Bushnell:  Hi, welcome to The Online Marketing Show. I’m your host, Joey Bushnell. Today’s special guest is Robert Stover. Robert is a top business growth consultant, copywriter and the author of the book Strategy Matters. Go to Robertstover.com to find out more.

Robert, thank you so much for being on the show with me today.

Robert Stover: Thanks for inviting me, Joey.

Joseph Bushnell: Robert, how did you get involved in this industry of business growth and copywriting?

Robert Stover: Well, it started out, I was actually a NLP sales—I can’t even talk today—I did NLP sales training, going back in ’89, I had a chance to work with Richard Bandler, learned from him and I was teaching sales people about NLP stuff. After that, I had what I call my “29-year-old mid-life crises” and I can remember when it happened…

I’m writing on a white board and teaching sales people these manipulative techniques, and I thought, what am I doing? How did I get here? Did I want to be here? Is this what I went to school to do? And the questions kind of came in. It was a miniature crash and burn there.

So I took six months off, I just stopped doing it and went and somebody gave me some stuff from Jay Abraham, of all people, some transcripts that he had from the ‘90s, or from ’89, and what fascinated me was the marketing. I went after it hard, I used to walk these country roads and down train tracks listening to tapes on marketing and studying marketing and just got fanatic about marketing.

I went back to one of my former sales training clients and said, “Hey, why don’t you have me come back in and consult with you but not on sales, but on this more powerful thing called marketing? You’ve got these great opportunities.” That’s how it launched, is I went back and started doing marketing for him and marketing for other people and looking for the leverage and doing some of these things.

For that particular client, one of the first things we did out of the box, the previous year in the seminar industry in real estate, the previous year they had mailed out this beautiful four-color brochure, professionally designed, just gorgeous thing, cost $20,000 to print. They mailed it out, they got one sign up.

Joseph Bushnell: Oh, no!

Robert Stover: So their annual event came back around and armed with my new-found knowledge, I’m like, “Hey, why don’t we actually do direct response copy?” They’re like, “No, no, no, we’re never sending out, let’s just send out these flyers,” and they were doing some black and white print flyers that there were mailing out. I’m going, “That’s insanity, let’s actually sell this thing.” He’s going, “No, that’s what the telemarketing team is for, they’ll call up, they’ll sell it, we’ll send out flyers.”

So young and stupid, so I went and wrote a long copy sales letter for this thing. I went and interviewed the people that did it, I interviewed the owner’s sons, I interviewed realtors that were there and it was kind of this whole vibe, this huge event, excitement. I packed all of that into the headline, I featured that. I wrote this letter and I went and showed it to his vice president at the time. The vice president said, “This is absolutely what you were told not to do, this is awful, and we’re not going to do it.” He goes, “I will not show this to the gentleman, the owner.”

So I end ran and showed it and the boss reads it and looks at it and he thinks a minute and he goes, “Let’s send it.” So instead of mailing his entire 80,000 list—this is back prior to email—they sent it to 6,000 people.

I stuck it in an envelope with no return address, so it wasn’t branded like typical stuff, no return address, and in the letter, because I didn’t know when this was going to hit in the mail and what not, I just put a Friday at 5 PM and I figured, well, if it gets to them on a Saturday they’ll think it’s the next Friday and if it gets to them on a Thursday, they’ll think they have to sign up by that Friday, because I have no idea when this is going to happen. We send this out, three days later the phone starts ringing, and ringing and ringing and ringing and in a week we sold, how many was it? It was like 900 of these seats at $395.

Joseph Bushnell: Nice. Out of 6,000?

Robert Stover: Yeah.

Joseph Bushnell: Wow, brilliant.

Robert Stover: It was massive. He’s stoked, the secretary wants to quit because all of these calls were coming in, they weren’t going to the sales team because it end ran the sales team as well. The sales team is ticked off because they’ve lost all their commissions. The secretary is ticked off because she is going, and when she comes in in the morning, there’s 200 messages on the answering machine with credit card numbers, they were leaving their credit card numbers on the answering machine and she’s having to take all this information down and as soon as she gets it clear, it would just fill up again. It was just craziness. The owner is stoked and I discovered both the power of marketing and the power of copywriting.

That was pretty much the launch and that got me a reputation among a lot of speakers and trainers and that’s sort of where I launched out into the marketing world.

Joseph Bushnell: Cool. So you’ve got a course, Robert, named The Copywriting Master Formula. But it’s slightly different to a lot of the other copy courses that are out there because you’ve got a bit of a different take on copywriting, so can we talk a little bit about that?

Robert Stover: Yeah, real quick, and I’m going to say something, a lot of your listeners, they want to hear stuff about copy and they’re very familiar with hearing copywriting, especially if they’re in the online world or blogging world, so we’re going to give them a little different take on that. Also what I want to hammer home a little bit later, is there’s something actually more important than copy that they should probably be focusing on before the copy. We’ll touch both bases there.

My take on copywriting, if you’re a typical copywriter and you’re just starting out or you buy a course, usually you end up with a template, which I call “The Betty Crocker” approach to copy, which is… “OK, you do a sub-head or a pre-head, (an eyebrow, with your insider language) you do a headline, you do a sub-head, you do a salutation, you do an intro paragraph. Then you go into either the pain or the benefits depending on the structure you’re taking, then you go into a bullet section, then you go into an offer section, then maybe you come back with more bullets and you handle objections, then you reach a close, then you bring in a time element and restriction or scarcity. Then you bring in a bonus, then you do another close and a summary, call to action, then you do a P.S., a P.P.S., and maybe a P.P.P.S.” There’s your Betty Crocker copy.

The other approach is, you start to realize that doesn’t work in all situations and every situation is unique, like a thumbprint. Every situation you sell in is a thumbprint, there’s something unique about that.

When the Betty Crocker doesn’t work, after you start sending copy a while, you end up with a big, giant bucket of copy technique. I can do this, and you’ve things like underlining and bolding and highlighting and scrolling stuff on the side. You end up with this sales tactic and this sales tactic and maybe you should and maybe you shouldn’t sales tactics, and so you end up with all this huge assortment.

In fact, one of the books out there has, I think it’s 2,200 or 2,300 copywriting techniques in it. When you sit to write copy, let’s be serious, can you access all those techniques as you’re cranking copy out and is that a structure? I’m going, no. We know movies have a structure, Hollywood has a movie structure, there is a structure.

So I started looking at what’s the underlying structure of copy and I looked at some traditional ways to structure stuff and there’s the attention, interest, desire, action. Well, yeah, you got to get their attention, but interest—what does that mean? What’s the difference between interest and desire? Isn’t what gets peoples attention, that which they’re already interested in? Where are handling objections in that? Where is this thing that Aristotle called “ethos” and authority, like you might see in Cialdini’s book on influence?

I realized these formulas weren’t doing it, they had gaping holes in them, so that’s still not something that you can base your copy off of.

Then I had an “ah-ha” moment, where I flipped it around backwards—and we’ll hear that again a little later, on flipping things around and starting at the end—but I flipped it and said, “What if I stop looking at what I’m trying to do to somebody, which is influence and persuade, and here’s all my techniques to do that” and instead I looked at a buying decision as a subset of decision making?

Well, there are models out there on how human’s come to make decisions, so I started studying it from when no one is there to persuade them, how do they sell themselves?

From that, I came up with a structure and all of a sudden this huge bucket of different techniques I had, fell into place. Like, “Oh, I get it, here’s why I’m doing that, it’s because it does this function in the decision-making process.” Whether it’s amplifying the pain or whether instantly they turn to look for a solution or it’s amplifying the authority of the speaker and writer because they’re looking for evidence or it’s doing this.

From that came The Copywriting Master Formula. It was my attempt to take all of the hundreds of techniques and to seal them into a repeatable thing, that I can go into a situation and go, “Okay, do I have this major chunk of decision making? Do I have this chunk, do I have this chunk, and do I have this chunk? Then below each of those elements you’ve got dozens of things.

If your listeners want to go look, I’ve got a free video up, it’s about 30 minutes long, I give the whole technique away and it’s at SecretCopyFormula.com. If they want to sign up, they have a chance to opt in and I even go into more in depth into the formula, so there’s a lot of free stuff there if they want to go out and get that.

Joseph Bushnell: OK, cool. Is there anything about that you could share with us now on the call itself, like what some of those major steps of the formula would be?

Robert Stover: Sure. If we start with decision making, you don’t make decisions in a vacuum. You just don’t go, “Hey, I think I’ll go buy a Mercedes today.” Something happened before that.

Usually what happens is common, is a problem. Somebody starts to get a bit of a problem, then that problem grows. “Well, I was minding my own business, all of a sudden my car needed $300 worth of work done to it. Then the guy at work, the other consultant, pulled up in a new Mercedes. Now my car, I’m spending money because it needs repairs, and now another guy looks better than me. Then I’m driving through a scary part of town and my car starts making funny noises like it’s going to break down.” Now I’m getting a little more scared, right? I use a pebble into water as an illustration. Problems always start and then they start to ring out and get bigger and bigger and bigger.

So in the formula, we talk about first of all, how do you even bring up a problem and there’s, I think, 20 formulas on how to give somebody a problem. Then there’s formulas on how do you take that problem and amplify it out and make it worse. Almost always then people are going to go a couple different ways.

If they’re scientific-minded, they look for causes. This is like one of the big ah-ha’s in the formula, as I went, “Oh, my word, no one uses causes.” Let me give you an example: OK, my car is breaking down or something, some people go, “Well, what’s wrong with the car, I’ll just fix the car,” and they kind of go at it that way. Or in business, if there’s a problem, what you’re taught in business school is, “OK, here’s a problem, what’s the root cause of that problem?” and that’s how you are taught to go after solving it, and that’s where a lot of people instinctively go is for the cause, what actually caused that problem.

If I’m overweight, what’s the cause? A great example of this, and I talked about it in the video, is out here we had a product called Cortislim for losing weight and their whole premise went like this: “You’re fat and you’re overweight. Oh, but it’s not your fault, scientists have discovered that when we’re under stress, our body secretes a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol causes us to store fat around our bellies. You can take all the exercise you want, you can do all the diets you want, etc., but as long as this stress hormone is in you, you’re going to be packing fat on around your belly. But with Cortislim, we can take that pill and suddenly it blocks the cortisol in your body from accumulating and you just lose weight naturally”. There’s an example of somebody using a cause to sell a product and what I discovered was, no one has ever written on that before.

You go to some of the greats, I mean, these guys are great, like say Gary Halbert and people like that, they never talk about cause and finding the cause or using a new cause in copy, yet if you study their copy, Eugene Schwartz, Gary Halbert, John Carlton, Clayton Makepeace, all these great guys all go to causes. I went, “Oh, my word, it’s right there in their copy, it’s been in front of me for 20 years and no one has ever identified that before.”

Another example of the cause, from medicine, is stomach ulcers. Up until 20 years ago, everybody thought stomach ulcers were too much acid and bad diet and all that acid is eating away at their stomach, causing a lot of pain, creating ulcers, and that’s how they treated it. So what’s the treatment for that? It’s bread and bananas and rice and no spices in your diet and milk, right? Really bland, nasty diet, that’s the cure, that’s what doctors have been doing for 100 years for ulcers. The doctors are smart, they’re intelligent, they had the patient’s best interest in mind, and based off what they believed the cause to be, their solution was a bland diet.

Some researchers come along, I think actually one of them was out of the UK, and they went like, “Hey, wait a minute, around these ulcers, when we’re looking at them under microscopes, there’s all these bacteria,” and they went, “No, it couldn’t be.” They started giving antibiotics for stomach ulcers—bam, knocked them out. The true cause of stomach ulcers were bacteria. No matter how well meaning you were, trying to treat stomach ulcers assuming the wrong cause doesn’t get you any cure. On the other hand, as soon as they started treating the right cause, it started working.

This causation thing is prevalent in decision making and in business and everywhere else, but it’s just never been introduced in the copy. Yet if you study great copy, you’ll find that great copywriters instinctively often go to a new cause being discovered, so the pattern would go like this: You’ve got a problem, you tried this, it didn’t work; you tried this, it didn’t work; you tried this, it didn’t work. Or if it’s a story: I tried this, it didn’t work; I tried Y and it didn’t work; I tried Z and it didn’t work, but then I stumbled across this new discovery, this new cause of the problem and when I did that, the weight fell off or my business exploded, or whatever it is you’re after, then muscles packed onto my body! There is a real quick thing, it’s not even a whole formula, but causes.

When people get hit with problems, the other place they look is solution and it’s like, “Oh, crud,” and they instantly go for a solution.

The other place people look, if they’re catastrophizers, as I like to say, strategists, they go, “Oh, future causes. If I’ve got this other problem, what other problems is that going to cause,” and it starts to ripple out.

What we know from the book Spin Selling, they studied 30,000 sales people, the absolute best sales people didn’t handle objections and didn’t try, they weren’t great closers, but what they were awesome at was taking a problem, dropping that problem into the water and going, “What other problems is that causing?” OK, so you’re a little low on money, is that causing stress with the family? Does that mean you can’t take some of the vacations you wanted to? Does that mean you’re not going to retire comfortably? What about sending your kids to school? Not going to be able to do that, are you? You might even lose your home, going to get in trouble with the IRS (if you’re over here, I don’t know what the UK revenue system is). So the best sales people go after causes and for example, Dan Kennedy’s formula is problem amplified, so that’s simply looking for the implications of a problem.

Next we’ll go to solution. Usually we don’t look at one solution, the human brain seems to look at three. If you go to copy, a lot of times you’ll see this three rhythm going, or if you watch people in your life make decisions, you’ll see they look at three options and that’s about all we can handle and juggle for some reason. I mean, that’s not the limit, but our brain seems to go, “Oh, do I do this, this, or this?”

Well, how do you choose among those? Here was the other big discovery, it’s criteria. There is this thing called criteria in decision making. If you go into copy, it’s all over the place in people’s copy but it’s never been talked about.

A great example of this is, I had a client in the mortgage industry, they’re selling loans to homeowners. In the US, when people would call them, there are all these ads of people doing all these bogus rates, phony rates, low rates, and so what consumers out here got in the habit of was ring, ring, “Hi, Joey, what’s your interest rate?” If you said anything that wasn’t as low as the phony rate in the paper, they hung up on you. But the truth is, everybody’s situation is different and everything is unique.

My client created a software that did an analysis and what it discovered is, and it’s kind of a complex story on how it works out, but based on how long people are in the home, based on the pay-back rate, all this other stuff, very often the lowest interest in the short term carried a much higher cost. So if you got a lower rate and you’re in a home for 7 years, not the full 30, you might actually pay way more out of pocket with a lower interest than with a higher interest. It’s crazy, but it was for real, but getting anybody to hear that was impossible. They want to hear the lowest rate and they’ve been trained by all the other mortgage companies, “Rate shop, rate shop, rate shop.”

The problem my client is having is that people are calling up: ring, ring, “What’s your rate?” They’d give an honest rate—bye, click.

We solved that with criteria and we did it with a question and the simple question was: ring, ring, ring, “What’s your interest rate?” We trained the sales people to go, “I’m sorry, did you want the lowest interest rate or the lowest total cost loan?” They just shut up and the consumer goes, “Uh, what’s the difference?” Then the sales people go, “What, no one has ever shown you this before? Have you talked to other people and they haven’t told you? Well, that’s just wrong.” Then it gave them, “Well here, let me show you,” because they could send them spread sheets and stuff, and it’s like, “Well, let me show you the difference and show you how this works and show you why,” and it opened the people’s mind to a conversation, it was extraordinarily successful. But what made that possible was that step called criteria.

Criteria, when we’re looking at two or three things, which one is the best? Criteria might be things we value, like speed, time, cost, etc., those are our criteria that we use to juggle. I had not seen that written much about in copy, so that’s one of the steps in the formula and it comes from how we naturally make decisions.

Then we have to go from all of those to one. How do we choose just the one? We have to move to preference. Again, I found patterns out there in copy, fundamental patterns that: A) That’s the way we make decisions naturally, we look at many options, we take criteria, we narrow to one.

Well, I started seeing ads that follow that same fundamental thing and I use the example of a luxury car ad. It starts and it shows, I don’t know, six or seven luxury cars all coming at you down the road and it goes, “If you take away all of the luxury vehicles that don’t have 5 square feet trunks,” and two or three vanish off the road. “If you take away those that don’t have four-wheel disc brakes,” and two more vanish. “And you take away the ones that don’t have seated air conditioning,” and there’s only one car left. “Your choice is obvious, it’s the XJ7 Roadster.” So there is an example, I call it the decision funnel.

We do that to ourselves all the time. Advertisers do it, I’ve never seen it written about before. It’s a very common pattern you can do to create exclusivity.

If any of your listeners out there are freelancers that sell individual product, they’re always going to come up against competitors and a very fast way to set yourself apart, say they’re into copy or something, I don’t know, and you go, “You know what? Out of all the copywriters that you could hire online, there are five that are really good.” You admit the truth. “There are five that are really good. Of those really great copywriters that live in the UK, there are two of them. Of those that specialize in online businesses, I’m the only one.” There’s an example of using that decision funnel and coming right down to a point, so you went from the broad selection, you admit it and anyway, those formulas and many more are free.

From there, obviously they have to take action and from action, I throw up benefits on the end because that’s what people want and that is what’s kind of pulling the decision through. I’m going to make this decision with all the good stuff I’m going to get and then we move into judgment.

Here’s where almost everyone falls down, which is what we forget about, is once we’ve made a decision in our personal lives, we come back and go, “Was that a good decision or a bad decision?” We go, “Oh.” All of our customers do the same thing, so we have to sell through that judgment phase.

All along this process, there are three other elements at play and one is the constant search for evidence and proof. What most copywriters, at least when you look at a lot of online copy, they’ll do all the copy and then they hit a segment near the close where they start handling objections all at once in a big clump, but that’s not when people are objecting. People are actually objecting every time you make a statement or a claim through all the copy.

What I say is that search for, it’s called reputation and rhetoric, objection handling has to start very early and you do it with almost every major claim you make going through the copy, not waiting until the end.

The other thing is to search for proof and evidence, depending if you’re a sales guy you’re offering proof, if you’re a consumer you’re looking for evidence. But again, the evidence starts not at the end and not with a cluster of testimonials at the end, it starts way back when you’re stating a problem. Well, what’s your proof that’s actually a problem? Do you have supporting evidence that that’s a problem? What’s your proof this is the real and true cause of something? What’s your proof that these are actually the implications they’re going to have?

If you study great speeches, get a book like on the 100 best speeches ever, something like that, and you study that, you’ll find out that they’re offering proof and evidence very early on, they’re not waiting until the end.

Then the other final part, extraordinarily powerful part, and I took the word from Aristotle, is ethos, and that is: What is the power and credibility of you as the writer or speaker have on the entire process?

One example of ethos, some of your listeners would be familiar with the great copywriter, Gary Bencivenga, probably one of the greatest that ever lived. Well, out on his page, selling his stuff, he does something that was kind of interesting, he does something that he does not teach in his $5,000 course, and it’s an ethos technique. What he does is before he tells you how good he is, because he’s writing in the first person, he first tells you everything he’s bad at. He goes into a segment of, “You know what? If you’re looking for a guy to fix a car, I open the hood of a car and I stare at it like a cow staring at a fence. I’m worthless around the house, I can’t fix anything, I can’t do this, I can’t do athletics and I can’t do this.”

So he’s just told you all the stuff he’s terrible at, and then he goes, “But when it comes to copy, I know 30 different things you can do to a headline to increase it by 300%. I know tweaks that you can do on your offer, I know things, I eat and breathe it, I study it 16 hours a day.” If he had just come out and said that, you’d go, “What a braggart.”

Joseph Bushnell: Yeah.

Robert Stover: “What a boastful man.” But by his first going, “Oh, I’m so cruddy at this stuff, I’m a klutz, I’m this and that and the other,” and then coming out and going, “I’m a chess master,” the believability, first of all. It’s, “Wow, that’s very believable, I believe him when he says it because he told me all this stuff he was bad at,” but secondly it’s like, “Oh, wow, he’s a nice guy.”

So the definition of ethos is: The good man speaking. There’s two major components to it. 1) Do you know yourself? Are you smart, are you knowledgeable? Let’s take loan guys again, let’s take a guy that’s been in the business 20 years, let’s say he’s using my client’s software and he can show you all this stuff about loans. That’s a guy that’s extraordinarily knowledgeable.

Now let’s take your brother-in-law, you like your brother-in-law, he’s a good guy but he just got into the business six months ago. Is he that knowledgeable?

Joseph Bushnell: Probably not yet.

Robert Stover: Yeah. He’s got your best interest in mind, but he’s not that knowledgeable. On the other hand, you can take somebody that’s extraordinary smart and knowledgeable in an area and they’re a snake and they’re going to take advantage of you and things like that, so your guard is up against them.

So you have to have two things and it’s not likeability, it’s are they knowledgeable? Like a doctor, smart knowledgeable? And do they have your best interests in mind? When you pair those two you get that lightening in a bottle called ethos, where people just trust you.

Joseph Bushnell: Brilliant.

Robert Stover: But you have to pair those two together. They respect knowledge and they respect that you have their best interests in mind, but there’s a lot of people that have our best interests in mind that are stupid and there’s a lot of people that are knowledgeable that are going to try and take our money from us and rob us.

So those two have to come together and Aristotle discovered that when they do, it creates a very powerful speaker/sales writer salesman. So that’s the other element that the formula goes a lot into.

Joseph Bushnell: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that, Robert. If we want to dive in deeper, we can go to your website and watch your video and check out more of that, can’t we?

Robert Stover: Absolutely.

Joseph Bushnell: Awesome. OK. You mentioned earlier that there was something that’s even more important than copy. I’m wondering what could that possibly be, Robert?

Robert Stover: What could that possibly be? As I looked, and I’ve got the advantage of being an older dude, so I’m looking over my history and I look over my work with clients and I started noticing copy wasn’t always the answer. It’s a powerful one, it’s not always the answer.

I noticed something very simple: Strategy. A great strategy can overcome bad copy. Good copy can’t overcome a bad strategy. The world’s greatest copywriter can’t write his way out of a bad strategy, not going to happen. On the other hand, if you have a brilliant strategy, the copy doesn’t have to be that good.

I started noticing these situations where we changed some factors on the ground, not the copy, and it just created blockbuster results. Coming out of that, I wrote my book, Strategy Matters, and it became a passion, was helping people find the right strategy. So before the copy has to come strategy.

Copy would be the servant of strategy and there’s a lot of people spending a lot of money on copy courses that should be spending more time on the core fundamental strategy when they go in.

Let me give a quick rule of thumb on what strategy is. We’ll talk about the ITAP formula

The formula is called ITAP. The I stands for identity and identity is made up of what’s my purpose, what’s my mission, what am I actually trying to accomplish here?

Quick true story: In the real estate market here in the US, there were two individuals, both started a company, pretty much trying to do the same thing, training and marketing themselves. One individual wanted to get wealthy, the other wanted to have the largest ad agency in the real estate industry. They started off with fundamental different purposes. The one that wanted to have the largest ad agency, he had staff, he had people, he had nicer buildings, because all of that goes into largest agency. They also ended up with massive overhead and about to go bankrupt.

The guy that wants to get wealthy, he’s looking for ways to cut costs, to sell better, to add new products that people buy more of, going out with repeat products, being careful about offering too many services that are labor intensive, things like that. There’s an example of two different goals, created radically different companies.

The first part of your strategy is: What the heck are you trying to do? What are you in business to do? Just get to the guy that wants to make a lot of profit versus the guy that wants to serve people the best.

I was actually cruising through the Steve Jobs’ biography that I’m like the last guy on planet earth to read, but it was very clear, his whole thing was about making insanely great products, not making a lot of money, but the money followed the insanely great product. His thing was, in his words, “create a dent in the universe, I want to make insanely great products.” Versus other guys that he didn’t like that just wanted to make money. That was one of his beefs with modern business school. Those are two different objectives and goals going forward.

I’ll give you another simple one. One of my favorite questions is why and we can instantly make your listeners here strategic consultants with this one three-letter word: Why? Typically people are taught to talk about, to looking for causes, for example, the Toyota Six Sigma and the five whys: Something is wrong? Why? Oh, well, because of this. Well, why? Oh, well, because of this and this. Well, why is that happening? Because of this. And what it does is it reduces you down smaller and smaller and smaller until you find in theory the root cause.

The way I like to do it is the opposite. I take it the other way. Somebody comes to me with a problem, or a goal statement. For example, one of my clients came and they go, “We want to reduce objection handling, can you give us training in handling objections.” I’m like, “Why?” They look at me like I’m an idiot and go, “Well, so we can sell more, make more sales.” I went, “Well, why do you want to make more sales?” They look at me like I’m an idiot again and was like, “Well, duh, so we can make more money, more profit.” I said, “Well, why don’t we make that our goal? Instead of coming and asking me how do we handle objections, why don’t you come and ask me, ‘How can we make more money?’” They’re like, “Oh.”

We ended up creating a solution where instead of handling objections, their sales people were cold calling manager’s offices and selling the managers a $1,800 management training course and they’d kind of: Ring, ring, “Hi, you’ve heard of “big guru name,” and they’d start pitching the course over the phone. So I mucked about in their offices and I found out they had a demo tape that after they’d try to do this and call back a bunch of times, they’d offer a demo tape. “Well, here’s our guy actually doing these management lessons.”

Then I mucked around and I found out they had a sheet that listed, I think it was 20 different video cassettes in this course they were selling and the sheet actually listed all of the content. Hey, there’s some bullets! I took that and I took this other stuff and I go, Let’s do this: Call up someone and go ring, ring, “Hi, looking into the future, do you want to grow your business by adding more staff or making the staff you have more productive?” “Oh.” That criteria thing again, right? It was, “Oh, well,” and it really didn’t matter what they answer, and you go, “Great, sitting here on my desk—you’d slap the desk—I’ve got a package with a video and training stuff I’d like to send you on how to do just that, but before I send it, I just want to make sure you even wanted it.”

So they’re thinking I’m insane doing this. Who calls up and says, “You might not even want it.” What they found out was a large majority of the people said, “Well, send it to me.” Then we packaged the video tape and we packaged in a real sales letter with it, but then we did another thing. We’d say, “OK, great. I’m going to send this out three day, it’ll be to you in three days. I’m going to set an appointment to talk to you on the fourth day.” They’d set up a second appointment right then and there.

They’d send this out and one of the other things I’d discovered is they had these insane testimonials on how great the product was and how people had used it to transform their business and motivate their people better. They sent it out and then that same day they’d send a fax, end of the day—today it would be an email—but it was like, “Hey, so-and-so, great talking to you, I shipped your product, oh, I thought you might find this success story of interest.”

The next day they would send a fax, “So-and-so, I was thinking about you, here’s another success story I thought you’d find interesting.” The third day they’d get another fax: “So-and-so, your package is coming today, make sure your secretary comes in, we’ll be talking to you tomorrow, make sure you watched the video. Oh, by the way, here’s another instance of a guy that took this and increased his productivity massively.” Fourth day they’d call. In the sales letter, I threw an offer in which was, “If you call me, I’ll throw in another extra set of this management tape on this other topic for free.”

Joseph Bushnell: Cool.

Robert Stover: All of a sudden, people start calling them back before the four days are up and then when they call… anyway, the upshot of that was, they increased their sales 300% in 2 weeks of an $1,800 product, because we went after an objective, instead of the initial problem, by using that why technique.

The next tap in T is target… who are you targeting, who is your audience? We can go a lot into depth on this, it’s a critical leverage point. I was just recently working with a business in the health industry and they were targeting like everybody but they’re in a cash flow situation so they need to close deals faster. In their industry, their sales cycle is two years; hard to close sales fast on a two-year sales cycle. When they close, they’re worth a million dollars a month, but until then, you got to survive until you close one of those puppies.

But there were some deals that were closing in three and four months, so it was just like an obvious, I came in and went, “Give me the profile of the people that are closing in three and four months, tell me about that business?” They went to work and the profile became, healthcare plans with under 30,000 members, was the prime thing.

Instead of targeting people with hundreds of thousands of members, we just had them run through their database, they had all the stats, pull up the companies that have about 30,000 people in their database and instead of cold calling them with sales people, we FedEx’d, we went right after them with an executive briefing which were major changes coming into healthcare industry, we will fly out and do an executive brief to your team that will show you hot juicy fact one, hot juicy fact two, hot juicy fact three, and how you can reduce rejection rates and all this other stuff.

Then they would follow up and they followed up with the president going, “Hi, this is the president of such-and-such company and we sent you a thing on an executive briefing, I want to fly my team out, is this something you’d want or not?” All of a sudden they’re closing, 20% of those companies are going, “Yeah,” and they started closing deals in three and four months. Radically different approach, but it came by choosing a separate target in their business.

Joseph Bushnell: OK.

Robert Stover: In all of our businesses, who we choose to select as clients or targets is a massive strategic decision and as I look over, the businesses that succeeded and failed are those that had huge breakthroughs, that T in the ITAP formula was massive.

The next one was A, which is approach. This one kind of throws people. It’s a blend of your marketing channels, how do we market out and it’s a blend of how we actually use those channels together. I look at it not like separate channels all over the place, but I look at it like a football team.

In a football team, at least US football, some guys block, some guys end run and fake, and other guys run through the holes, but it’s a team unity effort. When I look at channels and media, I try and turn them into a football team, not individual efforts. OK, here we do this and over here we do this and then this channel, we got Twitter and we got Facebook and we’ve got our blog and we’ve got PPC and we’ve got this and they’re all working separately. It might be the same message going down all those channels, but they’re not working together in a team unity.

Team unity would be an example of, let me take your sales people, let me have them call up somebody, offer them a package, now let’s take your direct material and put it in that, now let’s add in the testimonials, now let’s come back and close. So you’re using all the media but in a unified manner. I don’t have a better way to explain that. The illustration I gave earlier of the 300% in 2 weeks is an example of a unified approach to altering your strategy on your approach.

Another example, I work with a company and they work with kids with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities—when you use that word—people tend to think more extreme cases of mental disabilities. But the truth was, these are kids that were more ADHD, they couldn’t concentrate in class, they were really, really smart but they were only getting C’s. The way it was sold was: “Knock, knock, hi, we’d like to talk to you about this program with children with learning disabilities in your private school,” and they’d go, “We don’t have any of those children.” Not the most effective sales strategy.

What I did was I changed it, they had a huge amount of information that an average teacher could use in an average classroom to work with struggling students or kids that were kind of in the struggle range. Instead we said, “Hey, so-and-so, I’m with this company, we work with these children, we’ve got so much information your teachers could use right now and when’s your next teacher’s meeting? We’d love to come and present all these strategies that your teachers could use in the classroom and make teaching more effective.” They’re like, “Oh, well, come on in.”

So then we get in and we do the chat in front of the teachers and it was pure information, it was not sales. I mean, it did kind of stroke the problem, but we were giving them strategies they could use and then they’d go, at the end, what did all the teachers ask, “How do we get this program?” And it was done. The administrator is over there like, “Oh, well, maybe I should talk to you.” That was an example of changing an approach; that increased sales 50%, instantly when the approach changed. That is kind of a different away to look at it, but that’s approach.

P is what’s your proposition? Which would include your product, your offer. It would include the positioning and all of those elements include your promise when you go in.

In the mortgage industry, I have this client and they sold to the mortgage industry, so they sold to loan officers and they were selling their product based on “we can increase your sales”. I had done some research a couple years earlier and I found out that referrals was a hot button. At the time, the internet was blowing up and I said, “Here’s how to turn CPAs and financial planners into an internet super highway.” That exploded. They could mail that out to a cold list and get a 13% response rate.

Then we modified it as time changed and moved to one of the fellows that had used this program and he was generating $500,000 a year in referral commissions and it was: How to Become a $500,000 a Year Referral Machine. That ran for 10 years, that was worth millions of dollars, that one thing. But by changing the core proposition you’re going to the market with, it radically alters, that’s the other key point on your strategy there. It can be the promise, it can be the positioning of your product, it can be your product. You know what? Stop selling this product, let’s do another product.

Those are four major things…

The I, what’s your identity, what are you trying to do? What’s your purpose, what’s your mission?

The target, the T, who am I going after? Who’s my client, who’s my prospect?

The A, what is the approach I’m going to take to get them? Don’t think just in terms of channels—which you have to—but in terms of making them work in unity.

Then P, what’s my proposition I’m coming to them with, and the proposition is, the product, the offer, the promise the product is making and the positioning of it.

Joseph Bushnell: Excellent. So any one of those four could lead to a massive breakthrough but if we make improvements in all four of those areas, it’s going to be really exponential, isn’t it?

Robert Stover: Yes. There’s a caution though and here’s what will throw you… you may only want to change one of those.

Joseph Bushnell: Oh, OK?

Robert Stover: What I found out is almost every business ends up morphing around, it’s kind of like evolutionary cycles and how bats in one area develop bigger ears and only eat fruit and in another area they got tiny, little ears and they eat insects, and they specialize.

Well, all the businesses tend to specialize around their food source. However they started and they start to get their leads or their approach and they’re getting business, they tend to structure around that. It’s hard enough to change one of those, like if you’re using one approach or one channel and you go from using classified ads or you go from magazine ads that are kind of branding oriented to using PPC, which is response measurable, ordered, that’s like throwing the whole—the company can hardly handle that and survive.

If you change two things at once, it breaks apart.

It’s almost like the company, so yes, it would be exponential and often just changing one is exponential, but if you go changing two or three at the same time, it blows apart.

It’s like the company, the organism, can’t handle all that change at once, because it is fundamental and strategic. If you’ve been feeding off one kind of prospect or target market and then you shift target markets, as soon as you shift your target market, already the approach you’re taking and the promises you’re making and the product has to change a little bit. So you really are changing them all at once but if you try to massively change, I’m going to change who I’m going after and I’m going to radically change our marketing channels, you’re going to break the ship. So that’s just a caution.

Joseph Bushnell: So would you in that case just change one thing and then leave it as that or would you then, once you’ve changed something, the organism is still intact, would you then maybe go to something else or would you just leave it at that point?

Robert Stover: I would go to something else.

Joseph Bushnell: Sure, OK.

Robert Stover: Yeah, once we know they’re going to live, they can go to something else, but just like changing who your target is or changing what your core objective is that you’re actually going after, I’m going to go from wanting to be the biggest ad agency to being the most profitable is your core objective under the “I”, that will radically change everything. That’s going to filter down to the whole organization.

So you got to give those things time to go in, and as tempting sometimes as an outside guy to go in, or your listeners go in or they’re working in a company and I go through this talk and they’re going, “Oh, my word! I can change this and change this and change this,” and the company just can’t handle it. They’re going to fall back to what they’re doing to survive or they’re going to break apart.

Joseph Bushnell: OK. Just before we move on to our next topic, one last question about strategy and copy, you mentioned to me in a previous conversation about something called the Ansoff Matrix. How does that apply with this subject?

Robert Stover: Let me tell you the story of it and then I’ll go to how it applies.

Joseph Bushnell: Sure.

Robert Stover: I didn’t originally know it as the Ansoff Matrix, I knew it as some old dealmaker sat down with a wink and goes, “Hey, kid, let me show you something,” and I used to select deals and predict which are going to win and fail and put myself in the highest position to win every single time.

So he sits down and he draws this little matrix, just a square, tic-tac-toe box, on the piece of paper and in the bottom, bottom left, he goes, “Existing product, existing customer” writes that in there. That would be what we call optimization; selling more of your existing stuff to more people, making your web pages work better, making your lead system work better, changing headlines. If somebody is already running ads, changing ads, you’re not doing new stuff. Product manufacturing, going to a wider mouse so the customer uses more of it by accident. All those kinds of things—selling more stuff to existing customers, and I even say existing markets, which is just expanding your market a bit.

Right up from that, so in the upper left, he writes, “Existing customers, new products” So now we’ve got these customers that we have a relationship with, what else can we sell them? Here you get into, if you don’t have something to sell them, you get into affiliate marketing and all of these other things, but affiliate marketing to your own people, not going out cold.

Then he said, “Your existing products to a new market” What we find as we’re doing this is the probabilities of your succeeding are getting smaller and smaller.

If you’re doing marketing and you’re working with any company, I would encourage anybody that wants to do better at marketing, move up in their companies, eventually move on their own, is take a look at the existing company’s marketing and find ways to start making small tweaks. That’s extraordinarily high probability of success, if I tweak a headline, if I tweak an offer, if I tweak our approach to the existing customers, I’ve got an extraordinarily high chance of what I do working.

If I come in and propose, “OK, let’s take and bring new products and services to our existing customers”, I have a very high probability of succeeding. I can talk to the customers, I can ask them what they want. That clues me off on what their problems are, what their challenges are, things like that. I’ve got an existing relationship with them that I’m coming in with. That’s got a very high probability of success. The second I move to the right side of that matrix on that upper quadrant box, which are my existing products that are known to work and I’m trying to reach new markets with them, I start to get a little away from success. It’s going to be a lower chance that I actually succeed.

Then “new products to new markets“. If I’m coming into a market and I’ve never sold this product before, in fact, it’s a newer product, and I’ve never sold to these people before and have no relationship with them, I’m in the extraordinarily high probability of failure quadrant. Conversely, I’m in the extraordinarily high probability column that if I do succeed, it’s going to be an Apple Computer breakthrough. It’s those different quadrants, so you have to know your payoffs.

For smaller companies, they shouldn’t be jumping out to that fourth quadrant. If you’re a major corporation with major money and you can take some losses and you know that’s part of business, absolutely they should be, at least part of their investment, needs to be going into that fourth quadrant.

There’s two ways to use this tool, maybe three. The first is, I mentioned the ITAP formula, and you’re trying to come up with ideas and strategies, those ideas that you come up with are going to fall into this box.

Joseph Bushnell: OK…

Robert Stover: This box helps you know what’s going to succeed. Next, if you’ve got a lot of freelancers, designers, copywriters, things like that listening, or people looking to jump in, to get in business, I don’t know why, but everybody wants to jump into that fourth quadrant, it’s what everybody wants to do instinctively. “Oh, I found a market where no one has ever done it before and it’s a new product. Whew!” They think they’ve hit the mother-load! What they’ve done is hit the 95% chance of hitting the wall mode! For some reason, untrained entrepreneurs, that’s the pool they want to jump in, the pool without water and a high dive.

Instead what they should do is aim for, “Hey, am I doing marketing, am I doing freelance, am I doing consulting around your existing stuff? I’m going to look like a stud. Am I helping you take new stuff to your existing relationships? I’m going to look like a stud, I’m going to do well”. As soon as we start jumping out into new markets, there’s a good chance or a higher chance I’m going to fail.

For example, for copywriters, Gary Bencivenga never used to look for new people that had never done anything before and he never tried to do these breakthrough packages. He looked for people that had existing packages, mail packages, that were breaking even but that they weren’t doing all the things he knew that they needed to do. He called it “picking on wimps”. That’s how he started winning all the time.

Jay Abraham, the great marketing genius, he either does box one, which he starts tweaking existing—they have sales people, he starts tweaking what they’re doing. They have ads, he starts tweaking the ad, the headline, the offer, the structure of it, he doesn’t come in and go, “Let’s do completely new things.” Or he comes in and goes, “Wow, you’ve got a customer base of 300,000 people and you’re only selling one product and you have incredible relationships with them, let’s do a joint venture and offer them something new.” He does not go out into those other boxes. He might teach how to do it, but when he does deals, he’s doing deals in box one and two.

As a copywriter, I remember being hungry for business and somebody comes to you with something, and almost always it’s going to be something like in box four and you’re like, “Oh!” you write and work your tail off and you just have to know there’s a high probability this is going to fail. On the other hand, if a guy with 80,000 customers comes to you and goes, “Hey, I’m introducing this new product, can you write something to my existing customers about it?” pounce on it, because you’re going to look like a rock star.

I use the Ansoff Matrix, you can use it, it’s kind of a core, OK, I’m looking at a business, here are four major things they can do to grow, let me look in each of those boxes for things to help them grow or I can look at my own business through that lens. What are things to my existing customers, existing processes, existing marketing, existing advertising, existing lead generation systems, what is stuff I can do to optimize and tweak that? That’s where a large part of the industry is.

Joseph Bushnell: Brilliant.

Robert Stover: The next is, wow, I’ve got relationships now, how can I sell them more stuff, more of my product, more of other people’s products, things like that? You can use it to screen all the ideas, like anybody listening to this or any of your other interviews, you can end up with hundreds of ideas if they go through all your interviews. This matrix serves as your criteria screen, as we talked about earlier. They can throw all that ideas, where does this fit within the matrix?

Joseph Bushnell: Brilliant.

Robert Stover: And as I learned later, it actually wasn’t this old deal maker’s idea, it was actually the MBA professor Ansoff who created it and it’s called the Ansoff Growth Matrix.

Joseph Bushnell: My next question for you, Robert, I know that you’re writing a book at the moment and in the book you talk about something called The Growth Formula. How did you discover that?

Robert Stover: Well, this is fascinating. I’ve done the copywriting thing, I love and I’m passionate about copy, but strategy is just flat out more important, no matter what anybody, selling anything says, and that strategy can just have these huge transformations. So I write my book, Strategy Matters, based on these things and you’ll discover things like the Ansoff Matrix in there, as well as the formula, as well as the process to do strategy. I wrote that book, very happy with it, that book started opening more doors for me and I started looking around, like what’s next?

I go, you know what? I think I want to do something on growth, not just strategy, but kind of a more tactical thing called growth. So I started focusing on growth and I started thinking of all my growth stories and everything I knew about growth and so I think I’m pretty smart and I’ve got this, I ended up again with a big bucket of ideas on how to grow a company. Then I have something like, you know, forehead-slap-duh, and I was like, you know what? Instead of just looking at me and what I’ve done, why don’t I get out there and talk to other fast-growth CEOs and fast-growth companies and find out what they’ve done and just take myself out of it for a bit here.

I started looking up and around our business pages here, we have the Fastest Growing 100 Businesses, top 100 here in Orange County, California, and all the other cities in the US, there’s also the Inc. 500 list, so I started targeting these CEOs to interview them and find out what they did. So I started off, yeah, it’s fun, you’re talking to guys that have grown businesses from nothing to 10 or 20 million dollars and they’re telling me everything that they’ve done and going on about it.

I’m having fun for a while, but then all of a sudden I’m noticing I’m ending up with that big bucket of ideas again. It’s like, well, yeah, they got hit and they got knocked down and they got up again. We know we kind of have to persevere. They work hard. They’re smart, they do this. Some used more modern text marketing, some used internet, some used this—so all of a sudden I’m ending up with this big thing of tactical stuff that they’ve done, and I’m kind of frustrated. I’m going, well, this is nothing to write about that no one else has ever written about.

So I start thinking about it and I have a friend who is a martial arts master in the true sense, he spent 10 years in China, came over here, he’s a Pan American jujitsu champion on top of the Chinese martial arts. He’s written a couple books, one of them was Effortless Combat. What he did is he was looking at throwing and he’s kind of looking at how people get thrown and he’s kind of going through what I’m doing.

Well, you’ve got the Japanese system of throws in jujitsu where you name the throw after the joint you use. If I grab your wrist and use that to execute a throw, it’s a wrist throw. If I use your elbow or your shoulder, it’s a shoulder throw.

Then there’s the Japanese system of judo, they name their throws after the body part that you use to do the throw. So it doesn’t matter what you grab on the opponent, if you step in with your hip, it’s a hip throw. If you loop them over your shoulder and do it, it’s a shoulder throw, that’s how they named it.

He’s trying to look at all of these techniques in addition to all of the Chinese systems and they had different ways of categorizing their throws by forces and things like that. He goes, “Well, let me turn this around and if I’m being thrown, what is happening to my body?” He goes, “Oh, there’s only three things: there’s a circle, there’s an arch, and there’s a spiral.” He, for the first time in hundreds of years, came up with a different way to categorize throws, which is pretty amazing, given all the time people have spent on this.

Inspired by him, I looked at all these businesses and I go, “Instead of my looking at all the tactics they use, let me start at the end result of a breakthrough, the growth shot up 300%, what happened right before that? So I started backwards and worked forward. I started going, like it was pretty darn fast. The first thing that has to happen, there’s a breakthrough result, what happened right before that was some kind of action, they took action. OK, cool. We’ve all heard it before, but that is absolutely the step that happens right before results.

What happens before somebody takes action? No one, even like in an instinctive situation, takes action without first having the concept of what they’re going to do, they have to have an idea. That idea might be a single idea, it might be a strategy, it might be a plan, it might be a product or something, but an idea is formed, then they take action, then they get results.

Great, so now we’re to the question, what comes right before an idea? Like, “oh crud”, well, people have been asking that for centuries, right? Where do ideas come from? I’m kind of stumped a little bit and then I’m interviewing this guy and here in the US, I think Europe was way ahead of us on this, he was the first guy in the US to start reselling used cell phones in a major way.

He and his partner started off and they do school fundraisers and all the kids that bring their phones in, they’d buy them off them and then they’d go to the garage over the weekends and they’d sit and when you do it that way, they’d end up with 3-400 different phone designs from different manufacturers and they have to test and make sure all these phones are working. I mean, it’s massively labor intensive and it’s incredibly intensive to go out and create these school fundraisers and get them going. And they can’t quit their full-time jobs, so they’re doing this part-time, so that’s where they’re at and they’re doing this.

One day they grab another box of cell phones and open it. Instead of there being 50 different phones in there, there was one type of phone and that one type of phone was from one corporation, and the light went off. They went, “Oh, my word, we’re going to approach corporations that are dumping all their corporate phones, forget the fundraisers, we can go to corporations and say, “Hey, you want to save the environment? Send us your used phones and they can send us thousands of phones! Our testing process, we just saved our time, we only have to use one piece of testing equipment to blow through all these phones to see if they’re working or not.” Right? Bang, they could scale the business and they were, I think they were outgrowing the industry by 130% on the Inc. 500 at the time, they were Inc. 500 2 years in a row, the fastest growing.

So they’re just smoking off that single shift and when they had that insight and he’s telling me that story. A couple days later I’m thinking about it and I forehead slap and go, “I know what happens before people have breakthrough ideas and it’s insight into a leverage point

I started going back over all these breakthroughs I’ve been involved in. I started blowing through the business press, studying breakthroughs and stuff, and there it was, every single time, is somebody found a leverage point, then they created the idea and then they went.

To show you how powerful this is, take the Folgers Coffee here in the US, they’ve got a campaign that ran for years and it allowed them to dominate the market and it was, “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” One of the people on the creative team realized that out of all the research they’re doing, people had set the timers on their coffeemakers so when they woke up, it was already brewing coffee. They took that insight, that leverage point, and it became one of the ad campaigns in coffee history, just like these guys took the cell phone and went.

I had a guy who was a bounce house guy, the little kiddy bounce houses that you rent for birthday parties and stuff, and he’s a growth-driven guy, he’s got a lot of drive, so he starts adding more bounce houses, and then he adds more people to deliver the bounce houses, then he has to buy cars or trucks with trailers on them to run these things around. The more he grows, the less money he’s making, the harder he’s working, and in southern California traffic, on any given weekend, a couple of those guys are going to be late or miss a party because of traffic and traffic accidents, so you end up with moms just irate screaming that they’ve ruined their child’s life because they missed this bounce house at a party.

So he was frazzled, his people were frazzled, his equipment is wearing out, he’s having to replace it, he’s one frustrated puppy. All of a sudden he gets a call from a church group and they go, “Hey, we need seven of those bounce houses.” He’s like, “Huh?” So he does it and then he realizes, wow, that was easy. Instead of having seven different guys go to seven different parties and stay out late at night bringing all these things back, I can throw seven of these on a truck and drove them to one event and made seven times the money.

That was his leverage point, was a new market that was much more ripe. He just changed everything on his marketing and he went after church and synagogues and kind of social—out here it’s the Rotary Club and Lion’s Club and associations like that. He went from being the bounce house guy to being the third fastest growing party rental company in the southern California area, all off of that one insight, that one leverage point.

I found out that those leverage points in almost every real successful business growth story were there, whether they just stumbled onto it or whether they found it. Then I started looking at these things and I go, with a lot of the companies that found these leverage points, that leverage point was available to them a year, two years, three years earlier, if they had just seen it. Why aren’t they seeing the leverage points?

I started looking into it some more and we’ll call it desire or we’ll call it pain, in about 50% of the cases, they faced an existential threat to their business. They’re going to fail.

In one case, one of my clients, they’re one of the first companies to start the voice marketing—I don’t know if it’s legal in the UK or Europe—but they leave the automated messages on your answer machines. He was one of the first companies into that. FCC got into it, because people complained about it, started regulating it, and they came out with a rule that stipulated companies can’t even call their own customers past 18 months, using the technology, and you can no longer use it except in political stuff, you can no longer use it.

So all those companies that were thriving off using this thing for lead generation can’t do it any more; he’s going to lose all his clients, he has a crises. We take a look at his business and we discover one industry, the retail industry, they’ve got a lot, I mean, each retailer had hundreds of thousands of clients because they’re running sales and promos all the time, they had a reason to use the service almost weekly, and an ad created for one or a strategy created for one could be leveraged across the entire industry. They could all use pretty much the same follow-up message, so it was highly leveragable, and it was insanely effective. When these people did this, their sales jumped 5, 10%, if they alerted people by phone the night before a big weekend sale.

He said, “OK, that’s it, we’re dropping all these other industries, we’re going after retail.” Everybody on his team is going, “You’re insane. We have to go to everybody.” He’s going, “You know what? No. This is the future, let’s go after that.” Bottom line, he was struggling around about 1.5 million a year, over the next 2 years they went up to 7 million, then they went to 10 million the next year. All off an insight, but they didn’t get that insight into the better market, that leverage point, until he was in pain.

Let’s flip the formula around and here’s kind of what you get: You either get what I call a growth-driven leader, say Steve Jobs, these guys are just driven, or Bill Gates, I mean, these guys are just driven to grow, so they’re constantly looking for the insights.

Or they get in trouble, they get fired, they lose their job or what they’re doing, the market gets threatened, a competitor moves in and it threatens to wipe them out, they have to go looking for a better way or they’re not going to live. Those are the companies, the driven because they’re driven or the driven because they’re in pain, that discover leverage points. Once you discover a leverage point, the ideas are easy.

If I tell you, hey wow, 1 type of your customer can generate about 100 times more revenue than the others, what big idea comes out of that?

Joseph Bushnell: To target them better.

Robert Stover: Exactly, it’s simple, right? All of these ideation techniques, they work but what I’m looking at is like this real consistent pattern, so yes, there are other ways to generate ideas, finding leverage points is a really, really, really good way to generate million-dollar ideas.

Joseph Bushnell: OK.

Robert Stover: First look for the leverage point and then you get the idea, then you have to take action on it and so forth. As we talked about before, in taking the action, there’s smart ways to take action and there’s stupid ways to take action.

What most online people understand is this thing called testing. Before you go taking a flying leap, you can A/B split test and I joke, I call it the entrepreneurial crash test dummy.

I’ve got a client, he’s also a friend, but that guy’s approach to testing new businesses was just full on, full bore, 100% commitment, he’d just run in there and attack it, whether it was a good idea or a bad idea, because he’d never tested it. What he’d end up doing is like you’d send him in a room and he’d put a helmet on and he’d run at this wall—bang! Run at another wall—bang! Another business idea, that one doesn’t work, he’s up running—bang! I mean, it was just painful to watch until he finally finds like a window he ends up crashing through and there’s his next million-dollar business. He repeated this pattern over his life. It was effective, at least he took action, but there’s smarter ways to take action, through testing, through prototyping, and things like that. Then you get the results.

So anyway, that’s roughly the growth formula. First do a desire check, I call it start a fire.

Next, find the star, you got to take those problems and frustrations or you got to take that desire and you got to make a clear objective out of it, what am I trying to do? That can be a grand objection, I’m trying to create a business that serves the people, like Henry Ford, and I’m going to create a business that creates an automobile that the average person on an average man wage can afford. That was his big drive, that’s a big dream. If you’re inside of a company, your objective might just want to be, “I want to increase sales 20% in the next 60 days.”

But whatever that star is, you have to have a star. Take the desire, the pain, or the drive, turn it into a specific objective, not all objectives, just one clear objective, one clear star you’re going to go after, and then you start searching for leverage, what I call, grab a lever.

You start going through your business, that ITAP formula we mentioned earlier is a great way to start trying to find leverage in the business. Who am I targeting? What are the approaches we’re taking to them? What about that? We mentioned the Ansoff Matrix earlier. Wow, OK, here’s my objective, I want to increase sales in the next 20 days. Can I do it by optimizing what we’re doing? Can I do it by bringing something new to our existing customers? Are there some easy markets that we can go into if we find any joint ventures ourselves and going into new markets that way, that are a high probability?

Other ways are looking around, and this came out like extraordinarily common, was people look around at other industries and what are they doing and then they import successful ideas into their own. That was another major source of leverage points.

Another major source, we all know it, we all talk about it, and I go into business after business that’s ever done it, and it’s the 80/20 principle. 20% of our customers produce 80% of our revenues. 20% of our sales people produce 80% of the sales. 20% of our marketing produces 80% of the leads. Going through with a fine tooth comb 80/20, it’s universal; anybody can do it in their business. Those are just a few examples of ways to find the leverage points.

What I find, like if I’m in front of an audience talking and I’ll tell the audience, “OK, we’ve been talking about growth, turn to your neighbor and tell him all the things that you should be doing to grow your business in the next one minute, go ahead, should on each other—go.” They start, “Oh, I should do this, I should do this, I should do that, do this, do the other.” Then I bring it back, “OK, out of all of those ideas that you just suggested doing, how many came up with the idea of stopping something? I’m going to stop serving markets? I’m going to kill off a product? I’m going to eliminate this division of the company?” No one comes up with anything, because everybody looks at growth like doing more and more.

Joseph Bushnell: Yeah.

Robert Stover: But in a lot of the stories I just told you, they didn’t do more and more, they narrowed it down into one type of marketing, to one approach, to one type of customer, and they narrowed it back down. Anybody listening to this or they go through all the interviews, you end up with all these things you should be doing and the truth is, you should probably stop doing some stuff.

Grab Forbes, flip through it, look at the turnaround stories. How many of those turnarounds came from them doing more and more stuff versus how many of those turnarounds came with a new guy coming in going, “OK, we are stopping that. We are not going after this market and this product sucks.” We are not selling that thing any more; we are going to do this. So it’s ironic, but some of the leverage points are letting go—letting go of all the stuff.

One I like to emphasize, and it’s not a leverage point but it’s a way to find leverage points, is what I call time for reflection. In my ongoing informal survey with entrepreneurs—you know, by show of hand, that kind of survey—when do you think about your business? There’s two answers to that, sometimes three: In the shower or in my car on the way to work, and occasionally, sitting on the loo, so that’s when. They are so busy all day long, they’re not taking time out for reflection. Just to think about the business and get away.

One of my clients is real successful, he had an inner office built inside of his office, so it was like between the walls, you couldn’t even see it, and he built a little library in there and a table and a study and he would just go in there for a half hour once a week, on Fridays. On Friday afternoon, he’d lean back in his recliner and he’d just ponder and reflect on his business. When you do that, a lot of business people, they already know the answers. They know where the leverage is, they know what’s working, what’s not.

But we’re supposed to be busier, and busier, and busier and do more and more stuff—I have to do Twitter, I have to do Facebook, I have to do PPC, I have to do joint ventures, I have to do this, I have to do that—we get like so busy, we’re not taking a step back and just reflecting on the business and going, “Where do I want to go? Where do I want to take the business? What customers do I like working with the best? Which don’t I? OK, here’s a problem that keeps coming up, why does that keep coming up? What’s the pattern?” You’ve got to take time out to reflect on the business, it’s another major key there on the leverage points.

As far as generating ideas, like I said, that used to be my whole focus, I’ve got a library that’s got 2,000 books, probably 3/4 of them are sales and marketing, the other 1/4 of them are on ideation techniques, how do you create ideas? How do you create ideas? I was all about the idea, hey, I’m an idea man.

What I learned was I need to be all about the leverage. The ideas come from the leverage pretty easily, once I found the leverage. That’s a little shift in my behavior in the last two years. Then taking action, I have to take action, one of the big things standing in the way of action is fear. It’s like, “Get over it, do something small, do something,” but I like to say that once you take an action, there’s three R’s, R3, if you want to write a code.

Take a look at it and you ask: Did it work? Do I refine it? OK, it worked so-so, it didn’t work all the way, do I want to refine this and make it work? Did it bomb? What we do instinctively, because we’re not quitters, is we try and, it’s called reinforce failure, “OK, this idea didn’t work, so I have to try harder. OK, that didn’t work, now I have to even try harder. Wow, that still didn’t work, I need to bring in my best team members and work on this”. We start what Drucker called feeding failure. We take our best people, our best talents, our best time, our most emotional energy and we throw it into what’s not working.

Instead we should, the second R is reject it. So can I refine it, make it work better? Can I reject it? On the other hand, sometimes we do stuff that works really well, like we send out a letter without a return address or branding on it and it creates $395,000 worth of sales in a week. Hmm, maybe I should roll that out, and that’s the third R, rolling out.

So R3, how do I take action? Find something to take action on and then R3 it, refine it, reject it, or roll it out.

Joseph Bushnell: Brilliant.

Robert Stover: Last step—enjoy the results!

Joseph Bushnell: Have the breakthrough!

Robert Stover: Yeah.

Joseph Bushnell: Awesome. Robert, I have to say, you’ve really got me thinking about all sorts of things right now, leverage points in my own business. I hope everyone listening to this is having that same thought process as well. It’s great that you’ve clarified that and just shed some light on an area that we all would like to benefit from but sometimes don’t know where to start and knowing that the leverage points is where to begin. Well, I guess we begin first of all with the drive and wanting to get that breakthrough in the first place, but then finding that leverage point, I think is probably the step where a lot of people are missing, so it’s fantastic.

Robert Stover: Right. Intuitively, and I do it, too, you feel the pain, maybe you form or don’t form a fuzzy objective or a star, and instantly you start creating ideas.

Joseph Bushnell: Yeah.

Robert Stover: It’s like, OK, well, get those out and then take a step back and look for leverage. That’s really the grab a lever, like if I’m leaving something with your listeners, it’s grab that lever, because that baby is where it’s going to happen, that’s what’s going to grow your business.

Joseph Bushnell: Thank you for explaining where to actually look for those levers as well. This has been absolutely excellent and really solid gold information, Robert, where can we get more of this sort of stuff from you?

Robert Stover: It’s pretty simple, RobertStover.com

Joseph Bushnell: OK.

Robert Stover: I mentioned the copy course earlier, but pretty much everything else I’m talking about is happening out of RobertStover.com. If you go out, there’s a brief video that explains the formula and how I discovered it and some more examples that they can use and if they want to opt-in, they can get this kind of stuff on growth levers coming to them on a consistent basis. There’s tons of free stuff out if you want to go kick around the site as well.

Joseph Bushnell: Great. That’s the end of today’s show, thank you for tuning in, I hope you enjoyed the show. Please remember to go check out RobertStover.com, there’s some fantastic information over there, you’ve heard today what kind of amazing info Robert has for you and how he has the ability to help you grow your business. Robert, I’d just like to thank you once again for being on the show today

Robert Stover: Thank you much, Joey.

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