My Interview with Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports

To listen to the podcast interview, click here:

Brandon Steiner on Hustle, Sports Marketing, and Having Balls

Brandon Steiner on Hustle, Sports Marketing, and Having Balls

Brandon Steiner is the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports, an iconic sports marketing and sports memorabilia company. Born right here in Brooklyn, NY, Mr. Steiner founded Steiner Sports in 1987 with only his $8000 in savings and grew it into the $50 million empire it is today.

Steiner Sports is the premier leader in sports marketing pairing athletes with businesses to help them draw customers and best known today as the most trusted vendor of sports collectibles, including autographed baseballs, jerseys, football helmets, and posters as well as limited edition items and even clods of dirt — yes, dirt, helping to bring fans closer to the sports and the athletes they love.

For every athlete ever did anything of note, chances are Steiner has their signed ball that they caught to win the game or their uniform or a piece of the dirt or court they played on. All of this is detailed in his inspiring autobiography, You’ve Gotta Have Balls.

Along the way, Steiner has forged business relationships and even close personal friendships with numerous professional athletes and hall-of-famers over the decades and bought the original Yankees stadium. And despite all those tremendous accomplishments, perhaps greatest of all, he is also the founder of the Everything Bagel, a feat to which all of us in New York are especially grateful.

Hey, welcome back to the Zev Audio Zone, a podcast about entrepreneurship, marketing, sales and self-optimization. Tune in every week to hear from inspiring individuals who are making an impact on our world. 

So today, my guest is Brandon Steiner. He’s the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports, an iconic sports marketing and sports memorabilia company. And in this interview, we talked about his childhood growing up right here in Brooklyn, building a sports marketing empire, and his experience working with some of the biggest athletes and brands in the world, and also how he bought the old Yankee Stadium.

You might want to take notes for this episode, because Brandon shares some priceless, tried and true business wisdom that he’s learned over the past 50 years. 

Zev Gotkin: Brandon, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Brandon Steiner: Pleasure to be here, how are you today?

Zev: Doing great on this rainy day, doing fantastic, thank you so much. Yeah, so I’ll get right into it. I know that you came from very humble beginnings here in Brooklyn. Please talk a little bit about where you come from and how you grew up. 

Do you think that your origins, your upbringing, played a big role in your ambitions and your eventual success?

Brandon: Well, I think a big part of who you are and what you become, it has a lot to do with who raised you and where you grew up, without a doubt. And I think that’s really important. For me, it was Kings Highway, Ocean Parkway — 539 Kings Highway to be exact.  I lived over a Glatt Kosher Butcher.

And I grew up in a neighborhood that had a myriad of people — Italians, Jews etc. I mean, there was a cross-section, and in order to get through, you needed to understand how to get along. I think it was very humbling.

It wasn’t an easy growing up phase, but I worked since I was 10 years old. I’ve been hustling since I was a kid. In Brooklyn, there’s a lot of things you could do to make money. I think in Brooklyn, there’s a lot of opportunity. I always looked at my challenging circumstances as a great opportunity. I wasn’t necessarily thinking when I was a kid that I was poor and disadvantaged. I was thinking about the fact that I had a lot of upside if I can figure things out. It all started there in Brooklyn, and I’m a big Brooklyn fan. I love that brand; love that opportunity that I had.

When I look back on it, I think the things you learn the most sometimes when you’re at a disadvantage, or where you maybe don’t have a level playing field and you’ve got to fight your way uphill. And, I think, as a child, that’s how it was for me. And it’s definitely paid its dividends as an adult. I never take a dollar or a day for granted.

I certainly don’t take the opportunity to be able to be in business, now 30 years at Steiner, for granted. And when you’re in Brooklyn, you are your ego is kept in check. Brooklyn would humble you very quickly. If you got a little too arrogant, there was always somebody… One of the people who lived on the block would slap you around, and smack you down, making sure you had your feet on the ground.

So, a great place to grow up, and I’m very grateful because it’s definitely enabled me to be able to grow and do the things that I’ve been able to do.

Zev: That’s wonderful.In your book, You Gotta to Have Balls, you mentioned how you were selling and hustling as a kid. I know that your mother and her philosophy of “What Else,” which is also the name of your blog, had a big influence on your life and your business, and she seems like she was very supportive of your entrepreneurial spirit. Maybe you could just give my listeners a little bit of an idea of how hard you were working as a kid, and what you were doing to hustle and make money.

When did you know that you had a knack for business and marketing? 

Brandon: I mean there’s a lot of times when I realize, “Whoa, I don’t think in a normal way.” For example, one time, I was selling knishes on the beach. When you’re walking up and down Coney Island Beach — and there’s a lot of characters on that beach — carrying cases of soda with one arm, you got knishes in the other arm, it’s exhausting. And I wasn’t selling all that much, so I decided to sell Oreo cookies as well. I was like: “Get your hot knishes, cold soda, and Oreo cookies!” And people usually bought the Oreos so the Oreos became the draw. All the kids would come running over because they wanted the cookies and then the parents would come over and buy a Shatzkin’s knish and a can of soda, and I ended up doing really well in that hustle. 

Even back when I was really young, and I’m talking seven, eight years old, I would draw a sketch for my grandfather, and when he’d offered me a dollar for it, I’d immediately start negotiating with him: ‘Two, three.’ I learned how to negotiate at an early age and lessons like you never take the first offer, that kind of thing.

So, those are the little things that happen and the lessons you learn when you’re a kid. And my mom was always in my ear teaching me about my options and giving me good ideas as I moved into different business situations. I think it’s really important to explain to your kids what opportunities are possible for them if they work hard, and I had a mom that did that. She taught me things like how money gets made, how you can easily go astray if you’re not careful, how sometimes you need to take a little less money in order to provide more value for your customers, and how you can provide more value to your customers by adding additional services. We would go into different stores, and she would point those things out to me.

Zev: One of the biggest challenges with starting a business is starting up and getting your foot in the door. I would imagine, especially in your industry, one of the biggest challenges is just getting access — access to players, the teams, the franchises. And probably the question everyone asks you, and one that some of my listeners have asked me to ask you is: 

How did you get started? How did you break into the sports marketing world?

Brandon: Well, first of all, I don’t know if I agree with you there. A lot of people think it’s so hard to get started. I say: ‘That’s the hardest thing you’re going to do? Get started?’ No, the hardest thing to do is create value. True value. Not some dream, not some idea, but real value. Something you could do for someone that they can’t do for themselves. That’s how you get started. And then, the second hardest thing is altering that value as new circumstances arise. Compromising that initial value proposition in a good way that works for all parties involved. Being able to maybe tweak it a little bit. You have to avoid getting stuck on your first idea. Your first idea may be a very good one, but your best idea is never your first idea. You need to be flexible enough to adjust to the market. 

You alter it a bit. You have to be willing to give the customer, or the person you’re working with, what they need, even if that is not always what you are trying to sell. And I think a lot of people get stuck on trying to sell what they have without adjusting to the needs of the other party. You need to be able to adjust your idea, alter your idea, and grow your idea; not get stuck on a concept that may have worked a little in the beginning, but now is not producing the same result. And I think that’s the hard part. That is harder than starting. 

The first five years here at Steiner, I only had maybe two employees — maybe at a high, I had three. I was really just trying to figure things out as I went along. My initial goal was to be around for four years. That was my first goal. I wasn’t even thinking about making money! I was thinking: “Can I figure out how to provide value and can I stay open for business for four or five years?” And I kept trying to figure things out by meeting as many people as I could, finding out what they needed, and then figuring out how I could then present as much value to them as possible and help them accomplish whatever it was they were trying to do, whether that was growing their business, increasing their customer loyalty and retention, promoting their new product, or whatever it was.

That’s really how I got started. I probably had 10 different ideas that I had tried when I first started Steiner Sports, and I would say 12 of those 10 ideas didn’t work. I definitely lead the league in ideas that didn’t work. Even at Steiner, I’ve come up with some amazing ideas that have worked, and some amazing ideas that haven’t worked. And I’ve also had some really shitty ideas that didn’t work, and it sucked. So it’s a combination of all those things. And your ability to adapt and move on from some of those ideas, to improve upon those ideas and to tweak them, is really one of the keys to success, as far as starting a business as an entrepreneur. When I first started Steiner in 1987, I was a marketing and PR firm for sports bars and restaurants. That’s what I was mostly doing, and, at first, I only dabbled with marketing athletes. I got into that slowly and gradually.

Until one night, I was sitting there and I realized: “I need more data; I need more information.” I sent out thousands of surveys to thousands of players all over the country — leagues, coaches, players, former players, and just asked them to fill out this survey. 

At the bottom of the survey I said: “Now that I have this information on you, like what is your favorite drink, what you like to wear, where you like to vacation, what kind of car you drive etc, would you mind if I went to some of those brands to try to market you to represent them?” It’s a really old school way of marketing. Like, hey, why not find a talent that loves Tropicana orange juice, and then call Tropicana and say: “I’ve got a celebrity that loves your orange juice who wants to talk about it and wants to be a spokesman for you because he’s all in on your product!”

These days, it seems like branding is a little bit of a lost art. It’s all about how many likes you get and how big you are on social media, and how popular you are at the moment. But I’m more of a long-term brand builder. As I built my first business, which was marketing players, it was all about being a great brand builder. How can I take a player’s brand and your brand and combine the two to make both better? And a big part of that is finding a product that the player actually loved, because then I knew their endorsement would be authentic and that it would be a good match. 

So, those surveys were the initial stages when Steiner started marketing players. Three-hundred of the athletes who took the survey responded to my offer to market them in the affirmative. And that’s how we got started. I got about 300 celebrities to give me permission to go out and market them, and I did. Every day, I called up as many companies as I could, got as many meetings as I could, followed up after those meetings, and just kept doing that again and again, day after day.

Using that process, it took several years until I actually started getting meetings a little more quickly, and the follow-up became a little easier. But, it was those initial athletes that answered the survey, which started it all and got me into the sports marketing business.

Zev: You have to find the starting point or the niche that you can fulfill and where you can help and create value, and be willing to adjust. That is extremely important advice that all entrepreneurs need to take to heart. And, I love that you took the time to make sure the brands of the athlete and the company were a good fit. That might sound like common sense, but too many simply enter into partnerships that are lucrative and bring in short-term gains rather than thinking about the long-term big picture or whether or not the brands are in alignment in terms of values or intended audience.

Brandon: Common sense is not always common practice. I think a lot of people know what is the right thing to do, but they get distracted. Don’t focus only on the short-term gain. Remember, doing the right thing doesn’t always give you an immediate result. There’s no app for that. There’s no shortcut, there’s no discount, no sale, and it’s not something you could pick up real quick with a Google search. But, at the end of the day, common sense has to become common practice if you want to be successful. You’ve got to play the long game and be patient. Sometimes the results take time to achieve.

Zev: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Today you count as close friends some of the greatest pro athletes in professional baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and more — names like Derek Jeter, Eli Manning, and Mariano Rivera. And you’ve partnered with many of the big franchises like the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Red Sox, and Madison Square Garden. What is that like? It must be a surreal feeling. As a lifelong sports fan, it’s got to be a pretty amazing feeling to walk into the stadium of your hometown team, the Yankees or into the Garden and see your name, Steiner Sports, hanging from the ceiling. 

When you were a kid, did you ever dream that you would ever achieve all of this success? Did you think it was possible? When you were sitting in the cheap seats of the did you ever think to yourself, one day I’m gonna own this place?

Brandon: First of all, I don’t know about owning this place. I mean, obviously the Yankees own this place, but when they sold the old Yankee Stadium, they allowed me to sell parts of it as memorabilia, and I’m very grateful to the Yankees for that. But a lot of people ask me: When you were younger, did you ever think you were going to be this successful? And my response is: Yeah! Of course I did! You don’t think I started this business with all my dreams and goals thinking I was going to be a screw up, do you? Never for a moment! I always thought that I was going to do something great, something extraordinary. I wanted to go into an industry and disrupt it. I didn’t know that it was going to be in the sports business, but I knew I was going to do something great. 

When I walk into Yankee stadium or into any other franchise where I have a partnership, I think of two things. Firstly, I feel gratitude. I want to add that I’m extremely grateful to the Yankees for giving me the opportunity to partner up with them so I can deliver so many fans amazing products. The second thing that goes through in my head is a feeling of incredible responsibility both to the franchise and to the fans. I think to myself: I better not screw this up. More than pride, I’m usually pretty nervous. Like, shit, I got to make sure this goes right. This one of the greatest brands on the planet; the New York Yankees! I got to make this right. I got to deliver, I’ve got to do my best work and I’ve got to bring my A-game to live up to what the Yankees represent.

Of course, I recognize that I’m just a small part of the marketing and promotion the Yankees do on a day-to-day basis. I’m a minuscule little piece of it. But for me, the sense of responsibility and accountability I feel is enormous! That feeling or responsibility rather than ego is probably the thing that most dominates my mind when I walked into any of these arenas. Sure, I’m very proud to have a sign and to be part of these organizations, but the feeling of accountability still trumps it all. 

Zev: I love that. One of my listeners wants to know wants to know:

What’s your favorite or most cherished piece of memorabilia that’s been in your possession? 

Brandon: When I think about my favorite thing, it’s not really a collectible; it’s the thank you notes that I get. Every day, I try to start my day off with two acts of kindness, and I try to do two things for two people who don’t expect it and don’t see it coming, whether it’s sending them a book, a check to a charity or to somebody who’s going through hard times, or sending somebody some flowers or something nice. And then, usually after that I get two thank you notes, or I’ll get a message from somebody telling me that they read my book or they read my blog, and it helped them.

Those messages and thank you notes are my favorite things that I have. I’ve kept a bag of those thank you notes for the past 12, 14 years. I cherish those letters; they give me a lot of purpose and a major source of my “why.” One of the reasons I enjoy writing books and blogs is the satisfaction of knowing I’m reaching people and helping them.

To answer your question about sports memorabilia, I think my favorite actual collectible is an autographed photo of New York Rangers player, Mark Messier holding the Stanley Cup with the quote: “We did it.” There’s a lot of stuff that I consider very important to me, but that was the first collectible that seriously kicked off Steiner Collectibles and put it on the map. 

Zev: You have an amazing eye for determining what sort of things will become sought-after collectibles. For example, you sell dirt from the old Yankee stadium. Nobody else thought to sell something like that! 

How did you train yourself to see so clearly what would be good to market that might not be obvious to others?

Now, there is something I want to express to you and to anybody that’s listening, which will help you understand my mindset: You need to realize that to be extraordinary requires a great deal of collaboration. It’s not like everything Steiner has done that has been a huge success came directly from my brain. Other people are involved as well. But, you have to be in a complete panic mode, meaning you have to be determined not to settle for great, but to strive for doing the extraordinary. And, you need collaboration to be extraordinary. You need to get really into the mud — you need to be very thoughtful about what you do. 

And what you want to do is get deep into the mud over one specific thing, and for me, when I get into these projects, I go into a pretty dark place. It’s probably not my happy place, because I’m fighting and struggling to not settle for the obvious and for what everyone else sees. I want to go further.  I want to go deeper. I want to dig into what that brand and what that player or team is all about.

And that’s really how the dirt came about. I was focused on Derek Jeter. He’s been an unbelievable partner over the years. I was with him at Yankee stadium and I was just looking underneath his feet and I see him kicking the dirt around. Sometimes I’d take a clump or a couple rocks from the field. And I’m thinking, man, every time I go to that field, I always loved getting a little piece of that dirt, and putting it in my pocket. I bet there are some other people who might like to also have a little bit of that dirt. It’s kind of like a good luck charm. So that’s how and idea like selling the dirt comes about.

This is part of the sacred ground that some of the greats have walked on — Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio. We also sell the dirt from Notre Dame stadium. You know, when you think about Notre Dame, you think of Joe Montana, Paul Hornung, and some of the great players who played there. 

We feel that by providing this dirt, our customers get to have a little piece of their favorite team in their home or office. It just brings them closer to the game. 

My mantra has always been, no matter what business you’re in, ask yourself: How deep in the mud are you? How deep in the pool are you? Are you willing to go into an area where maybe you’re not used to swimming and the water might rise a little bit over your head? Because you need to go in all the way and immerse. You need to make yourself a little uncomfortable to come up with the next big thing. I go into that place a lot. It’s not a comfortable spot to be in, but if you have the ability to take your mindset there, especially after you’ve gained some expertise in a certain area, that’s when you can achieve some extraordinary things. 

And, I urge everyone listening that, if you’re really good at what you do, I applaud you. But, that should just be the starting point. If you want to be extraordinary, then being great is just a starting point. For most people, that’s an ending point. You get to be great at something, and you feel like you’ve gotten there; you’ve achieved. But, to get to that next level and achieve extraordinary things, you need to get other people on board with your ideas. You need to collaborate and get other people to want to work with you. And then you can draw on all of the combined expertise to go even further. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of people do great things that probably could’ve been extraordinary, but they stopped there, and didn’t fulfill their potential.

Zev: How do you remain so hungry and determined, always pushing to new levels even after achieving so much success?

Brandon: I talk a lot about purpose, and being hungry is a big part of it. You need a “why,” and I think that if your refrigerator’s full and you feel pretty content and satisfied, you’re definitely on the road to mediocrity. If you’re getting too comfortable, I’d suggest not getting a lot of sleep and starving yourself for a couple of days to get your attitude back in check.

Zev: That’s intense, but I love that. It’s very important to have a why. The following question comes from the Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing, or @4athletebrands, on Twitter. They ask:

What will sports marketing look like in 10 years? And this is my addition: What’s next for Brandon Steiner and Steiner Sports?

Brandon: Well first of all, sports marketing is a really healthy industry. You’ve got some brilliant people in the business now. It’s taken a while, but when I first got in the business it was really thin on innovation. Back in the late 80’s and 90’s, there were only a handful of sports marketers and only a couple of companies were even into it. You approached a team or a league and they usually didn’t have much talent or really smart, capable people working there. Organizations were thinly staffed, and not much was put into marketing and promotion. Now, you’ve got some amazing people in the business, some incredibly brilliant minds from some of the best schools, Ivy Leagues, and so on and so forth. Sports marketing is now a big part of general marketing in this country, whereas 25 years ago, sports marketing was in its infancy and not taken as seriously.

I think the business is healthy and mature now, and there’s a lot more opportunity in it. These opportunities will continue to grow once the games start getting off of normal TV and move into pay-per-view. Soon you’ll be watching the games on Netflix and Amazon and platforms like that instead of on regular TV. I mean, there’s no question that it’s going to happen. These applications will steal sports away, and G-d knows there will be way more room for product placements and the like. 

Imagine watching football on Amazon, and while you’re watching that game, all the product placements you’ll be able to feature in that game. And just by clicking, you’ll be able to order the football being used or the jersey or the hat that you see the players or the coaches wearing. That kind of stuff is already starting to happen a little bit in Europe. I think you’re going to see a lot more of it in the States.

Pretty soon, rather than commercials, the main way companies are going to sell and advertise products is by creating their own programs and shows and using creative product placements. 

Nowadays, everybody’s DVR-ing and recording shows [instead of watching them on live TV] so nobody’s watching commercials. This is less common with respect to sporting events and award shows, which are still primarily watched live, but many people DVR those things too. 

As far as what’s next for me, I’ve just came out with my third book, Living On Purpose, which I’m excited about. I’ve been speaking around the country and doing a lot of charity work. I enjoy helping people and sharing stories to give them inspiration to follow their dreams and goals.

I’m looking at a couple of different web opportunities for Steiner as well. They’ll go much further than sports alone and give our fans and customers a much better and bigger opportunity to get the little things that they want. And, I’m working on growing Steiner Collectibles. 

I’m also traveling around a little bit to learn more about what’s going on outside of this country, because there are still a lot of sports marketing opportunities abroad. If I was a young person just getting started, knowing what I know now, I’d take my sports marketing experience, and probably go to Europe or Asia. There are so many teams overseas which receive a great deal of fanfare but have nowhere near the level of sports marketing and promotion as we do here in the States. And there’s a great opportunity if you are interested in taking your talents outside of the country.

Zev: That’s amazing. It seems like you’re always moving onto the next opportunity, and you’ve adapted over the years hosting your own sports radio show in the 90’s and now a podcast, a blog, and maintaining a strong presence on platforms like LinkedIn. 

Have you seen significant business results from your digital marketing, growing your personal brand online, or your online presence? What would you tell a business owner who isn’t prioritizing social media or producing content at scale the way you are? Do you think they’re missing an opportunity?

Brandon: Well, I would say, change or die. But, change can be a difficult thing. A lot of companies have CMOs who are 50 years old and older. It’s weird but, this forces you to ask questions like: Can you bring on an 18 year-old to be your VP of digital marketing? It’s tough to make that kind of decision. I’m surrounding myself with youth. I’ve got a kid that’s right out of college as my right-hand helping me build my personal brand online, and I have a high school kid helping me. My assistant is only one or two years out of school to help me with my social media. I recognize that I’ve got to surround myself with people that can do what I can’t do. And at some point, I have to trust them, because they know more than I do. I know what I know, and I’m going to mentor them. I’m going to teach them about life and business as I know it, which they all need — no question about it. And in turn, they’re going to show me what’s really going on in life as they know it. 

And I think this is where a lot of CEOs and executives are struggling. They should be opening up their doors to some young teenagers who are absolutely killing it! I’ve been doing that for the last three, four years and it’s paid a lot of dividends. Does it get me results? I think it does. I think any CEO will tell you his or her first and foremost goal is to make an emotional connection with their customers.

And I’ve got hundreds of thousands of customers that have done business with us over the years. I use social media to make that emotional connection with my customers, keep in touch, let them know what we’re doing, let them know where my mindset is, and what I’m thinking. I don’t know any other way to do it other than social media. I think it can even be better than anything I’ve been able to do when it comes to marketing, and I’ve done a lot of marketing. 

By contrast, when you go on TV or do things with traditional media outlets, which I have over the years, things always get cut. You don’t really don’t know what the hell is going to end up on TV. Social media and the Internet gives you more control over the story. So I like the social media event though I think it’s some of the older people are struggling to adjust to it.

They just didn’t grow up with it. It is a lot to learn, and it’s a lot to do. You know, most people you talk to that are older, high-level executives, are so wrapped up in how busy they are that they don’t realize how important social media is. It’s all about priorities. You’re not too busy to breathe, you’re not too busy to eat. I mean, how busy are you? I’m sure you could find an hour a day to do some social media. I’m not sitting there all day doing social media, but I’ve now learned that in the way I make time work out and do physical exercise, once a day I get up and give my social media an hour a day. I manicure it, do some interesting stuff with it, give some stuff away to followers. 

I reach out to people, respond to some people’s tweets and posts. It’s just an hour a day. And I think social media is a blessing if you’re running a company, because social media allows you to find out what people are actually thinking and what customers are saying about you. It’s a great opportunity.

When it comes to social media management, it’s important that they understand your business and that the social media isn’t siloed away from everything else. Don’t just stick somebody in a corner and let them do their thing. You’ve got to get them into your office, you yourself have to get into it. Learn and take advantage of the opportunity you now have to hear what your customers are saying and thinking.

Zev: What would you would advise a young entrepreneur trying to make their mark?

Brandon: If I were to talk to a young person about trying to make their mark as an entrepreneur, I’d say: Play the long game. It’s all about relationships. It’s not who you know or what you know, but what you know about who. 

Take the time to get to know people beyond their Twitter handle. And just because you throw a couple of texts back and forth doesn’t mean you know somebody. It might mean you’re connected to somebody, but being connected on LinkedIn to somebody and knowing somebody are two very different things. 

So, the fact that you can email, text, hit a quick tweet or add someone on LinkedIn is all great, but that’s a connection; it’s not a relationship. Building a relationship means you get up off your ass, go have a little lunch, pick up the phone, talk to somebody, and see how you can help them!

Not how they can help you. See what value you can provide to them. What you could do for them? Try to find any possible way you can help them and do something for them that they can’t do for themselves. If you do that for a long period of time, you’re going to have a high level of success. Eventually, you’ll be able to figure out what people need, and find a way to fulfill a niche. You’ll find an openings where you can inject your entrepreneurial spirit to provide more value to your customers, fulfill a need that is not being met in your industry or in the company where you work. 

Entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t have to just be coming up with an app or an idea. An entrepreneurial spirit could be in teaching, it could be in social work, or any other endeavor. You can be an entrepreneurial lawyer or doctor. Entrepreneurism is a mindset, not a business principle.

Zev: I couldn’t agree more! In your content — your blog, your LinkedIn posts, and your podcast, you occasionally talk about the struggles you had in school, and with ADHD. As an entrepreneur who also has ADHD, I find it very inspiring when someone with ADHD who’s very successful is open about it. I think it gives a lot of encouragement to so many people. 

What tips, strategies, or words of advice for managing ADHD can you share? What are some things you have found helpful in managing your ADHD? 

Brandon: When you talk about ADHD, or as I call it, attention deficit advantage, I think it’s important to remember that you can do a lot of things that the average, normal person can’t do. But, I also think it’s important that you learn to manage it. ADHD is not something that’s curable, but it is manageable. There are several books you can read and there is a lot of information online which can help you learn how to manage it and control it, so it doesn’t control you to the point where you’re impossible to be around, or family members or spouses or kids start to get annoyed. Having an ADHD personality can really take you far, but it can also take you down. 

For me, a big part of managing my ADHD is eating well. I have to be very careful about what I eat. And also, it’s really important that I exercise vigorously every morning. Exercise is really a great way for me to get a handle on ADHD.

Having said that, everybody is different. There are different forms of ADHD, and everyone has their ways of controlling and handling it. Ignoring it completely is foolish, because you’re leaving yourself at a disadvantage. You’ll be missing out on some things while at the same time you’ll probably be doing some miraculous, amazing things. But, just because you can do some miraculous, amazing things doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to manage the aspects of ADHD that get in the way. 

You can do amazing things and still learn how to tone it down and get a grip on it so that you’ll be more available to others and be able to live in the moment — things that ADHD can take you away from if you don’t learn how to manage it. This can mean just learning how to pay attention to the person sitting in front of you even when you feel like you don’t have the patience or the right tolerance.

I think it’s been proven with a whole bunch of studies that CEOs as a group have disproportionately high levels of ADHD and other issues. Sometimes, you just get emphatic, you get crazy, and you get paranoid. Sometimes your energy becomes uncontrollable. I mean, there’s a lot of ADHD characteristics that are often needed to do something great and in order to run a company. You just need to learn how to channel these tendencies appropriately. You need to learn how to handle it. You’ve got to understand the way you are and work with it. 

I love a book called Driven To Distraction by Dr. Edward Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey. That book helped me turn a lot of things around. It provided me with many different strategies for controlling and managing my ADHD. There are also many other resources available online. I think the most important thing is to get educated, learn about it, and then find what’s the right formula for you.

Zev: Amazing! I’m very grateful that you took the time to be here today. Thanks so much!

Brandon: Cool. All right, nice talking with you and call any time, man. All right?

Zev: All right. Thank you. Take care.

 

Is There a Fine Line Between Follow-Up and Being a Pain in the Ass?

You’re in a meeting or on the phone. You’ve made your pitch and the other party sounds interested. Then, they say: “We’ll be in touch.” They’ll call you (or email or text or DM).

Now, what?

Do you push and not leave the room or hang up the phone until they have signed on the dotted line or paid you the money? I certainly don’t believe in waiting for people to get back to you if you really want the account. But how much time should one give the prospect to decide? In my experience, most people who contact you aren’t actually ‘ready to buy’ just yet.

Is there a fine line between follow-up and being a nuisance?

I find it interesting that I often get so many contradictory responses to this question. Some will say that you’re not doing your job of following up until you’re told how annoying you are. At the other extreme, some are timid and caution against coming off as “desperate.”

I believe in being relentless, but I also believe it can be done tactfully without turning someone off. Do you agree? Disagree?

What are your thoughts?

Why I Love Being an Entrepreneur

There are a lot of things I love about being an entrepreneur launching a burgeoning business. Are there drawbacks? Sure. Every job has those. But on the whole, very happy and feel super blessed to be able to do what I’m doing and have the freedom even when things can be uncertain.

One thing I enjoy is the rush of closing a new deal. Sitting on the crowded NY subway this morning, I’m filled with excitement. Excitement at the possibility I may leave this meaning with some money in my hand. A lot? No, not so much. But, while money is necessary and important, I’m thrilled more by the chase. The pursuit. The idea of getting my foot in the door and being able to show a new client what we’re made of.

The fad of entrepreneurship with its focus on big exits and raising capital is so not my scene. I love those entrepreneurs with that hungry hustler spirit who think practically and bide their time, working tirelessly but taking pride in the little accomplishments and small steps along the way to success.

Sell to the Sold: Who am I selling to?

Over the weekend, I had a lively chat with a friend and businessman who is a distributor of snacks, tea, and coffee.

His products are tasty and low-cost and while his sales are decent, he has not done much in the way of branding. Many people consume his goods without being familiar with the name and would purchase similar commodities at a lower price when presented the opportunity.

As he lamented the fact that his brand is basically invisible and he lacks a loyal customer base despite the extensive distribution of his goods, I mentioned that social media and Facebook ads, in particular, could help him grow.

“Ah, remind me of what you do for a living?” he asked sarcastically with a smirk. “Listen, you sell to nerds, but, my customers aren’t on social media.”

While it’s true that his largely Orthodox Jewish customer base is less engaged with social media relative to the wider population and many of the more stringent members of his target audience eschew smartphones, he definitely doesn’t have his finger on the pulse. Living in Brooklyn, I can assure you that a wide swath (the vast majority) of his kosher customer base does use smartphones and social media, particularly Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram and they do so with the same gusto as the rest of the population. Not to mention, there are other markets who also enjoy his products, which he could be doing a better job of reaching.

He wasn’t done beating me up. “You understand the virtual business world. In the real business world, people aren’t using this stuff.”

I nodded. “Sure, many businesses get by with minimal social media presence,” I accepted. “But businesses who aren’t building a brand on these platforms will be totally irrelevant in 5-10 years from now and are becoming increasingly irrelevant today.”

“Your sales pitch is terrible,” he mocked.

Ouch. He obviously isn’t able to see the writing on the wall and he doesn’t want to hear the truth.

It’s kind of funny when a business owner acts as if there is a major world of difference between the online business world and the physical one. As if digital marketing is only effective with, as he puts it: “nerds.”

I’ll admit I was surprised to hear this talk from someone under 40 years old. While that line of thinking was understandable in the late 90’s and early 00’s at the dawn of ecommerce or ten years ago when social media was just getting started, it couldn’t be more out of touch with the current times.

Nerds and teens are not the only ones spending an inordinate amount of time using mobile technology. In March of 2017, it was reported that the average US consumer is spending over 5 hours a day on mobile devices.

As I pointed out to him in our brief exchange, people aren’t turning to page 8 to see his ad in a magazine or looking up at billboards or paying attention to TV and radio commercials. Their eyes and ears are glued to one thing — the little smartphone in the palm of their hands. In any other context, say if we weren’t talking about business or marketing, but the state of American youth, he would readily agree.

What kind of world do you think we’re living in? We already live in a virtual world. Thanks to smartphones, the lines between the virtual and the physical are becoming more and more blurry. And, this will only continue as AR, VR, iOT, and audio technology picks up steam. Anyone who is not paying attention to where their customers are increasingly devoting their attention is leaving money on the table and risks getting left behind.

People have options now, which leads to a more divided attention span across multiple devices (laptop, smartphone, tablet, Amazon echo dot, Google Home) and platforms (email, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Alexa, Instagram, review sites, and podcasts) and they can fast-forward or do something else during commercials. The old days of a captive audience willing to hear a pitch from a brand name they do not yet know or trust are gone.

But, I didn’t belabor the point. I was not trying to sell him, because I would never waste my time. I don’t try to sell to people who do not understand or appreciate the value of the service I offer. If the deliverable isn’t something they believe in, and sadly most of corporate America, as well as many small businesses, are still slow to get the memo about the importance of social media marketing, then I don’t waste my breath.

One of the most important rules of sales: Sell to the sold.

Tweet: I don’t sell people on what I do. I sell them on why they should hire me to do it.

It’s counterproductive for me to sell someone on what it is I do. If they are not sold on the service itself, then I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but they will not likely change their mind or, if they do, they won’t stick around for long. However, if they are in the market for social media marketing or content marketing and need the direction of a professional who can help them strategize and execute, now we’re speaking the same language and we can have a conversation. And, it will be a conversation based on mutual respect and understanding, even if it doesn’t lead to a transaction in the short-term. I’ll all for educating the prospect, but I don’t believe in trying to force them to see the value of my industry.

Identify those who would be receptive to the message before you start pitching and don’t waste time on those who don’t even respect what you do for a living. Don’t bother trying to convince them that they need your product or service. First, find out if they have a need or a pain point that you can solve and then respond with your solution. An important part of marketing and communicating with people in general is paying attention to the other party’s needs and responding accordingly.

What are they paying attention to? What do they care about? What are their problems, concerns, or desires?

Listen before you speak.

I think this is one of the most important rules of prospecting and selling.

Marketing is Like Dating. Romance Your Prospects and Make them Fall in Love with You.

As a single and a marketer, I’m noticing some interesting parallels between marketing and dating. 

Nobody wants to transact on the first date. 

Asking for the sale right away makes you look creepy and lame. Offer to help first.

You’ve got to romance your prospect a little bit. Compliment them. Talk about what they’re interested in. Keep it focused ON THEM. Not you.

Give them value. Make them want you. 

And, timing is everything. You’ve got to be able to feel it out and read the situation carefully. 

When the time is right, you go in for the ask. 

And if they say yes, you’ve got yourself a date. If you play your cards right, one date will lead to more and eventually blossom into a fruitful, long-term business relationship. 

Overcoming Fear of the Ask: Approaching Prospects for the Sale

Like some of you who read this blog, I’m a marketer.

More specifically, I’m an inbound marketer. This means I don’t interrupt people from what they’re doing to hoch my products and services. Rather, I throw out some tasty treats that I know my audience will love and then I lie in wait like a tiger for them to arrive.

It’s “pull” marketing (pulling the audience in) as opposed to outbound “push” marketing (pushing messages out in front of people’s faces).

And within inbound marketing, I am involved in the softest, most subtle yet effective type of marketing of them all — branded content creation and social media marketing.

And yet, I faced a dilemma. Do I persist solely with content marketing or do I try other approaches to grow my business as well?

Zev pondering

For all of you marketing nerds out there, most of what I do corresponds to the “top-of-funnel” brand awareness, which can be nurtured into leads and sales. It also engenders loyalty among current customers. Building brand takes time and effort, but brand equity is the magic that gets people to buy your product or service without you having to deliver a sales pitch or lower the price tag. You buy a brand almost without thinking. You don’t need to be sold because you’ve already bought.

I don’t sell anything I don’t believe in. I would never expect someone else to buy if the provider doesn’t believe in or use their own product.

That’s why I’m careful to make sure that my own content marketing efforts are strong. I blog regularly, contribute to the Huffington Post, and post every day on various social media platforms. Creating content, sharing it on platforms that have consumer attention, and engaging with people on social media is a fantastic way to attract people to your business. This is the service I provide to clients and because I am such a big believer in my own “product” so to speak, I put my money where my mouth is and test it on my own business.

Thankfully, my content marketing efforts have paid off and my online presence has helped me attract many leads and clients. In fact, the vast majority of my clients come from inbound.

Eschewing interruptive and outdated forms of outbound marketing that annoy customers rather than provide them with value, such as cold-calling, the only outbound marketing I was doing to grow my business was attending networking events, mainly in New York City. Although I am digital marketer, I still believe in the power of face-to-face interactions. Nonetheless, as an introvert, I much preferred to share content online and pull people in rather than to go out and pitch myself.

The great thing about content marketing and branding is that when you do it right, you tend to attract more qualified, targeted leads than you do by reaching out to people at random or pushing a sales pitch on somebody who might not want it as per direct marketing tactics. Most of the inquiries I received were on target, which helped me have a high close rate of over 50 percent. It also helps that I’m quick to write up and send proposals and contracts. This netted me approximately one new client a month.

However, there was one major problem preventing me from growth: My lead pipeline was not even close to big enough! I still had too much time on my hands after doing my client work and creating my own content and sharing it to my own networks.

I began to ask myself the same question my clients ask me:

How do I get more leads and clients?

I was in a predicament. I wondered if by resorting to any outbound tactics I would be betraying my “religion” and tacitly admitting that content marketing doesn’t work or that I’m no good at it. Perhaps, even by seeking any outside help for marketing whatsoever, I would be undermining my own abilities. Would I be a hypocrite? A phony? I was suffering from a major case of “impostor syndrome.”

I’m adamantly against cold-calling and spam. I wanted to reach out to people in a way that would still provide value and be empathetic to the time and needs of others. But how would I get more leads in the pipeline? Do I focus more on branding and content or sales?

I learned that the answer is both.

Building a brand and sharing content on social media is a highly effective form of marketing (so long as your content is good). However, building a brand either for a company or a personal brand takes a lot of time and work. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time to gain an online presence with an engaged following large enough to matter and sustain your business. Your efforts to build lasting relationships will pay off in the long-term by getting you more leads and sales than other types of marketing or advertising ever could, but in the meantime, you need to generate consistent cash flow.  The sales you make act as fuel to keep your business afloat and some of the cash you earn should be allocated toward branding and improving your content marketing so that you can attract more business.

I realized that it is not at all hypocritical to do both long-term branding and relationship-building as well as direct, outbound lead generation and sales. Nor is it a sign of weakness for a marketer to delegate some of that responsibility to others or use certain tools to help.

Two Outbound Tactics I’ve Adopted:

1. LinkedIn DM (direct message)

LinkedIn DM

Over the past two weeks, I’ve grown my LinkedIn connections from 1200 + to 1808 and counting. My profile views are up 20% from last week at 493 profile views.

I’ve been sending connection requests to all kinds of people on the platform. While some may object to this practice, I don’t think many people on LinkedIn mind accepting requests from people they haven’t met. After all, it builds their own network as well. It’s become common practice at professional networking events, such as the ones I attend in Manhattan, to simply add people on LinkedIn who you only spoke to for a few minutes — sometimes in place of exchanging a business card!

At times, I add people at random who are suggested to me from my LinkedIn network, but I also search for people by job title e.g. CMO, marketing director, marketing coordinator, CEO etc. and send requests to people with those positions. Some of the people I message are decision makers and others are people who are close to decision makers and tasked with hiring outside marketing firms.

After linking in with someone, I send them a personal message. Yes, it’s often taken from a list of about five prewritten responses, but I address each person by name and send a message that matches the person’s job title or area of specialty. Occasionally, I tailor it to be more specific to the individual.

I’m not a fan of automating human interaction, but I try to scale while still remaining human. Every day, I spend time going through all my new connections and send them these messages one-by-one, sometimes to over a hundred people in one sitting. If they reply and express interest, I send a follow-up message that is personal and crafted specifically for them.

Since I started doing this a couple weeks ago, I’ve received a number of inquiries, one solid lead for whom I’m writing up a proposal, and about a dozen meetings with people who I can potentially collaborate with or hire.

LinkedIn direct message is an extremely smart tactic for any B2B business or sales professional (Instagram DM and Facebook messaging is great for B2C). As long as you demonstrate awareness of who the person is and what they do and don’t open the conversation with a sales pitch, LinkedIn messager is a great way to network and gain access to people who can help you grow. It’s a direct form of communication tat doesn’t interrupt someone from what they’re doing.

LinkedIn has introduced a cleaner UI and various features, such as video, to become a “stickier” platform enticing users to increase the amount of time they spend there. LinkedIn is quickly becoming an engaging and interactive content-rich platform that’s very similar to Facebook. If you’re not already using LinkedIn DM and the social network as a whole to build your brand and grow your business, then I highly recommend you start becoming more active there.

If you’re scared to slide up in the DM, I urge you to get over it. Sure, you’ll get a lot of no’s and responses saying something like: “Thank you, we’re not interested at this time,” but every now and then, you will get a yes or a warm lead and potentially a new client, customer, or valuable relationship.

2. Outsourcing a lead generation service

This tactic costs a little money depending on how you go about it. As a marketer, you may feel funny about the idea of outsourcing some of your own marketing, but if you want to grow and remain focused on your own clients, don’t be afraid to receive assistance that complements your current marketing efforts.

While the idea of using a lead gen service or utilizing any form of outbound marketing kind of turned my stomach at first, I’m excited to see where it will go. I commissioned a friend who used to work for Salesforce and now does this sort of work on a freelane basis. He was nice enough to give me a huge discount and introduce me to an app that uses analytics and certain metrics to score the online presence of different businesses and helps me find ones that the app determines are lacking in their social media marketing. Until I see results, I will refrain from recommending it, but if it’s any good, I will let you know!

If you’re starting a new business, don’t be afraid to try a wide variety of marketing strategies and tactics that will help you get in front of your target audience and attract new clients or customers. Obviously, do your research so that you don’t waste money or time on things that have little chance of succeeding, but don’t hold back.

Exhaust every avenue. Try things. Deploy a mix of branding and marketing. Create content and also pursue direct sales. Don’t discount something without first learning about it or testing it. Your business depends on it!

 

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Attention

“Isn’t there a way to narrowly target only the people who will buy from me without our content being seen by anybody else?”

This is a question I’ve received several times in my role as a social media marketer.

The answer is no, but it’s interesting to analyze what lies behind the question. Often, the asker simply doesn’t understand how social media works or doesn’t fully appreciate the interconnectedness of the Internet as a whole. More importantly, this question reflects a lack of appreciation for the value of attention. It also reveals a misunderstanding of how marketing and sales work together to drive prospects from brand awareness to purchase.

Now, it’s true that smart marketers aim to target their efforts toward a specific and well-defined audience. This helps them determine their strategy, tone, style, and which channels and tactics to use. Marketing for “everybody” is marketing for nobody.

However, while an overly broad approach is counterproductive, so is an approach that is overly narrow.

Attention is a very precious commodity. With so much competing for our attention spans, it’s more precious than it ever was before. Attention is also extremely valuable. If you don’t have it, you stand little chance of becoming known or found by your target audience. However, if you do have people’s attention, then you can leverage it for greater opportunities.

Many people question the ROI of social media marketing. How does building a following or getting likes, comments, and shares boost my bottom line? And yet, most of those same people completely see the value of appearing on a popular talk show, running a television advertisement during prime time, or appearing in a prestigious or widely read magazine. Social media doesn’t deserve to be judged with an unfair double-standard, especially when it has a unique ability to target effectively and provide data analytics reporting in real time — things traditional channels cannot do.

Getting the exposure, the eyeballs, the attention is the first step. Even the most targeted digital marketing campaign can’t and shouldn’t avoid attention from those who may not buy anything — right now.

sales funnel hubspot
HupSpot

Marketing is like a funnel, which can be sifted and segmented from the widest to the most narrow. Awareness sits at the top of the funnel. A small subset of those at the top will become leads and a small subsection of those leads will be nurtured into sales or “conversions.” Depending on the particular campaign, a conversion might mean a monetary sales transaction or it might mean a sign-up or a subscription. Either way, getting attention and establishing a relationship with prospects is the key to garnering more sales as well as loyalty that keeps your clients or customers coming back for more. Attention can also lead to other good things, like a job offer, a book deal, a speaking engagement, and more.

The way you get attention is by providing value. This could be accomplished by sharing content that educates, entertains, or empowers your audience. By providing value through your content, you earn your audience’s attention and give them a reason to care. Too many people undervalue or underestimate positive attention because it’s part of long-term branding rather than short-term sales. Therefore, it’s super important to be able to maintain perspective and put every part of your marketing strategy in its appropriate place. Knowing where everything belongs will also help you contextualize and personalize your content for your audience throughout each stage of the sales funnel or buyer’s journey.

Before you can get your audience to buy anything, you need to have their attention. Word of mouth — friends telling friends — is often the best way. Most people tend to value the recommendations of trusted experts, friends, or family than they do an advertisement from a company. Social media marketing allows you to further amplify and leverage word of mouth to get the attention you need like never before. Take advantage and utilize this technology to the fullest.