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Direct Sales Mindset — The Advantages Of Personal Sales, With Joe Solari: Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

Direct Sales Mindset — The Advantages of Personal Sales, with Joe Solari: Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

Throughout this presentation, Joe Solari unravels the myriad advantages of a direct sales mindset for authors, in which you gain unprecedented control over your book's pricing and promotions, and enjoy an uptick in profits and personal connection. Discover the tools and strategies that can guide you in carving out your unique path in direct sales, where your bond with your reader becomes the foundation of your success.

This is a post from SelfPubCon (The Self-Publishing Advice Conference), an online author event, run free twice-yearly, in association with the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

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Throughout this Self-Pub Conference highlight, @Joseph_Solari unravels the myriad advantages of a direct sales mindset for authors. Click To Tweet

Show Notes

About the Host

Joe Solari assists authors in developing successful businesses as the managing partner of Author Ventures LLC. In his role as a business manager, he supports his private clients, who collectively achieved gross royalties of twenty-two million in 2023, with an average pre-tax profit of 44%. This remarkable success results from implementing disciplined business strategies and maintaining an unwavering dedication to enhancing the customer experience.

Read the Transcripts: Direct Sales

Hi, I'm Joe Solari and I help authors build great businesses. In today's session of Direct Sales Mindset, we're going to help you think through why you should be getting involved in direct sales.

This really is going to be about mindset, because I believe that if you answer some of the questions that we have here, really from your point of view and in alignment with your business, then you're going to really understand what you need to implement when you do start to do personal sales.

We're going to talk about a variety of what is considered direct or personal sales. We're going to talk about why this session should give you some really good foundations in setting up what's important for your business. So, let's get started.

This may be a little contentious. I've said this in different places, I've talked about it in my emails, but I believe that most of the people right now that are focused on direct sales, specifically around going off of platforms like Apple or Amazon, and moving on to things like Shopify, are leading you down the wrong path.

They are coming from the perspective of teaching you how to do e-commerce with books, and everything is focused on the transaction.

That is not why readers read. We don't do this to get sold to, we really are looking for an experience.

We're going to talk a lot about how you get that aligned right, and it fits with your brand, then direct sales may be the most powerful tool you have for growing your business.

Before we get into that, and as we go through this, you'll see what I mean by this. I'll give you some examples of how some things that you're taught to do when you set up a Shopify store or WooCommerce, or follow a particular strategy for getting customers, it could, in the long term, hurt your ability to get the right customer.

But before we get into that, let's talk about why you would want to sell direct, and what's the benefits of what's going on.

There's systemic issues in commerce today. Customer data is where real value is held, and the more that you can put yourself in a position where you can get first party data, so this is where your customer comes to you and willingly gives you their data. It could begin with an email, but down the road we want it to be them giving you the information about where their home address is, phone number, likes and dislikes, what they've purchased from you, and through a certified handler, their credit card information so that you become the merchant of record.

When you have that data, you now have power to use that data in the future, whether that's how you use your emails and your email system, how you do things on your e-commerce system, but all of the other platforms are going to keep that from you.

This gets to my second point, and when you look at the economics of stores or advertising platforms, they're in the business to make money as well. They either have to do that by renting you land, so giving you a place to sell your wares or setting up a toll road. What I mean by that is examples TikTok, or Facebook, or Instagram, where you'll begin to have to pay to get access to attention of potential customers.

Now in their perfect world, what they want to have is, every time you want to access that customer, you come and pay the toll on their road to get that access. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a sale, but they'll get their toll.

The third point here, which I think is by far the most important, and that is, that by having a direct platform and a one-to-one relationship with your customer, you have control of the experience.

You're in the experience business. You may think that you sell books or audiobooks, that's your main way of selling story, but the words spoken or written are just the way that experience is transferred, the experience that you've created as the creator and then in the person that's consuming it, and they experience it when they read it and imagine those scenes.

That's what they're paying for, that theatre in their minds eye, and the more that we can make your brand show through on how it delivers that experience, and the better we make your marketing and your advertising feel just like that brand, and more like story and less like all the ads we see on these platforms, the easier it's going to be to attract the right customers.

Just think about the limited control you have on an Amazon sales page. You control about 15 percent of the real estate on that page and the rest they choose to control and change when they want. Whereas, in the past, people would say that page was the best designed page for conversion, that ship has sailed.

Now that page is designed to be very leaky to sales and focused on their main priority, which is selling advertising or becoming that toll road.

So, that's not the experience that most people want to have. In fact, at some point we just black out on those parts of the page, our minds cognitively lose sense of the fact that there's just dozens and dozens of little ads on that page, and all we do is see the information that we're looking for specifically.

So, when you go down this path, you'll have the capacity to make the experience how you think it should be, and I believe that in the long run, that is going to be what helps you sell more books.

The big overarching question that you need to answer is, what is your path and why does it bring you joy?

A lot of people right now may be contemplating going to direct sales because they think it's the only escape route from where they're trapped right now, selling say in KU or on a platform that they have little control over. If this doesn't align with what you're trying to do, if you're just doing this because you think it's the next thing to do, then there's going to be disconnects.

If this doesn't align with what brings you joy and what gets you up every day to write those words and to do all this extra work that's related to indie publishing, then it's not going to be sustainable.

As you're answering these questions that we're going to go through, always go back to this overarching question.

What is your path? Don't think just because everybody's taking a particular course, that's the way to do it. Don't think just because somebody is posting a lot of sales that they're making money and profit.

My experience, having looked at so many author businesses, is that a lot of people out there aren't sharing the full story with you, and with that misinformation, you're just filling in the blanks and thinking everything is successful.

A lot of times, the cost of these sales are so expensive they're not worth going after, and they may be going after the wrong types of customers. So, always think about how this is about your path, and what you need to be successful, and what you need to be happy.

The first thing that I really think you should contemplate and understand for your mindset about direct sales is who is your ideal customer?

Now, a lot of folks who maybe have been successful in KU, and now that Kindle Unlimited rates have been coming down, feel that their business is in jeopardy.

They say, you know what I need to do is move out into the direct, and I need to get connected to my customer. What they do is they just go after the identical customer. They just focus on what was that KU person, and when they do this, what ends up happening is they start getting emails from people that have been customers saying, Hey, I need my books in KU because I'm on a fixed income, or whatever their reason is that they feel that's their best value proposition, I don't want to buy direct, and you start to let your customers, in the wrong way, dictate where you should go.

Those customers are being satisfied in an existing platform; we're not looking for more of those people. There's a great concentration of those people where they are right now.

We're going to look at this from the perspective of who is your ideal customer. In my view, it should be somebody that's prepared to pay full price for a book on day one. If you're selling your book for $5.99 or more, with the economics on selling direct, your one customer that buys that book at $5.99 is worth somewhere between six and ten KU customers, based on the page numbers and what the page rate pay-out is.

So, you don't need as many to be as profitable, and they are an added benefit because when that customer buys, you get paid for that transaction in two working days. So, the money cashflow wise is better because you're getting it quicker.

We don't want to get into all the economics of this, but when you put the time value of money, you have to really also think about with KU, or any of the platforms that you're selling on that pay you 60 days or later, that they're holding onto your money for a period of time, and you're not getting paid for that holding time either. That's money that you would get sooner on a direct customer. So, that makes those direct customers more valuable.

So, knowing that, if you're agreeing with me that in your path, that your customer should be ones that pay full price for a book, then that's going to make you think about a different type of customer, right?

One of the big strategies out there is to use some kind of bargain deal when you look for a customer. Understand that while that can get you a sale quicker and close your cash flow loop faster.

So, for example I give a free book and then I have an upsell on the thank you page after they sign up for that free book to buy a box set for some screaming deal. What you're doing is you're training your system to look for customers that like discounts.

In the example I gave before, if we're looking for a full price customer, we may make the choice to not do something like that and take longer to get a conversion, somebody buying something from you, because we're making sure that we're getting the signals right.

This is where, when you start thinking about things outside of the mindset concept we're going to continue to talk about, but you start to think about how these platforms work and how machine learning optimizes.

If you're starting from scratch to do this, that means you probably should start from scratch with your pixel on your Facebook page advertising, and anything you're using to manage the data to optimize your advertising, because if it's got a lot of past data on old customers, it's going to be confused and try and optimize on those old customers, not this new ideal customer.

In the past, when I've done this with clients who have been quite successful in say KU, when we went on to go after direct sales, either with eBooks or audiobooks, we don't use our past data. It's just like starting from scratch.

Now, do some of those customers move over? Absolutely. Some folks are super fans and the minute you offer them that opportunity, that's what they've always wanted. Now you're meeting that need.

But a lot of folks are going to find value in those other places, and we shouldn't be trying to convert them.

In my view, we need to understand who this new ideal customer is and go find them, because they could be a whole other revenue source for you, and it never affects the other one.

The second question is, what's your brand promise to this ideal customer?

Now, you need to have an overarching brand promise to everybody that's across your brand. If you're not understanding that yourself, how do you expect your fans to understand it?

Diving into this and really spending some time to understand what you're promising to deliver is going to help you in a compounding way. What I mean by that is, if you embed your brand promise inside your book, and a reader has a satisfying experience with that book, so they found your book, they read your book, they like your book, where you see real momentum in an author brand is underlying word of mouth.

Yes, you can amplify things with advertising, you can improve your discovery, there's a lot of things you do, but when you really see momentum, it's coming from word of mouth. It's coming from people risking their social capital with people that they know, to say to them, hey, I want you to have that same enjoyable experience.

So, you imagine a friend, we all get to this point where we talk and oh, what have you been watching? What have you been reading? What have you been listening to? And we start to share podcasts and books and shows.

In today's world, that friend, if they trust you, they're going to get on their phone and probably order that book right then and there.

Now, what happens when that person gets home and reads that book? Do you deliver on that brand promise? Does that brand promise hit just like your fan said it would? Because if it does, and it's satisfying, you've just won over a customer, you've strengthened that relationship in your customer base, and that will continue to cascade.

If it doesn't land, if this book happens to be one that's not on brand for you, then there could be a disconnect. Then not only are you not going to continue to have that person as a customer, because they're like, nah, it wasn't what my friend said. You've hurt your fan because they've risked that social capital, they won't get it back.

Now, when I talk about this, a lot of authors are like I don't even know what my brand promise is.

That's my point exactly.

This is something you need to understand yourself so you can make sure that you deliver on it, and that your fans can articulate it. If you get it really succinct, then it almost becomes like an elevator pitch that they can give, and you can use in all of your marketing and you can make sure it's embedded in everything.

This isn't an advertising copy; this is the feels and the experience that you're trying to deliver to people. It's how it's 70 percent like what it wants and the 30 percent that it isn't that makes it different. You really have to think about how this brand promise is first and foremost deliverable by you, but is something that there's an unmet need for in the market.

The third question is, what is the experience that they're seeking?

There's a reason why they're reading your books. A lot of times if we're talking fiction, they're looking to escape. Going into genre, we can look at things in romance, whether they're steamy or not, or what kind of variations and sub genres there are there, dark mafia or fantasy romance or paranormal romance. There's all these different versions of what you're writing and that experience, that unmet desire, that you expect these people to seek.

Now, if we know that, that is going to help us do a couple of things. It's going to help us understand where these customers are going to be, and we're going to talk a little bit more about that. It also is going to help you to understand how you can craft your direct experience, because I know from my experience that I do not seek when I go to a website to be thrown into a loop of upsells and cross sells, and be treated like all I am is a transaction and an opportunity for someone to optimize me to the highest average order value.

That is what we get taught a lot of times when we start talking about direct sales, is these tools, which are powerful tools and cannot give benefit to what you're doing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to not use these, but know why you've chosen to use them and how you choose to do this.

Depending on what you're trying to do, for example, let's say we're going after a new customer. So, this new ideal customer that we've never gone after before.

Would you bring them to a page that just looked like an Amazon page or a Shopify store page, or would you bring them to a long form sales page that would help them to go into the story and start to experience your story world, and use the craft tools of identification and transportation to get them into the feels of what that experience is, so that they can start making those connections and starting to paint that picture in their mind's eye, and maybe get through that no and trust factor faster.

If that's the case, then you would design a page completely different, and direct sales has a great fit because you're in a position where you can have part of your website where it looks just like a website page, and it's almost like a wiki talking about things, and you can make it really on brand, delivering on that brand promise and the experience, and only having small asks along the way to get the intent. Would you like a sample? If you're ready, maybe it's time for you to buy that book, here's that link.

Versus just dumping them onto a sales page where they don't have the opportunity to understand what they're getting themselves into.

It's, oh, this is about you selling me something, not about me having this amazing experience in your story world. Two very different experiences, and one that I think readers are more comfortable doing, and when they see that, are going to establish trust with you faster.

The next question is, where can you connect with these customers? Where is this ideal customer?

For some of you, this isn't necessarily a direct digital experience, like a Shopify store. This may be a direct experience where you are selling at a reader event.

When you think about how you find ideal readers, one way is using digital marketing and casting a wide net, and maybe using interests and other tools to bait things a little bit better and look in the right places, but you're really trying to go into a very cold wide discovery process, and then work people through a process to know and trust you, and get them to that point where they're ready to buy.

If you went to something like a reader event, where it was focused on your genre and it was a high payment ticket for people to get into, that the people that are there are your ideal customer. They don't have any real limit to their discretionary spending, they're certainly not going to argue with you whether your book is 4.99 or 6.99, if it's on brand and giving them the experience they want, because they're prepared to spend hundreds of dollars and a lot of their time to go to a reader event where they can meet other readers, and meet authors, and get their books signed, and have this other experience.

Maybe it's something like a convention, like Dragon Con or Comic Con is a good place for your books.

Don't think about this as there's only one methodology for direct sales. Again, in getting your mindset right, if you think about how you can best identify the high likelihood places for those customers to be, go there and be there.

I had a client who started in a new genre and spent a lot of money to go to a genre-specific signing event, and spent a lot of money there and a lot of time, but it was a huge amplification of that business because the environment was so target rich. There were people, that's why they were there, that's the genre they love to read. They love to spend money on it. They can't read enough.

So, while it was a lot of money, it was a high value opportunity that was worth that money versus taking that same money. You wouldn't have gotten the same impact in advertising.

Now another option that people are looking at around this whole idea of direct sales is Kickstarter.

Kickstarter can be a really good idea for folks that maybe aren't as fast at writing and like to put books out on a shorter timeframe that most sales platforms reward.

There's been some really good work by Russell Nohelty around the idea of Kickstarters being a tool for people that are slower writers to be able to stay revenue neutral, and then take that bundle of books that they've launched on Kickstarter, maybe over an entire year, or two years doing it, say, every six months, and then going on a platform that rewards rapid release and rapid releasing those books at a later date into that platform.

I love that idea because it gives folks that aren't necessarily built for that kind of fast writing and rapid release strategy a way to play in this market.

But I think the thing that is most important to understand about the idea around Kickstarter, is it's a place to look for customers.

The most known about author Kickstarters, of course, the Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter and that he raised $41 million. What I think is more important than how much money he raised is what he did, and he built a list of 106,000 names that he now has first party data on. His publisher doesn't even have that kind of information.

That list in the hands of somebody like me, or him, is going to be worth billions of dollars because of how it can be used in the future to market to those people. That asset of that audience attention that he got there is worth far more than the $41 million he's making on that product launch.

Now, don't think about how big his thing is, but think about, is that the right place for you to find your ideal readers over time?

And yeah, when you do it, you're only going to find 50, and then 100, then 300, then a thousand. But going through that process builds you a direct audience where you have one to one information, where you can interact with them, and if something happens to Kickstarter, you can move those people somewhere else.

This gets us to the big question, now that you're contemplating direct sales, does this sales process that you're firmly going to go after align with those other questions, specifically the first three, because if it doesn't, there's going to be a big disconnect.

If it does, it's going to compound fast because the whole experience for your customer is going to be smooth and coherent and on brand, and it's going to give them trust, and it's going to give them security, and it's going to be fun and enjoyable.

That's the kind of stuff that you cannot put a price on. You have to build it the right way, and if you just go and say, you know what, I decided I'm selling direct today, and you run off and do that, and you go throw up just a traditional store on WooCommerce or Shopify, or whatever; there's a lot of platforms out there. You will have mediocre results, because it's just another store, and it's just another one of the thousand stores that's going to go up this month by authors who have made the same decision as you.

But if you're taking that long term view and you're building this thing around what brings you joy and your path to success, and that maybe based on where you are in your career, the choice is really the smart one to be in something like KU, to get yourself to break even and to find that critical mass in your customer base before you go and do this.

So, we've now laid out a bunch of things around mindset, but we haven't talked at all about setting up a store, or why, or how.

We've drizzled a little anecdotal stuff about it, but we really have spent a lot of time talking about mindset, and I hope that this is given you some really solid things to think about, and that you'll go away from this presentation and spend some real serious time before you go spend any money on building out a site, to think through these things, because if you can answer these questions, it's going to help whoever is building your site, if that's you or you're using somebody to design it, it's going to help them to make sure that it is really on brand.

Now, what I'd like to leave you with is a couple things to think about, some resources.

I don't think there is one way, in fact, what I did is I built a checklist in Notion. So, if you go use this QR code, you can go to a Notion page, get access to that. It gets routinely updated with stuff. There's a lot of things on that page, and it goes through a multitude of ways to do direct selling, whether that's inside your newsletter, which is a great place to start if you have PayPal, BookFunnel, and an email list, you can start selling direct today to your existing customers with those three things.

You can use a PayPal buy button, connect it up to BookFunnel to deliver the eBook, and you could start a little mini test to your audience to see if they're interested in buying from you direct.

If you can get people to buy from you direct, one or two people buying from you direct in your email list, that gives you the opportunity to test out these things and to learn who these customers are, and start to pick out that information.

Let's say you get 10 people that do that, start to ask them questions and learn more about them, because they're probably really good examples of that bigger, broader audience of ideal customers that are out there for you.

The other QR code on take the survey, I have a 20-question survey called the author marketing audit. It goes into a series of 20 questions that I feel help you figure out where you are in your marketing and really focus on marketing that is not just ads focused but is aligned with how the publishing market works.

It really helps you to think through things about how you do customer retention and how you're building an experience. It's a free survey. You can go get your score there.

You get the opportunity to put your email in. If you do that, you're going to get a series of emails that talk through each one of those questions and gives you some hints.

You can always just unsubscribe, but look at this in two ways. One is to give you a feel for where you're at, but the second thing is, think about how that is a tool that I'm using to create an experience and build trust, right?

There's over 30 emails you get in that series over, I think it's a 25-week period, with a lot of content, all designed to help you get to know me, like me and trust me.

Those kinds of tools are the tools that you can use once you move into a direct strategy. Your selling process could start with a survey. It doesn't have to be a sales page that is, hey, go throw all these books in my cart. It could be something where you bring them on a little adventure through a survey that ends in them having a story experience and curious about some cliff-hanger that gets resolved in the book that you're going to sell them at the end of that survey.

That's what I'm trying to get at, is when you get your creative juices flowing, and start to use things aligned with your mindset in the direct sales process, you can do things at in-person selling, Kickstarter, on your website, in your newsletter, that are fun on-brand and very lucrative.

One more thing, I want to spend a little time talking about pricing.

One of the things that I think gets stuck in an either/or model in the publishing market is, I have to be in KU, or I have to be wide, and I suggest to my clients and to you, anybody that's really thinking about this, is to look more at the strategy a phone company does.

There are people that are prepared to pay for a new phone every year, top dollar, $1,110 – $1,200 for a phone, and they'll do it every year. Now, they may get some bargains because they're turning phones in and all that kind of stuff, but the point is that particular person is willing to pay that.

That same phone three years later could be gotten for free, for just signing up with a phone company.

So, the technology over time doesn't really change all that much. Now that phone that is the new hotness is three years old, what's really that different? There hasn't been anything revolutionary in smartphones for a while. A camera might be better. The phone may be a little bit bigger. The battery may last longer, but it's incremental.

But what happens is we, as consumers, discriminate what we're prepared to pay for.

So, when you look at a subscription service like Kindle Unlimited, instead of looking at it as an either/or, look at it in a way where you say, Hey, based on what Amazon is prepared to pay me per page, and the size of my book, is worth $1.52, but when I sell it new, I believe my book is worth $6.99.

So, structure where and when you sell your books, so you're pricing waterfall, based on where your book is in its lifespan. So, a new book in a series that people are really into, when it comes out, it sells at full price. There's no discounts. There's no stacking. There's nothing that's going on. Full price sold on its release day.

Down the road, you may choose to say, you know what, at this point, I feel the book is a little long in the tooth and it's older, it's time for it to go into KU, and I will exploit that audience because I think it's worth $1.52 now.

You may also then run other kind of promotions around it, and do BookBub, and do things where you know that discount people are going to come to it.

But you start to change your philosophy about how you treat the different customers you've segmented in your audience. None of them are bad, they're just treated differently because of where they are as a customer making a choice.

Now, will you get people that will complain that the book is not on day one in KU? Absolutely, and that's where you have to explain to them how the process works, and repeat it.

But those few people that are very vocal about it, they may say they're not going to read the book, but they're going to read the book.

I've seen this in data because I've had it on a direct store, where people have complained about something and then come back to buy, because if the story is compelling enough, they're going to get over whatever little emotional anger they have about the fact that it's not the way that they want it right now.

That's something where we as creators have to really assert our authority and say, hey, this is how it's going to work.

When a series is complete, then I move it into KU and it only stays there for a period of time, or however you feel that it works according to those same mindset questions that we asked earlier about how it aligns with your brand, how it aligns with your customer, and more importantly of all, how it aligns with your path and what brings you joy.

When you start to really think about the fact that customers are not all created equal, and the people that are prepared to pay you direct on day one, full price, are equal to 6 to 12 times a KU customer or a discount customer, then it becomes really easy to see where your focus and attention should be.

So, I hope that we've covered everything that was nebulous for you around mindset on direct sales. If you do want to dive deeper into the resources, there's the sheet there. Again, there's a lot of information there on platforms and connecting things up, and really getting into the nitty gritty of actionable stuff to make your store work.

There's also that survey, if you're really trying to figure more things out around your marketing.

But I think with these tools, and most importantly with this mindset that we talked about, you're going to be in a position where you can really build the store that brings you joy, and that your customers can't wait to buy from.

Thanks for spending this time with me learning more about a direct sales mindset.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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