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Quotable Podcast Episode #47: “Pushing Boundaries in Sales and Life” with Tim Ferriss

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Lola Chenyek
 
You probably know Tim Ferriss as a productivity savant, self-empowerment guru, or, in his words, “human guinea pig.” But did you know he began his epic rise in enterprise sales? Listen in as he reveals how he went from selling zero to being the #1 performer in the L.A. office of EMC. Hone your focus with his powerful questions and you too could advise the world’s leading CEOs, write a New York Times best-selling book, or achieve your own incredible success. As the author of The 4-Hour Workweek says about extreme productivity: “The object is not to be idle. The objective is to maximize your per-hour output.”

I was selling systems that had a very, very long sales cycle. If you chose the wrong targets, you could end up empty-handed.”

Tim Ferriss | Author and Productivity Expert
 
 
 
 

Episode Transcript

Tim Clarke: Thank you for joining the Quotable Podcast. Before we get started, remember the best way to keep up with all things Quotable is by subscribing at quotable.com/subscribe. Today we'll be discussing ways to really push boundaries with Tim Ferriss. Welcome, Tim.

 

Tim Ferriss: Thank you, sir.

 

Clarke: Tim, many of our listeners may or may not be familiar with your work. Perhaps you can give a bit of intro on yourself.

 

Ferriss: Well, I would say human guinea pig, professional dilettante. I've written a few books that sound like infomercial products: The 4-Hour Workweek, 4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Chef, and then I retired the 4-Hour jersey and wrote a book called Tools of Titans, which is currently number one New York Times.

 

Clarke: Perfect.

 

Ferriss: And also a startup advisor investor early stage in Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Alibaba  about 50 companies.

 

Clarke: Okay. So very unfamiliar companies, none that we've ever heard of, right?

 

Ferriss: [Laughs] Well, I'd only mentioned the ones that you've

 

Clarke: [Laughs] Right, right, right. Well, I'm Tim Clarke, product marketing director at Salesforce, and I'm joined today by our guest host, Lola Chenyek, product marketing manager at Salesforce. Welcome, Lola.

 

Lola Chenyek: Thanks, Tim.

 

Clarke: Tim, let's start off with that 4-Hour thing that you've just mentioned.

Sales professionals are clearly very busy. We're currently recording this at a times for Salesforce that is year end and probably for many companies. How on earth do you only do a 4-hour week? What do you mean by 4 hours?

 

Ferriss: Well, you measure it in dog years, which makes it a lot easier.

 

Clarke: Right. [Laughs]

 

Ferriss: Let me take the step back and provide some context. So The 4-Hour Workweek was going to be called The 2-Hour Workweek, but my publisher said, "Such-and-such retailer said that's very unrealistic, so how about"

And I said, "4 hours? Yeah, so let's do 4 hours." So it ended up being The 4-Hour Workweek.

That's how much time in 2005, 2006 I was spending running an entire company with operations in about a dozen countries, I would say.

The object is not to be idle. The objective is to maximize your per-hour output. There are a lot of fans who are, say, CEOs of big companies, people like Marc Andreessen. They clearly do not work 4 hours a week, but they would love to get 5X or 10X out of each hour they put in.

They still may choose, in the case of a fast-growing startup or someone who's on a fast-paced career track and really trying to grow  still put in 60, 80 hours a week, but that's really the objective, is to create the most highly leveraged, focused set of activities for yourself.

 

Clarke: Yeah. Okay.

 

Ferriss: There are toolkits that you can use. There are techniques you can use, some of which are thousands of years old, like, for instance, I'll give you one example. The 80/20 principle, which also is called Pareto's law, from Vilfredo Pareto, good old  I think he was Swiss or Italian, an economist-slash-sociologist way back in the day  noticed that 20 percent of the peapods in his garden produced 80plus percent of the peas.

Turns out this can be applied to wealth of nations, wealth distribution, that is.

It can also be applied to activities. In the case of setting New Year's resolutions for myself, I went back and I looked at 2016, in this case, and I asked myself, "What are the 20 percent of relationships and activities that produced 80 percent or more of the results that I want?" I also did that for emotions  positive emotions.

Then I looked at the opposite of that, the 20 percent of relationships and activities that consumed 80 percent or more of my time.

This is very relevant to any sales professional. I was in  it's important to note  right out of college, in enterprise sales, so I was selling storage area networks, large  well, laughably small now, but at the time, gigantic storage systems to the American Airlines of the world, the CIAs of the world, and so on, and that had a very, very long sales cycle. If you chose the wrong targets, if you chose the wrong activities, you could end up empty-handed.

If you chose the right activities  I was in a very small startup. What I did at the end of my time there, I was really struggling in the beginning and then outsold the entire L.A. office of EMC myself by the end. It came down to using these types of questions to hone where your focus is.

 

Chenyek: I love that idea. I've heard you tell that story before. I had a kind of different question. You didn't mention a little podcast that you have called The Tim Ferriss Show

 

Ferriss: Ah, yes.

 

Clarke: No big deal.

 

Chenyek: which has just a cool, casual 100 million downloads.

 

Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

 

Chenyek: Could you explain a little bit about what you do with the podcast and maybe why you got into that in the first place, what inspired you?

 

Ferriss: Sure. The podcast started off as a side project and a release valve. I wanted a break from writing books. I just finished The 4-Hour Chef, which was hugely difficult. It was a very, very complex, challenging book. And I was burned out. I was really tired of at least writing. That part of my brain was exhausted.

I chose to do the podcast for a bunch of reasons. One, I had enjoyed being a guest on shows like Marc Maron's WTF, Joe Rogan, long-form, essentially unedited interviews where we could really get into the weeds. I could be myself. I thought, "Why not try it as a host? Maybe I will enjoy that." I committed to doing six episodes, because I felt like I could learn things in those six episodes, even if I decided to shelve it.

Specifically, I wanted to get better at asking questions. I wanted to fix some of my verbal tics. And I wanted to get over the insecurity of hearing my own voice. People who have listened to my audiobooks for my 4-Hour books might realize they're not read by me. That's very similar to what Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, calls systems thinking. If you choose your projects based on the relationships and the skills that you develop, even if they, quote/unquote, "fail," over time, you will inevitably succeed.

So I viewed the podcast that way. Then I just scratched my own itch. I really feel like, whether it's entrepreneurship or in many other areas  writing, certainly  scratching your own itch, trying to explore the areas you want to explore is what I do in these interviews with world-class performers of all different types. Whether it's a chess prodigy, someone who focuses on the science of vulnerability, for instance, say Dr. Brené Brown, or the king of big wave surfing, Laird Hamilton, it goes all over the place, but I have a specific challenge or insecurity or weakness personally that I think they can help with.

If you have a market of one, that's actually a lot better than many people who try to speculate and create something for a market they know nothing about, and they end up falling short. For me, I always create for one or two people, and I try to start with myself.

 

Clarke: Perfect. I remember reading in a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, you talk about your sponsor strategy and how that really differed, you know, around the cost per click, how many viewers you said you would guarantee to your sponsors.

 

Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

 

Clarke: You took a very different approach than perhaps some other podcasters have in this marketplace.

 

Ferriss: Right.

 

Clarke: Again, just thinking of salespeople, looking at the companies that they're trying to sell into, what tips would you have in terms of taking a very different approach? Lookit, I mean, I know for everything you do, you look at things different, whether it's

 

Ferriss: Sure.

 

Clarke: kickboxing, for example

 

Ferriss: Yeah.

 

Clarke: So many great examples. Any tips you'd give there?

 

Ferriss: Definitely. There are a few, and some of these may not apply directly. I'll try to bridge the gap.

The first thing I did, at least with sales in the early days, that was very important is I started asking, "What if I did the opposite?" for, say, 24 or 48 hours. I noticed I was really struggling. I wasn't booking any meetings with specifically CTOs and CEOs. Those were my targets of medium to large companies. The other sales guys were all making their calls. It was a smile-and-dial business, mostly, although cold email played a part, between 9 and 5.

I asked this question. I said, "Well, I am clearly not getting any traction right now, so what if I just did the opposite, as an experiment, for 24 to 48 hours?" That has ended up being somewhat of a mantra for me throughout my life. I started making calls between  I want to say roughly, let's just call it 7 and 8:30 a.m., and then 6 to 7:30 p.m. That's when everything changed, because I accidentally discovered that I was now getting the key decision-makers to pick up the phone, because the gatekeepers were only there between 9 to 5.

That was a huge game-changer, and I started applying that in other places. What if I did everything possible to not sound like a salesperson and instead sound like an engineer? That was another huge sort of step function improvement. The other approaches, or I'd say tactics, I used in the case of the podcast sponsorship was, number one, how do I set this as a premium product, premium price, and then back into how I can achieve that.

For instance, my podcast charge  I'll just give real numbers  $60 CPM right now, so cost per thousand downloads, 60. The NPRs and so on of the world very often charge 10 or $12. I am charging multiples higher, and then I figure out how to make that worth it. That means not only selling the advertising. I am always looking to under-promise and over-deliver. So I say, "I will guarantee you," say, "500,000 or 600,000 downloads by week six, on average."

Then they will see 800, 900, a million downloads, instead, because I want them to precommit to 12 episodes at a time, not one. Then, on top of that, I will do everything possible to make sure that they succeed. So selling the product isn't where my job ends. Does that make sense? I have them commit to, say, three episodes, so that we can look at an average, not just a snapshot of one, which could go very well or very poorly, depending on circumstances out of our control.

Then I have one or two people  and I can do this myself, but I've learned to delegate it  who will look at their landing page, help them optimize their conversion, start to finish, starting with the landing page, so we specify. No one else does that that I'm aware of. Therefore, they have a highly transactional, really high churn rate relationship with their customers. In this case, I have a 90plus percent renewal rate, which, over time, dramatically decreases the amount of work I have to do.

In many respects, it's a set it and forget it step when I optimize their landing pages and so on. That's part of how I think about it. I also ask myself a question which can apply to sales, and it does apply to sales in a million ways. "What is the least crowded channel?" If it's phone and email, well, The 4-Hour Workweek hit its tipping point because I decided to go in person to places like South by Southwest and CES and effectively just buy booze for bloggers, which I could elaborate on, but that's

 

[Laughter]

 

Chenyek: I think you called it the getting drunk with bloggers approach.

 

Ferriss: Yeah. The getting drunk with bloggers business plan or marketing approach, at least. Those are a few things. I don't want my answer to be too long, but I have thought a lot about this. Everyone should read "The Law of Category," which is a chapter in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, because positioning, I think, is in some cases more important than brand, per se, and thinking about how to own a different category in your prospect's mind than your competition. You don't want to start to do a pro and con, incremental comparison approach to selling, if you can avoid it.

When people say, "Well, how do you compare to other podcasts?" I'm like, "No. We don't have any competition, and I'll explain why."

 

Chenyek: Yeah. I think kind of a lot of things you just touched on alludes to how the world is changing and technology. I mean, you talk about the sales floor back in the day and kind of the way that we are now. It's not just the sales floor. There's so many other components. How do you see technology impacting sales and marketing and the way that we're doing things today in going forward?

 

Ferriss: I think that technology can be a fantastic tool, and it makes a terrible master.

So it is important, I think, to develop core competencies that are not technology-dependent and then use technology to pour jet fuel on the things that are working and can work.

What technology is very good at, whether it's a chimp using a stick to fish out ants from an anthill, or we're looking at SaaS and much more sophisticated types of software, is removing inefficiencies and also keeping track of data so that you're not making uninformed hunch decisions, if that makes sense.

You actually have good data to crunch, and that's true across the board. I mean, Facebook advertising would be another example. You can waste a ton of money on Facebook advertising, but if you split-test and capture that properly and also drop a pixel into certain things so that you can track all the way to checkout, all of a sudden, you have data that never would have been available in a very thinly sliced way, say, 10 years ago. Not even close.

And that's very exciting, but it's equally important to not fetishize, say, a crayon over a ballpoint pen over a pencil over a paintbrush. You still need to learn, say, how to draw at the end of the day, that fine motor control, which is why I encourage people to simultaneously set the foundation of, say, reading about persuasion, reading about behavioral economics, reading, whether it's Cialdini or scientific advertising, which is available public domain  

Really becoming familiar with the things that don't change, so that you can then harness the things that are evolving very quickly, like technology, not going in the opposite direction, is how I tend to think about it. But technology, I think, in a lot of ways, is like alcohol or power. This is going somewhere.

 

[Laughter]

 

Ferriss: Meaning it exaggerates the behaviors and traits that you already have.

If you're efficient, it will make you ever more efficient in your thinking. If you're inefficient, it can make you even more inefficient, if it's misapplied. So it's important to, I think, put the cart before the horse, in that sense. Or maybe that's, I think, not what you want to do.

 

[Laughter]

 

Ferriss: You want to put things in the right order. I'm going to stop trying to use metaphors anymore. I need more caffeine first.

 

Clarke: Let's talk a little bit about routines as well. I know one of the most commonly used sayings is work-life balance. Personally, you feel like work is just everywhere, and life is everywhere, and there's just such a massive collision.

That can lead to a massive increase in stress, fatigue, which then obviously impacts the way you're coming across with your prospects and with your customers. Any tips here in terms of trying to figure out the right balance, so you can be as efficient as possible?

 

Ferriss: Yeah. I have a bunch of recommendations. The first would be specifically looking at when I've been most effective at sales-slash-persuasion, which are really the same thing in many respects. The first is I don't think about work-life balance, per se, because it implies 50/50.

I think, when you try to have 50/50 each day, you end up feeling extremely stressed. I think of single-tasking instead of multitasking, so trying to focus on one thing at a time, and either being completely on or completely off. My constitution works best when I'm either in sixth gear or I'm in park. I don't do first, second, and third very well.

When people try to blend work and relaxation, that is when I think you don't get optimal productivity, nor do you get optimal recovery. So when I'm on, I'm on. I just finished a book launch. It was pure insanity, I mean, completely insane. And then I'm off and I'm going skiing, and I will not be doing any work for about a two-week period of time.

I'm not saying everybody will do it in that exaggerated a fashion, but one way to think about your schedule perhaps differently is  let's say you have five or six primary activities related to your job.

What if, instead of doing each of those for an hour a day and trying to slice up each day  what if, like a Jack Dorsey or many other CEOs who are highly, highly effective, and salespeople, you took each of those and dedicated a day of the week to it? Let's say Monday is just general housekeeping and ensuring that  I'm making this up, but let's say ongoing accounts payable and general paperwork and process is all in place.

Then, two, you're focusing on email prospecting. I know that this may not apply to everybody. Then you're setting an automatic reminder, using something like Nudgemail or Boomerang, for instance  and there are many other options; I'm sure you guys have others  to set a reminder, so you don't have to keep it as an open loop in your head, for Thursday afternoon. Okay. So that's taken care of. You no longer have to keep it in your head.

Then day three, perhaps, is building your technical expertise and ability to communicate, in my case, for instance, as a systems engineer, more so than a, quote, "salesperson," and so on and so forth. So you're actually taking these buckets of primary tasks and allocating them to an entire day, as opposed to trying to thin-slice each day into five or six things, because task-switching is what kills you. You're going to lose 30 percent of your time just in switching tasks if you're trying to break every day into six or seven different activities.

For me, that is how I've really been able to improve things dramatically, is by allocating them to days. Next, so you can defuse, on Saturdays, I have screen-free Saturdays, so I try to avoid, to the extent possible, any type of screen. Primarily, that means computers, laptops, desktops. Phone? I mean, I don't have a car, so I need to use Uber and so on.

 

[Laughter]

 

Ferriss: But I will avoid, say, social media on Saturdays and then computers.

That by itself, for a lot of people who've tried this, is like a three-week vacation. I always have my phone on airplane mode when I go to sleep, and I only turn it off after I have done, say, 10 to 20 minutes of meditation using something like Headspace in the morning, so that I'm not reactive immediately. Just that reset, say, in the morning, doing 10 to 15 or 20 minutes of meditation, using that Headspace or a guided meditation, and then using, for instance, something like the 5-minute journal, which can help to hone your focus for the day  

Just that 20 minutes can allow you to get the same amount or more done with, say, 30 to 50 percent less perceived stress. It's a big, big deal. Those are a few of the things that come to mind.

 

Chenyek: Great. Just changing gears a little bit, I know you did mention Uber. Earlier, we were talking about how you invest

 

Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

 

Chenyek: and you advised these different companies, including Facebook and Uber. Tell us a little bit about what that work is like and how you helped them create these efficient solutions.

 

Ferriss: Most of the startups that I work with come to me because they want help with scaling from, say, a geographic-specific or demographic-specific 1000 true fans they already have, or 10,000 to 100,000 or a million, and they're looking for positioning advice, messaging, help, and then conversion help, because I've spent millions of dollars of my own money just looking at split-testing and conversion.

That can take many forms. It might be, say, taking a company that was called Gyminee  take a stab at spelling that. You'll get it wrong 12 times. That's why it was rebranded as DailyBurn and then sold to IAC. So we worked on, say, the name and then identifying the most important click on the predominant landing page and then removing clickable elements above the fold to make the conversion higher, in some very simple ways. Of course, the cofounders did an excellent job.

In the case of, say, an Uber, it might be an early debate between UberCab, which it was initially, and Uber, to make the shift or not. Then, when you are positioning it to, say, media or prospects or drivers, is the message the same? Is it different? Is it different in different locations?

I'm helping specifically with one thing I mentioned earlier, and that is primarily creating a new category whenever possible, so you can own a category, and then developing a logical progression of a logical and methodical approach to phased hitting of, say, media and target markets, which is exactly what I also do with my books. It's exactly what I do with my podcast. And whenever possible, trying to determine how we can use  and there are technical ways you can go about doing this with viral loop coefficients and all that stuff  but how can you turn your users into your marketing force?

How can you take casual users and turn them into diehard evangelists and users? These are the types of things that I spend a lot of time thinking about. Then there's the  I'm not going to say boring stuff, but, I mean, I've been involved with a lot of fundraising and a lot of that side that is generally under the hood. I will help people, the CEOs or founders, with navigating those waters as well.

But I've been out of that game for about a year and a half, two years. I've been on an indefinite startup vacation to focus on writing and the podcast.

 

Clarke: Right. Tim, now we're nearly coming up on time here. You've given us and many sales professionals some great tips already. I know you've got your brand-new book, Tools of Titans, which you described as a Choose Your Own Adventure. You can't really start from the beginning and get to the end.

 

Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

 

Clarke: Can you tell us a little bit more about this book? Clearly, we want some of our listeners to go and get more tips from you.

 

Ferriss: Mm-hmm. Yeah. The book Tools of Titans is a collection of my favorite routines, tools, habits, and so on from 200 or so people I've interviewed on the podcast and outside of the podcast. I'd say 300 pages or so is not from the podcast. It's brand new. It's split into three sections: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. You've got all the billionaires, entrepreneurs, and every single one of them would, I would say, be a salesperson in some capacity. If you're in the game of life and persuasion, then you are in sales.

You can dig in and find 10 to 15 pages that will give you a tactic you can apply that day or the next day to see immediate feedback and immediate results. But I would actually like to make another book recommendation. Of course, I'd love it if people buy Tools of Titans. It has the best reviews and the most momentum of any book I've ever written, which is really exciting, but there's another one that's an oldie, but a goodie. It is The Effective Executive. Most boring title ever.

 

Clarke: Peter Drucker, right?

 

Ferriss: That's right. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker.

The reason I want to bring it up is, A, I've read it probably a dozen times. It is a spectacularly good book. It highlights a distinction I want to really burn into people's minds: that doing something well does not make it important. All right. What does that mean? Being effective is doing the right things, and then being efficient is doing things right. But if you get really good at Inbox Zero, you get really good at fill-in-the-blank that is not actually mission critical and moving the needle, that does not make it important.

So you can confuse being busy with being productive and trick yourself very easily. Focus first and foremost on the things that you do, the targets, not just being very fast and efficient at doing those things. The Effective Executive is a great book, I think, that helps people to retain that rule in whatever they do, whether that's professional, whether that's even in sales or in your personal relationships and so on.

What you do is more important than how you do things very often. So I would also make that recommendation.

 

Clarke: Perfect. If you want to learn more about that, one of our contributors at Quotable, Laura Stack, has written some of her thoughts around that article as well. Tim, look, we really appreciate you joining us today. If you want to learn more from Tim, obviously, check out The Tim Ferriss Show, and also go to leadingedgewebcast.com, and you'll be able to see a live and on-demand webcast with Tim. Thanks very much for joining us today, Lola.

 

Chenyek: Thanks so much, Tim. It's been great.

 

Clarke: Thanks for joining us, Tim.

 

Ferriss: Yeah. My pleasure.

If people want to dig into the rabbit hole, then they can check out tim.blog. That is 700-plus free articles on every possible aspect of my life imaginable. Thanks for having me.


Clarke: Perfect. Thanks, everyone, for listening in. If you like what you hear, please take a minute to give us a five-star rating and feedback on the podcast service that you listen through. Thank you.

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