14 Business Lessons from America’s Greatest Sales and Marketing Executive

Last updated on April 6, 2017

I have a confession to make… I’m one of those weird people who reads the same book multiple times.

I can hear your gasps across the Internet. “But Noah, if you’ve read a book once, why start again?”

Look at it this way: Think about your favorite restaurant. (For me, that’s Tacodeli.) Chances are, you eat the same few meals again… and again… and again.

It’s not just restaurants:

  • Songs. I’ve listened to Judah and the Lion’s “Take it All Back” on repeat nonstop
  • Clothes. My wardrobe is the same Myles shorts and Sumo t-shirt (e’ry day)
  • Coffee shops. Every morning, I get my free sample coffee from Trader Joe’s.

So why don’t we do this with books?

The first time I read The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes, I was hooked.

I tore through the pages, marked up highlights everywhere, and couldn’t stop scribbling. Nearly every page of the book had a takeaway.

Over the years, I’ve read this book 3 times. EVERY TIME I learn new insights.

This book isn’t just about sales, it’s about kicking ass in business.

Chet Holmes was a sales master, but The Ultimate Sales Machine has changed the way I approach business in general.

Here’s what makes Chet special:

  • Worked with over 60 of the Fortune 500 during his career
  • America’s top marketing executive, trainer, strategic consultant and motivation expert
  • While running nine divisions of a company for Charlie Munger (billionaire partner of Warren Buffett), Chet Holmes doubled the sales volume of each division.

Bottom-line: Chet knows how to create an insanely successful business.

To help you dive in and learn the goodies, I’m going to give you some golden nuggets from The Ultimate Sales Machine. These insights will help you improve your business.

You can listen to this episode on my podcast below. Or if reading’s your thing, keep on scrollin’.

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In this podcast and post you’ll learn:

  • How to save 100 hours a year with one simple trick
  • What my calendar looks like (and why it’s my #1 productivity tool)
  • Why you should be paying to improve your productivity
  • The incredible benefits of educating your customers — not over-selling to them
  • Exactly why I took a bunch of OkDork readers to play ping-pong in New York
  • How I use a list of dream podcast guests to inspire growth
  • And much more.

Chet’s 14 essential business lessons

My biggest insights from The Ultimate Sales Machine can be broken down into three areas:


1. If you touch it, take action
2. Make a list
3. Block time in your calendar
4. Have an agenda

How to 10x Your Business

5. A company that thinks small, stays small
6. Build a process for massive growth
7. Make checklists for different parts of your business
8. Technology training is mandatory

Sales Mastery

9. Educate your customers, don’t sell them
10. Have a unique angle
11. Your dream 100
12. Rejection is going to happen
13. Become the hub
14. The killer closing question

“I’ll just take a quick peek at this email…”

We’ve all opened emails and not replied, right?

It seems innocent enough — but 15 minutes per day for 365 days = 1 week OF YOUR LIFE. 😱

That’s one week of your life you’re wasting “just checking email.”

It’s not just email either. It’s true of checking our texts, browsing Instagram, or seeing if anyone has posted something new on Facebook.

“If you touch it, take action” is a mantra from Chet I try to live by every day.

To increase your productivity, work on your concentration. Think of it like a muscle: the more your practice, the stronger that muscle is going to get.

For example…

  • When I open an email, I do my best to take action right there (or I try not to check my email until I’m ready to take action)
  • I won’t start recording a new podcast unless I have time blocked out to get a run-through finished

2. Make a list

Reactive people don’t keep lists. Proactive people do.

At night, I take a note card and ask myself, What are the things I really want to do tomorrow? I put tomorrow’s date at the top of the card and make a checklist of everything I want to accomplish.

This helps alleviate anxiety, so when I wake up I don’t ask myself “What am I going to do today?”

Plus, it forces me to focus on the IMPORTANT tasks to move my business and personal life forward, instead of letting daily distractions take over.

Here’s a recent note card list:

  1. Call Mom
  2. Sell time capsule
  3. OkDork checklist (reviewing this article)

Don’t be reactive with your day. Be proactive and plan what you want to accomplish from the moment you wake up.

3. Block time in your calendar for important activities

Here’s a look at my calendar:

What do you notice?

I list everything in my calendar:

  • Green (gym) – Workout sessions
  • Grey (growth) – Reading and learning time
  • Red (really fun) – Fun time with friends
  • Pink (podcast) – Working on my podcast
  • Salmon (Sumo) – Time for Sumo work

Calendars shouldn’t be only for meetings. Putting important personal events, goals, and other to-dos in your calendar makes you less likely to skip them.

For example, if my day gets super busy and I don’t have time blocked out for a Hebrew lesson I’ll skip it. I’m lazy by default.

But if it’s my calendar, I hold it to the same importance as a meeting with a colleague — and I’d think twice before backing out.

Here’s exactly how I decide what to put in my calendar:

  1. Create yearly goals (personal, health, and professional)
  2. Break yearly goals down into monthly goals
  3. Set weekly tasks to accomplish monthly goal
  4. Put time aside for these tasks in my calendar

Here’s example of my weekly to-do list that gets placed in my calendar:

You can read more about my organization system here.

Like a skyscraper, your goals don’t just magically appear one day. It goes brick-by-brick, and you have to take a large-ass project, break it down into smaller chunks, and build towards the overall goal.

To make sure I’m on the right track, every Sunday I sit down and look at my previous week’s calendar and goal progress. I review how things went, and what I want to do next week to work towards my larger goals.

Pro tip: Work with an accountability partner to ensure you stay on track. Each week I send my review of the previous week, plus goals for the upcoming week, to my buddy Adam (the founder of My Body Tutor). He helps keep me accountable.

One of my professional goals this year is to get my podcast to 100,000 downloads per episode.

To push the goal along, one of my recent note card tasks was to be interviewed on another podcast. I blocked out an hour in my calendar to reach out to people about being on their show.

Think about what you want to achieve each week, break it down to smaller chunks, and block time in your calendar for each task.

4. Have an agenda for meetings

Junior High Noah would hate me so much for talking about “Agendas.” Keep rocking those Fubu jeans, young blood…

But Older Noah realizes agendas don’t have to be super corporate or bureaucratic. It’s about streamlining your conversations and wasting less or your time.

Agendas are useful in a business setting — and in a personal setting, too.

For example, about a week ago I went camping with my friend Ian. Together, we made a list of what’s on our mind and what we wanted to chat about. We ended up talking about babies, relationships, and asset allocation (#Jewlife!).

Our basic agenda made our conversations go much deeper, and our time together more rewarding.

Are you thinking BIG? Like, Sumo-BIG?

$100,000 in yearly salary might seem big for some. Building a company with two employees might seem massive for others.

But here’s my challenge: HOW CAN YOU THINK EVEN BIGGER?

Instead of setting “small” goals, aim for the stars:

  • How can I double my income this year?
  • If I want to be worth $10 million in 5 years, what’s my first step?
  • How can I go on TWO dream vacations this year?

It won’t happen overnight, but setting your sights on a big goal can help you eventually get there.

Here’s a great “think bigger” tactic Chet recommends in The Ultimate Sales Machine, which we implemented at Sumo:

“Get all of your employees and teammates together and ask them to give three examples of how to improve some aspect of your company.”

Have you ever been at a company and thought “this CEO sucks, I could run things better.”

Thanks to Chet’s book, we’ve implemented two ideas to think BIGGER help democratize growing Sumo.

CEO Anytime

First, we have a “CEO Anytime” Google Form where anyone on the team can submit thoughts and ideas on what our company should do. We just started this. One submission so far is “everyone should block out time for process improvements.”

1% ideas

Second, in our weekly Sumo leadership meetings we have “1% ideas.”

Often times, companies think about the big goal — but forget the small steps involved.

“Let’s introduce a new product! Let’s spend money on a viral marketing campaign! Let’s pivot the business!”

This is a good start to thinking bigger… but what can you start doing today?

1% improvements each week can add up to huge changes over time. A few examples of how 1% ideas have helped us:

  • We upgraded from Slack’s free version to Slack for Teams to help people search historical conversations, save time, and get work done quicker
  • We streamlined our weekly meetings so ONLY team leads share updates (instead of everyone)
  • We implemented a buddy system for new hires, so every new hire has someone to show them the ropes and help onboard them

These small improvements help us get towards our big revenue goals, like hitting 8-figures in revenue at Sumo last year.

If you had to hire 50 people for your company this week, could you do it? What about every week?

One solution is to implement a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). It might sound super fancy, but it can be as simple as a shared Google Doc with repeatable instructions

The goal with a standardized procedure (like a SOP) is to make behaviors repeatable as you grow.

At Sumo, we have a Sales Torah with every detail anyone could ever need about our sales process. It’s an easy way to ramp up a new sales hire quickly.

Our Sales Torah includes:

  • Opening lines: How to kick-off the conversation with a warm lead
  • Rebuttals: When someone first rejects, we have a response ready
  • Demo examples: Case studies and examples of who’s using our service

It’s important to note your SOP should always be evolving. As things change, update the SOP.

Having procedures in place saves your energy. It frees your mind to focus on higher-leverage strategic activities.

I nerd out over checklists. At Sumo and OkDork, they’re included in our SOPs.

For example, we have a checklist of the Noah Kagan Presents podcast. For every single episode, our checklist covers every task we need to complete. We know exactly what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and when it needs to be done by.

The checklist helps us push the podcast along quickly, and understand exactly what needs to be done.

Here’s what the current checklist covers:

  1. Making sure I upload the rough audio to Dropbox
  2. Writing the show description for Libysn, where we host the podcast
  3. Creating a blog post for the podcast (like this!)
  4. Adding the post to Buffer and Edgar social media tools

We constantly update our checklist based on what works.

If we discover a new tactic to help speed up the process, or make it easier for the time, we’ll add it to the checklist for next week.

Would you ever hire someone to stand over your shoulder and watch you type?

It might sound like a weird government conspiracy, but in The Ultimate Sales Machine Chet shares how he hired someone to watch him use a computer with the goal of increasing productivity.

Being watched while you use a computer might seem weird — but learning how you can boost productivity with the tools you use every day can be life-changing.

For instance, one thing I’m always trying to improve is my typing speed. If you’re using a computer all day and you type slow, all of your tasks slow, too.

I recommend using a tool called TypingBolt.com to find out how many words per minute you can type and improve your speed.

I type 145 words per minute. Can you beat me? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @noahkagan.

Another tactic you can use to improve a skill is shadowing someone.

Right now, I want to learn more about Facebook Ads for my podcast and OkDork, so I pay someone to run my ads. Then, I observe how they do it and learn.

Do you realize you’re selling all the time?

Whether you’re asking someone on a date, trying to get buy-in for a work idea, or asking a friend for a favor, you’re selling.

Next time you’re selling, change your intention from wanting a “yes” to providing your prospect with so much value they say, “Wow, this discussion was amazing. I learned so much!”

Teaching someone isn’t about sales tricks, aggressive pushing, or “telling” someone to do something. It’s about getting someone to see their belief another way, and choose to believe the new belief or knowledge if it fits.

The best way that I’ve found to educate someone is through telling stories. And specifically a storytelling formula known as Before, After, Bridge. Here’s how it works:

  • Before: Paint a picture of your prospect’s world where things are today
  • After: Show how their world would be different after using your solution
  • Bridge the two worlds together with your product / solution

A great example of Before, After, Bridge are before and after workout images.

Here’s how I looked before I worked out, and now after gaining about 40 lbs of muscle.

Imagine these pictures on a diet or supplement website. Add in a short story like:

“In high school, I was a skinny guy weighing 147 lbs. I told myself I would change… but years later, I looked the same. It wasn’t until I picked up Awesomemax Workout Get Jacked Formula Pro I was able to pack on 40 lbs of muscle.”

And suddenly, you’ve made a much more compelling argument.

Pictures plus a story shows the reader what to expect, and pushes them to imagine themselves getting the same incredible results.

To stand out against competitors you need to find an angle that makes your business unique.

For instance, let’s say you’re running a family lawn mower business called Sumo Mowers. One of your customers is thinking of shifting to a competitor. Here’s what you could say:

“Hey, you could go over to another provider, they might even be a little bit cheaper. But did you know that if one of their team gets injured on your property, you’re liable because they don’t have the correct insurance set up?”

You’re presenting the customer with a unique angle about your business — and the competition. In The Ultimate Sales Machine, Chet calls this, “a smoking gun against the competition.”

Find an angle which makes your product invaluable so your opponent can’t win.

Let’s say a customer comes to you talking about price.

Change the conversation to a point you know your company ALWAYS wins.

I call this “creating your home field advantage” or changing the playing field.

Here’s a real-life example. I used to run a Facebook games company called Gambit. Here are two unique angles I created to grow the company to $30 million in revenue in its first year:

  1. Showed how we were less expensive. On a piece of paper I would break down the costs of using Gambit compared to the costs of using a competitor. Our competitors had lots of overhead and bloated charging, so we’d always win this point.
  2. Used a visual example of our solution. For every customer, I’d create a quick drawing, chart, or mockup to show how easy it was to implement our solution. Here’s an example:

People want to overcomplicate marketing. Here’s the most elegant way I’ve discovered to simplify marketing:

  1. Make a list of your target 100 customers
  2. Go out and try to get them

(If you want more ways, I made a YouTube on four questions to start any business.)

When it comes to marketing, most people turn to ads or PR right away and make general pitches without knowing exactly who they’re targeting.

To re-focus your efforts, ask yourself the question, “Who are 100 people I can hit up to sell this product?”

List as many target customers as possible. If 100 is too many for your right away, list 10. The key is to define, in exact detail, who you want to target.

Once you have your list, you can figure out how to reach them. It’s often easier than you think:

  • Find their email
  • Get a referral
  • Reach out to them on social

I use this strategy myself.

For my podcast, I created a list called “The Attainables.” It’s a list of 100 people I want to feature on the show. With the list, I test different strategies to get ahold of people on the list each week.

Once you have your dream list of 100 customers / clients / affiliates, go one-by-one each week and take steps to connect with them (block time in your calendar to do this).

Chet says it takes an average of 8 rejections to get a meeting. You need to build in procedures to follow-up with key customers and prospects so no-one slips through the cracks.

My friend Scott Britton shared a great quote with me recently: “Persistence beats resistance” (click to Tweet). To be great at sales, you have to embrace rejection and have a plan on how to deal with it every single day.

If you know each month you’ll have to follow-up with people, you can schedule the time so it happens.

There’s a bunch of software out there to help you with these tasks, too. If you’re emailing people, you could use the following tools to help automate the follow-up process:

At Sumo, we even leave all the applicants for our sales roles waiting for a reply to see who follows up. And when we were buying Sumo.com for $1.5 million, it took us over 200 emails and 7 years to get the deal done.

Your existing customers are your best salespeople. Create activities to connect yourself and your clients to each other.

A few months ago, I was heading to New York and I decided to host a meetup and play some ping-pong with OkDork readers and Sumo customers. The goal of this was to have some fun and connect with my readers and customers.

At the event, everyone I invited got free drinks, free ping-pong games, and the chance to connect with each other. Once the night was done, people told me they loved OkDork and Sumo even more now, and planned to share us with their friends.

Create opportunities to connect yourself and your clients to each other. Do something fun.

“Any reason you wouldn’t make a purchase from us today?”

This my favorite killer closing question in sales. This information is invaluable. The beauty is you can then go away and solve that issue.

For instance, if someone says they won’t buy due to price, respond and ask what pricing they wanted. Maybe it’s a number they’re looking for, or maybe they’re just unsure of the value (and you need to re-explain).

You can also take the information and…

  • Use it to improve your website or sales messaging
  • Make changes to your pricing strategy for future prospects and customers (so you avoid hearing the same question)
  • Focus your efforts on a specific type of “Ideal Customer,” so you can avoid freeloaders or bottom-feeders


Today, I showed you some golden nuggets of business knowledge I took away from reading The Ultimate Sales Machine.

There were a few key themes I shared:

  • You have to be proactive about productivity and train yourself to focus on the tasks that really matter
  • Thinking big is the first step to 10x your business
  • Sales is hard, but overcoming the fear of rejection is a huge stepping stone to success

These 14 lessons have changed aspects of my work life and helped me to grow Sumo to an eight-figure business. They could do the same for your business, too.

Challenge: Let me know your favorite takeaway from the podcast. I’ll buy 10 people copies of Chet’s book.







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