Marketing and the ‘Rule of Three’


I have long argued that, in our increasingly complex world, selling is inappropriate. This means our marketing becomes ever more important. We must be able to communicate well in all our marketing, so I thought I would share some pointers.

Storytelling-techniques-quote-seth godin

There is a general rule in speaking, in writing and in music that concepts, arguments and ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable and more memorable. This ‘Rule of Three’ provides an elegant communication framework.

So what is the Rule of Three? What are some examples of the Rule of Three? How can you use the Rule of Three to be more effective? Before I explain, did you spot the Rule of Three in operation in the opening to this paragraph? The Rule of Three is simple, it is powerful and it works. People can understand your messages more easily, become more engaged with your business, and remember more of what you communicate when you use the Rule of Three.

It’s no accident that the number three is commonly used in well-known stories. The Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers and The Three Wise Men – to name a few. It’s no accident that commonly known phrases often come as three-part quotes such as ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, and ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’. It’s no accident that the best magic tricks are organised into three phases – ‘the Pledge’, ‘the Turn’ and ‘the Return’. This paragraph illustrates another aspect of the Rule of Three. The first time you say or write something, it’s an accident. The second time, it’s a coincidence. However, the third time you say something it becomes a pattern. Three is the smallest number of elements you can use to create (or break) a pattern.


Here are three quick tips to help you use the Rule of Three. (Did you really expect any other number?)

Tip 1: Arrange any talk, presentation or speech into groups of three.

Maybe you are familiar with the old advice about structuring a speech. I believe it was Dale Carnegie who said ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them’. To people who are new to public speaking this advice is particularly useful because it addresses the common mistakes that new presenters often make. It reminds the beginner that they need to preview and summarise, and not just start and end in the middle.

If you have more than three ideas you want to present, then you should group your ideas into three bigger categories. Each of the three bigger categories should then also be organised appropriately in groups of three.

Tip 2: Use a three-part organisation structure.

A good analogy here is dividing a pie, cake or pizza. The pizza can be divided into equal thirds representing the beginning, the middle and the end of your presentation. However it may be that the middle itself has three parts. Now you have three parts in the middle and one part each for the beginning and the ending – so you want to divide the cake into five slices. If you have a lot of content to present, it may be that the three parts in the middle each need to be divided into three to accommodate all your material. The pie now needs to be divided differently into 11 portions – one each for the beginning and the ending, and nine for the main content. I hope you are beginning to appreciate how this works.

In the body of each of the slices of your content, you should arrange the material to support your argument, your proposition or your explanation using the Rule of Three. You can use stories, examples or statistics. Analogies, comparisons and quotations may be effective in helping to get your messages across. Within each slice, the hardest part is choosing which three (and only three) points will make the biggest impact, and then choosing the best supporting mix of evidence.

Tip 3: Use the Rule of Three for phrases, sentences and words.

It’s useful to think about applying the Rule of Three to specific phrases, sentences and words. Look back to the third paragraph of this article material. Did you notice that I repeated the phrase ‘It’s no accident’ three times? Why did I do that? Well, it was no accident. The repetition helped to emphasise the point I was making – that purposely presenting ideas in threes helps make them more memorable.

no accident

It also serves the purpose of breaking up a larger list of examples. I thought it was important to provide more than just three examples of the Rule of Three, so I decided to give you three groups of three. When choosing the specific words that form your grouping of three, it’s important to select words that are parallel in structure – that is, they work well in combination. For example, ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and coat’. Each of the items works with the verb. As opposed to ‘Today, I will buy a hat, scarf and wallpaper the dining room’. It’s also helpful if the words you choose follow a similar cadence, but that is not an absolute requirement.


A final point about the Rule of Three.

You don’t always have to follow the Rule of Three. Like all other rules it’s meant to be broken from time to time. However, before you break the Rule of Three, it’s a good idea to understand it better. Think about a recent presentation you gave, and imagine giving it again. How could you use the Rule of Three to make that presentation more powerful? What organising structures might be more effective? What word choices would be better? That’s it. No more questions. Three is enough.



The ALIGNED Framework – Grow without selling!

Learn how to cultivate your customers and prospective customers to become ardent supporters of your business, driving business growth without deploying any sales techniques!

Can I_questionThere are many sales coaches who teach you how to sell, and work on motivating you to believe you can be a successful sales person if you follow their techniques, methods and motivational mantras. This two-hour evening workshop will introduce you to a way to be even more successful than the most highly motivated sales people. Social science research studies have shown that those who use the principles behind the ALIGNED framework are 50% more successful than those, depending on Positive Mental Attitude for their success, who tell themselves they can sell successfully.


Published author on business transformation, Phil Walker, will guide you through the ALIGNED framework and will do a live demo of part of the framework with a volunteer participant. You will then have the opportunity to practice using the material, to experience being the recipient, and to observe the material being used by others like you. A group plenary will maximize the sharing of participant learning and observations. If you are not a natural sales person, feel discomfort when assuming the sales role and would like to remain true to who you really are as a professional trying to grow their business, this workshop is for you.

The workshop will be on 7th July from 6pm at Holiday Inn High Wycombe M40 J4. Places are limited so book early here


This workshop is one in the series ‘Learn 4 Growth’ jointly developed and delivered by the FSB committees for East Berkshire and South Buckinghamshire. In the ‘Learn 4 Growth’ series, you will not only experience experts demonstrating the methodologies, tools and frameworks they use, sharing their tips, you will also get to use the workshop learning yourself in a safe, supportive and developmental environment that will give you extra confidence.

The first of the ‘Learn 4 Growth’ series is on 10th June 2015 at Fredricks Hotel and Spa, Maidenhead, titled ‘Content is King – Stand out from the Crowd’. A limited number of places are available here

content is king

The new ABC of Sales


In my corporate career I had around 15 years in which I carried a personal sales target, one which substantially impacted my remuneration. As a small business owner, I am back to carrying a sales target that not only affects my remuneration but also affects the viability of my business. I recall all the sales training, tools and techniques and annual (or even sometimes quarterly) sales conferences designed to motivate, inspire and occasionally educate me and my peers. I remember the mantra of the sales organisation where I first carried quota – ABC!

Always Be Closing! Every working minute of every working day, and in emails outside of those times, I was encouraged to make the pitch and close the deal. Our Sales Director once told us ‘every day, you have 86,400 opportunities to close – don’t miss any of them!’ (I had to ask, and was told that’s how many seconds there are in a day, and it only takes a second to close a deal.)

Don' sell 2Previous blog posts have taken readers through the logic of needing a new paradigm to enable us to allow customers and prospective customers to say ‘Yes!’ eagerly, joyfully and enthusiastically to doing business with us. If ‘Always Be Closing’ is an out-of-date mantra, what is the new ABC that I refer to? Here it is – Always Be Congruent! Nowadays there are three congruencies required

  • congruence with you as a person,
  • congruence with your client(s) and prospective client(s),
  • congruence with your delivery organisation and capability.

Let’s start with you, because if you don’t get you right the next two congruencies will always seem false to others.

To be successful growing your business you must, as outlined in the book ‘Dance with the Elephants’ Dance your own Dance. Don’t Dance the Dance of your competition, or some other Dance you think will allow you to flourish but does not truly represent who you are and what you stand for. If you are to compete with and win against your competitors, then your customers, prospective clients and all your stakeholders must experience the true essence of you and your company in all their dealings with you. That essence starts not with what you do, but why you do it.

authentic selfOne of the bonus materials that accompany ‘Dance with the Elephants’ is A Model for Alignment and it is available from the official website of the book The model illustrates what is necessary for you to achieve personal congruence. The Model for Alignment recognises that we interact with our world at different logical levels, ranging from environmental factors, through our behaviours, our capabilities and skills, our beliefs and values and, by way of our very identity, into our overall sense of purpose. The model acknowledges the different natures of these interactions. Your target is to have all logical levels aligned with your Big Dream (which is everything you want in life, crafted in such a way that it truly engages you and engages all the stakeholders that can help you achieve it), your Well-Formed Outcome (your nirvana, the equivalent of the nirvana you are helping clients to achieve through the use of the ALIGNED framework, your overriding sense of purpose – each of which should be perfectly congruent with each other in order for you to be successful in growing your business.

When you are aligned at all logical levels, people will be certain about you. Some people will decide not to align with you. This is good because it is a genuine choice based on understanding and incompatibility. You don’t want to waste your energies trying to align with these people. Those who really get you will choose to align with you, will choose to do business with you, and will choose to become ardent supporters and promoters of you and your business. There is much more guidance about achieving personal alignment in the book

The second congruency needed to be successful in growing your business is congruency with clients and prospective clients. It seems so obvious that, given ‘people buy from people’, there should be a strong bond between the seller and the buyer, or prospective buyer. Yet so often the seller does not take the time to truly align with the potential customer, instead trying to get a ‘best fit’ between what they have and what the customer might possibly want, taking scant, if any, time to understand the needs and desires of the customer. Perhaps worse there is an expectation, a presumption, that the customer or prospective customer actually knows what they want.

So often, it is only by spending time together exploring what would be the ideal solution for both parties that true understanding emerges. The understanding that evolves is not only what is sought, but also why it is wanted, and what the associated benefits are for both parties – creating a far richer and more meaningful link between the parties and the solution; a solution that both parties have a greater interest in and commitment to because they have been part of the nascent solution.

Can I_questionThe ALIGNED framework, concentrating so much as it does on understanding the situation of the prospective buyer, constantly asking the question ‘can I find the perfect solution?’, and avoiding premature searches for possible solutions, greatly improves the alignment between seller and prospective buyer. By staying as long as possible in the question, using interrogative self-talk instead of assertive, the potential seller creates the opportunity to identify the resources needed to provide the perfect solution and crafts internal, intrinsic motivations over externally referenced drivers. Keeping alive the possibility that the answer that may emerge could be ‘No, I cannot provide the perfect solution’ multiplies the effect of the interrogative approach.

The final factor required to deliver success is your alignment with your delivery capability. I will be returning to this topic in future newsletters and blog posts on the subject of ‘aligned customer experience’ so will not write exhaustively on the topic at this time. It is without doubt a big topic; in essence success comes from those delivering your ideal solution being totally aligned with the values inherent in your brand. A brand is a promise kept, and the successful delivery of that promise, that which will enable your client to be truly delighted instead of merely satisfied, is a crucial element in building alignment between you and your customers. Everything in the delivery must be smooth, comfortable and natural for those delivering, particularly where the service is bespoke to the customer and delivered person-to-person.

For instance, in a care setting where highly personalised services are being delivered to individuals, those delivering must be totally aligned to the ethos of caring, not just changing bandages, washing or cleaning for their clients. The service delivery must be aligned with the values underpinning your brand, your promise to deliver the perfect solution. The environment has to be appropriate; as do the behaviours of the service deliverers, who need to have and demonstrate the right skills and capabilities. In delivering the promise, those delivering must be clear that doing so is entirely consistent with their beliefs and values, enabling them to really identify with their role, and enabling them to connect with their overall sense of purpose, their calling, their raison d’être.

Nowadays it is no longer ‘Always Be Closing’; instead it is about ‘Always Be Congruent’. The latter is more comfortable, allows us to be more fulfilled and enables us to connect with our overriding sense of purpose. It is also more effective (50% more effective) that the old sales methods, techniques and motivational tricks of yesteryear.

be congruent_gandhiIf you are not a natural sales person, feel discomfort when assuming the sales role and would like to remain true to who you really are as a professional trying to grow their business, I commend my alternative to you. The ALIGNED framework and the Cialdini materials are now available as the Congruent Business Development System™ and the Congruent Client Attraction System™ respectively. These can be delivered into your business through a variety of mechanisms – let’s discuss what would be the ideal solution for your business – contact me here

Phil Walker

WTT Results Ltd

07764 658071

What’s more effective than selling?

Always sellingSales process






In the final post of this series of three I want to unveil the little-known research that shows selling as we traditionally have known it is inappropriate because it generates half the success of an alternative approach that very few people are aware of and even less people are using. Would you like to be twice as effective at enabling clients and prospective clients to say ‘Yes!’ enthusiastically to you? What would be the effect on your business if you could achieve that? If you had that effect on your business, how would your life be?

ideal lifeSo what is the third reason why selling is inappropriate? It is surprising and I am grateful to Daniel Pink for giving me access to studies I was previously unaware of that helped me to understand precisely why the ALIGNED framework that I use and teach is so effective. In essence the framework is successful because it is based on a premise that I don’t know whether or not I have the best solution for the client until stage 6 of 7. Step one is about setting up the rest of the process that I and the client will go though. Crucially steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 are all about questioning and gaining understanding. Through each of these four steps of the framework the question is ‘can I provide the best solution?’

So why is this so important?  Why is a questioning approach so effective? Why is the inherent doubt about whether or not I have the right solution so powerful? Surely self-doubt is limiting; that is certainly what the motivational gurus will tell us, the likes of Robbins and McKenna. Surely it is more effective to have our self-talk tell us ‘Yes, we can!’ This is the basis of a lot of sales training – developing the winning mind-set, banishing doubt, and having a positive mental attitude (I can hear the whooping of the sales force right now).

Yes you can toddlerThe studies do indeed show that having a positive, assertive, affirmative approach is better than having a negative attitude and approach. Positive self-talk is generally better than negative self-talk. Researchers concluded that the most effective self-talk does not just shift emotions; the most effective self-talk actually changes linguistic categories. This self-talk moves the subject from making statements to asking questions.

In 2010, three researchers from two universities in the United States published the results of a series of experiments that confirmed the effectiveness of ‘interrogative self-talk’. Participants were split into two groups and given the same task to perform. The only difference between the two groups was that one group was instructed by the researchers to ask themselves if they could complete the task, whilst the second group were told to tell themselves that they could complete the task. On average the self-questioning group were 50% more effective than the self-affirming group at completing the task.

Pink kindly explains why the ‘interrogative self-talk’ is more effective, giving two reasons. Firstly, by its very nature, the interrogative approach elicits answers, within which lie strategies for actually carrying out the task. The affirmative approach may go something like ‘I have a sales pitch to make. I’m the best. This will be easy. The sale is mine!’ This approach may well provide a short-term emotional boost. However, if your approach is ‘Can I make a great sales pitch?’ the research shows that you provide yourself with something that reaches deeper and has a longer-lasting impact. You may answer the question with ‘Yes, I have made great pitches on 6 occasions in the last month.’ Or ‘Of course I can, I have prepared meticulously and I know the material inside out.’ And you might also elicit the response ‘Last time I rushed the beginning a little, so I want to start off slower this time.’ Affirmation is good, but the interrogative enables you to identify and obtain the resources you actually need to complete the task.

Researchers found the second reason to be that interrogative self-talk ‘may inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal’. People are more likely to act, and to perform well, when motivations derive from intrinsic choices rather than from extrinsic pressures.

Positive Mental Attitude is important and is more efficacious than negativity, but it really only gets you halfway there!

belief is half-wayIf you are not a natural sales person, feel discomfort when assuming the sales role and would like to remain true to who you really are as a professional trying to grow their business, I commend my alternative to you. The ALIGNED framework and the Cialdini materials are now available as the Congruent Business Development System™ and the Congruent Client Attraction System™ respectively. These can be delivered into your business through a variety of mechanisms – let’s discuss what would be the ideal solution for your business – contact me here

Best wishes,

Phil Walker
WTT Results Ltd

Twitter   @PIW_WTT


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Why is selling inappropriate?

No pitch


This is the first of three blog posts which will explain why the sales pitch has been banished to Room 101, is a thing of the past, and is no longer the way to grow your business. There will be three posts because there are three reasons why the ‘sell something’ approach is now inappropriate.

Don' sell 2

Let’s start in this post with the world as we buyers experience it today, compared with the world of yesteryear. I want to explain why the old adage ‘caveat emptor’ has been supplemented by the new adage ‘caveat venditor’. Why nowadays ‘seller beware’ is just as appropriate as ‘buyer beware’.

In previous times the balance of power between buyer and seller favoured the seller. Sellers knew the features and benefits of their products and services. They also knew their shortcomings and limitations. They had a good understanding of the salient characteristics of the products and services available from their competitors. Buyers on the other hand were relatively powerless as the information they wanted in order to make their decision about what to buy (and how much to pay) could only be obtained from the sellers.

In the corporate world this meant buyers would invite in a number of sellers of the things they were interested in purchasing. I remember well the various ‘dog and pony’ shows I attended as the various vendors came to my office to present their wares. It was like pulling teeth to get the information I needed; and when I eventually dragged as much as possible out of each of them, I was left with the task (and commercial risk) of trying to make sense of all the data which was almost certainly in different formats. It really was like comparing apples with pears; ‘buyer beware’ indeed!

Just think how different my procurement life would have been if I had the access to information that we all have nowadays. In the world today information is far more freely available. Indeed, we have the potential of the opposite problem – too much information.

Later in my career I actually became the seller rather than the buyer. Sales training was intense and regular and we were taught how to sell snow to the Eskimos. My world was ABC – Always Be Closing! If my product or service only delivered 80% of the solution desired by the buyer, that was fine because 80% is better than nothing, is better than what the buyer was current receiving, is better for me because my remuneration was based on the sale, not on the customer satisfaction, which was the responsibility of Operations.

einstein-always-be-closingThe availability of information has fundamentally changed the balance of power between buyer and seller. Buyers use their search engines to get internet access to all the information about the product or service they are considering. A lot of this information is provided by the suppliers of the products or services, so they retain some power in the sense they control what is presented and how it is presented. However, they have almost no control over the myriad of web pages providing information about their products or services that are published by independent reviewers that buyers can easily access. Even worse for sellers, user reviews are also widely available as sources of information for buyers giving sometimes brutally frank feedback (when did you last book a hotel room without checking out the feedback given by previous visitors?)

In days long gone there was information asymmetry, an imbalance of information between sellers and buyers. Nowadays, there is information parity – meaning ‘caveat emptor’ and ‘caveat venditor’ both apply. This is the first reason why the sales pitch is now inappropriate.

With information parity comes a need for each party to develop a deep understanding of the other party, to respect the information each party has, and to focus on finding the right questions to ask.

Right questions_DemingIf you are not a natural sales person, feel discomfort when assuming the sales role and would like to remain true to who you really are as a professional trying to grow their business, I commend my alternative to you. The ALIGNED framework and the Cialdini materials are now available as the Congruent Business Development System™ and the Congruent Client Attraction System™ respectively. These can be delivered into your business through a variety of mechanisms – let’s discuss what would be the ideal solution for your business – contact me here

Don't sell

Enabling clients and prospects enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ – final post of series

We have reached the final post in this series covering the ALIGNED framework that enables clients enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ to doing business with us without us needing to be expert in the (nowadays inappropriate) ways of Sales. It will be brief because it is a very simple point simply put. The final stage of the ALIGNED framework is ‘Decide or die’.

A Assume control
L Learn their situation and desires
I Injuries and pains
G Get commitment
N Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome
E Elegant solutions
D Decide or die

Alignment_MandhyanBy this I mean that the prospective client should make a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision. As the professional, you should confidently ask for a decision. Don’t permit the option of thinking about it because, if you allow them to defer their decision, the opportunity is dead to you. Mourn if you must, but move on elegantly, having built a greater connection with your prospective customer. You have had the opportunity to deploy effectively several ‘Weapons of Influence’. You should have used all six of them in a very skilled and engaging way. You will have strengthened the person’s propensity to buy from you in the future.

no or yesThere is no right or wrong here, just reality. There is no failure here, only feedback. If they say ‘no’ you won’t waste time chasing the currently unachievable, but you will have strengthened a relationship. In my experience, a ‘no’ can turn into a subsequent ‘yes’ without me expending any more effort.

By doing your job well, you have substantially improved the likelihood that they will enthusiastically say ‘Yes!’ to you. They will be so enthusiastic that they will become a fan and want to tell others about how great their experience has been. In this case, remember to celebrate!

Remember the words of the old song, ‘don’t you mess with Mister In-Between!’ Any response that is neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’ is Mister In-Between!

accentuate scriptThe seven stages of the ALIGNED framework are available as the Congruent Business Development System™ and the precursor materials based on Robert Cialdini’s ‘Weapons of Influence’ are available as the Congruent Client Attraction System™. Both systems can be delivered into your business in a variety of ways that are tailored to your specific desires, needs and situation. Unsurprisingly, I work with you to use the ALIGNED framework to enable us to determine the best solution for your business. If either system or both prove not to be the ideal solution then I will try to help you find an alternative from another source. I certainly won’t be messing with Mister In-Between!

There is greater detail about the ALIGNED framework in the book ‘Dance with the Elephants’ available from



Enabling clients and prospects enthusiastically to say ‘Yes!’ – post 6 of 7

So here we are at last, you are going to be able to fulfil that natural desire to problem-solve, to finally construct your solution, to meet all the needs of your prospective client. We are at the penultimate stage of the ALIGNED framework – ‘Elegant Solutions’.


A Assume control
L Learn their situation and desires
I Injuries and pains
G Get commitment
N Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome
E Elegant solutions
D Decide or die

aligned posture

Once you have permission to move to the next stage, pause to explain briefly what will happen next. You are going to take a moment to consider everything that has been discussed and will now, for the first time, think about whether or not you can provide the solution that is the best for them. Remind them of what was discussed right at the beginning of your conversation with them – that you will only have them as a client if you have the best solutions for them, and that you will try to find an alternative if you and your company do not have the best solutions for them. At this stage, I may choose to also remind them of my commitment to them (that is, to enable them to be the best they want to be).

Now take some time to weigh up everything you now know. Be creative in building your possible solutions for them. Don’t just trot out in your mind the ‘same old, same old’ for you to consider using. Honour and respect your prospective client by diligently answering the questions ‘Can I provide the perfect fit?’, ‘Can I truly delight them as a client?’, ‘Can this client become one of my fans?’ Ensure your solution is elegant in form, that it enables them to achieve their nirvana and that it addresses any barriers to success you discovered earlier. This is the most important moment in determining whether they will say an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ to you.

Don't sellIn crafting your solution, give them what they want or graciously decline their business. It is time for a congruence check before you outline your proposed solutions. Are you absolutely certain you are the best fit? Have you truly taken into account everything you know? On a scale of 1 to 10, how certain are you? If you do not have the best solution, the perfect way of addressing all their needs and desires, that which will make them an ardent fan and advocate, tell them that and agree that you are not the best provider for them at this time.

If you rate 10, then it’s time to present your proposed solution. How you present your proposal must be congruent with you, so you must develop a way of presenting it that shows your genuine sincerity and your congruence. This is another learnable skill.

What you present should cover your proposed solution, how it will solve the problem and what consequences it will have for your prospective client. Bear in mind your ‘Weapons of Influence’ when presenting your ‘what’. For example, emphasise the scarcity of the totally bespoke solution you have crafted and honed for them alone, if that is what you have done. Explain how the Well-Formed Outcome will be achieved, what life will be like for them as a result and the value they will get, from the least valuable to the highest. (In our previous example, that would be everything from saving time in unproductive conversations, through more sales and more profits, and everything else leading to the more highly valued quality time with their loved ones.) You should also cover the pain that will be taken away and the value that will be created for them as your client. You should outline how your solution elegantly avoids any of the potential obstacles identified earlier. Outline your proposal using appropriate and collaborative language (‘you’, ‘your’, ‘our’, ‘we’ and so on).

jigsawDon’t rush when presenting your solution. Make sure you do so at a pace that is comfortable for your client. Remember to match their words and their body language. Allow them sufficient opportunity to assimilate your solution so that it can become your joint commitment. Then ask if they think they fully understand the solution and the consequent impacts on their pain (using their words) and the value that will be created for them (in their words). If they indicate they do fully understand, and you agree that they do, tell them you know they understand. Specific and explicit agreements should be verbalised, honoured and celebrated.

The next post is the last in this series – ‘Decide or die’.

There is greater detail about the ALIGNED framework in the book ‘Dance with the Elephants’ available from