Focus on what you can control. Whether it’s your own smart choices re: social distancing, your own discipline in waking up every day and maintaining routines to support your health, your resolve to keep your business going with creative strategies, you are in control of those things. You can’t cure coronavirus or fix the stock market, but you have the power to navigate this whole mess constructively and come through it stronger than before.

As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Omar Zenhom.

Omar Zenhom is the co-founder and CEO of WebinarNinja, a rapidly growing platform on which over 14,000 businesses have hosted over one million webinar attendees to date. He’s also the host of The $100 MBA Show, a “Best of iTunes” small-business podcast.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

I was in education for over a dozen years, where I saw how great lessons don’t just transfer information, but empower people to achieve outcomes on their own. I realized you can apply that to business. When you treat your expertise as a way to give people value, you’re not “selling” per se. You’re informing and empowering people to address their problem with your product or service.

Ironically, going to business school showed me the opposite syndrome: when education is so academic that it’s not practical enough to be empowering. I’m a self-described Wharton dropout; I left business school because I believed that to really start a business — especially if you don’t want a mountain of debt — it’s better to get down to brass tacks.

So that’s how the podcast started; we came up with these daily 10-minute business lessons that people can just apply immediately. From there, it was almost inevitable that we’d move to webinars, since they’re basically online classrooms where you can “teach” at scale, sharing your expertise with the ultimate goal of making sales.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

We completely fumbled the whole webinar thing at first. Before we launched our own webinar platform, we created this big, comprehensive course, the “DIY Webinar Guide.” We thought that the best product to address the technical difficulty of webinars was a resource for learning how to navigate it, right? We thought it would be this incredibly valuable thing . It took months to create.

We launched the Guide with high hopes, thinking it would be a smash…and got 2 sales, one of which ended up being a refund.

We learned a hard lesson about making sure to teach what people actually want to learn, not what you want to teach them. Our audience didn’t want a degree in webinar software. They wanted webinar software that doesn’t require a degree!

That’s how WebinarNinja was born. I tinkered with a webinar software I created and used for my own webinars, and soon enough attendees were asking where to buy it. Instead of teaching people how to use an awful tool, we just built a better tool, and saved the teaching for things people actually care to learn about, like presentation skills and marketing strategies.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re launching the latest upgrade and redesign to WebinarNinja in the next month or so. We asked our users what features they wanted to make it even easier to engage with audiences, things like inviting attendees “on stage” with you, for example. We reconfigured all the interactive tools like polls, Q&A, etc so that it’s really seamless. Even the video quality gets an upgrade.

We think this is going to make it even easier for people to just shine. As one of our users put it, the best thing about the platform is that it just “gets out of your way,” and we think WN 6 sort of takes that concept and runs with it.

We’ve also put a lot of effort into helping businesses that are suddenly forced online by COVID-19. There are so many ways to develop new revenue streams and stay engaged with your customers via webinar — even if you own a brick & mortar business. We’ve been putting out blog posts and hosting our own webinars to try and teach people how to adjust to the new reality.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My co-founder and partner in business and life, Nicole Baldinu. She’s always struck that perfect balance of supporting me while also challenging me to grow and improve. We have totally complementary skill sets, so that ability to tackle everything as a team is invaluable. It’s different running a business when you have a couple’s level of communication. It’s easier, but not without its challenges. We have little rules in place to separate work and life, like not calling each other “babe” or something like that when we’re in our office, even though our office is a room in our house.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

I’ve invested everything into road-testing the “Teach, don’t sell” philosophy, in a way that very few entrepreneurs have. It’s the basis of both arms of our company; the podcast, and the webinar platform. We’ve put years into developing content and products that help regular people cut through all the noise and nonsense and just share their own unique value, then leverage it into sales.

That’s a different approach, and we built our company from literally nothing on the strength of that philosophy alone. No investment, no financial backing; we just created Minimum Viable Products, sold the first unit, then the second, then the third, and so on. We took the stance of always operating at a profit, however small the margins, and just sold our way to scale one customer at a time.

We’ve had enough success — and enough screwups along the way — to have earned some insight.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Focus on what you can control. Whether it’s your own smart choices re: social distancing, your own discipline in waking up every day and maintaining routines to support your health, your resolve to keep your business going with creative strategies, you are in control of those things. You can’t cure coronavirus or fix the stock market, but you have the power to navigate this whole mess constructively and come through it stronger than before.

There are silver linings here, too. Remote business and remote teaching and learning were always the future. So the future just came a little early. Take the opportunity to get ahead of the curve that was inevitably coming. Be the person who went through this and said “I’m not gonna huddle in my home worrying; I’m gonna learn the skills and strategies to do business and live life in new ways.”

When the virus is under control, you’ll probably find that you prefer some of the changes you were forced to make. Our company has always been 100% remote. Now we’re like…”Everyone else is about to find out how convenient that is.” This whole crisis will be as much of an opportunity as you make it.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versalite topics, is totally ignored?

I think selling has gotten an undeserved bad reputation, as if it’s a form of manipulation. And for some business people, frankly, it is. But that’s blaming the skill, instead of blaming individuals for misusing it.

That’s why I’m so committed to the teaching-as-selling philosophy; it puts the agency and power into the customer’s hands. Selling isn’t about tricking people into buying stuff. It’s about giving them the agency to figure out for themselves what will best empower them to meet their own goals. Selling something to people who won’t benefit from it just increases churn and destroys your business. So why would you bother?

There’s this prejudice against the skill of salespersonship, rooted in suspicion of the profit motive, which I get. But there’s a version of salespersonship that doesn’t see endless growth as the goal, and that venerates outcomes for customers as integral to profit. And maybe the world of education could be more comfortable with sales if that approach was emphasized.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

Yes! To me, the word “salesy” implies a self-centered motive. It puts the emphasis on my profit to the exclusion of your outcome. A sales person should see a customer as a partner, no differently than they would look at another business person they might collaborate with. You’re building something together you both take a benefit from.

You know the difference between a “salesy” salesperson and a non-salesy salesperson? It’s what they do after the sale. Do you take the payment and forget about the customer, or do you follow up and onboard to make sure they’re getting the outcome they paid for? We encourage our users to host “customer only” webinars just to give customers a chance to ask questions, voice concerns, make suggestions. You’re not selling a thing, you’re just listening and making sure you’ve actually delivered.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

Follow up, in the sense of onboarding and customer satisfaction. We love getting new customers, but the biggest celebration we had in the last year was when we got our churn down to an incredible new low. We saw that as a bigger victory than the number of users we signed up: the number we kept.

We’ve poured resources into Customer Support. When quarantining and social distancing led to a spike in new trials, we didn’t jump up and down with joy. We saw it as a challenge not to let the quality of customer service drop, and immediately put out a call for more Support staff. We literally shut down some of our acquisition assets so Support could focus on old business, not just new business.

On top of that, as I mentioned, we host monthly “Ninjas Only” webinars. I also sit down on video calls with various customers one-on-one and just hear them out as to what’s working for them and what’s not.

I firmly believe small companies can only stand out and differentiate by knocking customer service out of the park. I can’t outspend big competitors on marketing or advertising. But I can commit a larger percentage of company resources to the customers we already have. That doesn’t just lower churn; it creates evangelists. It turns our customers into our best sales people, which is crucial in today’s marketplace, where social proof is everything in sales.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

This won’t surprise you by this point in the interview: we offer education. Not the formal kind, obviously, but the podcast, the blog, and the webinars.

The reason this generates warm, qualified leads is because we know that whoever gives us their email address in exchange for a lesson wants to learn something. They’re open to our message, because we’re developing that level of trust that comes from just teaching people whether they buy or not. It gives us credibility.

If someone gives you their email to get a pdf or the results of a quiz or something, that’s very casual. But if I get someone’s email because they’re joining me on a webinar, that’s probably the start of a relationship.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

Don’t be afraid of the objections. An objection can fall into one of the three categories: 1) Something your product or service addresses, 2) Something your product or service doesn’t address, but can, or 3) Something your product or service can’t address.

If it’s #1, you’re fine. Just demonstrate how the customer has nothing to worry about. If it’s #2, now you know how to improve your product! That kind of market research is worth its weight in gold. If it’s #3, you earn the greatest trust of all: the kind you get by not taking someone’s money, because you’re not the best fit for them. You’d be shocked at how that can pay off down the road.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

1. Be transparent. Make it clear up front when you’re trying to sell someone something. Your honesty at the start will make the ‘closing’ part a lot easier.

2. Inform, rather than convince.

3. Show them, don’t sell them. People want to know how to get from here to their desired outcome. Share case studies, results, the process of getting to the result, and how to get started.

4. Know the difference between incentives and pressure. Obviously a great way to close is to include bonuses for people who buy “now,” whenever now is. But don’t turn that into a threat or something. Just say, “This is your reward for acting sooner, but take all the time you need.”

5. Always have a risk reversal- a free trial, a money-back guarantee. No-risk is a no-brainer, plus it demonstrates the utmost confidence in your own product.

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

Just stay in touch and honestly, be patient. We’ve watched as people attended 5, 6, 7 of our webinars, opened dozens of emails, read blog post after blog post over months and months without spending a dime. Not even a free trial. But then it happens. All the trust-building and value-giving pays off. They don’t just become users, they become our biggest users with the highest CLTV. All the time we put into them translates into time they stick with us, years of recurring revenue.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue leads aggressively, but letting people get there on their own builds more loyalty than pestering. The best way to sell is to put someone in a position to make the decision for themselves.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

Well, in-person is pretty much out for now, with COVID-19. But under normal circumstances, I’d say it depends on the scale. Phone calls are great for selling huge-ticket items to one person at a time, where each potential customer individually could make or break your month, but phone calls are an awful way to sell to dozens or hundreds or thousands. Plus, you’d need some kind of transcription to keep a record and do analysis, and there’s just more efficient ways to communicate.

No surprise here, but live webinars are my pick for the best option! They’re the closest thing to being “there” face-to-face with your potential customers. In fact, they’re even better optimized for closing sales than a live event, because you have the clickable sales offers integrated with your payment processor. Webinars simply have the best balance of intimacy and scalability in one sales method.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One idea I wish would really take hold in business and entrepreneurship is that time is not money. Time is way, way more valuable. I try to encourage everyone who learns from us to define success more precisely than in terms of wealth. Enough wealth to do what? I think the thing that attracts people to money is the thought of the time you can buy with it, yet we so often fall into the old trap of trading our time for money.

If business people made the mental shift of seeing their “bottom line” as an amount of time to spend on the most fulfilling things, business wouldn’t devolve into this pointless game of who can accumulate the most money. If we valued time more, we’d also be way more disciplined about the things that waste it, and we’d be much happier.

How can our readers follow you online?

My blog is at webinarninja.com/blog, and you can always subscribe to The $100 MBA Show on the podcast service of your choice.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.


Omar Zenhom of WebinarNinja: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.