December 18, 2022

The end of the year is a reminder—if you work for a company or just someone else—that you may be anticipating a bonus (or at least an Amazon gift card) 🙂

And this post is for everyone, whether you are waiting for year-end bonuses, giving them out, or not interested in bonuses right now.

It has been my experience (after sitting on both sides of the desk), when it comes to additional compensation, that the biggest issue is unreasonable expectations…which can lead to devastating consequences.

That is, expecting more than you eventually receive.

The other way around seems fine on the surface…but getting more than you expect can be accompanied by peril too.

I want to share a couple of stories today…one about a salesperson I knew whose expectations were so off base they got her fired; and the other about sending a surprise bonus when none was expected and how that created a deep, lifelong relationship of collaboration and extreme profit…with a unique and special talent.

“You have to pay me more than last year”

Once upon a time there was a phenomenal list manager…someone who could sell (rent) mailing lists to anyone and everyone whether they needed them or not.

One day she got a new job to sell a family of lists that had never been on the market before (NEW is always a big thing in the world of direct mail and in all media)

And these lists were going to be “hot” …they were affluent professionals who bought expensive books through the mail in large quantities.

Our ambitious list manager negotiated a deal with the publisher of these books (a large corporation–dare I say “stuffy”) for a salary and a hefty commission…but not unlike she had negotiated before at previous companies…and she was off and running.

However, this “normal deal” netted her–in her first year–a total compensation package that was not only more money than she ever earned in her life, it was greater than the CEO of the entire company.

And as I said earlier, it was a large corporation (which means that is a big number). Safe to say it was “high six figures.”

Who knew being a list manager could be so lucrative?

The secret to her success was a combination of her selling acumen coupled with representing lists that could have “sold themselves” …because they were new and had a profile that yielded high response rates for almost all who tested (and continued) mailing them.

This windfall, although a big win, was also the beginning of a perfect storm of calamity for our hard driving list manager.

When it came time to negotiate her second year, she followed the rules she had been taught from previous sales jobs.

That is, “If I made X dollars this year, I should make additional income on top of X dollars next year because that’s how salespeople with ambition who have success get paid.”

She didn’t see this first year as a windfall…equal to four or five years of previous compensation…just a big number that had to get bigger because of her talent.

And since her contract was for two years, with a stipulation for an increase in her salary and commission if she met certain goals (which she surpassed by a wide margin), the publisher was obligated to pay her even more in year two.

While I agree a contract is a contract, if she had viewed her first year as a windfall and her second year not as an entitlement bonus resulting in a windfall on top of a windfall, she might have thought long and hard about renegotiating her salary and commission package downward in exchange for a long run at the company at more money she could make anywhere else.

At least that’s how I would have played it given the outrageous amount she made in year one, a number that was well beyond her wildest dreams (and an unforeseen nightmare for the company).

You can guess what happened after she made even more money in year two…whether the CEO got a raise or not.

The CEO unceremoniously let her go as soon as he could.

If there was ever a case of unreasonable compensation that could be acted upon, this was it.

Of course, she probably stockpiled enough cash to last her for five years or more…but I wonder how much she could have made with a “fair” (i.e., robust but not unreasonable) package by working at the company for two decades rather than two years.

This is a somewhat extreme case…but  cautionary just the same.

Would you have considered “negotiating down”…at least a little?

I’d love to know what you think.

“You mean copywriters collect royalties?”

In the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the new millennium, I worked with a stable of copywriters who were the best-of-the-best.

I like to think that was because we had the best products and the most competent (and pleasant) staff to work with…but I must admit it was also (mostly?) because we always paid to play…offering large upfront fees plus generous royalties.

Because these word magicians were worth it.

That alone was a differentiator…because we understood that the A-List copywriters were a rare breed…and they would prioritize to the clients who would pay the most (and were nice to them too). 🙂

We had one copywriter…who had multiple controls for us…who had not caught on to the “royalty craze.”

He charged us large upfront fees to write for us…but he simply didn’t know that he could add in a royalty once he created a winner.

And shame on me that I didn’t let him know at the outset…my excuse was that I didn’t know he would be that good.

However, once I saw that he was as good as the other royalty writers, I sent him a large bonus check after he wrote us a BIG winner.

When he called me to ask what the check was for, I told him it was for his genius…and specifically, for the current winner and winners of the past.

I then educated him on the world of royalties and we negotiated a royalty arrangement for all ongoing and future promotions.

Which led to a partnership like no other…we got first dibs on his calendar (which is a coup with these top copywriters) …he became a true partner and helped us by writing in other media than direct mail…and best of all, he became a trusted friend, much more than a “vendor/copywriter.”

And that trust and friendship went both ways.

The lesson here is that when you have a good deal in your favor (in this case, saving lots of money by not paying a scarce resource what he or she deserved), it’s far more powerful to fess up that you are in windfall territory before the other party lets you know first.

This philosophy led to symbiotic partnerships with all my royalty copywriters, resulting in them being amenable to “tiered royalties” (which I think I invented despite saying I never invented anything).

When the copywriter had a control and certain lists couldn’t be mailed with their royalty, I would produce a spreadsheet (with complete transparency), mapping this out to them…and then getting their permission to mail certain lists without a royalty.

Did I say this philosophy led to trust both ways? It did.

Which led to additional profit both ways too.

I hope these two examples were instructional in some way…and will enable you to recognize early in every relationship when you’re being paid (or paying) too much…or when you’re being paid (or paying) too little…and stop trying to always get the “upper hand” in every negotiation.

My staff often challenged me when I renegotiated a contract with a vendor that was too much in our favor…but if the changes reflected fairness, that’s all that mattered to me.

I always play a long game…and from the many engagements I’ve had with you over the years, I believe you play the game the same way.

I encourage you to read Chapter 10 of my book, Overdeliver which explores this in detail.

As Dan Sullivan, the top coach for entrepreneurs in the world, says (and I am paraphrasing):

Cash is about your past; your knowledge, wisdom, resources, relationship capital, intellectual property–what you take that’s useful from your past–is what moves you forward…today and into the future.

On his death bed, my most influential business mentor, Marty Edelston, asked me a strange question…strange if you didn’t know Marty.

I was sitting on his bed, holding his hand, he was in and out, opening and then closing his eyes.

With his eyes wide open he asked, “What deals did you make today?”

If you knew Marty, you’d know that he is one person who would be thinking about “the office” on his death bed…his business was his life.

I told him about some negotiations I was working on, all in the spirit of the things I’ve discussed in this post, letting him know about the give and take…with more give than take.

He replied:

“Be fair.”

That’s the final word on this topic…well, two words. 🙂



P.S. I’m perplexed that not all of you have joined Titans Xcelerator yet.

I guess my expectations are unreasonable but hopefully not calamitous. 🙂

But with the offer I have laid out here, now is the perfect time to “underpay me” for a mastermind that has no competition, no rival, and it is the best value anywhere.

It’s the most wonderful marketing family…without the bickering…simply great people sharing knowledge and wisdom among themselves and with outside experts too.

Those experts include world class speakers, the top of the heap in direct response marketing, in media, offer creation, funnel building, copywriting, design, and entrepreneurship/marketing leadership.

The members become speakers too…in the way of “Titan Spotlights” and Hot Seats.

All of that is a reason to join in itself…but there’s more.

There’s a digital portal and a monthly mailing of all of the content produced inside and outside the mastermind, a private (and very active) Facebook Group (not mandatory to join for those who don’t like Facebook) …and simply put, Titans Xcelerator is a marketing insurance policy, a de facto Board of Advisors, to present your best opportunities (and most difficult challenges) inside a group of over 250 caring direct response marketers and amazing thinkers.

Please read all about it here…the benefits, the success stories, and some special bonuses.

The fact that we are going on our fourth year with close to a 75% renewal rate kind of says it all.

But it’s worth reading the details just the same. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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