Forrest Dombrow is a sales consultant at Solve Sales, a marketing and sales consultancy firm helping agencies get new leads and more clients.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in the suburbs about 35 minutes west of New York City. Looking back it was pretty idyllic. I lived in a nice suburban area and had lots of support and great experiences. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize many people were not as lucky, and I’m grateful for the environment I was raised in. One experience/story that stands out was my father’s first lesson in business.
I lived in a residential neighborhood with no retail stores except for a corner deli named John’s. John’s sold, amongst other food items, candy, and baseball cards. It was a big deal to ride your bike to John’s for a sugar fix and pray for a Reggie Jackson baseball card.
One night my dad sat down to tell me a bedtime story that he called my first lesson in business. My house sat directly across from the big neighborhood park where all the kids would congregate to play baseball, go fishing, and such. Living across from the park was its own special experience. But I digress.
My dad’s story went as follows: “Forrest, here is how you can start your own business and make money. You can ride your bike to John’s and buy a lollipop for 1 penny and then ride back to the park and sell that lollipop to one of the kids for 2 pennies. And they’ll pay you that extra penny because you are saving them the time of having to leave the park and go all the way to John’s. Now, if you sell that lollipop for 2 pennies, how many lollipops can you buy?” I would answer 2. Then he’d say, “Now if you go buy 2 lollipops for 1 penny each and come back and sell both of those for 2 pennies each, how much money would you have and how many lollipops could you buy?” 4 and 4, of course. He’d keep going up to about 10 lollipops. I’d make him tell me that story over and over and over for years. I loved it and never forgot it.
Beyond that specific story, it was him providing information like that, and my brother and me starting small businesses on the street in front of our house, that gave me the entrepreneurial bug, still going strong to this day. Thanks, Dad!
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
The world most of us live in is an invented, conceptual framework that’s not real. Just about everything we think is real is actually an illusion. Yet, we act as if it was real, and it’s insanely limiting.
“That person is a jerk. I suck at spelling. She’s so smart. The client should not have said that.” These are opinions, thoughts, and judgments. Not reality. Here is an example: If two people sit next to each other in the same movie theater and one comes out at the end and says the movie was great, while the other person says it was terrible, which is it? Answer: both and neither.
You can have an opinion, but it’s just an opinion. Where does that opinion live? Can you point to it? Feel it? Show it to me? Nope. Because it’s ephemeral. It can change. Have you ever seen a movie you liked and then watched it years later and thought “Why did I ever like this movie?” Your opinion says nothing about the actual movie. The movie is what it is. Your judgment about it makes no difference to the images on the reel. It will play exactly the same for the next audience. While your opinions and beliefs are not really real, they do have a very real impact on your life.
Ok Forrest you’re getting weird here. What’s the point?
Here’s a more practical example: The first interview question asked about my favorite books, and I listed The Book of Secrets. I said a meditation technique I learned in that book had a dramatic impact on my life and career. While reading the book, one of my coaching clients asked me to stop coaching him and just come on full-time to take over business development and sales for his digital marketing agency. I had a deep-seated belief, from my early years, that I was an entrepreneur and literally could not work for anyone as an employee. My identity, ego, and belief system told me I was not allowed to be anything other than a business owner. However, when I tried the new meditation I had a huge breakthrough around the illusory nature of my belief system. The conceptual framework I mentioned earlier that we all create through our friends, family, and interactions with the world as we grow up broke down.
It was at that moment I recognized my Fort Knox entrepreneurial identity was not as solid or real as I thought. I made that up and could just as easily make something else up that was more open and empowering. What if it was not true that being a business owner was my only option?
While I did not drop my passion and interest in entrepreneurship, I dropped the belief I was only an entrepreneur and could do nothing else. That opened me up to listen to my client’s proposal in a new way. I ended up taking him up on the offer, and It turned out to be one of the most financially and personally rewarding experiences of my life.
The universe was sending me a gift and I almost missed it because I was holding onto an illusory, limiting belief.
What beliefs, judgments, thoughts, labels, etc. are limiting your life? What could you drop or change? What new possibilities do that open up for you? We create our world by what we think and believe. When we realize we can make up something new, fresh, and more empowering than what we’re dragging around from the past, life takes a fundamental shift to a more peaceful and productive place.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
People try to treat surface symptoms instead of root causes. Many people shopping for digital marketing services, for example, call agencies and ask for specific solutions such as “link building” for SEO or Google Ads to get more eCommerce sales. And many “order taker” salespeople just sell them whatever they ask for.
The problem is the customers often don’t understand what they’re buying or what they really need to achieve their marketing goals. It’s like if you went to the doctor and told them what your illness was and what to prescribe, and the doctor just took your word for it and wrote the prescription. The patient is not the doctor, and the doctor is not an order taker.
Also, I hear salespeople recommending or selling incomplete or incorrect solutions. For example, if you want to do Google Ads to drive leads and sales but your website or landing pages are poorly designed, you need to implement great ads AND a great, high converting landing experience. If an agency sells only the advertising service and fails to mention the need for a great landing page (because they don’t happen to offer that complementary service), then the client gets disappointed 3 months later when the ads are performing poorly.
If a surgeon operated on your knee and failed to mention you need to go to a physical therapist after, that would be malpractice. This sort of thing happens all the time when people purchase marketing or other complex services from order taker salespeople.
If you’re a salesperson in an industry that warrants a more complex and thoughtful sales process, your job is to act like a strategic sales doctor, not a cashier at McDonald’s that sells the customer whatever they ask for. Dig deep to diagnose root causes of the prospect’s challenges and then prescribe a comprehensive solution sufficient to produce the outcome they called about.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
The darkest period in my life was my divorce 11 years ago. While it was not the most contentious divorce in history, it was still a very trying time. Besides the breakdown of my marriage, my son was only 8 months old at the time. After 3 – 6 months of pain and anger, I made a decision that changed the course of my life.
Without getting into the personal details, my ex-wife did a lot of things when we were married that, on the surface, made it appear she was the bad guy. Anyone from the outside who knew us at the time would have instantly pointed a finger at her. However, I did not want to take the easy way out. I thought to myself, “It takes two to tango.” So I decided to focus not on what she did but only on what I did to contribute to the situation. It took several years of self-reflection and work, but in the end, I uncovered my own patterns of passive aggressiveness and codependency which had unconsciously exacerbated her behavior.
Through this process, I cleaned up (and continue to clean up) unconscious patterns and behavior that were not only self-defeating in my marriage but in every personal and business relationship I’ve ever had. It’s been super powerful. I’m far more self-aware and healthy in my behavior and relationships.
Whenever something goes south in a relationship I coach people to look at their behavior and beliefs first. Pointing the finger is easy. Self-reflection and taking personal accountability are hard. But that’s where the fruit comes from. While it may be counterintuitive, changing ourselves is often the best way to change how others behave towards us.
What is your morning routine?
Unless I need to catch a plane or something I never set an alarm. I try, first and foremost, to allow my body to get 100% of the sleep it feels I need. Even without an alarm, I tend to wake up around 5:30 – 6:30 a.m.
Recently I started a morning walk which has been a great way to start the day. Walks aside, the first thing I do every morning is hit the button on the coffee machine and sit down for my morning reading. See the next answer for what I read pretty much every single day. This is probably the most important part for me. It gets me present to the concepts that make a difference in my life and starts my day off with a positive perspective.
After my reading, I’ll do a quick meditation, help my son get off to school, and then get started on my task list (I’ve worked from home for most of the last 14 years).
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
The study and practice of spirituality. Specifically, reading books like the Tao Te Ching and other books by mystics/gurus that speak on things like Advaita Vedanta, enlightenment, and non-dualism. The popular term that relates to these topics is mindfulness, but my study and practice go way beyond being mindful. See my answer above on the illusory nature of our world.
Also, I take a few minutes to meditate every two hours every day from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm. I have an alarm that goes off on my phone, and with a few little practices, I gather myself, find the silence and try to proceed for the next two hours from a place of peace and detachment, rather than a place of panic and grasping.
If you’d like a copy of the specific notes and practices I do, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll share them with you, including instructions on how to use them. Very powerful. Everyone I tell about them instantly asks me to send them a copy.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I use a simple strategy I learned in a cassette tape course many years ago. I review my lists each night (or morning) and move the top six items I need to accomplish that day to the top of the list by priority. Then I just work through each one until it’s done. To execute the strategy I use Workflowy. It’s simply a list of lists nested under each other and synced across all my devices.
Of course, there are times I may have to pause a task because I’m waiting on something from someone else or an emergency pops up. So there is some flexibility. That said, I set the priorities, close my email and methodically work through them one at a time.
This practice not only helps me stay productive but also reduces anxiety. I always have more than 6 tasks on my master lists (more like hundreds), but once I’ve reviewed my lists and set the top priorities for the day, I can let all the others go, for the time being, knowing I simply can’t do any more until tomorrow and that I’m working on the most important tasks.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
It may sound basic, but it’s made all the difference in my life. If you are present and pay close attention during the day, then you’ll find massive opportunities hiding in plain sight, constantly.
I listen to people attentively and quiet my own inner monologue. I try to “hear” behind the words being spoken to get the feelings, emotions, and hidden aspects of whatever they’re talking about. I pay special attention when people complain to help me find opportunities in the market or shortcuts to success.
One little hack I use is to look where nobody else is looking. For example, when you see two sportscasters on TV you tend to pay attention to the one that is talking at the moment and switch back and forth as they do. Sometimes I do the opposite. I watch the person that’s not speaking. It’s not that this particular example gets me any big ideas or insights per se, but it trains me to “look” at life differently. To pay closer attention to what’s going on around me.
I do the same thing when watching a magician. I try not to watch the trick or what they want me to look at. I’ll look at their opposite hand or their eyes to try to find cues to the secret of the trick. Most everyone else misses these hidden cues because they’re not really paying attention, they’re being hypnotized to look where the magician is leading them. And this happens all day long as we float through our day in a mostly unconscious manner. Turn off autopilot and pay attention.
When you pay close attention to people, patterns emerge. Opportunities poke you in the eye. The way life operates and how to be successful in it becomes pretty obvious and simple when you uncover people’s motivations and standard operating procedures. Anytime you hear someone say something like “Everyone does it that way,” pay close attention. There is almost always another, better way to do something people don’t see because they just go with their unconscious, default response.
Pay close attention, and life will pay you back with magical opportunities.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The Book of Secrets by OSHO – After doing a basic transcendental meditation practice off and on for 20 years, this book showed me a different approach that dramatically changed my life immediately. It not only opened things up in my personal life but also created space for me to take advantage of a career opportunity I was pushing away. The meditative breakthrough allowed me to open up to different possibilities for my career and I experienced significant increases in financial and mental wellbeing. More on the specific breakthrough below.
Persuasive Online Copywriting by Bryan Eisenberg et al. – I read this book in 2004 when starting my internet marketing career. Amongst the core copywriting content was a section about conversion rate optimization, a tactic hardly anyone was aware of or talking about at the time. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s essentially the art and science of increasing the rate at which websites are able to convert visitors to either leads or sales.
In my mind, it was the most important part of digital marketing and nobody knew anything about it. I dove in not only to that book but also other copywriting and website usability books. Through study and practice, I turned myself into a conversion rate optimization and persuasive copywriting expert. Those skills made my clients a lot of money and led to a speaking career that drove the growth of the digital marketing agency I started a few years later.
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss – While I’ve read many other books in the self-help/spirituality genre that blew my mind, this book provides one of the simplest and most practical ways to improve your life. I’ve recommended it to at least 6 or 7 people and they all said it was a life-changing book. To this day, when something goes “wrong,” I often hear myself saying, “The obstacle is the way, remember the core teachings in the book,” and I instantly feel better and know what to do. Very simple, yet very powerful.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
There are two. The first one is by Arnold Toynbee, “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.”
Engaging in work or a career that sucks your soul out of your body is a non-starter for me. Besides the bad day or rough project that will always pop up from time to time, I refuse to remain in situations or do work I dread. I’d rather be broke and happy doing what is fun and natural rather than rich and miserable doing work that’s dead to me. Every time I’ve tried any business or job primarily for the money, it turned out poorly.
The second quote is from Warren Buffet, “Good jockeys will do well on good horses, but not on broken-down nags.”
This quote serves as the foundation for my approach to entrepreneurship, marketing, and sales. I relate the horse analogy to product and service development as well as branding, positioning, and messaging. If you go to market (or into a sales presentation) with a truly unique solution (I.e a fast horse), EVERYTHING about marketing and sales is easier and more profitable. To execute this concept I teach clients how to create and play what I call “Winnable Games”. In short, it’s about creating situations where you’re nearly guaranteed to win the lead and/or sale before you even open your mouth. I cover the entire process in Chapter 2 of my book, Clone the Ace. You can get a free copy of the first two chapters here.
Also, I provide a quick way to leverage this quote and my Winnable Games concept in this blog post: The Best Way to Increase Sales of Digital Marketing Services (plenty for you to steal even if you don’t sell digital marketing services).