Posted 12th December 2008.
Painful Truth #1 – Your Customers are Busy
No, I mean really busy. Business executives today are overloaded, overstressed and over-sold-to.
We used to live in a world where business opportunities were in short supply. Today, business executives are bombarded hourly with offers from sales people offering to slash their costs, double their profits, turbo-charge their web traffic or one of a myriad of other seemingly attractive propositions.
What does that mean for you? Well, only you can work it out for your business, but there are a number of potential implications:
- The old advice to “always sell to the top” may well not work for you. The top is where the crowd is. The top is screening out calls from almost everyone but the well-known and the well-trusted.
- If you do get to meet senior people you must really respect their time. Do your homework. Don't bore them with a pitch until you've listened and know where they're at and what they're focused on. But don't be subservient either – you (should) have something they value.
- Unless what you have to say is highly memorable – the chances are that your potential customer or referral partner will have forgotten it in a few weeks – maybe even less. Think about your own experience – of all the people you met at networking meetings a month ago – how many can you really remember? Despite all your initial interest and good intentions – can you really recall their “elevator pitch”? Could you really refer them with confidence to others? Even the ones who followed all the good networking practices and listened to you and made you feel good – how many of them can you remember? Probably not many.
- What makes a message memorable? If it's highly relevant and targeted so that you potential customer really empathises with it. If you're able to tell it in story form (see Selling with Stories), if you're able to do something of value for them (such as introduce them to a valuable contact, or send them some really useful information afterwards) and if you are able to repeat your message over multiple occasions.
Painful Truth #2 – Most of the Time Your Customers Don't Need Your Product
Most significant purchases are made infrequently. How often do you hire a new accountant? Or buy a new computer?
This means that most of the time, your customer is not only not in buying mode, they're not even aware of having a need or a problem that your product can solve.
The implication: either you need to find a way of identifying potential customers who are approaching that time period where they start looking for solutions (for example, by leveraging Trigger Events, or by getting them to self-identify) or you must find a way of nurturing those potential customers over time.
Nurturing is more than just keeping in touch with potential customers (although that's a start). It means you must find a way of adding value for them repeatedly over time – so that when they do reach the point at which they begin to think about buying, you're first in their mind.
How can you repeatedly add value over time? Some do it through high quality email newsletters. Others do it in a more tailored manner by constantly thinking of the customer and how they can help – and then doing something about it: sending them useful news, linking them in to potential customers and partners, offering tips on their business or sharing insights.
Clearly, nurturing can be a big investment so you can only “manually” nurture prospects who have the potential to become have value customers. For others you need to automate the nurturing process somehow.
Some firms shy away from this automation – feeling it's too impersonal. But even a general email newsletter (provided it has high quality content) is better than doing nothing at all – that's the ultimate in impersonal.
Painful Truth #3 – People Don't Trust Salespeople
Years of dysfunctional selling behaviour has taught prospects to be very wary of salespeople. They've learnt that despite their fine words, salespeople really care more about themselves and hitting quota than they do about serving their customers and solving their problems.
Once your potential customers put you in this bracket, they start to put up their defences. They “clam up”. They don't really answer your questions truthfully – scared to give away “ammunition” you might use to “sell them”. They nod agreement and say yes just to get you off the phone and later cancel your appointment. They never return your calls or emails. They tell you “we don't have that problem” when they do, or “we're already working with someone” when they're not. All because they're frightened of “being sold” – of being manipulated into doing something they'll later regret.
Nowadays, salespeople are taught to “qualify hard” to avoid wasting time with people who are going to deal with them like this. But in reality, so many are distrustful of salespeople today that if you qualify them out you're going to be left with a tiny prospect list. Instead, you must learn to avoid defensiveness.
Once our potential clients pigeonhole us as “typical salespeople”, once those defences are up it's immensely hard to breach them. By far your best course of action is to avoid them going up in the first place. And to do that you must absolutely avoid behaving or sounding like a “typical salesperson”.
Even if your job title doesn't involve sales, even if you're a “consultant” or a “client partner” (and even if you really aren't in sales) customers will mark you as a “typical salesperson” if you do the things typical salespeople do:
- Initiate conversation with them using an obviously pre-prepared script.
- Talk more about how great your product is than listen to what they're interested in.
- Ignore what they're saying and continue with your agenda: “you already use one of our competitors – that's exactly why we should meet”, “you don't need any of our services right now – that's exactly why we should meet”, “your entire family and friends were wiped out in a freak avalanche – that's exactly why we should meet”.
- (Seemingly) exaggerate the benefits of your product and don't help them in an objective manner.
- Push them for action faster than they're comfortable with.
- Use transparent closing techniques: “when would you like delivery?”, “will you be taking 20 or 25?”, “Should I put you in to meet up on Monday at 3.15 or Wednesday at 4.30?”
- Inject false urgency or scarcity – “my boss is on vacation, so I can offer these at half price for one day only”, “we only have one of these left and another customer is interested and will be calling me back in an hour”, “I can only give you this offer if you sign-up today”.
Unless you want them to deal with you like a typical salesperson, then you must differentiate yourself from the typical salesperson in how you act and what you say. You must eliminate these behaviours from your repertoire. And your primary weapon to do this: your mindset. If you set out to genuinely help your customers, the negative behaviours will begin to fade away.
Painful Truths – But Useful Guidelines
The truth may be stark and painful – but it's the only thing that can guide us to a better way. If you can understand and build an effective way to work with people who are incredibly busy, don't need your product very often, and who probably don't trust you – then your sales will really take off.
It's either that, or set off on a Quixotic quest for a “perfect” prospect who will respond to yesterday's sales techniques.