Using “outrageous” to describe these tips may seem like an indefensible stretch or, more likely, a deliberate attempt to attract attention. While it may be both, it’s also accurate. These ideas express views that fly in the face of the traditional marketing and sales “truths” that are passed on to those who obey them, mostly without question.
If there’s to be progress, however, those traditional ideas deserve a hearty challenge, if for no other reason than to stimulate thinking and to break free from automatically believing that what we’re told is helpful.
At a time when customers are challenging us, we’re best served by questioning the tenants that guide our work. Or, to put it another way, the wrong assumptions lead to the wrong results. Here are some examples.
1. Can the elevator speech. To put it bluntly, all we really need to do is forget about getting up any higher than the second floor. Instead of an elevator speech, what can be helpful is a line that we can use to get up “one floor.”
Well-meaning sales managers convinced us of the need for an elevator speech, so when someone asked us what we do, we didn’t stammer or make it up. They wanted everyone on the sales team to come out with the same story.
While it seems like a noble objective, it’s also a waste of time because it runs counter to what selling and marketing are all about. What’s even worse, an elevator speech is about us, while marketing and sales are about the customer. In other words, the elevator speech takes us in the wrong direction.
Who cares about what you and I do? We do! Not our prospects and not our customers. What we need is a “one-floor” speech, something that grabs an individual’s or a group’s interest fast. You say, for example, “I help my clients dodge bullets that can put them out of business.” “What does that mean?” the prospect asks. “Let me ask you a question,” you reply. Now, the prospect is talking, and you are headed in the right direction.
Whether it’s marketing or sales, the goal is to engage people, to spark a conversation that focuses on them.
2. Ditch proposals. Next, proposals should go away. Salespeople have educated prospects to ask for or expect a proposal and that takes us down the wrong road by focusing on trying to outdo everyone else preparing proposals.
The head of a company opened a meeting with an account executive from a marketing services firm by saying, “Tell us what you can do for us.” In other words, he wanted a proposal. Instead, the account rep initiated a conversation with the group about what they wanted their company to accomplish.
The information distilled from that conversation became the basis for a relationship and a mutually agreed-upon action plan that has continued for more than a decade. It wasn’t a proposal; it was a plan.
3. Forget about what you’re selling. For the most part, sales are lost because we let what we’re selling get between us and the customer. Amazing as it may seem, what we want the customer to buy becomes a distraction.
Apple’s genius lies in the company’s not permitting its brilliantly designed products to interfere with its customer relationship. For example, paying for a purchase at an Apple store is non-invasive. It’s low-key and handled on the spot, wherever you happen to be standing, by someone who doesn’t look like a salesperson. The transaction is as elegant as an iPad or iPhone. If you want to see it in real time, go to an Apple store and then see what happens at Sears, Macy’s or just about any other store. Apple’s total focus is delightfully customer-centric.
4. No more sales calls. It’s time to stop the nonsense of making sales calls, whether by phone, e-mail or in person. Like it or not, sales calls are intrusive, more so than ever, and are regarded by customers as close to intolerable.
Even so, I like to speak to salespeople when they call. Without exception, it’s instantaneously clear that their goal is to get an appointment — and that’s when I ask, “Why should I take time to meet with you?” Inevitably, they answer in terms of what they want to sell me, without consideration for my interests or time.
Like the padlock in “Alice in Wonderland,” running around on spindly legs looking for someone to unlock it, salespeople spend valuable time looking for someone to listen to their story with about as much success as the pitiful padlock.
It may have worked in the past, but that day is gone. The challenge now is figuring out ways to become valued for your knowledge, expertise and willingness to invest your time in becoming known for what you know, not for what you sell.
5. Let giving help change the sales paradigm. No matter how we might like to think that both parties to a sale derive benefit, it’s buyers who risk the most since they are funding the transaction. It’s no accident that customers want far more assurance than they may have in the past. Whether consumers or B2B buyers, everyone has made purchasing mistakes, something they won’t tolerate today.
As every marketer and salesperson knows so well, this is the environment they are working in today, and it’s not about to change. In other words, taking chances is out, but free is in.
It works like this. Instead of trying to do everything possible to get an appointment, a more appropriate approach for lowering customer resistance may be to say, “I understand how you feel. You don’t want to be pressured or wind up making a mistake. How would you feel if we agreed on what you would like to accomplish, and you could have what we offer at no charge for a specified time period? Would that be fair?”
What such an approach accomplishes is to help eliminate or greatly diminish doubt on the part of the customer and gives the salesperson an opportunity to demonstrate results and build a relationship.
“That’s not possible,” you say. Why not figure out how to make it work? Of course there are challenges and obstacles, but are they any more daunting than what we are experiencing now?
6. Advocate for your customers. While there’s more than enough self promotion going on in the world of business, there’s far too little customer advocacy. Whether it’s an individual or a business, there are civic, industry, community and trade recognition opportunities, along with more than enough deserving customers and prospects.
Why not take time to become acquainted with the possibilities and then ask customers if they would mind if you nominated them for an award or special recognition?
Of course, it’s work preparing the applications, but it can be a highly effective way to demonstrate that you care about a customer or prospect and can bring them well-deserved recognition. There are other ways to advocate, too. For example, letting a trade, business publication or newspaper editor know about a customer’s accomplishments or recent success can become the basis for a positive article or even a feature story.
Along with selling your products or services to customers, you have the opportunity to “sell” them to those who can bring them worthy recognition. You also have the chance to earn their appreciation.
These six marketing and sales ideas may seem a little crazy or even outrageous, as compared with much of the prevailing wisdom and practices. But simply trying harder or attempting to retread the old ideas doesn’t work. It isn’t a matter of doing something new and different that counts; it’s a matter of taking customers seriously.
John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications (www.grahamcomm.com), a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing and sales issues. Contact him at (617) 328-0069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.