When you’re thinking about your next product or current product and wondering how to make it different so you don’t have competition, understand the job the customer needs to get done. – Clayton M. Christensen
In my last post I looked at the basic business system of leads, first sales and operations, which lead to repeat business and ended by saying I’d look at how you can supercharge your sales conversion.
You do this by answering one simple question.
We’ll look at that in a minute, but first…
What do most people think selling is all about?
The image we have in our minds when it comes to selling is one of pushy sales people pressuring us to buy something.
We’re often suspicious, we doubt what they say, and we’re right to do that – because there are so many industries that create selling systems that incentivise that kind of behaviour.
Sales is seen as a role for people who haven’t got technical or academic skills but who are good at reading people and guiding them down a certain path.
This kind of thinking, when it comes down to it, sees customers as not very intelligent creatures, the kind of beings that can be directed into a maze that you control and be led down a path that you want them to take.
Just think of the movies where this kind of manipulative, master salesperson is portrayed, Michael Douglas in Wall Street, with the line, “Greed is good” and Leonardo di Caprio in the Wolf of Wall Street.
But the reality is that the smooth-talking, shiny-suited sales person of those days was probably a myth then and is less and less relevant now.
It only worked when they had an information advantage – they knew things the customer didn’t know.
In a world where information is everywhere, you need to operate differently.
Rather than trying to get the customer to see your point of view, you have to put yourself in their shoes – see what they are trying to do and show how you can help them.
This usually starts by looking at how your product or service can cut costs for them.
We can reduce your costs – it’s a no brainer.
As a reminder, these posts are aimed at business to business companies on the whole – and that is where this particular question is especially important if you want to get your sales conversion up.
No business wants to add to its costs.
Every decision they make has to be justified by a return somewhere, maybe not right now, but that has to happen over time.
The biggest mistake most people make is coming up with a product and offering it to a customer without first looking at the impact across the whole piece.
This is especially the case with technology solutions.
Let’s say you come up with a machine that cuts production costs in half for your customer.
Now that this invention is in the world, if your customer buys from you they’ll save loads of money.
And if they save loads of money, they’ll have higher profits.
Well, no. Not really.
What happens is that those reduced costs flow through to the customer in the form of reduced prices.
This is obvious when you take a second to think about it.
If and your competitor have access to a technology that cuts your costs in half, then if they want to take business from you, the easiest way is to drop their prices.
If you keep your prices high, eventually your business will move to your competitor.
And so you drop your prices, they drop theirs – and eventually the prices you charge fall to the point where you cover your costs.
The profit in that situation evaporates, passed along as a lower price.
That’s economics in action for you.
It works – overall, the system is better off.
But you are no better off with the new technology than you were with the old.
In fact, it makes sense to let other people go first, spend the money to try it out, see the results and then go with an option that you know is going to work.
This is why, when you sell on a cost-reduction pitch you get so much resistance to your “no-brainer” model.
It’s because your customer knows intuitively, even if they aren’t aware of the theory, that these no-brainers rarely work out.
That’s why they ask for things like a 2-year payback, because they know that those longer-term projections rarely pan out and at a minimum they want their money back.
This is why you need to really understand what they are trying to do with their customers, to see if your product or service adds value or not.
Who is your customer’s customer?
Which brings us to the point of this post – try and understand who is your customer’s customer.
Let’s take a video production firm as an example.
I’ve used this before to talk about how become better at audio and visual content creation is going to be essential for everyone.
And as I watch friends and connections building their businesses I can see clear trends emerging.
Early videos that people put out are often advertising – they follow a case study model and do some showing and telling.
But this is usually expensive, a full shoot takes time and resources and so you can only do it so many times before you can’t afford it any more.
So people then shift to self-generated content, using phones and webcams and putting stuff out there which is a talking head, and they learn how to add subtitles and transitions and make it look good.
If your pitch, as the video production company, is all about how you have all these resources and can get an amazing video done for much less than the customer can do themselves, you’ll get some interest.
But what if you looked a little further, to what your customer is trying to do in the first place.
You’d see that the purpose of the video is not to showcase your customer, just talk about how brilliant they are, but it’s part of a move towards communicating more, putting out more stuff that helps your customer get in front of their customer enough times.
As Marshall McLuhan puts it – the first view someone has of something is cog-nition – they first become aware it exists.
Then, when they see it again is re-cog-nition, a replay.
And what your customer wants their customer to do is recognise them – re-cognise them, when they’re in a situation where they are looking for a supplier for that thing they want.
In that sales situation, you could go in with your generic pitch about costs and times and case studies.
Or you could do some research into your customer’s customers, see how the competition currently target that sector, and the methods and tactics they use.
You could assess where your prospect is right now, in terms of how well they use video.
You could go in with a pitch that shows how they’re faring against their competitors right now, show them how you could get them started with some more expensive but high end videos, and then sell them the kit to do the videos themselves, if they wanted to, or put in a package where they record content and you put it together.
You have a conversation around what they’re facing, what their customers want, what they’re trying to do.
And you will find a way to help – a place where you can fit in and add value.
When that happens the only things that remain to be settled have to do with whether the customer has a budget for what you do.
And they will be more comfortable about doing this because you’ve both figured out how you can add value rather than you pitching how you can cut costs.
Now, there’s an entire book in the art of having that conversation, but really, it comes down to listening, asking questions and empathising with your prospect.
But to close that sale it’s not enough to do all this.
You also have to figure out how to remove risk for your customer.
We’ll look at that in the next post.
p.s. If you want to listen to a discussion of this post I’m starting an experiment in reading and critiquing the content straight after I’m done.
You can find the first of these on YouTube here.
I’m not sure where this will go, and whether you’d rather listen to a 17 minute video or read a 1,300 word piece.
After all, if you’re really busy the entire message is in the picture.
The rest is all commentary.