Many business owners and professionals are appalled at the thought of having to sell their products or services. If you are going to be successful though, regardless of your profession, you are also going to be in the business of selling. But you don't have to don a plaid jacket and adopt the sales techniques that have made the used car salesman infamous.
If we are uncomfortable “selling” our services, it is generally because we are trying to “sell” before someone has reached the purchase stage of the buying process. While selling may never be the favorite part of your job, by implementing a systematic process you can move potential clients into the purchase phase and increase your comfort level and success with selling.
Imagine that you were in the market to purchase a big screen TV. You had visited a couple of stores to see what was available, done some research on the internet, talked with friends, and narrowed the choice down to 3 models. Now you have a few questions you need answered to help you make your decision. You go to the appliance superstore, a salesperson approaches you as you enter the department and asks if she can be of help. She asks you a few questions about where you plan to put it, your budget, and what the primary use will be. She answers your questions and helps you decide on the model that is best for you. Not only are you not put off by the salesperson, you would have been upset if there would not have been a salesperson to help you.
Contrast this with a situation where you are visiting an appliance superstore with a friend. You decide to go check out the big screen TVs because you've been thinking about getting one. The same salesperson approaches you and asks if she can help you. You say, “No thanks I'm just browsing.” As if she hadn't heard your reply, she starts asking you the same questions as in the scenario above. However, this time you find the questions annoying and the sales person pushy.
The difference in these two scenarios is simply your position in the buying process. How would it have been different if instead of insisting on asking you a series of questions she had simply given you an article re-print from Consumer Reports and a list of 10 questions to consider before purchasing a big screen TV with the store's name, her name and telephone number at the bottom?
The process people go through in making a buying decision is:
• Phase 1: Awareness and Knowledge
• Phase 2: Liking and Preference
• Phase 3: Conviction and Purchase
The only people you should try to sell your products or services to are those people in the conviction and purchase phase. The problem is many businesses do not implement the necessary steps to move prospective clients to Phase 3 so they are constantly trying to sell to prospects that are in Phase 1.
Think about it like this, you and your products or services are standing at the edge of a chasm on Mount Everest. I call it the Purchase Chasm™. Your potential customers are on the other side. Your job is to get those prospects to cross the chasm on a flimsy aluminum ladder, one step at a time and ultimately purchase your services. At this stage your objective is simply to get them to take that first step out onto the ladder, followed by another until they reach the ultimate decision to purchase. You don't push, manipulate or cajole them into purchasing. You simply serve as a guide providing information and assistance through the process.
So how can you begin to move your potential customers across the Purchase Chasm™?
Step 1 - Awareness and Knowledge: Before someone can purchase your product or service they must be aware of it. They must also be able to picture in their minds the problems the service will solve for them. And that picture must be enticing enough to motivate them to take that first step. At this phase your objective is to make your potential customers aware of your services and give them knowledge about the benefits they will gain from working with you. This is generally done through activities where you can reach a large number of people at one time. A major goal at this stage is to collect contact information so you can continue to provide information to help these prospective clients move across the Purchase Chasm™.
Step 2 - Liking and Preference: Awareness alone is not enough. Potential customers must also have a positive disposition regarding your services. During this phase it is important to maintain consistent contact. Consistency builds credibility. You also want to let prospective clients “sample” your service in order to minimize the perceived risk of purchase. You can do this by sending out a regular newsletter (e-mail or hardcopy); sending out a monthly tip related to the service you provide; offering free or low cost introductory trainings; participating in selected networking events on a regular basis; and offering teleclasses. The important thing is that you are consistently in contact with these potential clients. After all, you don't want to leave them out on the middle of the ladder over a deep chasm without a guide.
Step 3 - Conviction and Purchase: The final step in the process is getting those potential customers who have begun the journey across the chasm to actually make the decision to purchase. Now it is time to sell. And if you have developed a relationship with the potential client throughout their journey, this step should be as simple as reaching out to take their hand as they reach the end of the ladder, reassuring them they have made the right decision by embarking on the journey and asking when they would like to get started. At this point, it is critical that you ask them for their business. If you don't, they will wonder why you had them take the journey. They'll feel like the person in the appliance superstore who is ready to make a purchase and can't find a salesperson.
It may take as many as five to 15 exposures to your product or service for a potential client to move through the process and cross the Purchase Chasm™ from lead to loyal customer. The key is to build those exposures so each one matches the level of the process where the potential customer currently is (i.e. direct mass media activities to potential customers in the awareness phase and use personal selling with prospects in the conviction and purchase phase).
Writing, speaking and networking are activities that many coaches and consultants enjoy. By systematically using these activities as marketing tools you reduce the time you actually have to spend selling, you focus your selling activities to people who are actually ready to buy, and it becomes a natural ending to the relationship building process.
© 2004 STRATEGIES-BY-DESIGN. May be reprinted with credits and contact information
Julie Chance is president of Strategies-by-Design, a Dallas-based firm that helps businesses from independent professionals to specialty retailers Map A Path to Success by bridging the Purchase Chasm™ from Lead to Loyal Customer. Strategies-by-Design provides a unique combination of consulting, coaching and training to help clients improve the return on their investment in marketing and promotional activities. For more information or to sign-up for their marketing tips newsletter, go to http://www.strategies-by-design.com or call 972-701-9311.