Regular readers of Men with Pens will recall a recent blog post on Icky Sales. The post makes the point that we all need to embrace sales and marketing, whether we want to or not. Sales and marketing are what distinguish a successful business from a failure.
The reason that this feels icky is that many of us are not trained salespeople. We have an aversion to high-pressure tactics, and we want to focus on our products and services rather than trying to back someone into a corner.
I understand: I’m a techie who works in life insurance, a field that’s full of seasoned traditional marketers. Yet I’ve managed to turn that old-school model on its ear and still succeed.
While there are plenty of situations where the 1960s hard sell still works, I want to assure you that non-salespeople can not only compete, they can dominate. In fact, I routinely break every rule of traditional sales. My peers in the life insurance industry are horrified by my techniques.
Yet these techniques not only work, they work where the traditional hard sell fails.
We first need to understand that the internet has changed consumer behavior over the last 15 years. Consumers now use the internet for three things: to research, to purchase, and to socialize.
These changes are frequently overlooked by traditional salespeople, but they are where we’re going to find our success. The social part of the web is still a tough market to sell into, and I’m going to ignore it for this article. But the research and purchase aspects are a goldmine: the key is adapting old-school techniques and applying them to these new aspects of consumer behaviour.
Old School Sales
Let’s start with some examples of traditional sales techniques that you’ll probably recognize intuitively:
- Reduction to the ridiculous. It’s not $300 a year, it’s less than a cup of coffee a day. The intent is to make your product seem affordable.
- The 80-20 rule. You speak 20 percent of the time, the victim client speaks 80 percent of the time. The idea here is that people like to talk about themselves. It makes them feel good. By the way, how was your day?
- Sell the benefits, not the features. This creates an emotional response, and people buy based on emotional responses. You’re not purchasing $500,000 of life insurance, you’re protecting your loved ones from your gruesome early death.
- Ask for the close. Consumers won’t actually say, “Let me buy.” In traditional sales, at some point we stop everything and explicitly say, “Are you ready to purchase?” Actually, this is one rule we’re going to keep because it’s applicable to the web.
- Never ask a question that can be answered “no.” Doing so stops the sales process in its tracks. Instead, offer alternatives. Rather than saying, “Would you like to meet again?” say, “What’s better for you, next Tuesday or Wednesday?”
The Research Phase
These techniques are the cornerstones of traditional face-to-face sales and they work in high-pressure situations. But they don’t work on the new consumer who has the ability to research extensively. There’s no time pressure on them to buy now. They can hang up the phone on you, they can click back to Google and go to your competitor’s website.
To reach consumers in the research stage we have to adapt these techniques:
- Reduction to the ridiculous. Make sure your prices are clearly visible. It’s not less than a cup of coffee a day, it’s $300. State this explicitly. One of the things consumers are researching is price.
- The 80-20 rule on the web. Since there is no interaction with consumers, this becomes the 0-100 rule. You need to provide 100 percent of the information – upfront and with no strings attached. Remember, consumers are researching. They can research on your site or on your competitor’s site; you pick. This means placing plenty of specific, detailed information on your site. The 250-word overview article is your enemy. You need look no further than this blog to see this in action: every post is an expert level. People want to research, but they also want to deal with the expert in the field, so show them you are the expert. Go have a look at your website. Does it have extensive how-tos? Technical information? If not, start writing.
- The 80-20 rule on the telephone. Again, this boils down to demonstrating that you’re the expert. I use the 20-80 rule: I speak 80% of the time – not selling, but instead providing technical information about the products I’m offering. Take an educational approach, and give them everything they need to make their own decision. Make a recommendation, then let the consumer purchase whatever they like.
- Sell the benefits, not the features. This technique probably still works when writing web content. However, taking the opposite tack works as well. As with the 80-20 rule, you can describe as many specific features and technical details as you can on your site. Yes, some people will use your information and then buy somewhere else. But many people will deal with you because they want to deal with an expert. A glossy brochure-type website does not portray you as the expert.
The purchase phase
Just because you’re not selling tangible products, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to “close the sale” on your website. This is the biggest mistake that service providers make in their online marketing.
- Ask for the close. If you’re offering services or products not available for direct purchase on the web, stop thinking you have nothing to sell. What you are selling is a lead. The “close” is when a potential client uses your website to initiate contact with you.
A typical e-commerce website drives the consumer ever forward towards the shopping cart and checkout. A successful service provider website drives the consumer ever forward towards the request for contact. Ask yourself, does everything about your website scream, “Please contact me”?
Here are some examples of things you can do to initiate client contact. First, make sure your phone number is prominent. Not just on the Contact Us page but on every page. “Asking for the close” online means asking for permission to contact, and your website needs to make this request explicit.
This one simple change can make the difference between a dead website and a constant stream of “please call me about your services” emails in your inbox. It’s as easy as this – if you offer the ability for people to contact you, some of them will. If you don’t offer them the ability, they won’t contact you.
- Never ask a question that can be answered “no”. This technique presumes that you are going to sell the living daylights out of every potential client that crosses your path. But those of us lacking ninja-like sales skills are not going to pressure everyone into buying.
Realizing this, you can use certain questions to screen your calls. If you ask a qualifying question that allows them to answer “no,” it takes the pressure off the consumer and it allows you to end the conversation and get on with dealing with people who are genuinely interested in buying your services without the need for a hard sell.
Trust me, in a traditional hard sell you can overcome trust with a forceful close. On the web, consumers get to pick who they’re dealing with. As a result, you need to show your visitors that they can trust you.
First, gather and publish testimonials from your happy clients. Second, place a third-party badge on your site (I use a privacy badge, you may want a security badge or BBB badge). And finally, if you have any mentions in the media, make sure you provide links. All of this tells consumers that they’re dealing with a real, trustworthy professional.
Do these techniques work? Absolutely, and they allow you, as a non-salesperson, to compete in the new world. A few simple steps, some review of your website to ensure you are there for both the research and purchase phase, and you will be outselling others immediately.