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The Best Way to Sell a Service Is . . .

consulting

photo credit: jonny goldstein via photopin cc

I’ve been selling a service for many, many years and I can tell you that selling something people can’t touch and feel has its challenges.

No amount of explaining, documenting and outlining can replicate the conditions of actually experiencing the service in action.

That’s why I’ve always felt that the best way to effectively sell a service is to start by giving it away.

Here’s how that might play out in, say, a consulting model.

  • A prospective client hears you present some valuable information in a webinar.
  • Some of the things you touched on directly hit on an issue they’re struggling with
  • They call you up and ask you to come out and present some ideas on working them
  • Instead of agreeing to what is basically a sales call you suggest another approach
  • You send them a detailed form you use in the Discovery phase of working with a client and ask that each member of their executive team complete the form
  • When you meet you simply start consulting with them by conducting a session to help the team get alignment on key issues based on their form responses
  • At the end of the allotted time you make observations and global recommendation about solving their issue
  • They determine they would like to see a proposal on how you could help them as a team

The reason this approach is so effective is that no real selling has to occur, you get to control the course of the entire meeting, the client gets value whether they agree to hire you or not, you get a valuable start in the engagement, trust and information aspects of the work should they agree to move forward.

This is the precise approach I’ve used for a number of years as it always leads to a more productive sales call and it effectively allows the prospective client to experience just a bit of what it would be like to work with me.

If you want to sell more services, figure out a formal process that turns your sales presentation into a sample service and watch any resistance melt away.

How to Build a Business That Cannot Fail

There are many reasons why businesses don’t make it, but undoubtedly, the primary culprit is a lack of profitable clients.

Jagz Mario via Flickr

I know that should seem obvious, but if more people truly appreciated this fact, they would go about their business in an entirely different manner.

Most businesses are started by people who think they know how to do something or think they want to sell something. In other words, most businesses are started with the business in mind.

But, if we actually understood that the only thing that mattered was an abundant volume of profitable customers, we would surely start with the customer in mind, right?

Customer focus vs. business focus

Another way of saying this is that instead of starting a business and then going out and finding customers that want to buy what you sell, you should go out and find customers and then build a business around what they want to buy.

In this model you really only have two jobs to master. First, you must come to understand precisely what your market will pay for and then you must build a repeatable sales system that allows you to profitably get it to them.

Get customer discovery and sales right and you can’t fail.

No matter if you’re an accountant, consultant, plumber or jeweler, your main job is to get out there into some segment of the market you hope to serve and ask them what they want, what they don’t have and what they are willing to pay for, even if what they want isn’t what you want to sell – or maybe especially if that’s the case.

Until you fully appreciate this idea your business is a crapshoot at best.

Now, I’m not saying that you’re going to base every decision, every feature, every twist and turn on customer feedback, but I am saying that you need to stay very close to customers and prospects as you think about your offerings and test everything with them until you land on a value proposition that gains traction.

Test and evolve

Before you launch a business or product test your assumptions – test your packaging, pricing, bundling, message, products, services, branding, revenue streams and business model with some segment of your market and pay attention. So often, what seems crystal clear to us makes no sense when unleashed into the wild.

This is not the same as research really – this is more like constant, real-time feedback and it involves constant testing, including what the customer experience is like after they buy, why they might buy more and what it would take to get them to refer you.

Build a sales action process

This is a process and the aim of this process is to figure out how to create profitable customers before you commit to what your business actually does and offers.

Once you do this, you can move to building and scaling a marketing action plan that turns this process into consistent and predictable results.

Then and only then, will you build a business that cannot fail.

Marketing Is the New Selling

In order to thrive in today’s digitally driven business environment, sales folks need to think and act more like marketers. I suppose to some degree this has always been true, but it is painfully so now that prospects have access to mounds of information, have tools to deflect unwanted sales messages and have the ability to freely publish both flattering and unflattering information about the companies with whom they choose to do business.

So, in order to survive in this new world order salespeople need to take things in their own hands and connect much more deeply with the marketing side of things. I’ve often said that getting marketing and sales on the same page was one of the biggest challenges for departmentalized business, but now it’s become an individual challenge.

In the traditional model marketing owned the message while sales owned the relationship. In the new model there can be little distinction. Marketing must get better at relationship building and sales must get better at message building and delivery.

For the individual salesperson this means the following:

Listening is the new prospecting

While it has become much more difficult to gain access to prospects via phone and email, it’s actually become much easier to understand the individual needs of a prospect due in large part to social media.

Salespeople need to create their own socially driven listening stations via tools such as Trackur and HootSuite. They need to add social profiles in their CRM tools. Then need to create Google Alerts for customers and competitors.

Prospects and customers will voluntarily and publicly scatter sales clues if you listen actively. When you employ a tool like Rapportive you never have to pick up the phone or send an email to a prospect without digesting the last few things they said on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Educating is the new presenting

In days of old salespeople were encouraged to perfect their pitch. They still teach this in many sales training courses. The pitch became little more than they effective manipulation of proven psychological principles and gimmicks.

Today’s salesperson must be ready to teach, publish and demonstrate expertise. Every salesperson should answer questions via blog posts, engage in social media conversations and conduct online and offline seminars.

It is very hard for some to turn the selling off, but the ones that do are reaping the benefits.

Insight is the new information sharing

Our prospects have access to the best information in the world. They have access to all the information we put out, all the information our competitors put out and all the information shared by customers and partners about us and the industry in general.

This collection of information allows them get either very smart about what we are selling or very confused about what we are selling. Today’s salesperson must act as a filter and provide insight about the information.

Today’s salesperson must help the prospect understand the questions they need to consider before providing the answers. Today’s salesperson needs to get very good at helping the prospect aggregate, filter and condense the mass of information.

Storybuilding is the new nurturing

Stories are the greatest relationship builders. Good old Mister Rogers used to say – “It’s hard not to like someone once you know their story.”

Today the job of storytelling is a collaborative one. Salespeople must be able to relate the organization’s core stories to the world of the customer and they must help the customer build a new story that stars them in the leading role in a world where their problems and challenges are a thing of the past.

While this may sound like a nice fairy tale, the fact of the matter is that this is accomplished with proof over promise. Today’s salesperson must actively understand, measure and communicate the real results that clients achieve in every engagement. And they must bring those real-life stories to new customers and prospects.

Relationship building is the new closing

Whenever I hear the word closing all I can think of is Alec Baldwin’s epic speech in the film Glengarry Glen Ross. Well, today’s salesperson must always be building relationships.

Relationship building coupled with education makes traditional closing tactics a thing of the past. But this isn’t simply a call for more schmoozing; this is a call for genuine, mutually beneficial relationship building.

This includes building relationships with referral sources and strategic partners in ways that benefit your best clients as well as your partners. Today’s salesperson must build a relationship platform that allows them to provide introductions to anything that a customer needs to meet their objectives, regardless of how unrelated it may be to the products and services their organization offers.

Today’s salesperson can operate as a one person army, generating their own opportunities, creating their own leads, and taking control of their own direction by effectively applying the tactics of marketing to their proven ability to build relationships.

The Selling System Technology Toolkit

selling toolbox

Image credit: chuckoutrearseats via Flickr

In response to yesterday’s post Installing a Selling System, a reader asked me what tools I favored for each of the steps in the system I described.

There’s no question that the act of selling, building trust, and educating prospects has been dramatically impacted by the onslaught of online tools available today, but I think the perfect blend lies in fusing the online with the offline. Selling is still about building relationships and few things compare to hugs and handshakes in the relationship arena.

Smart marketers and salespeople are using technology to help provide additional points of contact, training, and research in ways that enhance, rather than replace, the overall process of moving people to making a purchasing decision.

With that in mind, here are my tech toolbox suggestions for amplifying the selling system. This is not meant to be the complete list of every option, but more of a starter list of tools I like to help get you thinking about fusion. (Details on each step)

Discovery – Move a lead to the next planned step

  • Wufoo – a brilliant form building tool that can be used to present a series of qualifying questions that feed your CRM pipeline
  • Flowtown – a tool that appends an email lead with a full suite of social media and online activity giving you a much richer picture of a prospect. (Integrates with Wufoo and email service providers)

Presentation – the planned act of presenting your unique approach, case statement and story

  • iPad - the small, yet brilliant display of the iPad running Keynote or even a PDF viewer makes the perfect intimate presentation tool. Don’t create the 50 slide info dump, but use a handful of slides to create impact and reinforce your primary point of view and story.
  • SlideRocket – an online slide presentation tool that can be used live or as an on demand show. The power of this tool is the ability to create presentations that contain multimedia and forms tied to your CRM system

Nurturing – Keeping a prospect interested and engaged as they move through their buying cycle

  • Office AutoPilot – a little known tool that has the power to run your entire marketing automation process. The full suite includes form based email marketing, direct mail integration, lead scoring and tracking, and pURL technology, but best of all, it’s built with the small business in mind.
  • InfusionSoft – another small business oriented tool that includes CRM features, autoresponders, branching and personalized follow-up based on click tracking
  • Constant Contact, Vertical Response, MailChimp, AWeber – all great, reputable email marketing services that allow you to create multifaceted email follow-up campaigns

Transaction – a process that focuses on delivering a remarkable experience once a prospect decides to buy

  • MavenLink – one of the many online project management suites, but focused on simplicity for the service provider. Using a tool like this allows you to create an online portal for every client and give them access to orientation materials as well as an online collaboration space for project work.
  • Central Desktop – another project management tool, but with a nice wiki feature for building lots of easily searchable content for your customers.
  • Jott – this tool does a lot of things, but primarily it’s a way to speak a message and have it sent via email. Try this right after you meet with a new client and send the action steps from your just completed meeting via email as you drive back to the office.

Review – one of the most overlooked points in selling is measuring results, both your’s and the client’s

  • MyNextCustomer – a simple way to measure phone calls, web leads and sales from social media, seo, paid search and offline marketing campaigns to determine where your highest conversion payoff is.
  • GetSatisfaction – a very nice tool that facilitates the act of bringing customers and companies together to create a better shared experience.
  • SurveyGizmo – my favorite online survey, poll and questionnaire tool

Habit is Such a Fierce Competitor

no saleHave you ever made a sales call, presented what was an obvious advancement in terms of innovation, quality, efficiency and price, only to walk away without the sale?

If so there’s a good chance you’ve met the competitor known as habit. Habit, even a costly one, can stop a buyer from switching to your product more thoroughly than any competitor’s feature set or low ball price ever dared to.

When you encounter a prospect or market segment that’s unwilling to listen to logic you must be prepared to introduce a specific approach aimed at teaching them how to switch. In some cases the fear of change, unknown or known pain of switching, or overall risk raises the selling bar to the point where most give up. Implement the following and you might find a rich new market for your products and services.

Acknowledge the habit

The first step is to come to grips with the problem yourself. Stop trying to convince people why they should switch and start understanding what’s keeping them locked where they are. You can’t help them solve the problem if you don’t understand and acknowledge it yourself.

How much does that habit cost?

Once you understand what’s holding them back you can go to work on defining exactly how much their fear or indifference is costing them. When you can quantify just how much their behavior is costing them in dollars and cents you’ll stand are far greater chance of getting their attention. Look to your existing success stories and poll your existing client base to come up with hard and soft numbers that reflect the benefit of switching to your product or solution. When you can demonstrate that not switching is costing $9822 while switching only costs $3588, you’ll raise at least one eyebrow.

Build a case of what’s in it

Since your fighting the laws of physics here you’ve got to create even more force to overcome the inertia of a reluctant buyer. Focus on what’s in it for them. Talk to your customers and get a good feel for the 3-4 “real” (meaning not the stuff you put in your marketing brochure) benefits your customers experience. Don’t worry about how simple you think they are, if your customers are telling that’s why they really switched, believe it’s why others will as well. I switched credit cards one time because the company showed me how much more detailed their online statements were than anyone else. That’s why I switched – not because I could get a cheap plastic cooler for every $1000 I spent.

Easy to switch offer

Once you’ve helped them realize the real cost and built a benefit rich case, you’re almost there. You’ve also got to remove the final barrier known as “what if.” What if evaporates with an over the top guarantee to switch them back and pay for all disruption if . . .it goes away when your throw in all set-up, training and refining at no cost . . . it goes away when you implant your super responsive customer service rep in their business for 90 days . . . it goes away when you offer to get paid only after they experience the proposed savings. So, what’s your easy to switch offer.

Habit a darn fierce competitor, but one that won’t stand up to your habit busting strategy.

Image credit: adobemac

Social Media Infecting Every Aspect of Business

For this week’s post at AMEX OPENForum I outlined 5 Ways That Sales People Can Benefit From Using Social Media

Social media tools are incredible for engagement, amplification, nurturing and deepening relationships – all the stuff that sales is supposed to do. In fact, social media tools are probably more useful in the hands of the right salesperson than the entire marketing department.

Is Selling Becoming More Like Marketing?

sales doctorI have to admit that part of the motivation for the title of this post is to excite the sales oriented folks out there, but no question, the Internet has forever changed the practice of sales.

Today’s salesperson is often greeted by a sales lead that knows more about the technical or historical aspects of a product, service, or industry than they do. Selling evolved long ago from an act of presenting and closing to one of educating and consulting, but access to information via online sources, rating sites, filtering social media streams, and tools for competitive analysis have once again changed the game.

The game of selling in today’s digital information age has become one of helping a prospect aggregate and filter information and come to the shared conclusion of what value looks like. The salesperson that can best illustrate a valuable outcome wins. I don’t know about you, but from where I sit, that sounds a lot like what good marketing aims to do.

I love to use the medical profession to help make this point. (Doctors have long sold patients on what was best for them!) Years ago you went to a doctor, they diagnosed your problem, and offered a solution. If you were really sick you got a competitive prospective, but for the most part, you took the advice and moved forward. Today, patients have access to information about medical conditions, experimental drug trials, and therapies from alternative practices. Today’s medical buyer is often more informed on new medical directions than treating physicians. Few doctors can expect to see a patient and dictate a solution. The practice of medicine has evolved, in large part due to access to information, into one of helping patients filter information and come to a shared conclusion of the best path.

Today’s salesperson must employ the same online aggregating, filtering, and listening devices as their prospects or prepare to be dismissed as a hack.

Image credit: Lisa Brewster

7 Steps to Creating a Winning Coaching, Consulting or Service Business

WinningLots of folks are joining the ranks of “business owner” as a career path these days. Some by design and some, unfortunately, because they have little choice. Many of these business owners are choosing to open up coaching, consulting and service businesses in part because it’s so darn easy to do. The barrier to entry is sometimes little more than printing up some business cards.

Now, I’m not suggesting that people who start these kinds of business don’t have incredible experience and expertise to offer, far from it. But, because it is so easy to start a business offering consulting, it’s more important than ever that you find a way to differentiate your coaching and consulting business so prospects can understand your unique experience and expertise.

The following seven steps offer a road map for creating a winning practice.

1) Turn your service into a product - selling services is a little like selling air. By making your offerings more productlike you can create something tangible while your competitors continue to offer solutions driven, customer centric services. Give your services a name – install your solution – offer a set deliverable, with set outcomes at a set price and watch how easy it becomes to explain and sell. The other advantage of a packaged program offering with a set price is that it allows you to rise above the hourly wage. When you sell your time you are capped and compared, when you sell a product or program, you are free to sell the value of the program without regard for the cost that goes into making it. As you become more effective at delivering your program you create the greatest path for getting paid on value delivered rather than hours input.

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