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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.

5 Key Ingredients to Charging What You’re Worth

I’m taking some vacation time this week and I’m actually going to stand waist deep in the Columbia River in Oregon and cast for Trout. (Don’t worry I won’t hurt any I’m strictly a catch and release kind of guy.)  While I am away, I have a great lineup of guest bloggers filling my shoes.  This post is brought to you from Sarah Petty.

Sarah is a highly-acclaimed speaker, author, MBA and coach who started her own boutique photography studio after working for Coca-Cola Enterprises and then meeting the marketing goals of a top regional advertising agency’s clients. It was at this ad agency where she taught small businesses the value of a strong foundation and how they would grow with a strong brand. She attributes the rapid growth of her boutique photography studio, which was named one of the most profitable in the country within just five years in business by PPA, to the creation of her own strong brand.

Regardless of what industry you are in, you probably struggle with having a competitor that is willing to do what you do (or claim they do) for cheaper. But how do you make sure price isn’t a sticking point with your clients?  It starts with having these five key ingredients right in your business and following the boutique business model. It’s a model that works in nearly every industry from insurance and retail to fitness and real estate.

Ingredient 1 – Protect Your Brand

Most small businesses fall down here. They have something wrong with their brand that attracts price sensitive buyers from the start.

Your brand is more than a logo. It’s how your ideal client feels about you. Your ideal client conjures up these feelings when someone mentions your business name. YOU are an integral part of your brand thanks to the enthusiasm, personal flair and individual attention you present to each of your clients. From your identity (how your clients recognize you) to your consistency, your niche, your reputation and your gush-worthiness, having a positive brand goes a long way to charging what you’re worth.

Ingredient 2 – Understand Your Numbers

There are a lot of ways to price your offerings, but most just don’t work if you want to charge what you’re worth. Copying your competitors is not the answer. Start by understanding the cost of each sale you make: this includes any packaging, merchandise and labor. An accountant can help you with this. You then mark up your costs based on industry standards. Once you understand these numbers, you have your bare minimum price. Then you can look at setting a price based on demand. The key is to create demand the right ways to attract clients who love what you do, not by attracting the wrong price-sensitive buyers with discounts.

?Ingredient 3 – Make Marketing Decisions That Thrill

To charge what you’re worth you must have offerings that are not easy to imitate. Marketing starts with products and services that your customers can’t easily get elsewhere. Your clients should go gaga over you if you want them to pay more for you. To do that, you need to have offerings that are extra special, custom, unmatched, interesting or even shocking. They need to be special enough to make someone want to talk about them, and not just because of the price. Instead of searching for ways to raise prices, slash costs or become faster instead find the empty place for your ideal client where you can add a thrill for them. The more customized your offerings are, the more difficult it will be for anyone to copy you and your perceived value will continue to rise.

Ingredient 4 – Promote Differently

Promotion is what you do to tell people about your offerings – and it goes beyond paid advertising. For the most part, boutique businesses should steer clear of traditional advertising and focus not on reaching the masses, but instead reaching the right people who may be drawn to what you do. Boutique ideas for promotion include giving a presentation or educational session that highlights your expert status, partnering with other businesses who also reach your target audience to host an event or create a unique product, working with charities to help elevate their cause while attracting new clients to your business and developing a promotional piece that makes your ideal client gush about you to their friends.

Ingredient 5 – Sell Better

Boutique selling isn’t about schmoozing, high pressure or manipulation so if that’s what you’re doing this may be where you’re going wrong. In boutique selling there is high engagement between you and your client. You need to build rapport, get to know your customer and spend time educating them. Your first thought should be ‘What problem do they have?’ ‘How can I help them?’ The sales process should be relationship based and the service and experience should continue after the transaction. Instead of giving them a smooth talking sales pitch, you’re searching for solutions that will absolutely, positively satisfy their needs and bring them joy.

Image Credit: dougbelshaw

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.

How to Sell Anything Using Social Media

One of my predictions for 2012 is that more people will come to understand that you can indeed do business using social networks and, frankly, I’m already seeing it.

There are a couple reasons for this.

First off, people are getting more comfortable with social media and social behavior and the “social media is a pure engagement temple mentality” of some early adopters has faded.

More importantly, however, is that smart marketers are testing, tweaking and trying lots of things and figuring out how to build know, like and trust – the path to selling anything, anywhere – on social networks.

In my own experimenting I can tell you that generating and converting leads using social media takes a more patient approach, but once you find the right path, it’s actually a better way to sell in any environment.

The reason I see many people’s social media marketing efforts fail is that they are still simply broadcasting sales messages. This approach still works to some degree in an advertising setting because people often stumble upon your ads with a buying intent. It still works to some degree in email marketing efforts because people have asked to get your messages and you can easily earn the right to sell in that relationship.

However, most people don’t participate in social networks to shop so any sales message can feel sort of harsh and in the snack sized, feverish world of tweets, shares and likes any and all messages are very easy to ignore.

If you want to sell using social media, here’s one path:

Test your message

Using 140 characters or less to basically write an ad that makes people want to retweet and click isn’t something most people can muster in real time – and yet, that’s what most try to do.

I’ve had tremendous success using Google AdWords to test very compact messages. Once I find a message that draws clicks there, I know I’ve got a winner that will get action in the form of a tweet or share.

This somewhat scientific approach is one of the most overlooked aspects of marketing in social media and it’s the primary reason people that contend you can’t sell there say so.

Target your message

Here’s another proven technique that seems lost on many marketers. Just because there are 800 million people on Facebook doesn’t mean you need to appeal to all of them.

The quickest way to get the right kind of attention is to announce “hey you 437 people that need to get better at X” I’m talking to you.

If you want to learn more about the impact of using data to form your social media messages look no further than the work Dan Zarrella is doing.

Prove your worth

It’s nearly impossible to get someone ready to buy simply by crafting a mouth-watering tweet. There’s just not enough information to develop trust.

You must make your initial relationship building all about valuable content. Give something away that you know your targeted prospect wants and needs. Move the free line to the point where your free stuff is better than most other people’s paid stuff and watch how enamored people get.

Here again, there’s nothing new about this. For years, smart marketers made tiny little inexpensive classified ads in the back of magazines like Popular Mechanics pay off nicely using this exact approach.

Engage

Now, here’s a step that just might be unique to social media and online marketing in general and it’s a very powerful one.

In the process of giving away all that great information ask your prospects to tell you things, share things, rate things and help you make the world a better place for all who inhabit it.

Seriously, create feedback forms and make that part of the deal for why you are giving away such great stuff. Socialize your content and make it easy to email, tweet and like. Send a series of emails during your content sharing phase that reinforces the important takeaways from the content and offers more engagement like email support or live Q and A sessions.

Ask for the order

Once you’ve done all this work and logically and authentically led a prospect to the place where they do indeed have some level of trust, it’s time to tell them where this journey is ultimately headed.

Paint the picture you know exists in their “current reality”, remind them of the incredible glimpse you’ve shared and then illustrate what the picture could look like.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming they will connect the dots – show them how to get the value you know you have to offer and be extremely clear about it. One of the benefits of this approach is that, if you do it right and they still don’t buy, you’ll earn the right to ask why and they’ll gladly help you understand how to get it right.

There’s nothing that magical about this approach really. Marketers have been using some form of these elements for years, but it’s the total package, including patience and hard work, that makes it pay off in the world of social media.

5 Ways That Content Marketing Has Changed The Art Of Selling Forever

I’ve often said the difference between sales and marketing is that marketing owns the message and sales owns the relationship.

Farm over hunt

Harvest by St0rmz

Some folks suggest that the onslaught of social media, content publishing and real-time search has rendered the need for a traditional sales department unnecessary and to that I still contend: sales still owns the relationship. While content and context are easier to put out there, online connection and community are still best supplied by a person.

So, the fundamental purpose of a professional salesperson has change little, but the function of an effective salesperson in today’s content-driven environment has changed dramatically.

The skills once required, and sadly still taught in most sales training programs, are no longer applicable and organizations and independent salespeople that get this are exploring, evolving and adopting an inbound selling mindset.

Below are five ways that content marketing has changed selling.

1) Listen over say

Salespeople have always been taught to probe, listen and offer solutions. Well, in today’s world they must listen intently before they ever pick up the phone, send an e-mail or draw up a solution.

Salespeople must monitor the social graph of a prospect in order to begin to mine for opportunities, frustrations and buying signals. They must also be adept at constructing ways to put the pieces of information together in a package that opens doors and starts relationship building.

2) Insight over information

A great deal of the salesperson’s role at one time was to deliver information. Most salespeople today face the possibility that a prospect may actually know as much or more about the product, service or solution being offered as the salesperson doing the offering.

Today’s salesperson must provide context and meaning, must aggregate and filter and must become a resource of insight for today’s information overloaded buyer.

3) Proof over promise

Price is a direct reflection of the buyer’s perceived value. This doesn’t always mean it’s a reflection of the true value or even rational reflection of value, but the ROI question will never go away unless, and until, an organization can show proof of value rather than promised value peppered throughout marketing materials.

Today’s salesperson must commit to working deeply with clients to help measure and communicate true value received as a completion of the sales process. With that piece in place, today’s salesperson can offer proof as part of the trust-building, lead-conversion process.

4) Publish over prospect

Marketing departments around the world are scrambling to feed the market’s expectation that they can instantly find content on any subject or need imaginable. Search engine usage has made consistent content production mandatory.

Few salespeople see writing content as a good use of their time, but it’s a skill that today’s successful salesperson has embraced. Not every organization will allow their salespeople to blog, but the ones that do have the opportunity to create a stream of content that is potentially informed with real-life customer stories and experiences. Smart salespeople have also begun to curate content as a way to become a resource for their clients as well.

5) Harvest over hunt

This last change probably runs counter to traditional selling as any of the others outlined above because it sounds so passive. Salespeople have been taught to hit the street, knock on doors and close deals.

The problem is the street is closed, the doors are made of bits and no one answers the phone anymore.

Working the soil, planting seeds and watering the harvest with care is the new metaphor for turning “know,” “like” and “trust” into “try,” “buy,” “repeat” and “refer.”

This post originally appeared on American Express OPENForum

The Abusive Math of Cold Calling

If you are emotionally attached to cold calling, you might want to stop reading this post now.

mathAt a recent conference I heard Mahan Khalsa, co-author of Let’s Get Real of Let’s Not Play share the following statistics. (I don’t have the source of the data, but my experience tells me it’s pretty accurate.)

Cold calling results in about a 1-3% success rate for getting an initial appointment and it’s generally abusive to both parties. When that same call is made with a referral, the rate jumps up to 40% and even much higher when that referral comes from within the company.

The conclusion anyone should make from the gap in these two points is that you should never leave the office or get on the phone to call on a prospect without some form of a referral. In fact, if you’ve got a hot prospect, you should probably wait to find someone who can refer you or you might just waste any chance of getting in the door.

So, let’s do some simple math – if you have a list of 1000 names to cold call, you’re looking at getting 30 appointments as doing quite well (who knows if they are the right 30, but we can use this for conversation sake.) Now, let’s say you drill down and do enough research to find 250 prospects on that list that are very well suited to your business. Then you do further research using social media to locate information and contacts that would allow you to get referral introductions and recommendations to most on that pared down list. Experience tells me this approach is likely to turn up 75-100, well qualified prospects willing to discuss your ideas further.

Make fewer calls, get better results – that’s marketing math you can live with.

A referral into a prospect can come from one of three places, your current customers, your network, or a strategic partner. It’s important to mine all three of these groups as you build your prospect list.

A key aspect of this concept, of course, is that you are constantly developing a hot prospect list. In other words, a list of customers you would like to do business with. When you have this as your starting point you can target your referral sources for specific requests. When you go to a customer or strategic partner and ask if they know anyone on your list, it’s much easier for them to help.

Now, here’s where social technology can really be your friend. Once you have a prospect list, connect with them in social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. When you do this, not only will they tell you a lot about what’s important to them and what their challenges and opportunities are, they’ll probably show you who their peers, friends and network members are. They may actually identify for you the best way to get to referred into them.

Do this with your existing customers as well because it will make it easier to identify the ones that are influencers, who participates at a high level in social media, and who might be great candidate to refer you to your hot prospect list.

The last piece of this tactic is that you also have a plan to educate your referral sources. If you find that you are just one LinkedIn connection away from a hot prospect and you would like someone in your network to make an introduction, make sure that you take the time to teach them how and why to introduce you. This assures you don’t waste anyone’s time and your referral source including that of your referral source.

This approach obviously takes more time and planning. You must develop a prospect list, research using social media, and plan for referred introductions. The end result, however, is a success rate that any sales and marketing person would be envious of.

Image credit: stuartpilbrow

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