Does the thought of selling fill you with dread?
If you see yourself as a technologist, or marketer, then selling may not come easy to you. But we all need to sell something, even if it is just our opinion! If you're a consultant of any description, it comes with the territory.
So it pays to know a few techniques. Luckily, sales isn't something you have to be born to do - it does not require supernatural charm, charisma, a hide as thick as an elephant, and a superhuman drive.
Selling can be like a doctors consultation.
A Visit To The Doctor
When you go to the doctor, do you expect the doctor to just guess what is wrong with you?
A doctors consultation involves the doctor asking you a series of questions. This questioning is to help determine what the problem is, and how it can best be solved. At the end of the process, the feeling is probably one of relief and assurance i.e. that the doctor has your best interests at heart, and will cure what ails you.
It's the same in business.
Any client you encounter has a problem. Like a specialist doctor, it is your job to ask a series of questions to help nail down the problem and find a solution. The very act of questioning - known as consultative selling - helps build trust and rapport with the client in the same way you may experience with a doctor. This works especially well in the field of consulting, which is based on information sharing.
The emphasis is on clients needs, as opposed to getting a signature on the dotted line. You first establish a client's needs, then you provide a solution, if you have one. You're building a relationship, based on trust, by asking a series of questions.
Not so hard, really.
The Mechanics Of Consultative Selling
Ok, so how do you do it?
First, you need to understand the buyers buying process. You then match your selling process to their buy process.
All buyers go through a specific process. For example, if a company needs internet marketing services, do they go to their established provider - possibly the web design company who built their site - or do they go direct to the SEO market? Do they attend conferences? If so, which ones? Hint: they may not be SEO conferences. Do they ask other business people in their business network? Do they go with a known brand?
It's pretty simple to determine the buying process if the buyer comes straight to your website, fills out the contact form, and requests a call-back. But life often doesn't work that way.
A prospective client may ask their web design company. Their web design company may not have had a clue, had you not been in to see them a week earlier. You asked the web design people a few questions about whether they had an SEO capability in house, found out they didn't, and found out they had a lot of clients who quite possibly needed SEO. You proposed a joint deal whereas they would refer their clients to you, for a 10% commission.
Try to find out how your prospective clients buy SEO services, and position yourself accordingly. Think business associations and clubs, their existing providers in related areas, and the other companies they have an association with.
You need to get yourself positioned correctly in their buying process.
If you've managed to get in front of them, you then need to think about the questions you are going to ask. You should be asking about their business, where they see it going, what problems they are having, their place in the market, and their competitors. Business owners typically like doing this, and will welcome your interest, so long as you're seen as a "doctor" i.e someone they trust to help. You'll also need to make a presentation, which, depending on the context, need not be formal. It could consist of showing them case studies of how you've helped solve this problem before. Let's face it, most SEO/SEM problems and solutions are going to look pretty much the same.
It's all about trust relationships. It's a fact of life that people buy more readily from people they trust.
But how do you know if you can trust your prospective buyer?
Consultative selling is also a great way to screen out tire kickers. A person who is just pumping you for information will reveal very little about themselves. The conversation will be one sided.
If they are genuinely interested in your service, they are more likely to answer questions. They do have to trust you first in order to do this, so try to think like a doctor if you encounter resistance. i.e. "I want to help you get more traffic, but I can't do so if I don't know more about your business before I can devise an appropriate solution".
Be prepared to walk if they don't volunteer the information you need. Even if you did land the job, you may end providing a substandard solution to their problem, which will likely end in tears. Better to find clients who you can work with, rather than against.
Another method of screening is to pre-close the sale. When you are gathering needs, ask that if you can solve their problems to their complete satisfaction, as a result of this discussion, that they will buy your services.
This will sound to them like a fairly safe bet i.e. you have to propose something that solves their problem. However, it also creates an implied obligation on their part to do so. There is no risk on your side, as you can either solve the problem, in which case you'll likely get the business, or you can't, in which case you'll walk anyway.
If they are hesitant, it is either an opportunity to walk, and thus stop wasting your time, or an opportunity to find out something more about their buying process.
In short, when thinking about sales:
- You are not a salesperson. You are a "doctor"
- Focus on the needs of the client, not landing the job. Sale hucksters typically focus on the close too soon, which can destroy trust
- It's ok to walk away. You won't be able to help some clients
- Insist that the client engage in conversation. A client who asks you questions, and volunteers little information, might be pumping you for information
These consultative sales techniques are covered in various sales theory books. Check out "Consultative Selling", by Mack Hanan, Jay Abrams "The Sticking Point Solution", and "Stop Telling, Start Selling: How to Use Customer-Focused Dialogue to Close Sales" by Linda Richardson.
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