Sunday, February 27, 2011

Strong Selling Ideas Mean Strong Customer Relationships

The creative seller, one who sells ideas for solutions, not just products, builds something of immense value: a super-strong relationship with the customer. When the prospect realizes that you’re there to talk about their needs (not about your need to sell something), they’re much more open to listening to your proposal. When they see the amount of your time invested in their success, they’ll be willing to hear you through completely. And when they discover that you’re also bringing them an idea to use—giving them something of value before they give you any money—their minds will open even wider.

This relationship will build on itself, creating (there’s that word again) a bond between the buyer and seller based on the seller’s ever-increasing value to the buyer. The creative seller gets easier access to decision-makers, moves earlier into the decision-making process, and is seen not as an adversary but as an ally. The creative seller becomes the idea resource for the customer. The buyer turns to the seller not for more products, but for more ideas on how they can enhance their own life or business.

Ideas are powerful things. They’re scarce. They don’t exist until someone creates them. They can be copied, but only after the original idea has been created and sold. And because 1) they are in short supply and 2) the competition can’t come into the market until after the initial sale, the price of an idea is determined solely by the perceived value in the buyer’s mind. No competitive bidding. No price shaving for market share. Just the seller’s ability to create perceived value through understanding the customer’s needs and persuasively presenting an idea to meet those needs.

There are some great tactical advantages to selling this way, too. One of my favorites is that the prospect can reject your solutions. That’s right, the ease with which the customer can say “no” is actually an advantage to idea selling. Let me explain.

Traditionally, sellers walk into the prospect with a presentation listing the many reasons their product should be bought. They present their case to the prospect, giving arguments and evidence much like a lawyer in a courtroom. They then listen to the opposing case (the objections from the prospect) and rebut them as best they can. The whole process becomes about winning a courtroom debate with the prospect. Sound familiar?

When you sell ideas, though, you’ve always got a reason for the prospect to see you again—because you can always come up with a new idea. Remember that an idea isn’t a product—it’s a use, a solution to a discovered need. So, as long as you can come up with different ideas, you’ll be able to get back in to see the prospect with them. You’re not coming back to make the same old pitch; you’re offering something new.

Of course, part of your presentation includes the reasons your product will satisfy the prospect’s needs. You do need to make your arguments. But if you structure your presentation the way I suggest, the prospect will focus on the desirability of your idea instead of on the reasons for buying your product or service. Your “arguments” will go unanswered. And you’ll have the opportunity to present them again as you come back over and over again with new ideas. Same arguments every time, just new ideas to get you in the door.

Another tactical advantage to selling ideas is how the prospect responds to them. The traditional seller makes a presentation full of information about his company’s product or service. So what does the prospect talks about? The seller’s company or his products, of course.

But when you talk about an idea—one that is unique to the prospect—they’ll talk about how the solution applies (or not) to their business or personal needs. Which is what you the seller really want them to talk about. You want to hear the prospect talk about their needs, concerns, desires, and objectives. The more they talk about their needs, the better you’ll be able to shape your solutions to meet them. It’s a powerful feedback loop that works in your favor.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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