You’ve heard it said that people love to buy, but hate to be sold.
Nowhere is this more epitomized than in the cultural archetype of the used car salesman—and its online equivalent, the yellow highlighter sales letter. Working in sales isn’t seen as an entirely honorable way of earning a living.
Yet people continue to love buying cars—and every other thing you can imagine.
Since we are people who sell for a living, we tend to assume this presents a dilemma: We need to get people to do what they love (buying)…but without them realizing that’s what we’re doing.
But actually, this is exactly the kind of thinking that makes us feel like sales is hard work, and makes other people dislike us.
Because sales is not getting your customers to buy
When we say people hate to be sold, we mean they hate being lied to, manipulated, pressured, and in every other respect prevented from making up their own minds in their own time. They also hate feeling like those things are happening (even if they aren’t).
And that is what people think sales means. Even salespeople tend to fall into this thinking, particularly when the pressure is on to make sales.
But sales is not any of these things.
Sales is simply telling people how to get what they want
Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that in practice, but that’s the idea. And when you do it, your salesmanship is completely “covert”—it goes unnoticed, because you’re just helping your prospects to get what they want. No pressure tactics, persuasion tricks, manipulation choke-holds or any other nonsense.
So here are three simple steps you can take to ensure your salesmanship is “covert” this year. If you practice them daily you’ll safeguard yourself from slipping into the easy trap of thinking you have to “get” your prospects to do anything. And if you use these tips as a checklist for your existing sales and marketing processes, perhaps you’ll find some places to improve it—and your bottom line.
1. Don’t try to control outcomes that aren’t up to you
This is our classic mistake. We try to control our customer’s decision to buy. But the only person who can control that is…our customer. We have no power over this.
When we try to control the wrong outcome, our customer senses we’re trying to take charge of his decision—and he doesn’t like it one bit.
So we need to stop trying to do our customer’s job, and do ours instead: we have to decide that our goal is to help our customer see as clearly as possible how to get what he wants—if indeed we have what he wants!
Notice the “if”. Sometimes your product is not the best solution for a particular customer. A good salesperson doesn’t approach a sale with the preconceived notion that this customer must want what you’re selling. That is up to the customer. The only thing we have control over is presenting our product as accurately as possible, and letting our prospect make up his own mind.
For example, rather than saying something like, “You should buy this car because it is more efficient than any other vehicle on the market,” you might instead say, “Testing has proved this car is more efficient than any other vehicle on the market by 3%, so if saving money on gas is important to you, this model is worth considering.” Notice how the first approach is just telling your customer what to do, while the second is giving him an objective fact, then relating it back to a benefit he may value.
Speaking of which…
2. Don’t assume you know what your customer is thinking
In the example above, the first approach assumes that fuel efficiency is important to the customer, and tells him what to do on the basis of that assumption. The second approach assumes nothing.
This might seem like an obtuse thing to do, and this example is obviously pretty ham-fisted for the sake of clarity. But salespeople actually do this kind of thing all the time in more subtle ways, and it often leads to buyer’s remorse.
For instance, continuing the car theme, a customer might tell you that they want something that will be a good family car. And at this point, most salespeople switch to some predefined category they have of what a “family car” is, and try to sell them a Volvo or whatever.
This problem is exacerbated, because not only are salespeople inclined to make assumptions like the rest of us, but they also don’t like to look foolish or ignorant. They want to be seen as the expert, as the person who can authoritatively help the customer to find the right option. But ironically, this puts them into a mode of thinking where they’re afraid to ask the very questions that will actually help them achieve that goal.
A smart salesperson will not fall into this trap. He’ll start to probe much deeper.
“So this car is for you and your family?”
“Are you the one who usually drives them around?”
“So how many of you are there?”
“Just the two kids and my wife.”
“Oh right, and how old are the kids?”
“Four and seven.”
(Now you know this chap probably has to justify his purchase to his wife, probably wants a sedan rather than a mini-van or similar since he doesn’t have a large family, and will need to use some kind of car-seats for his kids. So you might continue…)
“Okay, well have you thought about something with fold-out booster seats? Until a child reaches about 5 foot it’s best to have a booster for them to sit on, so the seat-belt falls over the right part of their shoulder. It’s a lot safer. And obviously if you have a fold-out seat you don’t have worry about taking them out of the car if you’re driving friends or whatever.”
“Oh okay, that’s good to know. Do you have any models like that?”
“Yeah we sure do. But what sort of driving do you usually do?”
(You don’t have enough information to rush to any conclusions yet. Just as you don’t want your prospect to feel pressured, you shouldn’t feel pressured either. If you don’t take your time, you’ll probably make a bad sale, or no sale at all.)
“Oh mostly just around town. We don’t really spend a lot of time on the highway.”
“So something smaller, easier to park, cheaper to run would be better?”
“Yeah, but with enough pep to get moving if I need to. I don’t want something really gutless.”
(Now you know he’s a real man.)
“Of course. Well from what you’ve said so far, we have a couple of models that would be ideal for your family. They have built-in boosters for your kids, they’re nice and easy to get around, but they have decent engines and handling for when you need the extra performance. Would you like to see them?”
And so by simply acknowledging that you don’t know what your customer really wants until you ask him, you turn the sale from a hard, pushy, uncomfortable affair into what is effectively a conversation—ending naturally in the customer checking out the cars that really are suited to him, and hopefully liking one enough to buy it. Which leads to the final point to remember:
3. Take a long view
In person, you have limited time to sell. Yet even then, as I’ve demonstrated, you get the best results when you refuse to rush—because rushing creates pressure, and pressure causes…
- …you to try controlling the wrong outcomes (because you feel you only have one chance to get this right)
- …prospects to resist the sale (because they feel like you don’t have their best interests at heart)
- …bad decisions to be made by everyone (because you don’t give yourself time to properly think things through)
If you’ve been wondering just how points #1 and #2 work when you’re selling online, this is where the application comes in.
The process of in-person selling can be automated, provided you have the right understanding of your customer, and enough time to say everything you need to say without putting the pressure on. And on the Internet, you have all the time in the world—there really is no excuse for rushing the sales process. This is because there is a technology that everyone uses which is so perfect for selling over the long term that you might suspect it was invented purely for that purpose.
Email: your perfect secret sales weapon
It puzzles me that the majority of businesses try to take potential customers from “nice to meet you” to “let’s get married” in the space of a couple of web pages, rather than taking the long view with email. Web pages are very weak for filling in the meat of the selling process, no matter how good you are at copywriting (and let’s face it—few of us are that good). But they are great for starting that process by capturing an email address—and for finishing it by providing an easy-to-use mechanism for payment. But even a half-competent copy monkey using email over the course of weeks can blow away the best A-level copywriter’s sales page, which has to sell then and there.
Email lets you comfortably deal with points #1 and #2; a web page doesn’t. With email you can ask all kinds of questions using quick surveys, and deal with all the angles or reasons people might buy, without having to sound like you’re assuming anything about any particular person. If you’re cunning, you can even use systems like Office Autopilot or InfusionSoft to email people based on where they are in the buying process, what the most important benefit is to them, and so on.
That’s just impossible to do in a single web page.
Furthermore, email, by its very nature, lets you do this gently, gradually, without pressure—either for your prospect, or for you. And this is really important, because as I’ve said, when you feel pressured you automatically respond by trying to control the wrong outcomes (point #1). Email gives you lots of little chances to tell your prospect how to get what he wants, instead of one big chance you’re afraid of blowing.
Plus, because it is a highly personal medium, you give your prospect the reassurance he can reply and talk to you directly if he’d like.
All this combines to make a perfect environment for getting more sales. In fact, using email is perhaps the perfect way to sell. It removes the appearance of selling entirely, and replaces it with an ongoing conversation, where you simply keep telling your prospect how to get what he wants.
How well are you implementing the points above? Have you found any places you can use them in your existing processes? Are you using email to sell—or thinking about it? Share your experience in the comments below.
About the Author: Bnonn is the author of the free email micro-course 5 Sales-Spiking Website Tweaks Web Designers & IM Gurus Don’t Know. It’s one quick lesson per day, each with a tested conversion-boosting tip you can implement on your site in 30 minutes or less (and none of them are about narrative forms).