Good Sales vs Bad Sales
Sales are critical to success in any social enterprise.
No sales = No revenues, and therefore no margins.
No margins = No impact, and you’ll soon go out of business.
The problem is, the advice that’s given out about sales is sometimes dangerous.
Managers will turn to experts to learn how to squeeze extra dollars from each customer.
But there’s a fine line between making the most of a transaction, and souring the whole experience.
And when times are tough, managers instinctively push too hard.
I believe it comes down to tactics versus strategy.
Tactics are the short term plays that give you an edge.
Strategies are the long term decisions that set you up for life.
In war, tactics are decisions like “Let’s put our troops up on that hill to give them an advantage”
Strategy on the other hand is “Let’s retreat and avoid this battle, so that we can win the war”
Have you been on the receiving end of a sales tactic?
It’s an awful feeling, really slimy.
They’re the moments when you realise the friendly salesperson isn’t on your team.
They’re trying to force a purchase that they know you wouldn’t ordinarily make.
So it’s now you against them.
That’s why books on sales tactics are dangerous.
Because they work.
They can teach you various phrases and conversational scripts that boost the chances of a customer making a larger purchase.
You’ll learn how to ask innocent sounding questions that later guilt customers into a decision i.e. how can you put a price on your child’s happiness? or to make casual offers that add more items to the transaction.
The customer might not even realise what’s happened until they pay their bill or check their receipt.
Maybe they don’t twig until a few weeks later.
But you can’t fool people for too long.
This is how businesses win the sale and lose a customer.
Your script might have made a sale through obligation – because your customer wanted to be polite and save face.
Deep down, they know what has happened, and they vow to never return.
Good tactic, bad strategy.
Where Trust Comes From
Sales are based on relationships – the relationship a customer has with your brand, your team, or the founder.
Relationships are based on trust; people want to know that they’re being looked after.
So how do you create trust in a sale?
With discounts, freebies and vulnerability.
Discounts are when a salesperson drops the price for you.
It might be because you’re making a large order, because you haggled, or because you’re a valued customer.
Discounts feel like a win, they make people feel like a VIP.
Freebies are when a salesperson throws in something extra, without being asked.
It might be free drinks at a restaurant, a free sample of a new product, or a bonus item added to your order.
Again, this makes people feel valued, and makes them more likely to return.
Vulnerability is when a salesperson has the opportunity to upsell, but deliberately doesn’t take it.
This might be when they ask a customer questions about their needs, and then explains that various extras aren’t necessary.
When you’re expecting to be upsold, hearing this makes you instantly trust their opinion.
You know the salesperson is on your side – they’d rather have a happy customer than a few extra dollars.
Think about the moments you’ve thought “This company has won me for life”.
I bet it was because of one of these factors.
You trust the company, you trust the brand, you trust the team.
You can bring them your questions and your problems, and you know you’ll be treated fairly and honestly.
That confidence means that you’ll be back, and makes you a valuable customer.
How Trust Gets Broken
When we feel like a salesperson is looking to exploit us, our guard comes up.
When asked a question, we think twice about our answers, becoming cryptic and vague.
We want the salesperson to leave us alone, because we trust our judgement over their self-interest.
- It happens when we see clothing store staff telling other customers “Looks great on you, honey!” when it obviously doesn’t.
- It happens when they try and add on a few expensive extras at the end of the sale, like insurance or accessories.
- It happens when they casually ask “Would you like a…” as if it were free, then we later see the item added to the bill.
- It happens when our friends later tells us that these offers weren’t so good after all, like extended warranties that can’t be redeemed.
This is one of those situations where perception is reality.
If a customer feels like they’ve been manipulated, that will stay with them for a long time. They’ll probably mention it to a lot of other people as well.
What You Can Do
Teach your team how to ask good questions of customers.
By understanding their real motives, you’re able to make insightful recommendations that benefit them first and foremost.
That way, you can show your hand and give them an open choice.
It allows you to talk about the good AND bad points of moving to a higher model, since you’re confident that your customer can spot a good deal when it’s in front of them.
That vulnerability means a lot to customers, who will take you more seriously.
If you believe that an upgrade is going to be in their best interests, experiment with campaigns that show instead of tell.
It might be through free trials of a service, or free samples of a product.
This feels like a gift, and proves how useful your upgrade can be.
The best sales tactics are the ones that help you remove the common misconceptions about your product, or that let you convey the pros and cons.
These help customers make clear decisions, and ensure that you make a compelling, timely offer for them to buy.
Where this crosses the line is when you start hiding price tags, lying about the downsides of your products, or using manipulative questioning and pressure to force a sale they’ll regret.
If you’re worried that an empowered customer won’t choose to buy from you, it’s time to reconsider your whole business.
Sales tactics can fool people temporarily, but you can’t trick customers into feeling happy.
You might get their money, but it comes with a big serving of resentment.
To understand your customer in more detail, have a look at tools like the Value Proposition Canvas and 5 E’s of Customer Journey.
For more on creating delightful customer experiences, I highly recommend Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki.
For a sales book without the slime, I recommend To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink.