Sales For Kind People - Core Philosophies
Sales is a very conflicting topic for me.
On one hand, it’s the realm of some really awful people – real estate agents, coercive multi-level marketers, car salespeople, time share vendors, predatory funeral directors, etc.
On the other hand, a good sales strategy can transform a social enterprise, helping it find and delight more customers, and therefore make more impact.
It’s an important topic, yet most of the training available is designed to turn you into a sociopath.
That’s a big call, but see if this sounds familiar; sales training starts with an innocent “how to find your target customer” and ends with the fanatical “do and say anything to make the sale, their money becomes your money, you are a winner.”
If you find yourself stalking customers and scheming ways of making them act against their best interest, you are a sociopath.
This series is not for you.
If, however, you want to grow your business by genuinely helping people, then this series is for you.
We’ll look at the strategies and philosophies that clever businesses use to make themselves well known, create memorable experiences and build customer loyalty.
Believe it or not, the customer doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win.
This article looks at the important philosophies that underpin a good sales strategy.
You don’t need to twist arms
Here’s a confronting and refreshing truth: you are not everyone’s cup of tea.
It’s confronting because there are people who will never buy from you no matter how hard you try.
It’s refreshing because deep down you’ve seen this to be true, and it lets you accept that some people just aren’t right for you.
The aim is not to be everyone’s cup of tea, but rather to be someone’s favourite cup of tea.
There is no “mass market” any more, instead we have tools that let us reach niche customers in large quantities.
You’re looking to have a global audience make a pilgrimage to your shop, and give them something worth talking about.
This is a radically different approach.
You no longer have to force unwilling people to shop with you – it’s easier and more lucrative to delight the people who are open minded.
Don’t try and sell to the unsellable, you’ll either frustrate them or make promises you can’t actually fulfil.
Persistence strategies create buyer’s remorse
A lot of the advice out in the market is centred on pestering people even after they’ve said “no”.
The evidence used to support this approach is that it gets results – short term sales do increase when you make repeated efforts to chase prospective targets.
The key words are “short term”.
This approach leads to buyer’s remorse – the awful feeling of regret.
Yes you won the sale, but created an unhappy customer in the process.
Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity
It sounds cool to say “We’re going to do $1m in sales this year”, but what does this actually mean?
How much does it cost you to deliver all of that work?
What if it costs you $1.1m?
There’s no glory in a revenue target without a margin target.
Margins are what keep your business afloat – they let you survive tough times, hire new staff, buy additional equipment, or expand into a second city.
In that regard, a margin target is more important than a turnover target.
Making $200,000 of margin from $800,000 of sales is better than breaking even on $1m, but part of your brain won’t want to believe it.
Promotions are good… if they make a margin
I’ve seen several businesses run a promotion, e.g. 25% off all purchases, and celebrate their “success” when they make a lot of sales.
Then I watch the cogs turn in their heads, as they realise they made almost no margin on those sales, and mostly attracted customers who would have paid full price.
Colin Harmon, author of What I Know About Running Coffee Shops has a great example about loyalty cards.
Customers wave a handful of these cards at him (unaware of the irony), expecting to receive every 8th coffee for free.
"If you're selling coffee for $3.50 and the sales tax is 9%, you're selling at a price of $3.21.
Each stamp, therefore, is worth 32c of revenue.
If you're running at at a 75% gross margin on the coffee you sell at $3.50, you should be hitting about $2.40 gross margin on each cup.
That means each stamp is worth 13% of your gross profit before you've paid for anything else."
Your aim should be to use clever promotions that either attract valuable customers who are currently on the fence, clear out stock that will otherwise expire, or bring in lower margin customers who will act as ambassadors.
Otherwise it’s the equivalent of giving out vouchers to your regulars – essentially preaching to the choir.
Treat the sales process like being a good host
Good hospitality is wonderful.
You know that feeling when you go to someone’s house, and it feels a little magical?
They have interesting things in the room, comfortable furniture, nice lighting, cool music in the background, ample food and drink, they ask you interesting questions… you feel special.
You might not realise it, but you have favourite places that do hospitality so well that it’s invisible.
It might be your favourite bar, restaurant, café, co-working space, airport lounge, shopping centre, retail store or even social media platform.
Somebody has created a pleasant environment and has deliberately kept you happy.
That creates a feeling of trust, and it lets people relax.
If you decide to treat your sales process like hosting a visitor, you can help them relax and make good decisions.
It doesn’t matter if those good decisions lead to sales at first, they will keep coming back for more and tell their friends to do the same.
Not everyone is in the market for your services at a given time, but by being a good host you become front-of-mind when the time comes.
Pushed vs Unstuck
Nobody likes being pushed by a salesperson, it’s a threatening feeling that puts our shields up.
Being pushed is unpleasant because it might lead us to making a bad decision, one we wouldn’t have made if we were more patient.
The tricky part is that as customers we tend to get stuck – held up by silly details, warped perspectives and indecision.
What we need is someone who will get us unstuck, without pushing us.
Be that person.
Unsticking customers might involve a follow up call, asking them about their underlying problem, helping them compare their options, removing ambiguity, or offering a small bonus or discount.
If you can get good at unsticking people, more and more of them will buy from someone, and that someone is likely (but not guaranteed) to be you.
Either way, people appreciate being unstuck, and recommend brand that they appreciate.
It’s not for me
As a customer, I hate saying “no” to salespeople, especially those who are pushy.
My tendency is to say “It’s not for me”, as it removes the personal rejection and makes it hard for them to disagree.
This response is great for both parties – I get to end the pitch in a dignified way, and the salesperson doesn’t take it as a comment on their value as a person.
When selling, you want to give people this option of a dignified exit, because otherwise they feel cornered.
Yes, some cornered people go on to make a purchase, but as we saw earlier, those generally end in buyer’s remorse.
There is enough of a market out there of people who are interested, and we can focus our energy of optimising how we approach them.
We don’t need to convert the disinterested, and certainly not through tricks and traps.
Not all opinions have equal weight
As part of not being everyone’s cup of tea, you’re going to have to do some closer reading of the market’s response to your products and services.
It might be that 20% of customers like the brand, 20% hate it and 60% ignore it.
The real question is – which category are the decision makers in?
If people like your brand but aren’t going to be your customers, you won’t see much income.
If your brand is largely ignored but your decision makers love what you do, you’ll have a thriving business.
This is not a democracy; all votes are not equal.
We want to understand the differences between our fans and our customers, and do whatever it takes to appeal to the people who actually make a purchase decision.
You’re probably making it difficult for people to shop with you
(Full disclosure, I am guilty of this one.)
I often talk about “The Customer’s Journey”, the path from having never heard of a brand, the first impression, a deliberation, a purchase, an exit, and a decision to re-engage through a recommendation or another purchase.
This is often a hilly and windy road, where people at the start can’t see the end of the path.
Long story short, only the hardcore fans make it to the end of the journey.
This is a shame, because with a few signposts and modifications, you could have a lot more people making it further down the path, or at provide a more hospitable experience while they decide if this road is for them.
Before you try to get in front of 10,000 new people, see if you can increase the odds of a typical customer staying the course.
It’s probably cheaper and easier to boost your conversion rate from 5% to 15%, than to triple your marketing reach.
This process is lucrative, and increase the chances of you creating raving fans who tell others about what you can offer them.
You can’t take your foot off the accelerator
I understand the exasperation with digital marketing, you have to constantly keep up with the ever changing platforms and customers.
My question is, what’s your alternative?
Persist with the tricks that used to work in 2016?
Perhaps you need to change the product
This is a tough one because persisting with a winning idea feels really similar to persisting with a losing idea…at first.
There is an inertia at the beginning of any new business, like pushing a stationary car.
It takes a lot to get it moving, then less effort to keep it going.
There comes a point though, where you want to be pushing downhill instead of uphill.
Pushing uphill is really tough, gravity is fighting against you.
Pushing downhill gets easier, gravity is on your side.
If you keep encountering resistance or disinterest, ask yourself what these people would have liked to buy instead.
If the answer is “nothing”, you might be talking to the wrong people.
If the answer is “something”, maybe it’s worth experimenting with a new product?
There’s nothing wrong with stealing good processes
Part of creativity is stealing from a wide range of sources, and part is in dreaming up new things that others aren’t doing.
As a customer you have many opportunities each day to see sales processes in action, and will start to notice what becomes seamless and what you find irritating.
Both insights are valuable.
After noting what seems to work, your brain will start generating new ideas that are particularly good for your industry – tailored to your product and customer.
By understanding why other businesses use their chosen approach, you can create new ways of serving your market.
Imitation without adaption is often clumsy, but pinching their underlying strategies can help you create a much better sales system.
In the next post in this series, we’ll look at the complete customer experience, and start building a list of things we each need to improve…