I had lunch a week ago with an old college friend. He runs a successful B2C ecommerce company (health goods/products) in a market segment that has become inundated with competitors pushing a variety of “ new, latest, greatest” products. Yet in spite of the growing competition—and the incessant noise and clamor for customer attention—my friend’s company has grown by 15-20% over the past year-and-a-half.
“How have you been able to do this?” I asked. “Especially with more dogs fighting for the same scraps?”
“Well it was several things,” he said. “Streamlined process, sales integration, but the main thing was, we made a company-wide decision to focus less on getting sales and more on satisfying customer needs.”
An Inconvenient Fact:
Today’s consumers do not want to be sold.
They do not want to be told.
They want to be informed.
Please, nobody panic!
Brands and businesses are under more stress than ever before, regardless of industry. The economy is uncertain. Consumers are more cautious. The pressure to grow your business with fewer resources has become the norm. And the clock is ticking. Companies, particularly Sales Departments, are scratching their heads, wondering: What is the answer? Is there an easy solution? The knee-jerk reaction when sales are down, of course, is to be more aggressive: to sell harder, harder, harder. Problem is, that’s the last thing that will actually work. Selling harder…being more forceful…making more cold calls…urging prospects to “sign on the dotted line”…will only alienate the very customers you hope to persuade. It will convince them that you are desperate and more concerned about hitting your numbers than meeting their actual needs.
I want does not mean I get
This is a universal maxim that everyone on the planet seems to comprehend except my two-year old dachshund and a seemingly significant number of Sales Managers. Convenient and tempting as it may be, sales teams can’t simply demand or expect more sales by being more aggressive or insistent. It’s like walking up to a pretty girl you’ve never met and asking her to the prom. You’ve effectively killed any legitimate shot you may have had, albeit slim, by “forcing the moment to its crisis” (apologies to T.S. Eliot). Even if there is an attraction, there is no trust. And trust is the absolute key to any successful relationship, business or otherwise.
How do you earn trust in a digital age? Engage people.
There are no sales without trust. Period. And the only way to build trust is to demonstrate to prospects/customers that 1) you care, and 2) you have their best interest at heart. Today, successful business relationships are more about courtship than conquest. So how do you court them? In large part, by tapping into the social channels and interactive platforms they frequent: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and the like. If you truly know your customers, then you will know where and how they receive information. Once you know that, it’s about delivering relevant information that addresses their very real needs, challenges, and opportunities. It means asking good questions. It means seeing things from their perspective. It means walking in their proverbial shoes. Above all, it means genuinely listening to what they have to say before offering solutions. Every communication with customers and prospects should be a reciprocal, two-way dialog, not a one-way sales pitch about how great your products are.
It’s not rocket science…it’s people science.
It’s does no good to shout at prospects about your capabilities and services. At the end of the day, all they really care about is getting help from someone who understands them. That’s it. They want information. They want answers to questions. They want solutions that make their life better or easier or more rewarding. The companies who obsess over customer needs rather than their own profitability are the ones who will build the critical trust that leads to success. This is a huge jerk of the wheel for some companies. And it runs counter to decades of ingrained, kill-or-be-killed logic. It also takes tremendous courage and commitment at every level of your organization to shift the paradigm from a sales focus to a customer focus. However, it reallyworks. And ironically, it’s the best way to not only generate more sales, but nurture sustainable growth and long-term relationships.
As my college friend testified to over lunch: “The gamble paid off. By ‘selling’ less and shifting our focus to really helping our customers, we have not only increased our revenue, we have established solid, long-term relationships with people who truly believe in what we do.”