Published by NZ Business Magazine (May 2013):
Got no time? Here’s my top three tips:
• Stop selling. Start connecting others with the purpose of your brand, rather than with the product or its price.
• Create conversation. Appreciate the power of referral and word-of-mouth, and appreciate its powerful role as a virtual salesforce.
• Maintain a captive audience. If you don’t remind people why they value what you do or offer, they’ll forget. Occasionally, remember to remind yourself.
This article is the first part in a three-part series on “audience equity” published in NZBusiness Magazine between May-July 2013. Read the article online here.
To fuel growth, every business must build a pipeline – a steady stream of work or revenue that keeps people employed and, touch wood, generates a return to shareholders after the cost of acquiring and delivering the work.
In many owner-managed businesses, the founder has the de facto role of salesperson. After all, they know the product best, believe in it the most and can answer any questions a client might have, right? They have a whole raft of intangible qualities that can captivate and inspire others, build trust, respect and credibility. How can anyone possibly do it better than the big cheese?
Inevitably, in a growing business, there comes a point where the leader can no longer be fully responsible for the pipeline and they need to begin building a sales function.
Generally a salesperson is recruited, their targets set and they’re sent out to sell the product. Perhaps they’ve had success in previous sales roles, they’re an expert in the relevant industry, or they have a whole bag of impressive tricks (self-proclaimed) for opening or closing the deal. All bodes well for a huge weight being taken off the leader’s shoulders.
Yet, in so many cases, it doesn’t work.
Often, for one reason or another, the salesperson just can’t seem to sell the way the leader did. Often, customers don’t seem to warm to them in the same way – the salesperson doesn’t know the product as well; they don’t have the same depth of knowledge, passion or charisma. They may find it hard to know who to target and even harder to secure a meeting. Or perhaps the salesperson just ‘doesn’t get it’.
Chances are, it’s the latter – and, most likely it’s not their fault. Many people fail to understand that an authentic salesperson never actually ‘sells’ the product. They believe in their product and simply tell others what they believe. They find common ground and make a connection.
Today the best salespeople are not in the business of ‘selling’ – they are in the business of representing a purpose they believe in.
Knowing, instinctively, the purpose of the product and what drives the business, is one of the key reasons the leader or founder of a business always has the right answer and manages to build lasting connections. Ever since that day they had the ‘good idea’ the leader has created conversation – representing the purpose behind why they do what they do.
Sure, a corporate sales approach has worked in many previous growth industries. Salespeople motivated by targets, commissions and incentives have successfully moved real estate, cars, insurance, photocopiers, phone contracts, and many other products – and continue to do so.
However, in today’s increasingly connected and transparent world, there is a growing desire for real value and a growing appetite for purpose over and above just products. The only way to get others to sell your product in a sustainable fashion is to ensure they really ‘get’ your good idea and understand ‘why’ you’re there in the first place.
There is an old saying in small business that “the best form of marketing is word-of-mouth” and many widely profess that referral is the best form of marketing.
Referral or word-of-mouth occurs because somebody recognises the value or the purpose of the product, or because of the way the product or experience makes them feel. If your salesperson doesn’t genuinely believe in the product (and that means they’d confidently refer it to their best friends or a family member, unprompted, even if they weren’t employed by the company), how can they be expected to create authentic word of mouth?
As we look at our sales functions and make plans for future growth, paying careful attention to the real ammunition that drives this ambition is essential. Having a clearly articulated purpose – or a clear understanding of the ‘essence’ that underpins why we do what we do – and sharing this proudly with all those with whom we interact, could well represent a more powerful investment than any salesperson alone.
Traditionally, a ‘sale’ has meant a signed contract and/or dollars in the bank. Today, a more valuable ‘sale’ lies in achieving an authentic connection with those you interact with – where they actually ‘get’ the purpose behind what you’re trying to do. Build a large enough audience and some of these people will spend money with you, or perhaps refer you to someone who will. The effective salespeople of tomorrow will begin to understand the more intangible measures of success.
So go back to the ‘good idea’ that got you here in the first place.
Before you start selling, devote the time required to really understand your brand essence and the reason why this is relevant to today’s audiences. Then share it confidently with everyone you come into contact with.
The more compelling the reason ‘why’, the more powerful the ammunition and the more effective your sales function will be.