How to Start Selling More - Now


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Right now, someone is coming to your website or contacting one of your salespeople, already convinced that they need something similar to what you're selling, but not sure if they should buy it from you. They have questions.

They look for the answers to those questions on your website, or ask your salesperson. But they don't find the answers, or your attempts to answer those questions don't satisfy them. They walk away empty-handed.

You've just lost the sale. All because you didn't know what their real concerns were - so, of course, you didn't answer their questions successfully. Instead, you did what everyone does. You assumed you knew what their questions and concerns were and recited your boilerplate answers to the assumed questions. And, just like everyone else, you were wrong.

You could turn this situation around, in a couple of weeks, without spending any money, using the resources currently at your disposal. Here is a simple system that works - no matter what you're selling or who you're selling it to.

The system consists of three parts: Discovery, Debate, and Deploy.

Discovery

Most people fail to sell as much as they could because they skip the Discovery part. They think they know, because their salespeople tell them what customers said. But customers go to great lengths to hide their real thoughts from salespeople, while they are being sold to. So this is misleading or incomplete information. Or, they depend on surveys, which don't even begin to reveal what customers really think when they're making a buying decision. People don't reveal thought processes in surveys.

Armed with insufficient and misleading information, company marketers jump right into the debate and deployment phases of their marketing effort, then discover that what they're doing doesn't work.

It's an incredible shame, because all that a proper Discovery process requires is a little bit of humility, a phone, and a set of open-ended questions that have been tested over thousands of customer interviews. (I list the questions and reveal the science and art of successful interviewing in Chapter 3 of Roadmap to Revenue.)

Your customers won't tell you what they're thinking when you're selling to them. But they will be more than happy to tell you what they were thinking if you ask them after they buy, the right way. They will do everything they can to help you be successful, because they want you to stay in business. They will be able to tell you everything about the buying process that went smoothly and everything that needs to be improved.

I ran across an interview recently of an entrepreneur (Marcus Sheridan) who figured out how to answer customer questions - the questions his customers were really asking. (Note: if you don't see the video in Firefox, try Explorer). He's selling fiberglass swimming pools, and one of the questions he answers on his site - unlike his competitors - is "how much do fiberglass pools cost?" That one blog post alone has generated over 200,000 views in 2.5 years.

He talks about leads being "sales ready." That is the key to the Roadmap system. You want to answer as many questions as possible before the customer contacts you or buys from you. But you have to know what the questions are. And you don't know, because by the time you hear from a customer, many of their questions have been answered by others, including customers, competitive content, blogs, and discussion groups. It's easier than ever to find others with similar needs or interests, and to ask them what they think of a product or service.

After conducting thousands of interviews for clients, I can say without reservation that your assumptions never, ever match the perceptions held by your customers, including what drove the customer to buy your product or service.

Almost all sellers fail to answer the questions that buyers have. Take a look at dozens of "About" sections on websites, for example, and see how many of them fail to include pictures of executives. Buyers come to the About section to answer this question: "Who are these people?" A mission statement about how you strive to be the best does not answer this question. To a customer, the missing pictures say, "We don't want you to see who we are."

When I conduct the interviews for my clients, I start to see trends by the fifth call. The trends are locked in by the seventh call. If you are conducting interviews for the first time, assume you'll have to talk to at least ten customers of a given type, simply because you'll get better as you go. That's what I've found as I train others to conduct these interviews.

What you learn in the interviews will tell you what you have been doing wrong, what you could be doing better, and what you have to do to make it easier for your buyers to buy. You won't be guessing anymore; you will KNOW what you should be doing to make more sales, and what you can and should stop doing. That confidence alone is priceless.

As John Jantsch says in a recent article, nothing matters more to business success than clarity. The fastest way to get revenue-growth clarity is to understand what your customers are really thinking.

Debate

You will share your findings with your team in a report (again, best practices are spelled out in the book), then meet to discuss the findings and decide what to do. This time, the customer will be "in the room" with you when you debate.

That matters, because only the customer can make your revenues go up. The decisions you make in this meeting will please new and existing customers. That matters, because prospective customers are going to current customers for recommendations, even before they go to Google. That's what buyers have been telling me this year.

This is yet another reason why calling current customers is so important. You'll find out what they're saying about you - and what they're saying about you either brings new customers your way or sends them away.

Deploy

In your meeting, you will also map out your customer's buying process, so you can be in sync with it at every step. You will build an action plan - including a marketing machine. You will agree on everything that needs to be started, fixed, or changed. You will assign owners, timelines, goals, and metrics.

Everyone in the room will have created marketing and selling plans before, but their decisions were directed by their assumptions, not customers. Assumptions don't pay. Customer-driven decisions pay handsomely, every single time.

A little time and effort spent on the Discovery phase makes all the difference in the world.

 

 

Comments

Customer Actions Don't Lie

In addition to qualitative information from customer interviews, you should be learning about your customers from what they do.

All businesses should be using both, but you'll want to focus more on quantitative when your business
- is online
- relies on volume
- has a wide spread of different types of buyers

There are several ways you can measure what they do all through the buying process:
- A/B testing on your website
- Which online ads they respond to
- How they navigate your website
- What search terms they use
- Which websites referred them to you
- Which of your emails they respond to
...

Giles, you are right, but...

. . . the problem with all of this - and I agree everyone should do it - is that you can see What, and a little bit of How, but not the WHY. And WHY is what drives conversions.
 
What were they looking for, exactly? Why did they respond to a given email or ad? Why did they come to your site? What did they think when they came to your site? Why did they then dig deeper? What did they have to overcome as they were trying to buy from you? Why did they end up buying from you? Know this - and you can map out their buying process and make sure  you're making it easy at every step.
 
And you can do A/B testing all day long, but if the initial premise is flawed, and off-target, you will only be testing "not so great" against "maybe a little better than not so great."
 
We are marketing to people. People have unique, interesting thoughts. They think about things certain ways for certain reasons. We need to know what those reasons are. It's not the obvious stuff. It's the nuances.
 
It's amazing to me how many things we will do, before we finally decide that we need to know who these people really are and what they are really thinking. We should know our customers as well as we know our friends. What inspires them, what motivates them, what concerns them, what drives them crazy, what makes them think we don't know what we're doing, etc.
 
What's also amazing is that all of the information you need to close more sales is as close as your customer database and your telephone. And they'd love to talk to you. They will tell you everything they think could help you. They will thank you for calling.
 
Even as I train others how to do this, the same sorts of positive things are happening during the interviewing process. And those conducting the interviews are soooo confident afterwards. They finally know exactly what they should be doing.
 
Thanks for your comment - truly a good thought.
 
kz

Use both together...

Eric Ries and the lean startup movement explain this very well with the concept of validated learning.

I will paraphrase
1) an entrepreneur has a vision for solving a problem
2) they build a business model and note key assumptions
3) then test important assumptions like a scientific hypothesis
4) tests are designed and measured scientifically

Customer development interviews help with developing new hypotheses, explain reasons why people may want X or not. Help you discover new issues i.e. what you don't know that you don't know

As you point out A/B testing on its own will only take you to a local maximum. But when used to test a logical theory, it gives you concrete data for decision-making.

For example if a software company is selling a new product but the results are disappointing. It could be the benefits are not clear, the right audience are not finding it, it is lacking a vital feature, it's priced wrong, a free trial is needed?

Interviewing some old customers, some new customers and if you can, prospects who rejected it, will help you identify theories to focus on. But in my experience you always need to test as you normally get conflicting feedback from different people / customer segments.

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