"Every person who has ever started a business, I imagine, thought he had a good idea. It's the smart person, and the rare person, who tries to find out the most important thing: do other people think it's a good idea?"
-- Bernard Kamoroff, author of "Small-Time Operator"
If you've ever wondered why more people don't respond to your sales attempts and marketing messages, here's the first place to look -- are you selling something that people are willing to spend money on?
It can be hard enough to get your marketing message heard and work your way toward closing a sale when you're offering a product or service that prospects already know will help them. But if you also have to educate prospective customers about why it's worth their while to buy what you are selling in the first place, you are fighting an uphill battle.
A student in one of my classes proposed an idea to sell financial counseling services to college students. He reasoned that more and more young people were incurring massive amounts of debt and declaring bankruptcy. Obviously, the need in the marketplace was there, right? But when I asked him if students thought they needed financial counseling, his immediate answer was no. They had other concerns and ignored their finances, which was why he thought they needed him.
Right there is the catch. He thought they needed him; they didn't think so. The vast majority of buyers -- whether they are individual consumers or buying on behalf of a business -- only purchase products and services that solve a problem they have already defined. If you are the one who has to tell them that they have a problem in the first place, you have a pretty tough sale ahead of you.
In fact, your customers not only have to know they have a problem, they have to be willing to spend money to solve it.
A client of mine was marketing her services to companies to help them build community partnerships. She knew that many corporate donors were choosing to sponsor one nonprofit instead of spreading their donations around. But finding the right fit for a sponsorship was hard. She tried to sell companies on her ability to locate appropriate nonprofits and help establish relations. But they weren't buying. They knew they had a problem, but weren't willing to pay to fix it.
So it's not enough that people want what you offer, it has to be something they will spend money to get. And very importantly, they must also be able to justify that purchase to themselves and others. This is where you can provide exactly what your prospective clients need to make a buying decision.
Let's take as an example a life coach who tells clients he can help them find more passion in life. The prospect tells a friend: "I'm thinking about hiring a life coach to help me discover more passion in my work." The friend is skeptical, and says: "Sounds a little vague to me. If I were you, I'd spend my money on taking those art classes you keep talking about." The client has been unable to justify the purchase and she is now having second thoughts.
But what if the same coach told the prospect he could help her find a new job? When the friend asks for details, the prospect, briefed by the coach, responds: "He says he can partner with me to help me seek out the opportunities that match what I'm really looking for, and stay motivated while I'm looking." A much more likely response from the friend now is: "Sounds like it could be helpful. What's the coach's name?"
What the coach has done in the second case is sold to the client's bottom line. He has offered a result that not only the client, but her friend, seem willing to spend money on. He has also given her the language to explain his solution and justify the purchase to both her friend and herself. In fact, the nature of the work he ends up doing with this client may be exactly the same as it would have been when he offered her "passion." The difference is that the sale just got much easier.
The more concrete you can be about the results clients can expect, the more likely they are to buy. And the closer your offer is to a result that is already in their budget, the easier your sale becomes. When selling to organizations, these factors become even more critical. Every purchase has to be justified to a boss or a board, and if it's not in the budget, your sale may have to wait for next year.
One of my clients was marketing herself as a facilitator. In her sales pitch to corporate clients, she talked about her experience and produced glowing testimonials. But all her hard work produced only a few contracts. Then she began marketing her facilitation in the form of team-building retreats. All of a sudden, organizations that had no need for "facilitation" were eager for "team-building," and in some cases already had that need defined in their training budget.
The key to selling to your client's bottom line is knowing what that is. Ask the people in your target market not just what their problems and goals are, but where they have spent money in the past. A client who has worked with a massage therapist is a likely prospect for chiropractic. A company that has hired graphic designers is probably a good target for communications consulting. Get to know your market's spending habits and you will know better how to sell to them.
In every communication, talk about the specific results you deliver and the amount of value you provide. When you can assign an economic benefit to making a purchase, you increase the likelihood of a sale. This is why finding a new job sells better than finding passion, and helping a company make teams more productive attracts more buyers than helping them run a meeting. If clients believe you can either help them make money or save it, working with you can pay for itself.
When you are selling a product or service with no definable value -- for example, you can help to improve a person's quality of life or a company's work environment -- be aware that you may have a tougher sale than when your offer can be translated into currency. Look for how you can describe your value in the most tangible terms possible, and be prepared to spend some time educating your customers before they will become willing to buy.
Selling to the bottom line may require no changes at all to what you do, just a change to how you talk about it. "Nice-to-have" products and services may generate interest, but "got-to-have" ones generate sales.