It seems as if there was a collective sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight on 1st January 2021 (for those who were still awake that is). However, just days into the new year, the whole of the UK finds itself yet again in lockdown. For many, the positivity has subsided already and panic has set in as carefully laid plans for a new start have gone out of the window.
For business owners, it may be even more important right now to find and convert new customers. Before you dive in headfirst trying to convince Tom, Dick and Harry to part with their cash, try not to panic. Consider the best sales approach for your business and whether it supports your medium- and long-term goals too. With the wrong tactics, you could end up spending more time and effort, reducing profit and changing the perception of your business.
Whether you are aware of it or not, all your sales and marketing activities will tend to fit into one of two models – ‘push’ or ‘pull’. Both can be effective, but it is important that the method you choose suits your overall strategy and the type of business you have.
The Pull model is most appropriate for a sales strategy that is designed to develop the long-term relationship that most businesses need. There is a lot of time spent planning and researching at the very beginning. Using this research alongside a structured set of questions, the business can guide the customer along the sales journey, enabling them to make decisions for themselves. This means that instead of being overwhelmed by information, the customer is prompted to tell us about them and their needs, wants and desires.
Once we understand what the customer wants, it is relatively straightforward to present them with a solution to match their exact requirements. If we do that successfully, they will be highly likely to say “Yes, I want that”. In essence, they have done the buying / selling for themselves. At that point, the only thing left to confirm is if they are willing to pay for the item or solution.
With the Push model, our only plan is to sell what we have. For instance, imagine a market trader with 20 tea sets to sell – their only ‘plan’ is to sell all 20 and go home. She has no interest in the people walking past her stall unless they show interest in what she is selling. When someone stops to look, she goes into presentation mode, adding a little theatre to entertain the potential buyer. The exchange mostly focuses on the price:
Market Trader: Do you know, I was selling these sets for £30.00 last week, but the weather has been so good this week, I am in a fantastic mood, so today I am happy if you give me £20.00.
Customer: Hmm… They caught my eye as I thought my Aunty Mary may like them, but I don’t really want to spend £20.00 on her birthday.
Market Trader: Tell you what; as you came over here with a smile on your face, if you put £15.00 cash in my hand right now, I’ll let you take them for your Aunty Mary…
…and so, the price continues to come down, because that’s the only ‘tool’ the market trader can negotiate with. Naturally, with hundreds of passers-by, a market trader will ultimately sell what’s on her stall that day, but it’s hard work and tomorrow she must start all over again.
When you apply this method to a traditionally relationship-based business such as professional services, it can very quickly become a race to the bottom. The focus becomes how to make a sale regardless of whether the customer needs it or whether they’re likely to return. While this may provide temporary relief in the moment – like the market trader – a huge amount of effort inevitably creates very little profit.
To build strong, long-term relationships that both win clients and keep them, you need to always be planning before acting. Think deeply about what is in it for the customer – Why should they meet/listen to you? Set objectives for every interaction – What does the client want from the interaction, what do you want from the interaction? Think of leading, open questions to ask the customer; show interest in them and their business.
Great businesses are built on relationships. Relationships not only bring in ongoing business but also lead to referrals, creating even more leads with less direct effort. Relationships take time and effort, but they are worth it.