Rhonda led a large IT sales team, selling software licenses and computer equipment until one day she was given a new mandate: to start selling IT consulting services. While both business lines were related to technology, the move from selling units (products) to selling experience (services) required a change in mindset.
A product is something tangible. It is easier for customers to understand its benefits relative to other products on the market.
Customers don’t need a lot of convincing because they know more or less what they need and are looking for the best deal (often based on price or feature list).
The seller’s role, in this case, is transactional in nature: presenting the product and helping negotiate a deal that is beneficial to both parties.
The services, on the other hand, are not palpable. A customer cannot see them and has to rely on his own imagination to evaluate the offer.
It’s hard to compare one service to another without experiencing both.
Also, the services promise a result at the end, but the actual process to get there is confusing to the customer. This generates uncertainty and misunderstandings that the seller has to know how to navigate very well.
The seller’s role in these types of situations is relational: to become a trusted guide and educator.
The sales process is twofold. First, the seller and the customer must come to a mutual understanding of what is really needed. Next, the salesperson must convince the customer that the relationship will produce beneficial results.
If you’re trying to sell your expertise to internal or external customers, you may face the similar challenge of convincing them to buy.
Here are three strategies that can help you do better.
1. Gain trust: present yourself as a credible professional
2. Get Them Interested: Create a strong appeal through storytelling
3. Keep Them Engaged – Build a Long-Term Relationship
Gain trust: present yourself as a credible professional
Unless your client or stakeholder has worked with you before, there’s no way you can set yourself apart from the competition or know how good of a job you’re going to do.
Therefore, it is important to show them that they can trust you.
Confidence is based on emotional and intellectual cues.
Psychology professor Amy Cuddy says that 80-90% of first impressions are based on answering two questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “How strong and competent is this person?”
On the emotional side, potential customers want to feel like you’re someone who cares about them and their problems, rather than a ruthless salesperson who wants to take advantage of them.
Actively listening, asking good questions, being receptive and available to discuss, showing empathy, and generally being pleasant help build this type of relationship.
On the intellectual side, they want to feel like you are someone who has knowledge and information that they don’t and can quickly help them find a better solution.
Therefore, it is important to prepare ahead of time by researching your business specifications and preparing relevant ideas and examples whenever questions of a technical nature arise.
This also requires actively listening and showing that you not only understand their problems, but also have the most relevant solution for them.
Show them a glimpse of what it will be like to work with you.
While you can’t really sell the outcome (even if you try), you can sell the process to help mitigate some of the emotional and intellectual concerns.
Highlight your unique approach and work style and give examples of past projects and how they turned out – what worked well and what didn’t. You can also offer a mini-working session where you spend time together creating a plan for what it would be like to work together.
Get Them Interested: Create emotional appeal through storytelling
People love stories. This is ingrained in us from childhood. We want to root for the hero and fight the villain. We want to know what happens next and (usually) expect a happily ever after ending. Stories also spark our imaginations, allowing us to visualize what an alternate reality might feel like. Stories create an emotional connection and are memorable.
Much has been written about how humans make sense of the world through the stories they share.
Stories keep people engaged and motivated to listen. Long presentations of large chunks of information not so much.
Why am I telling you this?
Because selling an abstract idea or service requires keeping people engaged long enough for them to pay attention, understand, and overcome their emotional resistance to something new and unknown.
Therefore, stories are an important tool that you can use whenever you build a closer relationship with customers and showcase your expertise. You should look for opportunities to incorporate them into your conversations (either in person or in writing).
The stories you will share may focus on:
- How would the customer’s reality feel if you solved their problem (a day in the life of a happy-go-lucky customer…)?
- What happens when similar problems are not resolved (a day in the life of a dissatisfied customer)?
- What happened in the past when you solved a similar problem for someone else (problem, challenge, solution, results)?
- Why are we talking about this? (Once upon a time: an origin story about what causes a problem or what makes a solution relevant)?
For more inspiration on storytelling and how to structure stories, I personally love Dan Pink’s example of Pixar’s speech from the book To Sell is Human.
Keep Them Engaged: Build a Long-Term Relationship
Often, you won’t have time to build credibility in a single meeting.
More importantly, when the service or idea at stake is quite technical or novel, it will take time for your audience to understand why they need it, what they can do with it, or find the window of opportunity to use it.
The good news is that you can continue to nurture the relationship over time.
Sharing more information in small bites can help build a common language with the customer (or stakeholder) and create opportunities for discussion when they are ready to deepen the relationship.
So you need to stay in touch through whatever channel makes sense to your customer. Email, written materials, social media, catch-up calls (phone or virtual), visits, conferences, and industry events are just a few examples of interactions where you can continue these conversations over time. over time.
For example (very meta!), I keep in touch with many of my former and potential clients through a newsletter. From time to time I also send you articles or reports that I think will be helpful for leadership challenges you may be facing. It’s a non-invasive way to build a stronger connection, better understand their needs, and show them what’s on my mind these days.
Finally, remember that repetition helps your message stick because it allows people to process information more effectively, but be careful because too much repetition can backfire and negatively affect your credibility.