Yogi Berra quipped “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Feeling reminiscent when some self-proclaimed guru offers the latest and greatest “new” technique for effective small business selling? Whether you come from the pyramid selling “proof” days or today’s internet “expert” arena, the truth hasn’t changed – attracting new clients is best done by solving problems before you’re hired.
Granted, this may sound counter-productive if you’ve been conditioned to believe manipulation or hype is the answer, but this works better to land clients than any “technique” being offered as the latest trick to lure prospects.
Sure, there are prognosticators preaching “give your best away for free” as bait for your “funnel”. This works for some most certainly, but it’s not a good tactic for niche-oriented small business owners.
The problem with this “proven” approach is it assumes you’re trying to appeal to a general audience. If that’s the case, go for it.
Mass appeal is bad business for small business
If you’re like most successful small business owners, though, you have a discerning niche-oriented client base (that applies to prospects too). These people are rarely influenced by freebies, plus will tire of messages aimed at list demographics dominated by freebie-grabbers who will never buy.
The easiest way to convince a prospect they need to be your client is to solve their problems with face time. Don’t cringe. I get you abhor the idea of sales meetings (don’t schedule these), may live too far away from your ideal client or are an introvert challenged by outreach.
It’s not about selling and need not require your physical presence (Skype, Hangouts and an array of other free video conferencing tools abound). It’s about doing your research, asking the right questions and learning how to be quick on your feet about providing solutions to stated challenges.
The harder way is to trek into the mind of your prospect. Designing messages and products or services that speak to them with an answer to what they’ve been looking for works too. It’s not about you (so quit thinking features and benefits). It’s about your buyer. If you can think like they do (you can’t without having some conversations), your message can feel like it’s personal.
Horse sense works with small business selling
As an example, my alter-ego dons a horse trainer hat. While I can get into most horse’s heads, equines aren’t my clients. What sells the service side of this business (we offer book products too, but that requires a different selling strategy) is the word-of-mouth generated by demonstrating an understanding of owner needs.
With race horses, owners want winners. Impressing the trusted trainer is key.
Competitive trail riders want to learn. It’s less about how the horse performs and more about gaining the skills to build on paid services.
Two very different outlooks with neither focused on the features or benefits of what takes place between me and the horse (the apparent service they’re paying for).
Thoroughbred owners rarely recognize that a good early foundation pays huge dividends in lower training costs, fewer injuries and an excitement about the game. Telling them so does not make a difference.
Competitive trail riders say (and think) they want someone to fix a problem with a horse. The thing is, if they don’t get an extended education to build on the foundation, they’re not happy.
Both cases require solutions to be offered (often anecdotally through word-of-mouth) before they’ll pony up. Curiously, it has more to do with people skills than the service they think they’re paying for.
Get creative with white-collar precepts
Free proposals were the industry norm when I founded my marketing firm in 1989 (still are). I’d spend dozens of hours crafting creative brilliance for prospects who took my ideas, paying me nothing.
I decided to introduce the “Recommendations and Strategies Report”. Lunch is on me along with an hour or so of my time, mostly spent asking questions. This allows me to offer real-time creative and cost-effective solution ideas.
“Want a Recommendations and Strategies Report outlining tactics and more with material to help you execute outlined strategies independently?” These are offered at a discounted hourly rate. Almost all agree immediately.
The beauty of this approach is it gets the client invested and focused on a return. People don’t always value what’s free but do tend to carefully consider what they pay for. This engages the client to act toward success and brings them back for more to ensure their investment earns out.
This report reveals the time and associated costs for particular activities like a proposal, but goes further in providing resources and guidance so a client can choose to implement alone (they never do).
Point being, you may think “everyone else does it this way,” but that doesn’t mean you have to.
Consider how you can make what most view as selling an opportunity to build rapport, understanding and confidence to get people to want to pay you. Feature and benefit focus is for also-rans. Get solution-minded and you’ll be amazed how quickly those small business selling challenges turn into fun, relished and grand opportunities.