I’m writing this for anyone who owns or runs a company. If that’s you, you weren’t “born” a company owner; you probably came into it after working in some other specialty. Finance, engineering, programming, plumbing, baking . . . whatever. Now you have to make sales. As the owner, you need to know how to sell and how to direct and manage others who sell for you.
Most of the articles on selling focus on the behavior of the salesperson; the things that the salesperson must do. I’m going to take a completely different tack here. Instead, I’m going to focus on the most important aspect of selling: seeing it from the customer’s perspective. This is what I’ve learned interviewing thousands of customers for clients.
The truth is, your buyers are in complete control of the sales/buying process now. If you aren’t in alignment with what they want to buy and how they want to buy, you will struggle to make sales.
What buyers want
Ironically, you know perfectly well what buyers want, because you are one. You buy products and services all the time.
But the minute you start “needing” to sell, you start thinking like a seller. Your goals and desires no longer match those of your buyer. As a revenue coach, I’ve devoted my career to helping company leaders eliminate this gap.
What buyers want makes perfect sense. Making sure we give it to them requires first that we understand them, and secondly that we accommodate them.
Their Mindset when they set out to buy is the most important aspect to understand. I define their Mindset as their desires, concerns, and questions. It almost doesn’t matter who they are, or what they do for a living; these facts can be easily uncovered. The best way to understand the more subtle, but absolutely essential aspects, is to interview the customers who have already bought from you.
They will describe their Mindset to you, and help you reverse-engineer a successful sale. I describe, in detail, how to interview them in my book (Chapter 3). To get the most out of the interview, make a phone appointment and ask the open-ended questions I list in my book. If you use this method, you will only have to interview 5 – 7 people of any given type to see definite, bankable trends in their answers.
These interviews will tell you exactly what you should be promoting; what makes you different and better than your competitors; and the questions that your buyers have when they set out to buy.
You need to do this (or have someone conduct the interviews for you) before you spend another dollar on marketing and sales, because without it, all of your efforts and messages are going to miss the mark.
However, I can reveal what I’ve learned about buyers, in general, so that you can at least start moving in the right direction before you gather the more specific and essential data—information that is unique to your company, your customers, your market, your competition, and your products and services.
Here is what buyers generally want—and expect—from sellers.
1. They want it to be easy to find you, understand what you’re selling, and buy from you.
This means that you need to show up on Google when they search for your type of product or service. You need to know which words and phrases your competitors are being found for; what your customers would type into Google if they were looking for you (one of the questions you’ll find in my book); whether they’d even use Google (most B2B buyers buying a “high scrutiny” product or service skip the search altogether and just ask their peers); and you need to write interesting, useful content on a regular basis, organized in a way that helps Google recognize you as an authority on a topic.
When they click on the link on page one of the search results (buyers seldom go beyond page one), and they come to your site, they better be able to figure out what you do the second they land on your site. No vague, say-nothing slogans should get in the way; that’s a serious waste of banner space.
Say what you sell, then say exactly why they would find it good for them. Appeal to their Mindset. What’s the problem they’re trying to solve? Say how you solve it!
When they come to your site, they want to get all of their desires, concerns, and questions addressed on your website. The better you do this, the longer they will stay and the more pages they will visit, which will impress Google. Your site will rank higher in search results.
And, once their questions are answered, they should find it easy peasey to buy from you. If you are an e-commerce site, reviews and “more like this” should be part of your site; searching and filtering should be simple and fast; the buying steps should be straightforward and follow industry standards. Everything should look buttoned up and trustworthy.
If you are selling a B2B high-scrutiny product or service, make it easy for them to take the next step and reach out to you—any way they want. This means chat, phone, email, webform, and “get a quote” or “see a demo” buttons.
2. They want you to be available to answer their questions.
It’s amazing to me to see how often companies behave as if they don’t want you to contact them. And, when you do, nothing happens. They don’t respond. Which is why chat has become so popular. Even a bot trying to answer your questions is preferable to sending in a webform and never hearing back.
Our most successful clients—the leaders of their companies—take a turn on the chat application almost every day. One top manager has managed to secure numerous Google reviews, by being available to chat at certain times of day, doing a great job of answering the customer’s questions, and then politely asking, when they are done, if the person will leave a review. “Peer Proof”—which is what I’m calling reviews, testimonials, recommendations, and referrals—is becoming the main driver of any type of sale. If you’re not actively seeking peer proof, you’re missing out. Big time.
3. They want to know who is behind the company.
Every single buyer of a B2B product or service tells me the same thing: “The first thing I do when making this type of purchase is go to the About section of the site to see who is running the company.” They want to understand who these people are and what gets them up in the morning. If the bios consist of boring corporate drivel, the customer will assume that they may not have a positive experience; that the employees are probably bored and discouraged. If it is obvious that the top leaders are passionate and positive, and they care about customers, then customers dare to hope they will be treated well.
Interestingly, this is also becoming more common with B2C buyers as well, especially among the woke generation. They want to know who is running the company to make sure that top managers care about the planet and humane working conditions.
By the way, what they read in the About section—and in your blogs and other more “personal” content—can make them decide that they want to do business with you, which means that by the time they reach out, they are pre-sold. This is what leads to closing rates of 80 – 90 percent. As long as the first conversation aligns with the positive vibes they got from your content, you’re on your way to a successful sale.
Now, I should mention here that if you don’t really like your customers, you shouldn’t get on the phone with them. In fact, I’d wonder if you should be doing something else for a living.
4. They want to talk to someone who knows more about the topic than they do.
Whoever responds to a buyer’s inquiry needs to know what they’re talking about. This is where too many company leaders are failing right now—especially those heading up B2B service companies. They’re hiring callers who know less than the buyers do, and buyers are totally turned off during that first conversation.
At the very least, the buyer knows—intimately and completely—what his problem is, and he’s researched your competition. That puts him way ahead of a salesperson who has just had a bit of training and is put on the phone.
That’s why it’s better to have customer service types, who focus on helping the customer buy, rather than trying to push a customer into a sale. The buyer wants a meaningful conversation with a helpful, knowledgeable person.
All this means that YOU might be the best person to respond, if you’re selling a high-ticket B2B service. Frankly, if you can’t find time in your busy day to talk to people who want to buy from you, your priorities are messed up anyway. It is so easy to get comfortable running the business, literally ignoring the fact that if there are no customers, there is no business.
5. They want to know you care.
Human beings can always tell when someone cares; it is one of the first lessons they learn, in infancy. By the time they are bonafide buyers, their intuition about “who cares and who doesn’t” is highly developed. So your most important job is to make it easy for your customers to interact with your company, people, and processes.
Your people should feel your passion for the happiness of customers, every single day. They should know that their first job is to make sure customers are happy, and to tell you if they sense that something is amiss.
If you don’t really care, your customers will know it. It will be written all over your website, social media, and the attitudes of your people. And, not surprisingly, your sales will suffer.
As business owners, we have a responsibility to our customers. Everything they do with our company should be pleasant, honest, and satisfying. If you run your company this way, sales will be much, much easier for you. You’ll be keeping the promise that your marketing messages are making. Your customers and your employees will help you increase your sales. Employees will delight your customers and your customers will refer others. All of your properly designed selling efforts (where you truly do make it easier for your customers to buy) will be amplified by this additional positive customer karma. This is how the smartest business owners sell more.
Hi Kristin: I fully agree with your statement, “If you aren’t in alignment with what [customers] want to buy and how they want to buy, you will struggle to make sales.” What makes this challenging to put into practice is that when it comes to parsing operational meaning, Alignment has a squishy definition. I’ll just say that when I see harmful outcomes for some stakeholders coexisting with beneficial outcomes for others, it’s time for a sanity check. Exploitative labor and environmental practices are prominent examples today. Good for my supply chain. Great for my company’s profits. Helpful to my customers because child labor and lax environmental stewardship keep my prices low. But, unquestionably bad for workers and their physical and mental health. It’s not realistic to expect that buyer and seller objectives should “match.” But whenever they’re in direct conflict, it’s a sign of trouble, as Amazon’s frictions with the vendors who sell on its site painfully illustrates.
In my experience, buyers want lots of things that don’t make sense. Reading Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational corroborated my opinion. But I didn’t need his book for that. As a software provider, I fielded thousands of requests from customers – from ingenious to unhinged. One of many unhinged requests that was particularly memorable was from prospect who wanted the ability to simply over-write the inventory Quantity on Hand. That’s right ! The system reports quantity 1,410 in the warehouse, and the operator types over it with a different value. Just like that! No muss, no fuss, no adjusting transaction, no General Ledger entry. I was so astonished when I initially heard it, I asked him to confirm my understanding. He did. When I subsequently shared this bizarre request with the company’s development manager and his team, the reaction in the room was understandably risible. No, this customer was not accommodated in their request, because it didn’t make sense in the first place. What this eventual customer did get was something they never asked for, and didn’t know they needed: an inventory and financial accounting system with documented transaction processing steps and audit controls.
The reason for mentioning this anecdote is that it connects to my second point – that buyer and seller objectives don’t match, and don’t need to in order to achieve the right results for both.