It is not unrealistic to say that sales is like the air we breath, for an organization. The air (sales) that enters your startup’s system will keep it going in the face of all odds. The day the sales (air) stop you are dead.
What Comes Before Selling
Selling is always thought to be a process that starts after your product or service is all polished and packed for shipping. You can take that approach but it will not get you far. Your selling starts even before your product even gets a name. Much before it is even prototyped. Way before you start production and long before you figure out how to distribute it.
Who Is Your Customer?
Selling a product or a service starts with the customer. The most important actor in a sales transaction is the customer. If you have not identified who the customer is before the product is even conceived, you are setting yourself up for a very hard and uphill task.
Knowing your customer intimately means, you need to know:
- what language he speaks
- what kind of places she hangs out
- what shoes he wears
- what car she drives
- where they eat
- which school his kid goes to
- or whatever else is relevant about your customer based on your product
You need to speak to at least 10 or 50 or 100 people who are representatives of your target customer segment before you spend a single rupee on product development or service design. The insights that you get by discussing your product idea with your target market is invaluable and can save you a lot of money in developing a product that your customer cares for.
What Does Your Customer Need?
The most important point that you need to remember is that, you cannot sell a product to a customer if he is not looking for the solution that your product provides.
Before you think of starting to sell your product, you need to learn how to tell the story that culminates in a person becoming your customer.
Positioning Your Offering
The positioning of your product decides where you can sell, who buys it and how much you can sell it for.
People don't buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons. - Zig Ziglar
There are a few ways you can position your product or service.
The Mass Market Hero
You product sells cheap but is designed to serve the needs of a large market. You hope to sell large volumes and generate a large turnover. You are the Maruti Alto of your market.
The Middle Market Leader
You serve a few niche segments. Yours is not the cheapest product in the market. You price you product in the middle. Your revenues come with a balance of healthy profit margins and moderately high volumes. You are the Honda City of your market.
The Diamond Class
You have designed your product or service to be one of the best in quality and highest in cost. Your sales campaigns are high touch and your sales cycles are long drawn. You are the Mercedes S Class of your market.
Your sales strategies will be driven by your positioning. Everything starts with positioning and goes from there.
Knowing What Your Customer Knows
Advertising is a huge part of your campaigns. Every sale has its origin in promotion and advertising. Advertising the process of getting the attention of a customer and getting him to call you / click on a link / visit your office (if that is what you want).
The only way you can compel someone to do any one of the things mentioned above, is by speaking to their current desire. You need to show the customer that you can provide them the solution to their current problem.
Every customer goes through a few widely accepted stages before he or she can become a paying customer. Your advertising needs to speak to the customers at all these stages and nurture them towards the almost final stage of buying from you.
The Stages of Customer Transformation
The No Problem Stage
Before a customer feels the need for a solution to a problem, he must realize that he has a problem. And it is not such an obvious thing. Many people go through life without realizing that what they have is a problem that can be solved. Until that realization strikes them no amount of advertising can make them budge from their current stage to get closer to becoming your customer.
Trying to sell to a customer who is at this stage is close to impossible and may not be worth the effort.
The Problem Aware Stage
In this problem aware stage the customer know that he has a problem and that it can be solved. He may now know how it can be solved, but knows that it can be solved.
Your advertisements that talk to customers in this stage must lead with the problem and introduce them to the possible solutions.
The Solution Aware Stage
In this stage, the customer is aware of what kind of products or services he can avail to solve his problems. She knows of many brands that offer solution to his problem, but she is not aware of your product or service.
The advertisements that you run to target the customers at this stage must be to introduce your product to the customer as strong contender.
The Benefits Aware Stage
In this stage, the customer knows about you and your solutions. He considers you a serious contender but does not know the specific benefits that you offer.
Your job as an advertiser in this stage to put forth the benefits that you product offers in an enticing way to the customer.
The Offer Stage
In this stage the customer is fully convinced that you are the most eligible company to buy from. They are fully aware of all that they will get by buying from you and how it is better for them to buy from you than elsewhere.
All you need to do in this stage is to provide them a compelling offer.
The Keeper Stage
Once the customer has bought from you, you can then extend the lifetime value that you derive from the customer through a positive customer experience. Communication that happens at this stage is not advertising in the traditional sense but is engagement.
Thus, it is not enough to create one ad and expect the sales registers to start ringing. You need to be deeply aware of your customers and what they are going through right now. No customer can jump from the No Problem Stage to the Keeper Stage, you need to walk them up the stairs gently and carefully.
Where Is Your Market At
In addition to the stages of awareness explained above, there is another dimension to the advertising game. And that is Market Sophistication. Market Sophistication helps you to position your problem properly. One example that can help illustrate the point is the Electric Two Wheeler.
Let us say that you are first to market with your electric two wheeler. Your customers are hearing about your product segment for the very first time. In this case, a simple statement like - “A motorbike that runs like the wind without a single drop of gasoline” - is enough to get the attention of the customer.
Now if you are second or third or fourth in the market, then you can no longer say the statement above without people start saying - “Yeah? So What”. Your communication needs to get sophisticated and needs to go deeper into saying in what way your electric motorbike better than the ones in the market. You need to start saying numbers, features, comparisons with existing products, for your message to stand out.
Selling To the Leads
The job of advertising is to generate solid leads that your sales team can start engaging with and converting them to sales and revenue. This is where the pedal meets the metal and the Selling (with a capital S) starts.
In his book - Ziglar on Selling - Zig Ziglar talks about various strategies and attitudes that your sales team must adopt to get sales to happen.
- Find someone willing to buy - if you cannot figure out soon enough if someone is willing to buy or not, you will be wasting a lot of time on sales calls that do not convert.
- Sell By Design and Not By Chance - plan your sales strategies, your sales calls, your answers to customer’s question. Plan and prepare for every eventuality, you sales will become more and more predictable.
- Make the Lights Go On - help your customer discover the real need that is bothering them. Do not go by the symptoms of the needs. Solve the real need and see your repeat sales and recommendations go up.
- AAFTO - Always Ask For The Order - you have got to be asking for the sales to be closed and the other to be placed. If you hesitate to ask for the order, then someone else will snoop and take your customer.
- Build a Successful Sales Support System - your back end team sitting at the office has to understand the importance of the needs of your customers and be willing to go the extra mile to back you up in supporting your customers.
Conclusion - Never let the Dust Settle
The day your sales team decides to take rest, that is the day your sales will start to decline. The job of a sales team never ends. The same rule applies to your marketing and advertising, you can stop advertising your product, the day you decide to close your business. You have to be always on the search for better ways to reach your customers and novel ways to sell.