The other day I answered the question “What is your best advice for selling a product?” and that really got me thinking. I come from a family of entreprenneurs, so selling what I do is no only my bread and butter now but might have been in my mother’s milk as well. But we are also the kind of people who will run a mile if we feel like you are trying to sell us something and will not buy your product (even if we like it) because we hate being pushed.
So, how do you sell without selling? The answer isn’t a sales trick but a genuine change of attitude. From thinking: “I have a product I want to sell to you!!” to “Tell me about your problem and I might be able to help you solve it.” Because, honestly, nobody wants to buy your product because they want to buy your product – they want to have their problem solved and if your product can do that, great! That means instead of having a perfect, one-size-fits-all sales pitch and attacking your victims (a.k.a. clients) with it, your three most important skills for developing business relationships are
2. Empathy and
3. Thinking on your feet.
These things are especially important if you are providing a product or service that is complex, customizable and personality-based, where people don’t just buy a physical gadget from you but engage in a service relationship, where a lot of the value they get is linked to what kind of person you are. If it will be your role to advise or teach them something, they have to first like and trust you to even want to engage you.
So start by listening and finding out what your client’s problem is. Often they will have a vague idea and your first service is to help them frame the problem, give it a compelling name and together developing a story line of 1. This is what it is at the moment, 2. This is where it comes from, 3. This is what we would want it to be and 4. This is how we could achieve that. And only number 4 on this list is where your product may come in.
But what do you do if you realize on the way that your product or service actually won’t solve their problem? Then don’t waste everybody’s time by pushing it on them and stay focussed on your mission of solving their problem. Tell them honestly what you would do in their situation, recommend a product, service, book, colleague or course of action that might help.
That is the final test of whether you use this strategy as a sales trick or you really mean it. And the person you are talking with will be mightily impressed when they realize you REALLY just want to solve their problem. Also, it saves you the pain of doing a bad project that might pay you now but harm your reputation in the long run. You can choose between being remembered as: “The guy who talked us into wasting a lot of money with false promises” or “The generous and competent person who helped us solve our problem.”