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Selling is not a dirty word. Domini Stuart looks at why so many business owners don’t like marketing, and what experts suggest to turn those negatives into positives and deliver benefits to customers as well as to the bottom line.


Active ImageThe word ‘selling’ elicits a shudder of dread in many business owners. They’ll say they hate it and they’re no good at it. It’s a serious problem because no matter how good you are at what you do, if you can’t use your marketing skills you won’t have much of a business.

"A lot of people spend time and energy getting better at what they’re already good at and no time at all on improving their marketing ability," says Paul McCarthy, director of Business Support Network. "In reality, you’re more likely to be successful if you’re better at marketing than the other way round."

So why are we so resistant to such a fundamental aspect of doing business? For some people, it’s about being sabotaged by outdated ideas. "People think selling is about putting on pressure and coming up with a crunching close," says McCarthy. "Some training still perpetuates the ‘used car salesman’ approach—the idea that you need to be pushy to the point of manipulation and have the gift of the gab. But the most innovative sales people have moved way past manipulative techniques. Instead, they focus on interacting with potential customers, building relationships and answering genuine needs. When you engage your customer in respectful dialogue, ask questions and listen more than talk, as long as what you’re offering fulfils a want or need you are bound to have a positive outcome."

McCarthy believes that focusing too hard on the close causes stress and tension, and actually reduces your chance of success. "Potential customers can sense the instant you’re uncomfortable with what you’re saying, and they interpret it as ‘I don’t believe you’ or ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’," he says.

Communication specialist and emotional intelligence (EI) coach, Rachel Green, says you also need to manage your customers’ emotions. "People buy products they trust from people they trust, and who appear to understand and relate to them," she says. "If someone comes to buy a carpet, a car, or a professional service from you and they are anxious about whether it’s going to be right for them, you need to spot their anxiety. If you acknowledge rather than ignore it, the customer will feel understood. You can then work out how to help them overcome the emotion, so that they trust their decisions, and trust you and the product."

A recent American study showed that consumers were far more interested in a salesperson’s friendliness, charm, and sincere enthusiasm than their product knowledge. The closer we look at the sales process, the more obvious it becomes that people want to be treated well.

There’s nothing new about good customer service—the most successful businesses have been putting it into action for years—but there are innovative ways of adding value for your customers.

The internet, for example, has made it easier than ever to share information, and can cost next to nothing. Yet potential customers who see you as the expert are often itching to tap into the knowledge you carry in your head.

Another cost-effective way to add value is to bundle. If one product sells for $100, could you put together a package of three for $200? Or bundle five complementary products for an even more significant saving? Apart from the obvious benefits of upselling, customers are more likely to buy when they can choose between two or more options rather than something and nothing.

Green believes customer service can set a business apart. She gives an example of a Chinese restaurant she heard about from friends, where customers for takeaway orders were offered a free cup of good coffee while they waited. "Firstly, my friends told me about the coffee and thus the restaurant gained free word-of-mouth advertising, which is often the best advertising," she says. "The free coffee is a great marketing ploy and helps spread a positive reputation for the restaurant at minimal cost.

"Secondly, the people who go there keep going there. Why? Because the coffee makes them feel special, it gives them something to do while they wait, and most people like to get something for free, even if they can afford it and sometimes even if they don't need it! Thirdly, the restaurant stands out from the other takeaway places who don't offer coffee. The food may be no better, but the customer service is."

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For Dr Stella Karakasi, the term word-of-mouth is particularly pertinent. It’s the name of her business, and her business is dentistry. A visit to the dentist doesn’t usually conjure up pictures of fun and entertainment, but Karakasi’s innovative thinking has transformed the patient experience. People certainly appreciate that the surgery has the latest hi-tech tools to help with education, diagnosis, and treatment, but it’s the little things that really make a visit memorable.

Along with a huge saltwater aquarium, aromatherapy fragrances create a soothing environment in the waiting room. Those who prefer a little excitement can play a game on the Sony PlayStation. Then, when patients are led through for treatment, their favourite type of CD or DVD will already be playing.

"We know who our patients are, and we do our best to tailor an experience which will be totally unforgettable for all the right reasons," Karakasi says.

Realistic Goals

Everyone needs something to aim for, but it’s vital that your targets are meaningful—out of reach but not out of sight. "If someone tells me their financial target for 2007 is to make a million dollars, the first thing I want to know is how much they made in 2006," says Paul McCarthy. "If they tell me $60,000 I know they have almost zero chance of achieving their goal. It’s so far off the current radar that their mind just won’t connect with it.

"I might suggest a goal of $120,000. To double your sales would be a great achievement—and a terrific first step on the path to maybe making that million a bit further down the track."

The next step is working out what you need to do or change in order to meet that target—and that could be as simple as taking a fresh look at your pricing structure. "Pricing is more often a reflection of your own self esteem and what you believe you’re worth than a reflection of market value," McCarthy says. "Most people don’t want to be the cheapest, but don’t think they’re good enough or experienced enough to be the most expensive. As an exercise, I get people to arrange themselves and their competitors on a vertical line ranked by what they charge. I then ask what it is that makes it OK for those above to charge more—and the answer is often ‘nothing’."

McCarthy cites a husband and wife team of wedding photographers who offered packages priced at $500, $1,000 and $1,500. They were so uncomfortable with the whole charging process that they inevitably ended up selling the cheapest, yet they were absolutely committed to providing work of the highest quality.

"I suggested that they start by making the top price their cheapest price," he says. "I also helped them to change the whole sales process to one where they ask questions, listen to the answers and work out exactly what the customer is trying to capture before suggesting the package which best answers those needs. They’re much more comfortable with the approach,
and now they’re still not selling many of the $1,500 packages because most people choose the most expensive. At first they were worried about losing business, but they’re still putting in the same number of hours as before. The only difference is that they’ve more than doubled their income."

While most marketing messages focus on benefits and pleasure, McCarthy points out that it is often pain that drives people to act. "People don’t come to me because they’re doing brilliantly and want to do even better," he says. "It’s only when the pain is strong enough they’ll do something about it."

If you feel anxious about selling, you might remember that. Forget the pressure and the crunching close. Listen, provide information, and be your enthusiastic self. Chances are, what you’re really doing isn’t selling but helping someone feel better.



Nine-point checklist for success

      •Attitude: Henry Ford once said, "If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right".

      •Quality: Be fanatical!

      •Promotion: Promote benefits not features.

      •Distribution: Make it easy for your customer to access, return or reorder your product.

      •Marketing: Your target audience wants to know ‘what’s in it for me’.

      •Uniqueness: A unique experience for your customer is the first vital step in creating a meaningful point of difference.

      •Price: Build value into your product or service and sell at a fair price.

      •Adding value: Adding value is a powerful way to increase customer loyalty and generate positive word-of-mouth referrals.

      •Follow up: This is traditionally the weakest area of any businesses.

Source: www.bizsupport.com.au

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