Imagine two different kinds of business - ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’. You’ve met the ‘unattractive’ business often. It’s the empty restaurant when you’re on holiday, with an overly keen waiter outside trying urgently to get you to come inside. What you do? No matter how keen he is, and how brilliant he tells you the food is, you keep on walking.
Then you see another restaurant. There’s no waiter beckoning you in. In fact, there’s a queue of people waiting for a table. You join the queue. You’re asked if you have a reservation. You don’t. What happens now? You’re desperate to become a customer. You really want to eat there! This is an attractive business.
Unattractive businesses are hard work, stressful and largely unrewarding. You have to ‘sell’ yourself to people. You’re constantly chasing new clients, and the clients you have got are hard work to retain. If you’re an ‘unattractive’ business, you’re always having to ‘push’ yourself at the marketplace.
But ‘selling’ and ‘pushing’ don’t work anymore. Especially in the creative and service industries.
Attractive businesses are different. People will queue, wait and pay fortunes to become customers. Think of Apple and their latest product, a celebrity hairdresser with a 4-month waiting list, or a superstar business guru like Seth Godin.
These businesses don’t ‘sell’. They do something very different: They understand the problems of their marketplace, they have clear, compelling and attractive solutions to those problems, and they’re visible in the marketplace without being pushy.
When you ‘sell’ to clients, you reduce trust. You stop listening and start ‘pushing’. Psychologically, this makes your product or service unattractive or, at best, a commodity. You become the same as everyone else.
When you stop selling, and start deeply understanding the problems of your target market and how to articulate solutions to those problems, miraculous things can happen. You become an advisor, or trusted provider rather than salesperson. ‘Upselling’ can happen almost by accident. You become more competitor-proof.
How to stop ‘selling’
First, do a self-audit. Have a look at your website, brochures, social media profiles and so on. Is the value of what you deliver obvious, credible and compelling immediately? If I were a client, would I feel that you ‘get me’, or would I feel sold to?
If you’re like most businesses, your website will say something like
‘We are a market-leading …’
‘Our unique process …’
‘We are a world-leader in ..’
‘We implement a range of …’
There’s almost no value in those kinds of messages for your clients. You’re selling, instead of being attractive. You’re pushing yourself at them, instead of pulling them towards you.
In my recent session at The Hospital Club, I asked everyone to to drill down to the real value of what they do. You can find an exercise for doing that here.
Secondly, try to create a culture where you move away from ‘selling’ to clients and move towards genuinely listening to the needs that they have (and yes, that’s genuinely listening, not ‘listening until I can start selling’). Don’t provide solutions before you really know the problem. Don’t prescribe before diagnosing.
Thirdly, get to know the problems your clients deal with. Great salespeople always deeply understand the problems of their marketplace.
Fourthly - and this is where the magic happens, be visible. Being visible is one of the best ways to stop chasing clients, and encourage them to come to you. In fact, if you get this step right, you’ll never need to cold-call ever again.
You need to be visible in the right way - by solving client problems.
For example, you’re a design agency, and your clients are small businesses. They might be worried about building a profile on a budget, or looking credible. So, help them solve their problems - tell them the answers to those problems. And do it in the following three ways:
1. Speaking. This can range from standing on stage at a conference, to recording videos, breakfast meetings, lunch and learns, webinars, podcasts, industry panels and so on. Grab every chance you can to speak about what you do, and go where your clients are likely to be. I speak at The Hospital Club, for example, because many of my clients are creative agencies (not just because I’m a big show-off).
People who speak are instantly seen as experts. Even better - people who see you speak and like what you say like you. You become competitor-proof.
2. Writing. ‘Writing’ here means anything from a book, to a blog, to one-page articles about a client problem, white papers, case studies, interviews, quizzes, articles to industry publications and so on.
Writing is a terrific way of building your profile, building trust, and ‘selling without selling’. It’s much easier to become a ‘guru’ if you write about what you do, and particularly if you write about what’s valuable to your clients.
3. Networking. This ranges from awkward evening events with warm white wine, through to chats before a conference starts - try them all! Meeting people face-to-face is a great way to build trust and credibility and ‘sell without selling’.
It’s really important not to ‘sell’ when you’re speaking, writing and networking. Here’s the phrase I use to guide me:
‘People love to buy, but they hate to be sold to’.
I saw a seminar recently, which was ruined by the fact that the speaker clumsily went from his interesting talk into ‘how you can work with me’.
So don’t sell - give your clients valuable information and let them come to you.You need some way of staying in touch with them, but nothing more ‘pushy’ than that.
Work with these ideas. Imagine what it would be like if most of your clients came to you because they’d seen you speak and liked what you had to say, or they’d read something you’d written, or the message on your website really resonated with them, because they could see the value of what you do - think of how easy ‘selling’ is when that happens!
There are many more ideas in ‘sales without selling’, but if you do just the ideas here, you’ll see a significant change in your sales results. I wrote a short eBook for attendees at the club recently, and if you’d like it, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org - I promise not to try and sell you anything!
Connect with Lee via the Members Network here.