We're pleased to present this guest post by Britton Manasco, who specializes in helping companies establish thought leadership and enable their sales teams to engage more prospects and close more business. Read on for his insightful thoughts on what it takes to earn the trust of prospective buyers.
Trust is essential to successful selling, particularly if you are engaged in a high impact sale.
But here’s the problem. Trust is now trading at a higher premium than ever. Why is that? Well, look around. Economic uncertainty is extraordinarily high and threatens to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Unpleasant factors that once were cyclical seem to have to have become structural.
Call it the trust barrier.
These days, decisions are made at higher levels than ever – and with the participation of more parties than ever. In most cases, prospective buyers would rather not buy what sellers are selling. They’d rather not even take a call or get entangled. They’d rather remain wedded to the status quo – however unsatisfying that is. They just don’t want to take a chance. The pain of failure (decision theorists call it “loss aversion”) weighs much more heavily on them than the promise of gain.
Constrained budgets are at stake…and careers…and reputations.
And that’s why the trust barrier has risen to new heights – and why new strategies are necessary to surmount it.
Unsurprisingly, I hear more and more people making the case that face-to-face meetings are now critical. How else will you build trust? Of course, you are free to use your body as a prospecting tool, as Sharon Drew Morgen, author of Dirty Little Secrets, cleverly puts it. That may even make sense if the economics of the deal (or the proximity of your buyers) are right.
But I wonder. Maybe there are better ways to cross the trust barrier.
Take the first meeting. Why should that meeting be in person? It’s my view that you can sell higher and reach more senior decision makers if you don’t lock them into a face-to-face meeting initially. After all, they don’t want to get stuck in their office with a clown (even if it is a classically trained Auguste clown like Fizbo on Modern Family). They probably don’t want to talk about the weather or golf or the local NFL team for a good chunk of that meeting. And they don’t want to do something as uncouth as throw poor Fizbo out.
But the research suggests that clowns abound.
McKinsey found that inadequate product knowledge and excessive customer contact – a lethal combination, apparently – were the two most destructive behaviors in the selling process. IDC found in its research on the customer experience that more than 50% of sales people were showing up to meetings unprepared. And Forrester Research found that just 15% of executives believe sales meetings meet their expectations.
Why in the world – if the odds suggest the sales meeting will be a drag – would a prospective customer actually want to invite an unproven sales person into his or her office and risk getting tied up for an hour? Well, they probably don’t. And they probably shouldn’t.
That’s why you might want to start with a 20-minute executive briefing (not a product demo) that you give from a distance via WebEx or GoToMeeting. It’s a chance for you establish an initial level of trust and credibility without asking too much from someone who is already (justifiably) wary and skeptical.
Trust is earned. Step by step. Conversation by conversation.
Fortunately, new tools enable you to powerfully stage and sequence your interactions without sacrificing the human touch. Few get this right, however. They either spend all their time trying to get in front of their prospects. Or they spend all their time trying to give them product demos at the outset.
What you can do, instead, is engage prospects with value-focused presentations – executive briefings – that are heavy on the potential problem and relatively light on the solution. You can determine if the prospect is truly experiencing pain you can address – and find out if the scope and magnitude of that pain justifies the challenge of change and cost of a solution.
Indeed, you can do all this virtually. Here’s what I recommend: Make a Skype-like appearance at the beginning of your conversation. Then provide some insightful slides as a backdrop to your conversation – as a visual explanation of the breakdown you’ve seen companies like your prospect’s experience and the breakthrough you’ve provided. Make sure you leave time for plenty of discovery questions and discussion. And share a success story or two. Then, if you wish, reappear on the screen to complete the conversation.
Show them that you are a professional – and that you are not wearing clown makeup.
And keep it to 20 minutes (unless the prospect requests more).
Honor your commitment. You can convey much more – about your insights into the possible problem and the value of a potential solution – in a shorter period of time and from a greater (physical) distance – by taking this approach.
You’ll establish yourself as a trusted authority – and someone who’s actually taken the time to examine your prospect’s situation.
Whether future meetings occur in virtual space or the prospect’s office, you will have taken the essential steps to build trust. You’ll have made appropriate investments in each other. And, if it makes sense to proceed, you’ll begin exploring a deal in earnest.
Through a process of mutual discovery, the walls will fall.
About the author: Britton Manasco is a specialist in thought leadership marketing and sales enablement. Check out his blog, Illuminating the Future or reach him at 512-301-4881. His forthcoming book is Provoke Your Prospect: Challenge the Present and Sell the Future.