To understand selling is to understand that in the pursuit of profitable new clients you have no business trying to convince anyone of anything, ever. To the question, if my job is not to convince, what then, I respond: It is to help the unaware, to inspire the interested and to reassure the intent. This Win Without Pitching model of selling ideas and advice acknowledges that people buy in stages, and it implies that your role as a facilitator of the buying process needs to change with each stage. I have previously addressed the subjects of reassuring those who have formed intent (December, 2004) and inspiring those with interest and no intent (July, 2005). In this issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter we look at how to treat those with neither intent nor interest – the unaware. This issue might also be titled, ‘What Comes After No’.
The first stage in the buying cycle is unaware. The unaware prospect does not see that he has a problem that you are able to help him with. Notice that our perspective here is the prospect's and not yours. Either he sees a need, and your ability to help, or he does not. The fact that you see a need is almost immaterial.
“Let me tell you what you need…”
There are two mistakes commonly made after hearing no from the prospect when inquiring about need. The first is the attempt to talk him into seeing need. You do not create need, nor do you tell someone their need. Your job is to uncover it. To help the prospect discover it. If your language includes the words ‘you need,’ or ‘you should’ then that’s a sign that you are convincing at the very point in the buying cycle when you should be helping. And help is all you can do for the unaware because to do anything else is to reinforce their defensive perspective that you are trying to create a sale. Inspiration – your objective once someone acknowledges their problem but prior to them forming intent to act on it – is a powerful tool for helping to form that intent, but it is rare that you can inspire someone to see their need. Unaware prospects can be defensive and sometimes downright hostile. Once they perceive that you are trying to persuade them, a wall goes up between the parties and every word that comes out of your mouth has the potential to do you serious long-term discredit.
The Senseless Discard
The second mistake made after hearing no is to cross the prospect off the list and discard them. This is a symptom of the hunter mentality that characterizes the common business development approach of shoot, miss, and move on. Somebody who does not currently see a need with which you are qualified to help is not somebody that you want to invest a lot of resources in, but it's not someone to ignore either. All things change in time, and everybody is buying over time, so if the prospect otherwise fits the criteria of the organizations that you would like to someday do business with then assign the appropriate next steps (identified below) and move on.
While most unaware prospects will not be sold to or inspired, the majority will accept helpful, unbiased fact-based information on their situation, and one of the better vehicles for such information is a newsletter. No, not the type of newsletter that talks about staff birthdays and your latest and greatest work, but newsletters that position you as an expert and provide valuable information, in your area of expertise, to the prospect. The newsletter is a helping tool and not a promoting tool. I vet a lot of agency newsletters and most first drafts are thinly veiled reasons why the reader should hire the agency. Or they pose self-serving questions such as, Should You Fire Your Agency or Should You Redo Your Brand? If yours is an expert agency then you should be able to offer valuable expert advice that helps the client, positions you as an expert, decreases buying resistance, and over time might help the prospect come to the conclusion that perhaps he might do things better. Be sure to resist the urge to sell. One slip and your unaware prospect will quit reading for good.
The other content caveat to bear in mind is scarcity. Is your content information that is readily available elsewhere? Resist the urge to write branding or marketing 101 messages that can be found at most chamber of commerce luncheons. Go narrow and deep.
Other helping tools include clipped articles of interest on the prospect's industry. I've seen agency principals attend tradeshows specific to their vertical and publish their notes and observations from the show. Others collect web links to timely published information on their vertical or discipline, and send out brief email notices with a summary of this month's content and a link back to the news page on their website. Your content must be valuable to the client, it must position you as an expert, and it cannot in any way promote your firm or your services. (Hint: if your content even mentions work you've done or your clients then you’re probably selling too hard.)
The Next Steps (What Comes After No)
So what do you do once you've heard no? Three things. First, thank the prospect for his time. Second, tell him you will follow up down the road. Six months is a good rule of thumb. “I'm glad to hear you're taken care of. I know that everything changes with time so I'm going to follow-up with you in six months to see if your situation has changed.” You're not asking permission, you're merely stating your intent. Your third point is a request to help between now and then. “Until then, we publish a monthly resource for our clients on the subject of X (your expertise) and I'd be happy to add you to the distribution if this is of interest to you. Would you care to receive it?” Properly framed, your take rate on your newsletter should be over 50%. When you make that follow-up call in six months your prospect may still be unaware, but if you've properly helped him you will have set the tone for a far more fruitful and rewarding conversation – one that will some day lead to yes.
Helping Turns Hunters into Farmers
I often lecture, “quit hunting and start farming,” but I've learned that while it's easy for me to say, it's not easy to just change your perspective and decide that from this moment forward it will be okay to hear no. The people who are able to make this fundamental shift in perspective are those that have helping tools in place, like a strong newsletter. These are the people that are able to take this advice to heart and treat every no like a little victory. They can see what comes after no and they like what they see. It is those who lack the helping tools for these prospects early in the buying cycle that live in fear of no. For the farmer with the patience to help the unaware, every no is a seed that will one day bear fruit. But the hunter dies the death of a thousand lashes, with every no representing a missed opportunity that brings him a little closer to desperation, robbing him of a little bit more of his spirit.