Being a consumer is often more painful than it should be. I’ve recently been bombarded with daily emails from a salesperson — who knows nothing about me beyond the fact that I own a business — trying to sell me a quality-assurance tool. “We can test your mobile app,” the representative offers chirpily. There’s just one problem: My company doesn't have a mobile app.
So why do I keep receiving these emails? It’s because this salesperson has been trained to hit all prospective customers, regardless of who they are, until he gets a response. Spam is the default sales model.
But “spray and pray” selling — the practice of reaching out to as many prospects as possible and hoping something sticks — isn’t a viable tactic in today’s highly personalized, highly informed economy. In fact, cold calls result in an initial appointment — not even a sale — just 1 to 3 percent of the time.
Long before a sale is made, today’s informed consumer has already invested time into learning about his options. If it becomes clear that a salesperson hasn’t also invested time to learn about the customer’s needs, then the sale falls through. “If the salesperson doesn’t know me,” the customer reasons, “then how can I trust him to know what’s right for me?”
When you walk into your doctor’s office, she already knows about your last visit to the emergency room, the pain medication you take, your allergy to avocados, and that your grandfather died of colon cancer. She’ll probably want to know your cholesterol levels and renal function, and she’ll probably ask about your home life and financial situation. In short, her job is to become an expert on you.
Equipped with a holistic view of your life, the doctor engenders your trust. Knowing her to be personally interested in your health, you’re inclined to embrace whatever course of treatment she prescribes. You see her as a partner in your health, not as a party interested solely in your money.
Salespeople would do well to study the doctor-patient relationship. The “spray and pray” sales method represents the antithesis of medicine, in which the physician builds a relationship with you before prescribing solutions. And research supports the doctor’s method: According to research by HipLead, a relationship-oriented email that demonstrates social proof can increase conversion rates by up to 468 percent.
Today’s sales strategies don’t work. It’s time to prescribe a new sales strategy for your team:
The medical profession is structured to deliver efficient, high-quality care. The general practitioner is the first port of call, a friendly face who can work quickly to triage patients who require a specialist’s care.
Your sales team should take the same approach. A generalist can quickly identify and categorize customers’ needs, and then specialists can offer the in-depth, personalized experience. Customers want relational, expert advice from specialists — not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Perhaps it’s counterintuitive, but implementing a specialist structure within your sales organization can actually require less staff. There’s an upfront resource cost for additional training — specialists must be true experts in their niche approaches — but think of it as an investment in your team.
Perhaps you’re a mobile app development company: You have customers in diverse industries, from healthcare to grocery stores to marketing companies. Designate a salesperson or two for each vertical, and then give each salesperson the tools to know his products and services inside out. This takes time and investment, but it’s a necessary step toward a more prescriptive approach.
Who says you have to try to sell to every single person in the world? Just as a neurologist wouldn’t attempt to treat a kidney disease, neither should your sales team waste time chasing every customer under the sun.
Isn’t that throwing away potential revenue? Not at all.
If a doctor refuses to prescribe a drug for a mild bout of arthritis, it’s because she knows the patient will achieve better results with over-the-counter medication or lifestyle changes. Putting the patient’s needs before profits will pay dividends down the road: The physician has built trust, and the patient will return if the arthritis worsens.
Sam Blond, vice president of sales at Zenefits, encourages sales representatives to turn down customers if the sizes of their organizations are not Zenefits’ cup of tea. Your product has a unique audience, and you can’t effectively market to that audience if you’re trying to please everybody.
It’s true that trucking companies and Silicon Valley startups alike need human resource services, but these customers are worlds apart. As HR company Zenefits knows, a pitch designed to sway both of them will effectively reach neither. Target your sales to customers whose industries and backgrounds your team specializes in.
You trust your doctor because she knows and understands you. You don’t have to spend every appointment re-explaining issues, and you don’t have to draw an elaborate doodle of what exactly that surgeon did to your knee.
If you want to compete for today’s consumer, you have to think long-term. To develop trust, you need to know the consumer’s personal history, his likes and dislikes, and his recurring frustrations your product could solve.
In many ways, your product is a course treatment. Much like doctors or nurses, who rely on a thorough understanding of a patient’s genetic makeup to recommend the right treatment, salespeople need to be well attuned to the “genetic” persona of a buyer.
While consumers have become more informed and sophisticated, sales tactics haven’t. To remain relevant when consumers can purchase anything they want with just a couple of clicks, the salesperson’s value proposition must be her prescriptive service, not just her product. A relational approach is just what the doctor ordered.
Falon Fatemi is founder and CEO of Node, a stealth startup of ex-Googlers backed by NEA, Mark Cuban, Avalon Ventures, Canaan Partners, and more. Falon has spent the past five years as a business development executive doing strategy consulting for startups and VCs and advising a variety of companies on everything from infrastructure to drones. Previously, Falon spent six years at Google starting at age 19. As one of the youngest employees in the company, Falon worked on sales strategy and operations focusing on global expansion, Google.org, and business development for YouTube.
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