To close a sale, a prospect needs to commit to buy (plus a few other steps, but that commitment is crucial). What transforms someone from a cynical prospect into a customer? What factors contribute to commitment?
In short, presentations must be loaded with convincing evidence to prove your product is reliable. The principle is simple: If a company incorporates trust and credibility in its marketing, skepticism naturally fades. Read on for 10 essential principles to build belief, sweep aside distrust, and close sales.
The first mention of an elevator traces back to around 236 A.D. It was nearly 1,700 hundred years later before the first working models were actually installed (in English and French palaces, no less).
There was just one problem. If the lift cable broke, the cab dropped, wounding or killing everyone inside. In 1852, Elisha Otis hoped to save lives (and make money) by introducing his safety elevator. And he did it with a very dramatic demonstration. In 1853 in front of a crowd of onlookers at the Crystal Palace, Otis raised his safety elevator three stories high and cut the cable while he was still inside.
Everyone gasped. Instead of plunging to the ground below, the elevator stopped when knurled rollers engaged. Otis was shaken up but unhurt. As you can imagine, orders came in hot and heavy. Otis’ demonstration proves our first principle of belief: If you want people to believe in the hard to believe, simply demonstrate what your product does.
A major blender company, for instance, employs attention-getting “Will It Blend?” YouTube videos as a dramatic form of demonstration. To dismiss any skepticism over the claim these blenders can grind anything and still remain sharp, the company blended iPhones and tablets. Views of the videos, and sales of the product, blew through the roof.
Of course car salespeople rely heavily on this principle. Rather than waste hours talking about a car, they simply hand the keys over to a prospective customer so they can experience the car first hand. All companies should do the same. Find a way to demonstrate your product, whether it’s software or a service. Be creative and don’t forget: the more dramatic, the better. But keep in mind, it’s important not to overpromise. There’s nothing worse than claiming a product can do something it can’t.
2. Explain the Reason Why
While Enlightenment-era thinkers would like you to believe otherwise, we are not as rational as we think we are. Books like Irrational Exuberance, Emotional Intelligence, and Descartes’ Error teach us that even the most analytical among us make decisions with emotions. Furthermore, we learn that without emotions we can’t make a decision in the first place.
In the sales context, this means people buy based on desire. Whether someone wants a promotion at work or a healthier lifestyle, those decisions are eventually justified with logic. That’s where “reason why” advertising comes in.
Here’s how to use “reason why” effectively. If you make an offer or claim, expect your prospect to wonder why you are making that claim. Explain why you are giving away a free sample of your product and why you are throwing in a free 30-minute consultation with every contract. It could be as simple as “I’m just a generous person.” Whatever it is make it clear; otherwise people will wonder if there’s a catch and remain skeptical.
3. Lay on the Details
In what’s known as the strategic use of evidence, lawyers and criminal investigators can often discover if a suspect is lying. Here’s how it works.
During interrogation the investigator asks the suspect a general question. If the suspect replies with a fuzzy answer that contradicts what the investigators already know to be true, then the suspect is probably lying. However if the suspect shares details that match what the investigator already knows, then the suspect is probably telling the truth. This is the power of details.
In the world of sales and marketing, numerous studies have demonstrated more specifics will drive up conversion. In sales presentations, the trick is to build in specificity. Add facts, research, quotes, and numbers. Be clear and concise. If there are vague or estimated numbers, you’ll look suspect or like you’re fudging. Steer clear of ambiguity.
4. Describe the Mechanism
Another way to get people to buy into your claim is to explain the mechanism behind it. For example, let’s say a fitness trainer makes the claim that in just 14 minutes a day, customers can add muscle to every inch of their body.
Notice what is not suggested: that these will be particularly big muscles. The implication is, at the very least, customers can achieve a toned body. That’s still a big claim, but the trainer can bring it into the realm of believability by explaining how this can happen.
In this case, let’s say the fitness program involves a chair. The value proposition can be summed up like this: a 14-minute chair routine that builds muscle on every inch of your body.
Notice, too, the trainer used several of the above tips to accomplish this. One, the claim is very specific about the amount of time it takes and the equipment necessary. In other words, it’s heavy with details.
In addition, as part of the live presentation the trainer could demonstrate the exercises or create a video. All of these factors help sweep aside skepticism. Finally, he could add a creative guarantee (see number nine), and his close rates are sure to go up.
5. Acknowledge Objections
Objections are a simple fact of the sales life. They’re like octopus tentacles—everyone has at least eight of them. Of course this is perfectly natural. Most potential customers are primed not to spend money and stiff-arm sales presentations (think of how you feel about people who staff mall kiosks).
And the reasons why they may object are just as numerous:
- They don’t like to make decisions.
- They hate change.
- They are busy.
- They don’t have the buying power (and don’t want to admit it).
- They are afraid.
- They didn’t sleep much last night.
Learning how to counter objections is a priority for salespeople. The best way to do that is to simply come out and acknowledge the objection. The conventional advice is to use the Feel-Felt-Found formula: “I know how you feel. This one guy felt the same way. Here’s what he found out.”
But make sure you get the real objection. Often people will object for one reason—to cover up for the real reason. It’s a red herring. With extra digging and through calculated questions, salespeople can surface the real objection and adjust the presentation.
For example, if you discover a prospect is playing hardball simply because he was up all night with his sick child, acknowledge it and say something like, “Totally understand. Why don’t we re-schedule at a better time.” That gesture will go a long way.
6. Provide Expert Opinions
The Stanley Milgram shock study is an age-old experiment that demonstrates our habitual response to authority. We, by instinct, obey authority even if the orders from that authority appear unethical. In 2009, nearly 50 years later, Jerry M. Burger repeated the experiment and discovered “people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.”
It is human nature to trust authority. We trust those in uniform and people with big titles or degrees. These people have authority and appear to communicate results, wisdom, and trust.
Mentioning a product was designed by a distinguished Ph.D. or endorsed by a blue chip media company can build credibility. Also consider co-opting expertise. For example, pharmaceutical companies recognize the influence generated when doctors talked to other doctors about drugs. They lower their defenses when someone they can relate to as an authority is talking to them. A sales rep is not a credible authority in this circumstance.
In the course of a presentation, fall back on the results of experts and critical studies. And don’t forget to include mentions from big media like Time or the New York Times. These endorsements pack a punch in a presentation.
7. Sprinkle in Testimonials
A testimonial is an unbiased recommendation of a product or service. It is a recommendation in a satisfied customer’s voice, which builds trust, and more importantly, isn’t saturated with sales language. It’s a great tool to get through to tough prospects.
8. Abide by the Law of Candour
The law of candour says when you give a negative, your prospect will return with a positive. This concept is not unlike number five above (acknowledging objections), except there’s a twist.
Beginning in 1959, the ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach used candour with great impact on a product that would make any ad agency groan: the Volkswagen Bug. What could you say about a lemon of a car?
Bernbach simply told the truth:
- “This car is ugly. It looks like a bug. A beetle.”
- “This car is slow. You’ll be lucky if you ever get a ticket.”
People loved it. They didn’t feel like they were being hoodwinked. The honesty was refreshing, even humorous. So when VW trotted out the exceptional features about the car—including high mileage and dependability—people didn’t bat an eye.
The closer your claim is to hype, the less your prospect is going to believe you. On the other hand, the farther away your claim is from hype, the more your prospect will believe you. In fact, telling the ugly truth can disarm a prospect. It’s a voluntary move, a gesture that says a company isn’t going to hide anything. Opening with the ugly truth will build a bridge between the company and the prospect. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.
9. Offer a Creative Guarantee
In 1817, poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase “suspension of disbelief.” He argued a writer could get a reader to believe his fantastic tale if he added an element of “human interest and a semblance of truth.”
A creative guarantee performs the same function in the sales presentation: It suspends skepticism. Guarantees are everywhere. “Pay nothing for 30 days,” or “full refund if you aren’t satisfied” are just two routine examples. Unfortunately, they are not all that creative. To the casual observer simple guarantees don’t stand out.
Take this ad for instance. A fitness company claims its DVD program will build muscle in 30 days. To suspend any disbelief, the company offers a 14-day trial.
Fourteen days isn’t so creative. What makes this guarantee creative and compelling is that 14 days is nearly half of the 30 days, which means users could and should see results before paying any money. And once consumers see results, they figure it’s worth the money.
Rolling out the creative guarantee when resistance pops up is a perfect antidote for keeping belief alive. A brand can say, “Listen, give it a shot for 14 days and pay nothing. If it doesn’t do X, Y, and Z, then you can walk away.” This move builds trust. It’s a security net. If buyers don’t like the product they can return it and not worry about losing money.
10. Differentiate Your Product
Last but not least, when standing before a prospect it’s crucial to declare strongly and clearly how and why your product is the best in the market.
Remember, the market is loaded with “me-too” products—simple derivatives of existing products. Customers think, “Why your product and not Brand X?” If you can’t answer that question, you’ll lose credibility.
Take wine for example. There are hundreds of different brands of wine on the market. How does one differentiate from another? How does the brand’s offerings measure up to other flavours and styles? Moreover, how does one brand of wine compete against other adult beverages? These are questions the company must be able to answer, but a tough prospect will ask the questions.
Whatever the distinction about your product—proprietary code, production method, people, worldview, award-winning designs, customer service, and so on—it’s critical to spell out that distinction.
This starts with an intense study of the customer—her hopes and fears, her goals and desires. Next comes a deep understanding of the product and how it satisfies those hopes and fears. It’s this kind of intimacy with both product and consumer that will help determine a strong, meaningful differentiation.
As Theodore Levitt, a prominent American economist and professor said, “To the potential buyer, a product is a complex cluster of value satisfactions. The generic thing is not itself the product; it is merely, as in poker, table stakes—the minimum that is necessary at the outset to give its producer a chance to play.”
Furthermore, pricing is the worst distinction because everyone can go a penny lower. That’s a war you don’t want to get into.
Inferior salespeople ignore all of the above principles. They think a product should sell itself and require no demonstration or testimonials. Or they rely on heavy-handed tactics. Of course bad salespeople don’t last long in the business.
If you want to close more sales, do the long work of building credibility through your presentation by systematically laying out and piling on compelling proof upon compelling proof. Know who your customer is, and what she or he wants and needs. It’s the only way to transform a cynical prospect into a believing customer.