I recently saw Patrick Schwerdtfeger speak on building success. He said something that really stood out to me: “There’s no such thing as a confused buyer. If they’re confused, they’re not buying.”
Think about that for a minute.
When you’re confused, you are not likely to open your wallet. Even if the situation is urgent, you need some understanding of the “solution” before you throw down your money. Even in an emergency, you have to have some understanding of what you’re paying for.
In IT consulting you face this all the time – whether you realize it or not. And prospects will almost never tell you that this is the reason they’re not buying. After all, they think they’ll look stupid if they say “I don’t understand what you’re trying to sell me.” So it’s easier to make up an excuse about budgets or timing or something else.
It’s actually very difficult to tease out whether prospects are “confused buyers.” It takes quite a bit of prodding to uncover this objection. Because the prospect will give you all kinds of other objections, you can spend a great deal of time addressing all the other minor objections before you finally figure out that the real objection is confusion about what you’re selling.
One of the classic sales techniques is to address every objection, no matter how small. That assumes that the prospect will give you all the time and attention you need to accomplish that. But most technology consultants don’t want to go down the path of professional sales and don’t have an interest in spending hours addressing every objection – real or not.
Here’s an approach that may help.
Luckily, there’s a simple formula for cutting through this issue. First, emphasize education-based selling. Second, assume that confusion abounds and keep addressing it until you have positive proof that confusion has been eliminated.
Education based selling has been around for quite a while. In addition to developing your own educational materials, you can find lots of materials from various vendor partners. Microsoft has a long history of providing slide decks and other materials to help you put on seminars for clients and prospects. Other manufacturers and suppliers hold client-facing events that you can participate in.
If nothing else, you should be constantly educating your clients through your newsletter, web site, and blog. You may also produce lunch-and-learn events or other seminars. I am also a big fan of white papers that describe a problem and discuss the solution.
One concern I’ve heard is that some consultants don’t want to come off as preachy or know-it-all. Another is that they’re worried that clients and prospects will get tired of hearing the same message over and over again. Don’t worry about either of these.
When you assume the role of expert, people assume you know what you’re talking about – until you prove them wrong. Think about the newsletters you’ve seen from other industries. The veterinarian gives advice about keeping fleas at bay or how to prepare your pets for the hot weather. The dentist gives information about foods to avoid and how to get kids to floss their teeth.
You never ask why the vet is giving advice on animals or why the dentist is giving advice on oral hygiene. And your prospects won’t wonder why you’re giving advice about disaster recovery, virus protection, cloud services, or remote management. You’re the expert. This is what you do. So educating clients helps them to make good decisions.
As for repeating yourself, just remember that you have to repeat yourself constantly whenever you take on the role of teacher. On one hand, most people don’t hang onto every word that comes out of your mouth. Sorry to tell you that, but it’s true. So many people won’t hear your message the first time. On the other hand, people simply need to hear a message again and again until it sinks in.
You’ve heard the old advice that a salesman has to ask seven times before the prospect agrees to be given a pitch. Well, you should plan on giving the message seventy times. If any given prospect hears your message ten percent of the time, they’ll hear it seven times.
In many cases, your message can go on forever. Because technology and the challenges we face are constantly evolving, you need to be constantly educating your clients. The latest information on viruses, passwords, PCI, HIPAA, and everything else you do will be welcome to clients and prospects. They may not read every word. But they’ll definitely see you as the expert on these topics.
If you assume that the prospect always has some level of confusion, you would be correct. Your prospect is not a technologist. Of course they will never have your level of knowledge. That’s not the goal.
Your goal is to eliminate enough confusion so that the client believes he can make a good, educated decision. He knows he’ll never understand all of it, and he doesn’t need to. But he does want to feel like he has enough information to justify his decision.
Education is also important for the relationship because the prospect needs to trust you and trust that you are helping him to make a good decision. As you educate the client, you also demonstrate that you know a great deal about the technology and the options available. When you work hard to educate the client, you build a sense of trust that goes beyond the specific proposal.
You become more than an expert. You become a consultant who can be relied on.
Our industry is full of great opportunities for educational selling. The good vendors are always educating us. We, in turn, need to be educating our clients and prospects.