It’s time to answer this vital customer question

13th May 2020

"Why should I choose you?"

Over the course of the week, I spend a great deal of time speaking with professionals (over Zoom, natch) about their business development efforts.

A regular theme is that selling can feel daunting. This is especially the case with professionals who are finding themselves ‘having to do some BD’ because they are at a point in their career that demands it.

Whether it’s because in COVID-19 world it’s all hands to the pump, it’s off the back of a promotion, because they’ve struck out on their own, they’ve gone from a large corporate to scale up or just because no-one else is doing it, all roads lead to the same destination – sell, sell, sell.

Often the real question is this - where should I start?

I’m a great believer in breaking things down into manageable chunks and never is this more true when sketching out a new sales effort. And the way to chunk things down in this context is to go right to the source - the customer.

Life through a photographer’s lens

A few days ago I was speaking to a friend who runs his own photography business. He’s super talented, top of his game, can bore anyone senseless about focal length this and depth of field that with the ease of someone who you can tell is a total tech geek.

He plies his trade as a specialist automotive photographer. He’s an award winner. So you might be thinking this guy is sorted. The reality is the same hand to mouth, short term contract-ism and uncertainty of many small businesses. Throw COVID-19 into the mix and suddenly there’s some serious BD work to be done to make sure contracts are won when things get moving again.

Focusing on the customer for the win

Back to that question; where to start. Let’s take my friend as an example. When we start coming out of lockdown he wants to be ready.

- What is it you want to achieve?

In this case it’s about a commission a month and ideally to come from a mix of existing and new sources. For a couple of them to be more long term e.g. covering a swathe of product launches in a year.  OK so we’re talking 12 sales a year, with a couple of big deals in the mix. There’s a measurable goal.

- Who buys your stuff?

There’s a clearly defined niche to work here. There are about 20 manufacturers with a decent presence in the UK and there’s about 20 relevant media outlets. We’re talking about a long list of 40 target businesses.  Already we’re starting to get a feel for the size of the project. A really simple jump-off here would be to set the challenge of contacting 2 a day every working day. That would mean in a given month, he would do a full lap of his buyer universe.

Let’s say we wanted to be a little more sophisticated than that. The way to do this is by breaking down profiled customers and targets into bite-sized chunks.

I asked my friend, tell me about those 40 target businesses and this was his answer:

  1. 10 of them have been repeat clients in the past and very happy campers.
  2. 10 of them he’s done a bit with them but it was a while ago and some key personnel have changed.
  3. 10 of them worked with him once, ages ago, when he was a young green thing and would do it differently now.
  4. 10 of them never even offere a foot in the door, even though they hire his peers - some of whom he knows he is more experienced than and delivers a better product.

- So why choose you?

Now we are really starting to get things into bite size chunks. By taking a customer focused approach, we’ve gone from ‘got to do some BD’ to having 4 discrete groups, each of whom merits their own tailored approach.

  • Group 1 – The regulars

For the repeat clients, it’s a get back in touch. Pick up the phone and check in. Find out what their priority projects are when things get moving again. Where the gaps are, where they need help. Update them on recently completed work, successes, ideas sharing etc. There’s also a chance to really become embedded by adding value. My friend knows the product cycles, he’s aware of what launches are due in what season, he’s already got ideas for how the new urban cross over model would look good crossing Salisbury Plain in one shot and then scooting around South West London in the next. Show willingness to share ideas and elevate above the competition and generic intros.

  • Group 2 – Past clients

For the past clients with new decision makers, the first task is to make that first contact. Set the stall out that good things were achieved in the past, link to the work, build the relationship. Demonstrate that we are in their world and we are a safe choice. It will be a little bit more slowly slowly catchy catchy so an early milestone to get in the CRM is a date when they will be looking at options and making sure we are firmly on their radar ahead of time. A possible stage two when more normal working returns is to get some epic past work framed up and sent with an accompanying letter to the new head of marketing. They may not have even realised just how much he nailed it in the past.

  • Group 3 – The long lost

This one is a potentially trickier brief. We want to reference the previous connection but also just how much we’d ace it if we had the opportunity to work together again. The order of the day are some carefully crafted approaches combining a nod to the link up but also focusing on the amazing stuff that has been done more recently for others. A little bit of FOMO doesn’t hurt.

  • Group 4 – The never been

In a way this is the most straightforward. Pull together a list of key names from the web and by tapping up a few contacts. Then just give them a call. The approach is really simple, the tone of voice in the call is everything. Peer to peer.

‘Hey we’ve both been doing this for a long time. I worked with all the big dogs but not you. Getting in touch to see if we can change that because it just seems crazy….’

You’re busy, I’m busy. You’re good, I’m good. Let’s do good stuff together.

Once up and running

Having bitesize customer target lists then makes ‘doing the do’ that bit more manageable. It’s OK to set goals like:

‘the list is 15 people, I’ll make myself a coffee, call those 15 then go and then go and stick the washing on and grab a biscuit from the tin.’ 

‘I’ve got 10 contacts to go. No lunchtime walk around the park until I’ve made 10 more calls.’

For none of these groups, even with the regulars, is a sale expected on first call. It takes time and our role as sales people is to be positioned as the obvious choice when it comes to consideration and decision making. The obvious choice because working with us will create a good result.

Knowing your customer

Sales shouldn’t be daunting. We can’t all be super cool photographers (seriously, I can think of few things I would be worse at) but making that jump from ‘having to do some BD’ to getting things in bitesize chunks should be doable.

While there is a lot of craft that can be learned about each step, underneath it all, a simple mantra is build a list, do the list. And repeat.

Yes, if you are doing this right you will catch people at the wrong time. We all have our own stuff going on and sometimes now isn’t the right time for that conversation. Be respectful, be human.

However, if you believe in what you do, you believe in your product then you are not bothering people. It’s a peer to peer conversation that needs to breathe when both sides have the space to focus.

Still thinking sales is daunting? Then think on this; perhaps the issue lies in the product and proposition itself and not the person.

By Stuart Pringle - Director at Make the Break


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