Why You're Probably Selling Backwards

November 6th 2012

For years, sales theory has promoted the idea of selling features and associated benefits, of looking for what's unique in your product or service, and using that as a wedge to open up the sale by demonstrating how you can make the prospect's life easier, more productive, or even sexier!

The next step, we were told, was to systematically remove obstacles to the sale and "always be closing". Some sales people managed to do this with humanity and charm, but for the most part, it's an aggressive process based on proving a resistant prospect wrong (That'll get them on side).

All this, it should be noted, is based on regurgitated sales theory from the late 1800s - so cutting edge stuff!

However, today people are better educated, more cynical and a lot more likely to tell you where you can stick your unwanted product or service.

Add to that, the fact that in today's rapidly evolving world, there are seldom any tangible points of difference or competitive advantages that last longer than a couple of weeks, and the old system starts to unravel.

But that's not the fundamental problem

The real issue is... that's not why people buy!

People don't buy products or services, they don't buy brands, sales people, logic, emotion, clever spiels or even features and benefits.

They buy themselves.

All selling is really the process of aligning identities.

And that truth becomes even more important now that we no longer live in an age of need, but in one of want.

Credit Suisse recently announced that Australia is now the richest nation on earth on a per capita basis. That means our needs, at a hunter gatherer level, are pretty much met. So our discrentionary spend moves from necessities to desires.

Now if you're like most sales people, you're probably thinking, "Hang on there big fella, my product is totally a necessity." And that belief is why you might be selling backwards.

People actually want to be sold

We tend to forget that if someone has called us, or walked into our showroom or store, they're probably predisposed to buy. 

But the more interesting thing is, people will actually tell you how to sell to them.

Unfortunately, walk on to the sales floor of just about any industry - automotive, pharmaceutical, FMCG or finance - and typically, the wrong person is doing the talking.

The thing is, by allowing them to reveal who they are, what their identity is, they're teaching you why they buy. If you know your product range, and you should, it's then your job to align the most appropriate offering to their identity.

We have two identities

The first identity we have is a little more realistic. We know who we are and for the most part we know where we fit.

The second identity is a little more aspirational - it's who we want to project to the world that we are.

So the key is to sell into the gap. To use your product as a bridge between one identity and the other.

It's important to remember here that we all have an internal BS detector and, even if it's our own BS, if we don't believe it, we won't buy it.

Preventing an identity crisis

The biggest problem sales people face is with brands that clash with their customers identity. Your brand may be affordable, but if I don't want to see my self as cheap, that can be an issue. Or you may have a prestige offering, but if I define myself as a regular Jo, again, you're challenging my view of myself 

What makes this even more difficulty is the fact that few organisations and their staff really know what their identity is, what they're really selling, even what business they're actually in. For instance, most optometrists make their margins selling frames, but how many of them are aware they're in the retail fashion business? I'd suggest it's very few.

The bigger issue though is that we don't really understand the identity of their customers and most of us don't make enough of an effort to find out.

Try selling in reverse

So maybe it's time to flip our thinking and try selling from the opposite side of the table. Remember, your sale is not in your product, it's in your customer.

This article was written on the new MacBook Air 11". Not because it's light and fast and looks amazing, nor because I got a good deal on the price or because the sales person made such a compelling case.

I bought it because... I'm a Mac!

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