Have you ever missed out on an opportunity you really deserved to win? Struggled to explain what you offer to people who just don’t seem to understand? Maybe you’ve watched by helplessly as a prospective customer made a decision that you knew was not right for them. When you do great work, and sell great products, these situations are frustrating, difficult, and unfortunately, very common. So why does this happen, and what can we do about it?
Like it or not, the way that buyers and sellers communicate has fundamentally changed. In the past, deals were done on a handshake, and personal relationships had a lot of power. Now, if you’re selling to individuals, potential customers research their options online, and are often two-thirds of the way through their decision making process before they will talk to you.
If you’re selling to companies, you’ll find that most deals of any size and value are transacted through the customer’s procurement or purchasing department. These buyers are also frustratingly difficult to talk to.
Recently, I attended a seminar on contract management with about 50 other people, most of them buyers for corporations and government entities. Afterwards, one buyer asked the seminar presenter how she would recommend getting market intelligence about potential suppliers. The answer came back immediately: “Google”.
In this environment, it is very difficult to get noticed and to assert your value. However, this is not an entirely new phenomenon.
Back in Renaissance Italy, many people aspired to make a living from their art. However, a lucky few artists were able to find financial support from wealthy patrons who became admirers, and then supporters, of their work.
This system had benefits for both parties. Artists received a living wage, access to luxury materials (such as gold and lapis lazuli) and commissions to produce art on a size and scale they could otherwise only dream of. Patrons used the art they produced as a means of expressing and enhancing their social status. Without this patronage system, we wouldn’t have many of the works of brilliant artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo or Raphael.
Today, as it was then, the ability to communicate your true value is the key to unlocking more of what you want – more customers, higher margins, and more rewarding work.
Your customers make buying decisions with the help of their gut, head and heart.
With their gut, they’re forming an impression of cost and risk. Author and neuroendocrinologist Dr Deepak Chopra says that gut feelings are "every cell in our body making a decision". Buying decisions are often triggered by fear, and we can help our customers to understand and protect against their fears.
With their head, they’re analysing productivity and complexity. The head drives logic, and most of us have way too much going on in there to be logical about all of it. This phenomenon is known as cognitive load, and we can play a role in reducing this burden for our customers.
Buyers also want to make an impact and create a legacy. With their heart, they’re deciding whether you are the person they trust to set them on a different – smarter and better – path than they would be able to choose on their own.
When you are pitching for new business, thinking about the commercial value you generate - and not just the work you do - helps you to move your attention from inwards on yourself, to outwards on the customer and their needs. This, in turn, helps to break down the barriers you will face in communicating your value to customers, and protects you against becoming a commodity.
Robyn Haydon is the author of three books on business development: her Winning Business series includes Winning Again (customer retention), The Shredder Test (winning proposals) and the recently-released Value: how to talk about what you do so people want to buy it. Visit www.robynhaydon.com